New D.C. transportation chief’s first tangle: whether to hike Circulator fares

The incoming chief of the District’s Department of Transportation may have had the shortest honeymoon in history.

A few minutes before his appointment as interim director was announced Tuesday afternoon, Matthew Brown walked up to the dais in the city council chamber and appealed to Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), chair of the transportation committee, to keep talking.

Can we at least keep the conversation going? Brown asked her.

At issue was a new DDOT proposal to hike fares on the District’s popular red-and-gray Circulator buses from $1 to $1.50 with a SmarTrip card, or to $2 in cash. That would have brought in an extra $1.3 million, helping to defray some of the cost of running the sleek buses.

The transportation committee had supported the idea of a fare increase in the past. But the full council shot down the idea last year. The idea re-emerged Tuesday during a nearly five-hour budget hearing. Brown, who has been DDOT’s deputy director for resource management, sat beside outgoing DDOT director Terry Bellamy, whose last day is Wednesday, and a host of other top officials being peppered with questions about programs and spending.

The Circulator hike was a surprise to Cheh and other council officials, who said it had not been presented clearly in the budget documents.

After the hearing, as Brown approached the dais, Cheh told him he’d have to go back and find $1.3 million to trim someplace else in the budget, or she would simply decide on her own where to cut.

“No fare increase is going to be authorized,” she told him.

Cheh and Brown are set for a period of frequent contact in the coming months, as Cheh and other council members explore her proposal to break up DDOT.

Brown previously served as budget director of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and has worked as a budget official in New York City.

Mike Laris came to Post by way of Los Angeles and Beijing. He’s written about the world’s greatest holstein bull, earth’s biggest pork producer, home builders, the homeless, steel workers and Italian tumors.
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