WASHINGTON, D.C. – Metro fare hikes are one step closer thanks to a committee vote, but they won’t come with as many reductions in service as originally proposed.
On March 9, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Board of Directors Finance Committee approved the revised fiscal year 2018 operating budget proposal submitted by General Manager Paul Wiedefeld. Wiedefeld made changes to his initial proposal from November after months of public outreach indicated “(riders) would prefer to pay a little more than lose key rail and bus services,” Wiedefeld said in a statement.
“(It was based on) what we got from the surveys, what we heard during the public hearing, and then these board members hear a lot from their constituents all the time. So it’s a combination of all of those,” he said last Thursday.
The budget totals $1.82 billion, with $976 million coming in the form of subsidies from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. That represents about $500,000 more from the jurisdictions, but revenue is also projected to increase by about $3 million. Overall, the budget shows 15 percent growth over fiscal year 2017, according to board documents.
Dennis Anosike, Metro’s chief financial officer, said by moving $23 million in railcar part expenses to the capital budget, the agency was able to reverse some of the cuts in Wiedefeld’s initial proposal, including bus route elimination and longer headways on the rails off-peak times. Still, other cuts remain in force, including 8-minute peak train headways during rush hour and 842 positions eliminated. And, the new proposal still raises fares by 25 cents for bus and off-peak rail trips and 10 cents for peak rail trips. Parking costs will also rise by 10 cents.
Members of the board said the cuts were not easy to approve, but were necessary.
“I would love to say that no service would be cut and no fares would be increased, but that’s a dream. That’s not possible with the parts that we have that are funding us,” said Virginia alternate director Catherine Hudgins.
Wiedefeld’s original budget proposal included the elimination of 14 bus routes, including the W13 and W14 along Bock Road, the P17, P18 and P19 in Oxon Hill/Fort Washington, the Indian Head Express and the Greenbelt-to-BWI airport express route. While the Indian Head Express remains slated for elimination, the other routes are spared and will instead see reduced frequency or, in the case of the Bock Road and Oxon Hill routes, turn back at Southern Avenue.
To make the same cost savings, in the revised budget additional routes were proposed for reduced frequency of service, including routes in Clinton, Marlow Heights/Temple Hills, Laurel, College Park, Chillum and New Carrollton. However, Maryland board appointee Keturah Harley made the motion to fully restore the F1 and F2 routes in Chillum, the T14 route from Rhode Island Avenue to New Carrollton, the C8 from College Park to White Flint, and two routes in Montgomery County. The motion was approved, with a fiscal analysis of the changes due before the committee at its March 23 meeting.
“The cuts that were originally there were very dramatic,” said Malcolm Augustine, the board member representing Prince George’s County. “And we still have some cuts that are painful. But at least we were able to mitigate many more of them, and I was glad to be able to work with my colleagues from Maryland and the Maryland Department of Transportation to move some of that back in, because this is important.”
However, Augustine argued forcefully against the fare hikes in the plan. He said it “is basic economics” that higher prices will drive people away, especially in light of the report from the customer service committee that Augustine said was “poor.”
“Customer satisfaction is in the 60s (percent), and ridership is going down, and yet the board is contemplating, facing those things, raising fares,” he said. “To me, it’s more of the same. If you look at what this agency has done in the last 10 years, it has raised fares and has continued to have ridership drop. We should do things differently and not the same if we’re going to turn this thing around.”
His fellow committee members did not agree; Augustine was the lone dissenting vote. Metro leadership, and several board members, say reducing service will allow the system to more reliably live up to the advertised timetables, which is a net benefit for the riders.
“Despite the fact that nominally, they are cuts, if we can actually deliver the service that we say we’re putting out there, it will be a dramatic improvement,” said board member Christian Dorsey of Arlington, Va. “I want to underscore that. It will be a dramatic improvement. Where people are most dissatisfied is in believing that they’re going to have an experience and then they get into the system and it’s dramatically different.”
Hudgins added that it was good for the agency to look at routes that are redundant or inefficient.
The full board will take up the operating budget proposal on March 23.