D.C. Circulator fares could increase by next summer

Starting next summer, D.C. Circulator buses could start charging customers double the current fare. The D.C. Council Transportation Committee Thursday approved the proposed increase as part of the FY 2014 budget to fund the expansion of the buses across the District.

The current fare is $1 a ride for the intra-District buses, but if approved by the Council, the fare would jump to $1.50 for SmarTrip cardholders, and $2 for customers using cash.

The D.C. Council Transportation Committee approved Councilmember Mary Cheh’s proposal to increase Circulator fares and use the new revenue to move the buses beyond their current routes through Georgetown, downtown and other parts of the District. Many customers say they wouldn’t mind paying more for more routes.

“I wouldn’t really mind,” says Finesse Graves. “That’s not that much money.”

“It would be nice to have it going to so many more destinations, no problem with my paying it,” says John Lazar.

But it’s where Cheh’s plan did not expand service that raised eyebrows at the Council.

“I’m really troubled that the expansion does not have any expanded routes that I can see in this proposal east of the river,” says Tommy Wells, (D) D.C. Council.

Cheh’s extended Circulator service includes U Street, parts of Southwest, Glover Park and Washington National Cathedral, as well as the National Mall. But facing criticism from her colleagues, Cheh added an amendment calling for DDOT to study an expansion into wards 5,7, and 8. It’s a possibility she says she’s open to.

“This is not an easy thing to solve,” says Cheh, (D) D.C. Council. “It’s fairly intricate and complicated: resources, routes, what can be done first, what makes sense in terms of traffic.”

The proposal now goes to the full committee for its consideration, but its fate is uncertain because the mayor’s office says he’s opposed to new fees, fines and taxes.

“But they know full well and the mayor probably knows full well that the only way we’re going to be able to expand the Circulator at this time is to increase the fares,” says Cheh.

Cheh also points out that Circulator fares have not been raised since 2005. She says $1.50 is still less than what WMATA customers pay. Meanwhile, the spokesperson calls Cheh “a good partner” and says the mayor is open to working with her and having this discussion about raising fares.