Metro ridership could take a hit with sequestration

February 22, 2013

Sequestration, sequestration, sequestration is the chatter about town this week, and Metro bean counters are trying to figure out how it might hit the transit agency.

For starters, Metro officials said its ridership could take a hit if federal workers are furloughed from their jobs.

Given that 40 percent of Metro’s roughly 850,000 daily ridership trips are taken by federal employees, the transit agency’s coffers will be impacted if those workers and related contractors don’t go to work.

Metro takes in about $2 million a day in revenue.

When the federal transit benefits dropped to $125 a month last year, Metro’s ridership dropped 4.5 percent from July through October compared with the same time period in 2011.

Metro officials said sequestration could also put into question $12.5 million that’s part of a 10-year commitment of capital funds from the federal government and local jurisdictions. That $12 million goes to a range of things from buying new rail cars, replacing escalators and fixing platforms and track equipment.

If the District, Maryland and Virginia also face funding cuts, they might not be able to pony up as much for the transit agency, Metro officials said.

“If we don’t get money you’re eventually going to see things affect the customer,” said Regina Sullivan, who heads Metro’s legislative affairs office. “With all the things we’re doing to improve the reliability of the system, projects would have to start falling off the list if you don’t have the dollars.”

At the Airports Authority, which is overseeing the construction of Metro’s new Silver Line, officials said there will be no impact from sequestration on that project. But Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has warned that air traffic control towers could be closed and travelers could face flight delays if cuts hit the Federal Aviation Administration.

Dana Hedgpeth is the Washington Post’s lead reporter in covering the Metro rail and bus systems in the D.C. region and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) that runs them.
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