METRO BUDGET SHORTFALL
Reduced Holiday Service, Removal of Three Dozen Bus Routes Weighed
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Metro might eliminate three dozen bus routes and reduce bus and rail service on four major holidays to help close a $116 million budget shortfall, agency officials said yesterday.
The reductions are among several possibilities, including higher fares and more contributions from area taxpayers, that Metro officials are considering to make ends meet, according to budget documents and interviews with Metro staff and board members.
Possible fare increases and other changes are part of a $1.2 billion operating plan for fiscal 2008, which begins July 1. The plan also includes 5 percent raises for about 1,600 Metro managers. The proposed budget is about 9 percent higher than the current one and will be made public at a board committee meeting Thursday.
Riders reacted angrily yesterday to the possibility of higher fares. Scott Mathews, 46, who lives in Manassas and rides the Orange Line to downtown Washington, said Metro should freeze wages before asking riders for more money. Mathews commutes from Vienna to Federal Triangle for his job at the Commerce Department. He drives 45 minutes to Vienna even though he lives less than a mile from a Virginia Railway Express station because Metro is more reliable and cheaper than VRE, he said.
But if Metro decides to charge him more for parking and for his rush-hour ride, he said he might switch.
"If Metro goes up a dollar a day, I'd have to try VRE," he said.
In addition to several possible fare increases, Metro officials are considering five to 10 ways to reduce bus and rail service.
One recommendation would eliminate some bus routes with low ridership, about a dozen each in Maryland, Virginia and the District, said an official who has reviewed the spending presentation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official is not supposed to speak about the budget before it is presented.
Another proposal would scale back service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents' Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day. This year, the board decided to provide weekday service on those four holidays because of increased ridership, but officials say the number of riders has not offset costs.
Other service changes being considered include opening the subway at 8 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. on weekends and closing some station entrances on weekends, which would reduce staffing and overhead costs. Pushing back the opening time on weekends would mean that organizers of special events, such as the Marine Corps Marathon, would have to pay for an additional hour of service if they want Metro to open early. Metro charges organizers about $21,000 for each hour they run outside normal operating times.
To increase revenue, Metro also is considering selling more reserved-parking permits at its suburban lots, especially where there are long waiting lists, officials said.
Metro sets aside 15 percent of its spaces for reserved-parking permits, but officials have long argued that the agency could make more money by doubling that percentage. Parking spaces are in such short supply that some lots, including those at Glenmont, Suitland, Largo Town Center, Van Dorn Street and East Falls Church, have long waiting lists for permits.
A reserved monthly parking permit costs $45. Customers are required to pay daily fees in addition to the monthly permit fee.
Some possible expenses have yet to be factored into the proposed budget. For example, Metro will have to change its fare collection machines to accept a new $5 bill. U.S. government officials said the redesign will be issued in early 2008, and Metro officials have said such changes could cost millions of dollars.