The two main transportation bodies serving Prince William County and the surrounding area agreed Thursday to integrate their budget adoption processes.
The move is designed to provide greater synchronization between the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC) and Virginia Railway Express (VRE), which coordinate many transportation efforts but have yet to correlate their administrative policies. PRTC oversees operation of VRE, as well as the OmniRide and OmniLink bus services.
"It's all about beginning earlier in the interest of fusing bus and commuter rail budgets so they happen concurrently," said Al Harf, executive director of PRTC. "It's important to integrate the two budgets so judgments can be made about the use of resources."
The agreement markedly simplifies the budget process for VRE, rolling back its approval time from January to June to get it in step with PRTC. Prior to the agreement, the rail budget was decided in January, several months before the bus budget was finalized.
Thursday's pact comes at a time when ridership is steadily increasing on all local lines. Officials expect even more users because of the traffic mess brought on by construction at the Springfield interchange.
The decision to link the budgets was made separate from those issues, but it will help in handling the additional riders, Harf said.
"Nothing is precipitating it now," he said. "It's just good practice. . . . If you start the budget process early enough, there's ample time to apply management ingenuity and work to ensure harmonious processes and then there's no crisis management."
In addition to setting the new budget course, the PRTC approved a handful of policy guidelines Thursday. The body voted not to increase fares or decrease services to meet short-term budget shortfalls. If the books are not balancing, the PRTC will devise ways to raise funds that do not directly impact users, Harf said.
The PRTC also approved adding daylong connections to the West Falls Church and Franconia/Springfield Metro stations and extending OmniLink hours on Saturdays.
In all, the changes are designed to increase service, while decreasing dependency on government subsidies, Harf said. "There's no question the more riders we carry, the more revenue we make and the less dependent we are on subsidies," Harf said. "That's the direction we're headed in."