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Proposed Metrobus Cuts To Get Public Hearings

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 27, 2009; Page B01

After months of wrangling, the Metro board voted yesterday to hold public hearings on reducing Metrobus service to close part of the agency's $29 million budget gap. District members blocked consideration of a 5-cent across-the-board fare increase as an alternative to service cuts.

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The service cuts, proposed by the jurisdictions served by Metro, would affect 42 Metrobus lines across the region, with the largest impact in Prince George's County. Fairfax County did not recommend any service cuts. Ten lines would be eliminated, including five in Prince George's. Another 12 lines would have some routes or segments eliminated. Two lines -- J7/J9 and W19 -- would charge $3 express fares instead of the current $1.35 fare. And 14 lines could undergo wider gaps between bus arrival times.

Marcell Solomon, who represents Prince George's on the board, said some lines to be cut, including the C12 and C14, which run between the Naylor Road and Branch Avenue Metro stations, serve the county's poorest areas.

"How are these people going to get around if you eliminate that route?" he asked.

The board voted 4 to 2 in favor of giving riders a chance to comment on a fare hike vs. service cuts. Virginia and Maryland members, who supported the idea, said riders had told them that they would rather pay higher fares than lose service.

"I'd rather give customers an opportunity to respond to options rather than lose those bus routes," said Elizabeth Hewlett, who represents Maryland. A 5-cent fare increase would generate $15 million to $17 million.

But the motion was defeated because both District members opposed it. Board action requires at least one vote each from the District, Maryland and Virginia.

Metro board Chairman Jim Graham, a D.C. Council member, has consistently opposed consideration of any fare increases.

Metro will hold public hearings in mid-April to allow riders to comment on the budget and proposed cuts. The board hopes to make a final decision in June, with the changes possibly taking effect by June 30. Board members are unlikely to make cuts more severe than those that have already been outlined. There are no rail service cuts on the table.

The board could also decide to use capital funds set aside for maintenance and new rail cars to close the gap, without making service cuts. But several members oppose doing so because it would push the financial problems to next year.

To minimize reductions in bus service, the jurisdictions pledged to give Metro nearly $16 million more in subsidies; the service cuts make up the remaining $13 million deficit.

District members said there was no need to ask the public to consider fare hikes because state and local governments had agreed to give Metro larger subsidies. "What was the point of having everybody agitated over a fare increase?" Graham said.

And what if riders at the public hearings say they would prefer to pay a nickel more in fares to keep bus service intact? "I'm going to listen very closely to what they say at the public hearings," he said.

A list of affected Metrobus lines will be on Metro's Web site, http://www.wmata.com, by today, officials said.


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