Metro customers air concerns at public hearing

By Nicole Norfleet
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 25, 2010

Commuters worried about possible cutbacks in rail and bus service and increases in fares weighed in at a public hearing Wednesday night as Metro officials considered how to close a $189 million budget shortfall.

More than 80 residents, community leaders and Metro officials gathered in a backroom of the St. Francis Xavier Church on Pennsylvania Avenue SE to discuss how changes proposed in Metro's budget plans would affect their communities.

Metro is considering a host of options to plug the gap, including raising rail and bus fares. The agency also could scale back service, lengthening waits for trains and buses, cutting some bus routes and rail service on nights or weekends, and closing train stations earlier.

"Lemme show you something," said Deborah Jones, 50, digging into her purse and pulling out her Metro SmarTrip card. "This is like life and death to me."

Jones said she was on her way home when a bus driver told her about the public hearing, the second of six the transit agency has scheduled before deciding on a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Jones, echoing others in the room, said she relies on Metro buses to get to work and simply to get around. Most of those who went to comment were bus riders angered at the prospect of routes being cut or service hours reduced.

"You cut the service, you cut us off at the knees," said Barbara Runner, 56, who lives in Fairfax Village. She said Metrobus is a lifeline in Southeast, where cabs are hard to find.

Carol Kissal, Metro's chief financial officer, told the group that the agency's budget woes stem partly from a slump in advertising revenue, the end of some one-time funding and rising insurance costs in the wake of the June 22 crash on the Red Line near the Fort Totten Station that killed nine and injured 80.

"There are many transit organization across the country that are having the same problems," Kissal said.

But Janice Clinton, 44, wasn't sympathetic. Clinton, who has physical disabilities, said she needs a bus to get around. "I understand that you all said y'all have a budget," she said. "We all have a budget."

Reducing the late-night service would harm the backbone of the city, said John Boardman, the executive secretary-treasurer of Unite Here Local 25, a union of more than 8,000 hospitality workers. He said that 5,000 of those members work in District hotels and that many use mass transit. "There aren't alternatives to my members," he said.

Four additional public hearings are planned. All are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.; an open house will precede each session at 6:30 p.m.

-- Monday: Mount Calvary Baptist Church, 5120 Whitfield Chapel Rd., Lanham.

-- Wednesday: Arlington County Board Room, Third Floor, 2100 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington.

-- April 1: All Souls Unitarian Church, Pierce Hall, 1500 Harvard St. NW, Washington.

-- April 1: Montgomery County Executive Office Building, Cafeteria, 101 Monroe St. (entrance on Jefferson Street), Rockville.

Riders who can't make the hearing can e-mail comments to http://public-hearing-testimony@wmata.comor participate in an online poll.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company