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Posted at 09:10 AM ET, 11/03/2011

Metro looks at ridership, new station names

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Metro plans to release a new forecast Thursday for its rail ridership, showing it could drop 3 percent while its bus ridership could rise by 1 percent.

The Metro board will review the numbers at a meeting Thursday morning. Members are also scheduled to vote on new names for some Metrorail stations to align them with a new policy on keeping the monikers simple.

In projections for rail ridership for fiscal 2013, Metro officials said the number of trips could fall to 215.2 million annually from 220.7 million in fiscal 2012.

The drop in ridership would mean a decline in revenue for Metrorail; estimate show revenue would drop 2 percent to $570 million in fiscal 2013 from $582 million in fiscal 2012.

Dan Stessel, Metro’s chief spokesman, said the authority’s rail ridership is “more linked to employment rates” than bus ridership, which is “more sensitive to D.C.’s population growth.”

If the employment market is weak, ridership is affected by that,” he said. “There are competing forecasts for employment growth. Some are flat. Some are more optimistic.

“The question is do we want to build a budget forecast around something conservative or optimistic,” Stessel said. “The best approach is to budget conservatively to make sure we’re budgeting enough for the expenses we expect.”

Metrobus ridership is expected to hit 125.1 million trips, compared to 124.1 million in fiscal 2012. Revenue for Metrobus is expected to rise 7 percent to $134 million from $125 million.

Metro said the amount of transit benefits that commuters are eligible for under federal law may also affect ridership.

If Congress does not act by the end of the year, the amount commuters can set aside in pretax transit benefits will drop from $230 per month to $125.

Metro would lose 2.8 percent of its ridership and face a $16 million decrease in passenger revenue from the change, according to Metro documents. It is expected to not have a “substantial impact” on bus ridership.

Metro officials are also expected to provide more projections on the cost of operating the new Dulles rail line. The first phase is now under construction from Falls Church to Reston and is expected to open in late 2013.

If the Silver Line opens as scheduled in December Metro expects it will cost $20 million to run it, including labor, technology, communications and training.

If it opens three months later in March 2014, it is expected to cost $13 million to operate, according to Metro’s documents.

Metro staffers are also expected to give revenue estimates for Dulles rail on Thursday.

The new Dulles rail line is expected to generate 4.5 million new passenger trips for the first six months of service, producing $13 million in revenue

Another 2.7 million passenger trips are expected to adjust their travel routes to use Dulles rail. They will generate an additional $2 million in revenue, according to the estimates.

In other business, Metro’s board is expected to make a decision Thursday on changing some station names. It is holding a public hearing before the official board meeting.

Some station names will have a primary, shorter name on the the first line and a longer one on the second line.

This summer, the board adopted a policy to keep station names short and simple as it is redoing the iconic map to make way for service changes on the Blue and Yellow lines, and to include the new Silver Line.

Over the years, some names had become long and cumbersome. Under Metro’s new policy, each station’s name should be “no longer than 19 characters — including spaces and punctuation.” Transfer station names should be no longer than 13 characters.

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By  |  09:10 AM ET, 11/03/2011

 
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