Metro budget calls for no fare hikes but plenty of weekend work in next 6 months


Metro’s $2.5 billion operating and capital budget was presented Thursday to the agency’s board of directors. While there is no fare increase for riders, jurisdictions will have to make up a budget gap by contributing $27 million more than they did last year. (Gerald Martineau/THE WASHINGTON POST)
January 10, 2013

Metro isn’t proposing fare hikes this year but warned Thursday that riders can expect more service disruptions as the transit agency continues rebuilding the system and preparing for the new Silver Line in Northern Virginia.

The transit agency laid out its plans to do weekend work for just about every weekend in the first six months of the year, except during major events such as the presidential inauguration and the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

“We understand the inconvenience to customers,” said Dave Kubicek, Metro’s deputy general manager of operations. “But we’re doing this because it is a necessity to sustain service and as demand becomes that much more.”

The work involves implementing National Transportation Safety Board recommendations, installing cellphone service capabilities and fixing platforms and lighting, Metro officials said.

“It is not just about the railroad and replacing steel,” Kubicek said.

The plans were laid out as part of Metro’s $2.5 billion operating and capital budget, which was presented Thursday to the agency’s board of directors.

Although there is no fare increase for riders, jurisdictions will have to make up a budget gap by contributing $27 million more than they did last year. Last year, Metro’s board approved a fare hike that averaged 5 percent.

Metro board members Tom Downs, who represents the District, and Mort Downey, who represents the federal government, raised concerns Thursday about the transit agency’s practice in recent years of drawing on the capital budget and previous years’ surpluses to pay some operating expenses.

“I don’t want to see us doing too much of it because our capital needs are so great,” Downey said after the meeting.

Downs also questioned why the cost of a fatigue management program has grown to $17 million from $5 million. Richard Sarles, the transit agency’s general manager, said that some of the $17 million is to hire new workers so existing workers don’t have to work so much overtime.

Sarles told the board that Metro hired about 1,800 employees in 2012 and expects to hire about 1,700 in 2013. The new hires include train and bus operators, signal repair and track workers and construction equipment operators. Some of the new positions are to help run the new Silver Line.

In preparation for the Silver Line opening, the agency also plans to make changes to many bus routes in Northern Virginia.

Metro is one of only a few transit agencies across the country that have seen its ridership drop.

Ridership at Metro was down 4.5 percent from July through October compared with the same time period in 2011. Transit agency officials said the drop was caused by lower tax benefits from the federal government, fare increases and the closure of the system for almost two days after Hurricane Sandy.

Congress increased the pre-tax benefit to $240 from $125 for rail and bus riders as part of the “fiscal cliff” resolution last week, but Metro expects that revenue from ridership will be $14 million lower for fiscal 2014 than originally projected. Revenue for fiscal 2013 is expected to be down $25 million, according to Metro officials.

Sarles’s budget recommends spending $40 million during the next six years so that more eight-car trains can be used.

The money would be spent to upgrade the power system, add rail yard storage and buy more 7000 series rail cars. He said it would be “five years or so” before riders “could start seeing eight-car trains.”

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