More Metro funding demanded by coalition to avoid service cuts

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A coalition of activists launched a petition this week to press governments in Virginia, Maryland and the District to increase funding for Metro by $74 million to help stave off service cuts and fare increases.

The Fair Share petition, organized by Transit First! -- a coalition of transit advocates, Metro riders and environmental groups -- allows signers to send online messages urging their local representatives to bolster funding to help fill a projected $189 million gap in Metro's budget for fiscal 2011, which begins in July.

Metro has proposed plugging the gap in part by raising rail and bus fares and reducing bus and rail service. The fare increases would include a 25-cent hike in the boarding charge at peak rail travel times and would raise the maximum peak-period fare from $4.50 to $5.

The proposal by the Metro general manager would also add 50 cents to the $1.25 boarding charge for buses and increase the price of a bus pass from $11 to $15.

Meanwhile, Metro would scale back service, lengthening waits for trains and buses, eliminating some bus routes and rail service at night or on weekends, and closing train stations earlier.

"The main point here is, we are asking riders to pay higher fares for Metro, yet we would layer onto that devastating service cuts -- that does not make any sense to us," said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. "If the riders are paying more, so should the jurisdictions."

Transit First seeks to use the online petition to rally riders and other residents to directly lobby public officials for the funding. It also allows them to submit comments to Metro in advance of a series of public hearings on the budget measures to begin later this month, according to Ben Ross, chairman of Transit First.

"The ultimate decision maker is not Metro; it's the elected officials," Ross said.

Transit First estimated the contributions required from the jurisdictions to make up the $74 million as follows: Maryland, $30 million; the District, $27.4 million; Fairfax County, $9.3 million; Arlington County, $4.5 million; and Alexandria, $2.6 million.

The Arlington County Board recently paved the way for a possible increase in its funding for Metro operations when it set a new property tax rate that would allow for covering a greater subsidy.

Fairfax and Alexandria are considering similar moves as they weigh what property tax rates to advertise.

Coalition members plan to distribute leaflets describing the Fair Share initiative and highlighting potential service cuts at Metro stations across the region prior to the public hearings, Ross said.

"The cuts being proposed are totally unacceptable to the public, like not running the Yellow Line over the bridge on weekends," said Ross, referring to one plan to limit Yellow Line service to a Huntington to King Street shuttle on weekends. "What if they closed the 14th Street Bridge at 10 pm . . . or closed part of the Beltway?"

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