Metrorail and bus riders would see no fare increases next year under a $1.1 billion spending plan proposed yesterday by transit managers, but local governments would pay 5.9 percent higher subsidies to help run the region's public transportation system.
The budget proposal marks the second straight year with no recommended fare increases, as tens of thousands of new train and bus riders have continued to boost revenues.
Under the proposal by Metro Chief Executive Richard A. White, spending would increase by $74 million, or 7.3 percent, for fiscal 2007, which will begin July 1, 2006. Much of the increase would go to wages, pension payments and fuel and electricity, but White also proposed spending to relieve crowding on buses and improve their reliability.
"The customers want more-frequent service," he told Metro directors yesterday. "It needs to be more reliable. And it's too crowded."
He proposed eliminating or scaling back a number of bus routes with low ridership to save more than $2.4 million, which would be invested in improving service on major routes.
For instance, White proposed eliminating the W9 Defense Facilities Shuttle in the District's Southeast. In 2004, the shuttle carried an average of four passengers a trip. White also suggested ending bus service after midnight on weekends on more than two dozen routes.
The savings yielded by those changes would be used to add service on several routes that have been particular targets of rider complaints.
For example, Metro would increase service on the S2 and S4 lines along 16th Street, where buses average 42 passengers a trip, in an attempt to ensure that passengers have shorter waits at bus stops.
In previous budget proposals, Metro's subway has been the main focus. The attention being given this year to the bus system, which carries 500,000 passengers a day, comes after a recent study by an outside panel described Metrobus as dilapidated and underfunded.
Among the panel's conclusions was that Metro's buses would run more smoothly with better supervision. White recommended $2.8 million in management improvements, including hiring personnel to watch over routes from the street. The new workers would help reduce "bunching," which happens when traffic delays cause buses on the same route to travel in packs and entirely off their published schedules.
"It is virtually impossible on most of our routes to maintain the timetables. The customers know it, and they're not happy about it," White said.
White also asked for $1.8 million to hire 20 police officers for the bus system.
For rail, the budget includes money to operate new cars and continue introducing eight-car trains during peak hours.
Metro has been pressed over the last year to make its budget easier to understand and reduce annual increases in subsidies from the eight regional jurisdictions that make up the transit authority.
As an addendum to his spending proposal, White made a series of so-called "unfunded" recommendations for improvements if Metro's directors can find a way to pay for them.
They include an additional $5.6 million to further relieve bus crowding.
Even with the extra money, White said only two-thirds of necessary improvements would be made to the bus system.
His "unfunded" proposals also included $4 million to boost rail service on four federal holidays and on off-peak hours and weekends and $1.3 million to raise the salaries of 184 contract cleaners and parking attendants to a level that Metro managers have determined is a living wage.
The Metro board of directors will review the spending proposal and hold the agency's first-ever public budget hearing before voting on the budget this spring.
Jack Corbett, founder of the passenger advocacy group metroriders.org, called the hearing "an important step."
He said some of the group's 1,500 members would be likely to use the opportunity to tell Metro directors that they need to spend more money on subway improvements than White has recommended.