Metro plans to hire 1,000 new workers as it considers fare hikes

Video: Metro General Manager Richard Sarles chats with Dr. Gridlock (aka Robert Thomson), Dana Hedgpeth (aka @postmetrogirl on Twitter) and special guests in a Google+ Hangout.

Metro plans to hire more than 1,000 employees under a budget proposed by General Manager Richard Sarles for the next fiscal year that would also raise bus and rail fares as well as parking rates.

Dan Stessel, Metro’s chief spokesman, said Tuesday that he did not have an estimate of how much the new positions would cost in salaries and benefits.

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The hires would increase the total number of Metro employees by almost 9 percent, from 11,319 to 12,332.

The jobs would be included in Metro’s next budget, which Sarles plans to present to the board of directors Thursday. Stessel said the price tag of the new hires would be part of the presentation.

The new workers would include 448 employees for Metro’s “safety and state of good repair” efforts, including track and maintenance projects. An additional 363 would be Metro Transit Police officers, station managers, train operators and others to help run the new Silver Line to Tysons Corner and Reston. Thirty-three are for “new facilities” and 169 for “system investments,” including 60 escalator technicians and 51 rail-car maintenance workers.

The fare increases are intended to help fill a $116 million shortfall in the $1.6 billion budget. Increases would hit almost all areas, including bus and rail fares, parking rates and Metro­Access, the transit authority’s service for the disabled. Metro would eliminate the peak-of-the­peak surcharge for traveling during the rail system’s busiest times.

The actual amount of the increases would vary by trip, with base rail fares rising from $1.60 to $1.70 and bus fares going from $1.50 to $1.60. Rail riders who use paper Farecards would pay one-way flat fares: $6 during rush hour, $4 in off-peak times. Day passes would be eliminated.

Stessel said the cost of the new hires would be spread over the operating and capital budgets, which together total $2.5 billion. The capital funds come from states, local jurisdictions and the federal government; operating funds come from fares and the jurisdictions Metro serves.

Several riders on Metro on Tuesday said they were adamantly opposed to the fare increases, arguing that the transit authority does not deserve more money from customers until it improves its service.

Riders complained of constant delays, security problems and broken escalators.

Angela Madison, who lives in Largo and travels the Blue Line, said her first reaction to the proposal was one of disgust.

“More money? Really?” she said. “What I would like is for someone to show us some books. Where is the money going? I don’t see any improvements.”

As Richard Green waited at Largo Town Center for a vending machine to issue a paper Farecard, he said the current fares are “good enough.”

Green said Metro needs to improve security at its stations before it asks customers for more.

“If they did something about security, maybe I could go along with this,” the Upper Marlboro resident said. “I understand it takes a lot to run this [system], but customers are pumping a lot of money in already.”

LaVonne Sarvis, who was waiting for the train at the Largo station with her sister, Donna Thomas, said that Metro was “milking the public.”

“It’s just awful,” Thomas said in agreement. “You’re asked to pay an arm and a leg to park, and it seems the services are not that great.”

Metro officials said Tuesday that under the proposed rates, 32 percent of trips made during peak periods would cost the same or less than they do now.

But the majority of riders would see increases.

Janet Myers, who has been a Metro customer for 20 years and rides between her home in Maryland and McPherson Square, wasn’t happy with that news.

“People are poor. We’re struggling,” she said. “I haven’t had a raise in three years, so why should I pay more?

Staff writer Maggie Fazeli Fard contributed to this report.

 
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