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Metro finds opposition to service cuts, support for higher fares

With budgets strained in the Metro system and in the jurisdictions it serves, the agency's board instituted a temporary 10-cent fare increase in February and is considering further increases and service cuts for the year beginning July 1.
With budgets strained in the Metro system and in the jurisdictions it serves, the agency's board instituted a temporary 10-cent fare increase in February and is considering further increases and service cuts for the year beginning July 1. (Linda Davidson/Washington Post)
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By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 9, 2010

Washington area residents spoke out against cuts in Metro rail and bus service while urging local jurisdictions to increase their funding to help Metro fill a $189 million budget gap for the fiscal year that begins in July, according to a Metro summary of public comment on the budget.

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Large majorities of the 3,633 respondents to an online Metro survey favored fare increases, including 80 percent for off-peak fares and 76 percent for peak fares, Metro said. Seventy percent backed raising the Metrobus boarding charge.

One new type of fare increase, in which Metro would charge more for trips taken during the 90-minute "peak of the peak" rush-hour times in the morning and at night, won support from 71 percent of those surveyed. The times are 7:30 to 9 a.m. and 4:30 to 6 p.m.

Metro officials said technological hurdles would delay implementing such an increase.

"We've never really done it. Engineering says we technically can do it" by July 1, said Carol D. Kissel, Metro's chief financial officer.

About 79 percent of people commenting at public hearings or who wrote in specifically opposed service cuts.

Significant percentages of respondents called on the local jurisdictions that fund Metro to increase their contributions this year for Metro's $1.4 billion operating budget -- 71 percent of respondents to the online questionnaire and 59 percent in public hearings and letters.

Metro's board of directors will debate the alternatives for filling the budget gap at their next meeting April 22 and set a goal of convening a special session April 29 to decide on the measures. About 1,286 letters were addressed to local elected officials in jurisdictions that fund Metro, calling for a $74 million increase in their subsidies to the transit agency for operations.

Metro held six public hearings between March 22 and April 1, gathering about 5,475 public comments. Participants opposed changes to dozens of specific bus routes as well as the closure or reduction of service at certain rail stations.

Comparatively few respondents to Metro's online questionnaire -- 23 percent -- wanted to raise daily parking rates at rail station facilities by $1.15.

Because the public hearings and online survey included only the views of people who decided to participate, the results are not considered scientific and are not an "accurate gauge of the opinions of Metro customers in general," according to the executive summary of a Metro staff report on the public input.

In other Metro news, the board gave preliminary approval Thursday to a revision of the agency's privacy policy that would allow owners of SmarTrip cards to access their information online. Officials said online access could be available as soon as July.

The revision will come up for final approval at the board's April 22 meeting.


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