Metro Considers Service Cuts

(Nate Parsons/twp - Staff)
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Sunday, January 25, 2009

The good news for riders is that Metro is not considering a fare increase for the coming year. But the transit authority says it doesn't expect to raise enough money to maintain service at current levels, despite cost-control efforts. So it is asking the region's leaders to help decide where cuts should be made. Here's a look at the problems that lie ahead:

Metro's Spending

It costs about $1.3 billion to operate Metro for a year. Although inflation is not a significant problem nationwide, the transit authority says some of its expenses are rising.

Elsewhere: Many other transit systems, including those in Atlanta, Chicago, Boston and New York, say they face large increases in their operating costs similar to what Metro is experiencing.

Key factors: Contractual labor costs are rising by $44 million. Energy costs, including the electricity to run trains and fuel for the buses, are increasing by $13 million. The cost of the MetroAccess service for disabled people is rising by $17 million. The more rides it provides, the more money it loses. Meanwhile, the transit authority has been hit hard by the recession. Pension investment losses are likely to total $44 million.

Limiting losses: Management imposed cost controls last fall, including a hiring freeze and overtime limits to reduce expenses for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Metro's Revenue

Like most of the country's transit systems, Metro doesn't earn enough from fares to cover the cost of operating its trains, buses and vans.

Fares: The cost of riding trains and of parking at Metro stations increased a year ago, and there are no plans for new fare and fee hikes.

Subsidy: To balance the budget for fiscal 2010, which starts July 1, the plan assumes $103 million in administrative cuts and $87 million in service cuts.

Ridership: Ridership is increasing and should generate more money this year. This year, Metrorail ridership is up 3 percent, Metrobus ridership is up 3 percent and MetroAccess ridership is up 20 percent. Most of the revenue gain is in rail ridership.

Other sources: The portion of Metro's income from sources other than rides is not increasing. Parking revenue is less than expected, and no increase is projected for the next fiscal year. Metro guesses that not as many people have been driving to stations since the parking fees went up. Meanwhile, the weak economy is limiting revenue from fiber optic lines in the system, from interest income and from property rentals.

Bottom Line

To balance $1.3 billion in expenses, Metro projects about $762 million in revenue and a government subsidy of $535 million. Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. is anticipating no change in the subsidy that local governments provide to the transit system.

Getting there: Metro says reaching the goal on expenses will require $103 million in administrative cuts and $87 million in service cuts. Service cuts at that level would be the largest in Metro's history.

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