So it’s difficult to predict what we’ll see and hear at the six public
hearings over the next two weeks. Each begins at 6 p.m. with an anything-goes, hour- long open forum where people can talk with Metro officials about what’s bothering them, or make suggestions about improvements.
Computers will be available so people can take an online survey about Metro’s performance, or write in their own comments for the record. The formal public hearing on the budget proposals for fiscal 2013 gets started at 7 p.m. See our Commuter page feature on Metro’s proposed fare increases.
As House speaker, Tip O’Neill coined the phrase “All politics is local.” The same could be said of all transportation. Hearings and forums — whether they are about transit or road issues — tend the reflect the concerns of the community around where the hearing is held.
While the Metro hearings are distributed across the region, none is very far out in the suburbs. The first hearing, the one tonight, is in Bethesda. So those will be Red Line riders.
During the forum, they may want to ask about Metro’s plans to build a pedestrian tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue to accommodate the extra riders heading to the newly consolidated Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Or they may want to know more about the closing of the south entrance at Dupont Circle, where many get off for work. Almost everyone would want to know details about the disruptive maintenance program that affects their off-peak and weekend travel.
Will a lot of them want to testify about the proposed fare and fee increases? The proposed increases have different effects on different groups of travelers. The biggest impact would be on those who live far out and drive to one of the outer stations, like Shady Grove, before taking a long train ride.
You’d have to be really, really angry about the fare increase to go through the inconvenience of attending a night hearing in Bethesda when you’ve worked all day and live far away. (But if you do go for it, the hearing site is a very short walk from the Bethesda Metrorail station exit.)
Another factor that traditionally blunts the anger over fare increases is the federal transit benefit, either the direct subsidy that many federal employees receive or the pre-tax allowance many other riders take through their employers.
Faced with choices of fare increases or service cuts, many riders have told the Metro board that they’d prefer the fare increases — especially since U.S. taxpayers pick up part of the bill.
This year could be different. The transit benefit, increased several years ago to $230 a month under the federal stimulus program dropped back down after Congress failed to approve an extension. It’s now at $125 a month. So this round fare increases may be more painful for many riders than those of years past.
These are the dates and locations of the sessions scheduled for this week.
Monday: Bethesda Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, 4805 Edgemoor Lane, Bethesda.
Wednesday: Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School Cafeteria, 7130 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church.
Thursday: Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, John H. Kearney Sr. Fellowship Hall, 2616 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, the District.