If the federal government won't provide funds to help Metro run trains for the record number of passengers expected New Year's Eve, the White house should consider canceling its star-studded party on the Mall, U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said yesterday.
Davis said a Clinton administration plan to throw a national celebration on the Mall while omitting money for transit service is "a slap in the face to surrounding jurisdictions. . . . Why is it reasonable to expect Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia to pay the costs associated with a celebration that originated in the White House?"
Davis and the rest of the regional congressional delegation sent a letter yesterday urging the White House to reconsider a request from Metro for financial help.
"If the administration is unwilling to pony up the funds, perhaps it should consider canceling the event," Davis said in a statement.
U.S. Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob "Jack" Lew turned down Metro's plea Thursday, saying no precedent exists for federal grants to help the transit agency with special events.
OMB officials did not return telephone calls yesterday seeking comment on the delegation's letter.
The four senators and 11 members of the House from Virginia, Maryland and the District criticized the White House for organizing massive public events that strain transit services and leave local taxpayers with the tab.
The letter pointed out that Metro had to absorb $500,000 in costs this year for extra service during the 50th anniversary celebration of NATO. "Clearly, it is unfair to expect the taxpayers of this region alone to continuously foot the bill," the letter said.
Metro expects to provide up to 750,000 passenger-trips New Year's Eve, more than double the number last Dec. 31. The transit agency budgeted $800,000 for holiday service but realized several weeks ago that crowds generated by the Mall celebrations would raise transit costs $1 million.
"This is New Year's Eve times the Fourth of July times 10," Metro spokesman Ray Feldmann said. "We want to get people home on New Year's Eve or New Year's morning. That's the bottom line here. We'll do what we need to do. But there's no funding in the budget for this."
Without federal help, Metro officials say they would have to end a four-year practice of providing free rides after midnight New Year's Eve.
Metro plans to run trains until 3 a.m. and buses until 4 a.m., and Metro will deploy nearly every piece of equipment and most of its employees to deliver what is basically rush-hour service through the night, Feldmann said. In addition, Metro will cluster buses on the streets around the city so they can be deployed to carry rail passengers if the subway system becomes disabled because of year 2000 computer problems.
Taxpayers from Virginia, Maryland and the District pay about 50 percent of Metro's $705 million operating budget, with the remainder coming from fare revenue.