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Metro to cut No. 3 job, eyes fare hikes to close budget gap
FARE INCREASES ALSO PROPOSED
Agency seeks to close $175 million budget gap

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 4, 2009; B01

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. will eliminate the No. 3 job at the agency, held by the executive who oversaw safety when the transit agency banned safety monitors from live tracks in the spring, officials said Thursday.

Emeka Moneme was hired a year and a half ago as Metro's chief administrative officer, in charge of safety, information technology, human resources, and planning and development. When he was hired, his salary was $185,000, a jump from the $145,000 he was paid in his previous job as District transportation director.

After a budget meeting Thursday at which Catoe told board members that Metro was recommending fare increases, service cuts and staff reductions to close next year's budget gap, Catoe said he was cutting some top executives as part of a restructuring. He did not identify the people. But other officials confirmed that the jobs of Moneme and two staff members in his office are being eliminated. Also, senior executive Jack Requa, who heads operation services, is planning to retire Jan. 11.

Their responsibilities will be picked up by other managers. The cuts will save about $500,000 in salaries and benefits, Catoe said.

Moneme was in charge of overseeing the safety office when officials barred independent monitors from live tracks in April. The monitors from the Tri-State Oversight Committee were seeking to ensure that Metro was following worker safety rules after employees were killed on the tracks. Safety chief Alexa Dupigny-Samuels told committee members in the spring that they could not walk along live tracks to assess compliance with safety rules. A short time later, two more workers were fatally injured on the tracks.

After the ban was revealed by The Washington Post, Catoe reversed it. He told board members that he did not learn of the ban until six months after it was imposed and after reporters had contacted Metro seeking comment. Board members said that after news of the ban became public, Metro executives misled them about its genesis.

Reached at home Thursday, Moneme declined to comment.

Metro's projected budget gap for next year has grown significantly -- to $175 million. The staff presentation to board members gave no specifics about fare increases under consideration. But officials are recommending that more than half of the gap, or $92 million, be made up by raising fares.

Even those rough estimates met with disapproval from most board members.

Thursday's forecast for the fiscal year beginning July 1 is gloomier than what officials discussed in September, when the gap was estimated at $144 million.

Officials said the main reason for the worsening picture is growing unemployment, which means fewer riders and less revenue. Also, local and state governments, which provide about half of Metro's operating budget, have said they cannot increase their contributions.

Board members said they would not accept Catoe's initial cost and revenue numbers until they have more details.

"We will not do what's on this page," said Maryland board member Peter Benjamin, referring to staff recommendations on closing the deficit. "We are going to find every cost cut that we can make to minimize service cuts or fare increases."

But Chris Zimmerman, a Virginia member, said methods used to close the previous budget gap are not available this time. The shortfall is so big, he said, that it is unlikely that Metro can get by with minimal fare increases and service cuts.

"I don't think that is going to happen, and the public needs to understand it and understand it now," he said.

That prompted an outburst from board Chairman Jim Graham, who accused Zimmerman of repeating dire forecasts that "the sky is falling."

Catoe said that the budget dialogue is just beginning and that numbers will change in the months ahead. Metro officials are scheduled to provide more specific figures in January.

After the meeting, Metro Chief Financial Officer Carol Kissal said the agency is looking at rider suggestions to increase fares during the "peak of the peak," the busiest part of rush hour; charging more for express bus service to BWI and Dulles airports; and charging more for weekly bus passes.

A 10-cent increase to the base Metrorail fare would generate about $14.9 million in revenue annually, officials said.

For Metrobus, a 10-cent fare increase would generate $4.4 million. The minimum subway boarding charge is $1.65 during rush hour and $1.35 off peak. A bus ride costs $1.25 using a SmarTrip card or $1.35 with cash.

In addition to bus and rail fare increases, Metro's recommendations to close the gap include:

-- $33 million in bus and rail service reductions, such as cutting service on some holidays to reflect actual ridership and closing some station entrances during off-peak hours;

-- $10 million in cuts at MetroAccess, the paratransit service for the disabled (including raising fares from $2.50 a trip to double what it would cost using Metrorail or bus and tightening eligibility);

-- $10 million in departmental reductions, including the executive reorganization;

-- shifting $30 million set aside for preventive maintenance to the operating budget.

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