Metro is on a collision course with the future. Its management has decided officially to continue building more stations and other unconnected pieces of the full system without money in sight to lay enough track to connect the stations or to purchase the necessary cars. Their strategy is to try to "force" the federal and local governments into supplying whatever money is required to finish the full 101- mile rail network at a total construction cost estimated between $10 billion and $12 billion. That is more than $11,000 for each household in the entire Washington metropolitan area, and does not include present or future operating deficits.
Such costs far exceed the benefits, and since most of the capital costs must come from the federal government--with its economy-busting deficits--any funds for more Metro miles use dollars that could be used more beneficially for more needed projects. The same applies to the eight local government budgets.
Those of us who are footing the bills want to put Metro on a solid foundation now, by reducing capital outlays and raising fares to cover more of the operating costs. The current Metro policy ignores economic realities as well as those people who ride or choose not to ride, or cannot ride the trains or buses; and it is only a very small part of the solution to our area-wide transportation problems-- about 10 to 12 percent of the daily people movement and zero percent of goods. The full cost of a ride on Metro is greater than the same ride by any other mode except the single-occupant gas guzzler.
Ridership figures on the combination rail- bus transit system cannot be compared with the previous all-bus system because the same individual rider whose daily round trip was recorded as two rides may now show up statistically as somewhat more than two because he is forced to transfer.
The important point is that ridership and revenues are far below the original forecasts on which planning and local governments were asked to enter into funding agreements and to commit large amounts of their bonding capacity. When the Metrorail system was being sold to the public in the mid-1960s, public transportation by bus was in the order of about 120 million riders annually. Metro was projecting that the proposed system would carry roughly four times that number when completed about now. Subsequent forecasts reduced the figure to about three times 120 million, to be reached upon completion of Metro in 1990. The annual rate of growth required to reach these forecasts is far larger than the growth currently experienced. Likewise, the forecasted annual fare increases that were to keep abreast of rising operating costs have not been achieved, and the heavy opposition to fare increases is likely to create still further shortfalls. So it can be expected that annual subsidies demanded by Metro from the eight local government jurisdictions will increase from the present approximately $170 million to half a billion dollars or more before the end of this decade.
The Arlington County Taxpayers Association supports our county board's efforts to cause Metro management to adopt measures that will halt these ballooning costs. We all recognize that some tangible benefits flow from a modern, well-operated mass transit system, and that many residents are dependent on public transportation. But with eight independent jurisdictions in two states and the District of Columbia involved and the likelihood that more might become involved as the system grows, to call for an area sales or payroll tax, as Metro General Manager Richard S. Page has done, is simply to be out of touch with harsh reality.
The system should be fully finished at about 65 to 70 miles of track and put into operation; after experience with this shortened network, additional miles could be constructed. It is time for area taxpayers in general and Arlington taxpayers in particular to realize what an excessively expensive transit system is being undertaken and what fearsome deficits are being generated. Metro is one of the factors that create these devastating federal deficits and that rob other more necessary and beneficial programs of essential funding.