$5.28 Million Asked for Inaugural Transit
Extra Transportation Services 'Pushed the System to Its Limit,' Official Says
Friday, January 30, 2009; Page B03
Metro spent more than $5 million to operate extra service for Inauguration Day and the three days before, General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. told board members yesterday.
Although Metro also collected about $3 million in fares for the four days from Saturday to Tuesday, that still leaves the agency more than $2 million short in covering immediate expenses for additional manpower, equipment and other costs. (The revenue number does not include the amount collected in bus fares, which officials said they won't have for another week or so. Breakdowns for revenue collected on each of the four days were not immediately available.)
Inauguration costs were not included in Metro's budget, and the agency will be seeking reimbursement for about $5.28 million for the four-day weekend, officials said. The transit agency sent a letter to D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) with the understanding that the mayor's office would, in turn, include that figure in its reimbursement request to Congress. The amount the agency is seeking includes money to cover additional wear-and-tear expenses that could arise in coming months after operating on an unprecedented level of service that "pushed the system to its limit," Catoe said.
Before the inauguration, the District, Maryland and Virginia had estimated that inauguration costs would top $75 million and sought the federal government's help in covering those expenses. The White House then announced it would grant the District emergency funding based on crowd projections of 1.5 million to 2 million people. The city estimates that 1.8 million people attended President Obama's swearing-in and inaugural parade.
On Inauguration Day, Metro carried more people than on any other day in its 33-year-history: 1,120,000 train trips, 423,000 Metrobus trips and 1,721 MetroAccess paratransit rides, for a total of 1,544,721 trips. More than 8,000 employees worked that day. The agency ran 17 hours of rush-hour service on Inauguration Day and also set ridership records Jan. 18 and 19.
"Our employees performed at the highest level," Catoe said. He credited good communication, "painting the right expectation" for the public, and meticulous planning and testing for Metro's performance, too.
Catoe also said a 1million-plus daily ridership on the rail system will become a reality over the next 20 years if demographic trends hold. Just as additional bus service helped relieve pressure on the rail system on Inauguration Day, full use of buses will be important for Metro to keep the rail system from being overwhelmed in the future, he said.
Meanwhile, Metro is facing a huge shortfall in its $1.3 billion operating budget for the coming year. But there was some good news yesterday: Instead of the original $176 million projected shortfall -- about 13 percent of the budget -- laid out this month, finance officials said the gap is closer to $154 million. Chief Financial Officer Carol Kissal said the lower figure reflects more accurate estimates for what Metro will probably pay in salary step increases under union contracts.
In addition, Metro may have higher revenue estimates in March, when a fuller picture emerges of savings from eliminating paper transfers, she said. Metro got rid of paper transfers to cut costs and fraud and speed bus boarding.
Economic stimulus legislation pending in Congress would also bring new capital dollars to Metro. That could free up money for items such as preventive maintenance that are now funded in the operating budget.
Metro board members have said they are not considering a fare increase. But the transit authority said it doesn't expect to raise enough money to maintain service at current levels, even with cost-control measures.
The agency is suggesting cutting 891 positions and instituting the largest-ever reductions in train, bus and paratransit service, with about $81 million in administrative cuts and $73 million in service cuts. The transit authority has asked local and state governments served by Metro to recommend specific service cuts; those are expected to be presented to the board in mid-February.
About half of the positions identified for elimination are vacant. Of the total positions, 313 are administrative and 578 are service-related. The 313 positions include 77 in bus and 146 in rail; they do not include bus or train operators or mechanics.