Metro approves budget with no fare hikes for riders


A metro train pulls into the McPherson Square station in this file photo. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

What a difference a year makes.

In less than two minutes, and with no questions or discussion, Metro’s board of directors on Tuesday approved the transit agency’s $2.7 billion annual budget.

The vote on the budget was decidedly different last year, when Metro’s proposed fare hikes angered riders who came out in force at several public hearings to complain. In the end, Metro’s board approved an increase that averaged 5 percent in its parking fees and bus and rail fares to help the agency overcome a $103 million shortfall.

The new budget for fiscal 2014 calls for no fare increases, a move in line with the agency’s 2008 policy decision to make fare changes every two years. That policy went into effect in 2010.

While riders won’t have to pay more in fiscal 2014, the three area jurisdictions that help fund Metro will have to pay increased subsidies. Maryland, the District and Virginia will have to pay a total of $735 million; they paid $706 million this fiscal year.

After Thursday’s meeting, Metro board vice chairman Mort Downey said there was little discussion on the multibillion-dollar budget because “we’re not raising fares and they’re not looking for big increases in the subsidy from the jurisdictions.”

“There’s been less incentive to really dig hard,” he said. Many of the questions over the budget and the ensuing debates had been tackled in finance committee meetings before Thursday’s final vote, Downey said.

Still, Metro is facing significant financial challenges.

The agency, which employs about 11,000 people, is projecting a $29 million jump in its pension and health-care costs, to $151 million, in fiscal 2014. And it expects revenue from ridership will be $14 million less for fiscal 2014 than it had projected. The agency also has said it would be hit by $10 million less in revenue from the federal government’s furloughs through sequestration.

Metro expects to achieve a $35 million surplus in fiscal 2014 by not filling some vacancies and through some savings in its contract to run MetroAccess, its door-to-door shuttle service for the disabled. In addition, Metro locked in lower prices than planned on fuel.

“There are still long-term issues we have to come to grips with, like pensions and the fact that the surplus we’re seeing in 2014 won’t be recurring,” Downey said.

The fiscal 2014 budget includes $1.7 billion in operating funds and an additional $1 billion in capital spending. The operating budget includes money for limited-stop buses in parts of the region, $50 million to train personnel and begin operating the new Silver Line in Northern Virginia, and $17 million for a program to manage Metro workers’ fatigue after criticism about employees working too much overtime.

Metro’s capital budget includes $150 million for a new radio communications system, plans to replace and rehabilitate about 200 escalators and elevators, new buses and new vehicles for MetroAccess.

In the past few months, Metro officials have been trying to gain support for the agency’s long-term plan, which includes such work as adding power to the rails to allow more eight-car trains and possibly building another crossing over the Potomac River to alleviate the amount of travel through the Rosslyn tunnel. But there is no immediate source of funding for the big-ticket items, which Metro has said could cost billions of dollars more.

I'm a Washington Post reporter, working an early morning shift that deals with crime, lottery winners, traffic, you name it.
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