Riders and transit advocates who oppose the Metro board’s proposal to cut weekend train service noted at the first budget hearing Monday night that the plan is not a “modest” service adjustment, as described in the hearing docket.
The board’s proposal would widen the gap between trains on Saturdays from 12 minutes to 18 minutes until 9:30 p.m. and then to 25 minutes until closing. On Sundays, the gap would widen from 15 minutes to 20 minutes until 9:30 p.m. and then to 25 minutes until closing.
Speakers at the hearing in Hyattsville focused on the fact that many riders move from one platform to another in the middle of their journeys to transfer trains. They may arrive on the second platform in time to see the receding red lights of their connecting train. That would force them to wait an additional 25 minutes on a weekend night, just to catch the second train.
Jackie Jeter, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which represents many of Metro’s employees, put it this way in her testimony: “I feel sorry for the person who misses that train.”
Ben Ross of the Action Committee for Transit, an advocacy group, noted that “weekend train service is something that is more and more relied on in this area.”
Metrorail, one of the D.C. region’s great assets, has made it easier to live without a car.
“We have to stick with the people who rely on Metro,” Ross said. That requires strengthening all-week transit service, he added.
Metro needs to be the backbone of walkable communities, said Cheryl Cort, representing the Coalition for Smarter Growth, an organization that takes a great interest in improving transit service.
She said the weekend service cut would impose a hardship on the people — including many working people — who rely on transit service. Meanwhile, the “choice riders,” the ones now taking Metro on weekends because they think it’s more convenient, will go back to their cars if Metro makes it easier for them to drive.
The Metro staff anticipates that the weekend cutback would reduce ridership by 1.5 million trips a year. Despite the ridership loss, the staff calculates an annual savings of $6 million from the cutback. It would be slightly less during the fiscal year starting in July, because the cut would not be imposed until September.
Metro officials hope the local jurisdictions will increase their transit subsidies enough to cover the $6 million. I hope they can too. But Metro, which has shown encouraging evidence of being able to control its costs over the past few years, should not have gone to the public with this service cut proposal in the first place.
It’s less than $6 million out of an operating budget for fiscal 2012 of almost $1.5 billion, and this after a year in which Metro imposed the largest fare increase in its history. The Metro board would have inspired greater confidence among the region’s transit riders and taxpayers if it had thanked the staff for its work so far and instructed it to figure out how to go a little further in balancing the books.
Alvin Nichols, a new board member representing Prince George’s County, ran a good meeting Monday night. Metro is using a new format for all of these sessions: An informational display opens at 5:30 p.m., followed by a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. and a public hearing at 6:45 p.m.
The town hall meeting is a new feature to allow for an exchange of ideas and information between the public and Metro officials. The public hearing is the official part, in which people offer testimony for the record about the items on the docket, including the proposed cut in weekend service.
I thought people might get confused about the different missions of the different sessions, but Nichols was patient, genial and clear in steering the audience through the proceedings.
Here’s the schedule for the remaining five sessions.
■ George Washington Middle School Auditorium, 1005 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria.
■ St. Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church, Fellowship Hall, 4125 Fessenden St. NW, the District.
■ Arlington County Board Room, Third Floor, 2100 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington.
■ First Baptist Church of Wheaton, Fellowship Hall, 10914 Georgia Ave., Wheaton.
Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, John H. Kearney Sr. Fellowship Hall, 2616 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, the District.
Will your travels be affected? How do you feel about the weekend cuts?Tweet Do you support an increase in the time between Metro trains? How would you propose Metro make cuts that would affect the least number of people? Tell @postlocal by using #metrocuts and we'll post some of your answers here.
Possible #metrocuts are no bueno! Who wants to spend 25 minutes waiting for a train home on a Sat night?
If DC is to be a world class city we need more METRO service not less #metrocuts