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Would a shutdown shut down Metro?

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What effect would a federal government shutdown have on Metro? Post commuter columnist Robert "Dr. Gridlock" Thomson discussed that question with readers during a live online chat Monday on

Q: Does anyone know whether a government shutdown happens, how that could affect Metro service? Would it be running a reduced schedule?

Thomson: I don't see any potential effect on Metro travel, other than that you're more likely to get a seat on a train or bus. Metro isn't a federal agency, even though we now have federal representatives on the Metro board. Federal money doesn't pay for the day-to-day operations of the transit system.

Metro officials seem a lot more worried about potential federal budget cuts that would eliminate the $150 million a year in federal money that the transit system is in line to get thanks to former congressman Tom Davis.

That money - if it arrives - will get matched by the local jurisdictions that finance Metro. If that disappears, it will be a huge hit to Metro's plans to maintain and improve the system.

Anybody think I'm missing a potential impact of the federal shutdown on travel in the D.C. area? I don't see any significant impact on driving, either, other than a reduction in the crowding on the roads.

Q: I think the question of the impact of a federal shutdown is what will happen to all of the transit subsidies given to federal employees and that then funnel down to Metro.

Although rider fares do not even come close to covering costs, they are nothing to sneeze at. Will the federal government give the money that employees don't need on days they don't commute directly to Metro? Not likely.

Thomson: I think I see what you're saying here: The transit benefit that the federal government pays to its workers amounts to a huge indirect subsidy to Metro. If riders aren't going to work and using the benefit, the money doesn't become Metro revenue.

I think you're right that this would be a revenue hit for Metro but am not sure how big a dent it would make.

Metro never has a very big cushion in its operating budget, but the main thing I've heard officials worry about is whether the local jurisdictions will increase their Metro contributions enough to avoid any service cuts when the new fiscal year starts July 1.

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