Metro won’t extend weekend wait times to save money

The head of Metro’s board said Wednesday that it would not approve extending wait times between trains on weekends to save money in its budget for next year.

The transit system had suggested that widening the gaps between trains on Saturdays and Sundays was a move that, along with other cuts and changes to bus service lines, would save $7 million a year. But the Metro board said that it will not support the change after hearing from riders opposed to additional wait times at public hearings, and that the three area jurisdictions will bring subsidies to the table to cover the costs.

“We got opposition from the customers,” said Catherine Hudgins, chairman of Metro’s board of directors and head of its finance committee. “The board said, ‘Let’s come up with another way.’

“Each area jurisdiction has found the money in their respective budgets, so extending the weekend wait times is unnecessary,” she added. “Extending the [wait times] saves money but it inconveniences the customer as well as takes away maintenance time.”

But Metro riders could still see significant delays on weekends because of scheduled track maintenance and repairs.

Metro’s finance committee is expected to make its recommendations Thursday on the agency’s proposed $1.4 billion operating annual budget. The board is expected to vote on the spending plan next week.

Last year, Metro instituted the biggest fare increases in the system’s history. The agency is not proposing any new hikes this year despite facing a $66 million deficit that Maryland, the District and Virginia are expected to fill.

Metro had a $72 million budget gap earlier this year, but the shortfall decreased after it raised its forecast for revenue from its rail operation and reduced the cost of running its Metro Access program, which provides services for those with special needs.

To help save money in next year’s budget, Metro had proposed extending wait times for trains on weekends and eliminating or changing some bus routes — one in Chevy Chase, another in Tenleytown, one in Glover Park and others in Southwest and in the Walter Reed hospital area.

The District likely will pay the cost of some of the bus services, which were proposed to be eliminated or modified. The board is likely to change some of the special fares for riders on bus lines in Anacostia, according to some Metro board members.

As part of its fiscal 2012 budget, Metro also wants to add 345 new positions, bringing its headcount to 11,319, according to a report to the board.

Metro officials said they need to hire more employees in part to carry out the $5 billion capital improvement plan it has launched for the next six years.

Metro’s proposed new hires include 10 escalator and elevator repair and maintenance workers, 87 employees in Metro’s information technology unit, 61 in the financial services area, 13 transit police officers, 34 positions in bus operations, and 129 workers in “infrastructure renewal,” according to the report to the board.

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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