Vigorous opposition from commuters appears to have killed a plan by Metro transit officials to sharply reduce some key Northern Virginia bus service and raise fares by up to 50 percent on other bus lines.
"I don't want to fight about any reasonable cuts in service, but I don't think there are many reasonable cuts there," said Fairfax County Supervisor Audrey Moore (D-Annandale) about the plan, which she said threatens to leave up to 3,000 commuters stranded at the Pentagon subway stop daily if instituted.
County supervisors surveyed yesterday indicated that they would be unwilling to go along with a Washington Metropolitan Transportation Authority plan to terminate eight Fairfax County bus routes at the Pentagon subway station, instead of running them directly into the District of Columbia as they now do.
The plan, proposed as a way of holding down Metro's rapidly rising costs, also would reduce service on 22 bus lines in Northern Virginia and raise rates across the board.
"This idea just doesn't make any sense, from the standpoint of the individual consumer," said Fairfax Board Chairman John F. Herrity, who blamed escalating Metro costs on inefficient Metro management and the system's "sweetheart" contract with its 5,000-member transit union. "It's more expensive and less efficient."
Metro spokesman Cody Pfanstiehl said yesterday he was not surprised by the board's opposition to the plan and interpreted it as a response to popular support of mass transit. "If all the jurisdictions followed the wishes expressed so strongly in our recent public hearings, they would do the same thing -- raise fares slightly and not cut back service."
The squabble over Fairfax bus routes is the latest round in a continuing battle between area jurisdictions and Metro management over rising demands for government subsidization of commuter transit costs.
Shortly after an arbitration panel last spring ordered Metro to pay a $7.6 million cost-of-living increase to its workers, several Northern Virginia localities, including Fairfax, vowed to hold the lid on further Metro subsidy increases.
Metro officials had held out the current plan as a way for Fairfax officials to recoup about $1.2 million of the approximately $26 million it expects to spend on public transportation costs this year. The county's share of Metro costs is expected to jump by another $5 million next year.
After hearing testimony from angry commuters at two public hearings on the plan, however, Fairfax supervisors say the proposed cutbacks would serve only to undercut the area's public transportation system by encouraging more commuters to take to their cars.
In a recent areawide Metro poll, most of those surveyed said they would oppose fare increases unless the quality of Metro service were upgraded with more frequent runs and cleaner buses.
"We can't murder and mutilate the system that we created here when the system is a big success and passengers are increasing by droves," said Supervisor Joseph Alexander (D-Lee). "There's a limit to the amount you can soak people, and I think we're reaching that limit."
Alexander said he expected the county board to approve small bus fare increases of between 10 and 20 cents, which he said would slightly increase the commuter's share of the total cost of riding the bus. Currently, Fairfax County tax revenues account for 64 percent of the cost of an average bus ride in the county.