General Manger Richard S. Page told the Metro budget committee yesterday that a 10-cent bus and subway fare increase will be needed in January to balance Metro's budget, unless local governments provide more money for the system.
Page said he made that recommendation because an eight-part package of revenue measures and service cuts that the committee proposed last week was too complicated and would not raise or save enough money. That package had included a proposal for a 5-cent fare increase.
The committee agreed to scrub the eight-part program yesterday but decided to wait a week to work out new budget-balancing measures, possibly including Page's 10-cent fare increase. The Metro board would have to hold public hearings on the new fares and then set the new rates before they could take effect.
Officials from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, Prince George's County and the District of Columbia all indicated that, one way or another, they could live with a fare increase -- but perhaps not one as hefty as 10 cents.
James Clark, acting transportation director for the District, said that "a 10-cent increase is more than hefty. It will cost people $50 or more per year. People with little disposable income will pay because they have no choice, but others won't ride because they do and the city is concerned about losing ridership." However, Clark said, "We can see some merit in a nickel increase."
Marie Travesky, Fairfax County supervisor and Metro board member said, "I think what we are seeing this year is going to happen every year unless major changes are made in the labor contract." Metro's contract, currently in arbitration, awards its bus drivers and train operators quarterly pay raises that match in percentage the increase in the consumer price index.
Page's recommendation came one day after House and Senate conferees had added to the financial problems of Metro and other transit systems around the country by cutting federal transit operating aid below the amount recommended by President Carter. The result for Metro is that it will get about $4 million less in federal assistance this year than it had budgeted.
That means that the portion of Metro's budget that lacks guaranteed funds will range from $12 million to $16 million this year, depending on the outcome of the arbitration.
Metro's operating budget is $271 million and includes a local and state subsidy of $121 million. Most of the local governments that provide the Metro subsidy have ordered the transit agency to live within its budget and have said they will not increase their subsidy, as they have many times in the past.
However, metro's labor, diesel fuel and spare parts costs have exceeded budget expectations and are the primary elements in the projected overrun.
Page told the committee that he could make up $4 million of the overrun internally through such actions as a hiring freeze.
A 5-cent fare increase would raise about $4 million, and 10-cent fare increase another $4 million, he said. Additionally, Page and most of the board members spoke yesterday of the need to cut as many marginal bus trips as possible, thereby saving more money.
"We need to raise revenue and we need to eliminate marginal service," Page said. "We appeal to the local staffs to help us. You know where the marginal routes are better than out staff does."
One of the most popular political games in town is to advertise a cut in bus service, hold a hearing as required by law, then restore the proposed cut while blaming Metro for proposing it.
If a 10-cent fare increase were ultimately adopted, Page said, Metro would promise its riders not to raise fares again in July, but to wait at least a full year.
In other Metro news yesterday:
The full board confirmed Page's appointment of Theodore (Tad) G. Weigle Jr. as Metro's new assistant general manager for transit services, the top operating job. Weigle is currently the administrator of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration's regional office in Chicago and has known Page for three years. Nicholas Roll, the current assistant general manager, is retiring at the end of the year.
An investigating committee reported to the board that it was unable to learn exactly what happened at the Foggy Bottom station July 8 when Patricia A. DeBoard, a blind woman, was struck by a train. She died later. The committee concluded that the train operator made every reasonable effort to prevent the accident, that DeBoard was not pushed and had not committed suicide.
D.C. Board member Jerry A. Moore Jr. handed the board a petition he said contained 1,000 signatures of D.C. residents living along the proposed route of Metro's unbuilt Green Line asking that plans for the line be completed and that construction sped up. The line is planned to run from Rosecroft Raceway in southern Prince George's County through Anacostia, Southwest Washington, Seventh Street, U Street, 14th Street and along the New Hampshire Avenue corridor to the existing Fort Totten station, then west to Prince George's County and north to Greenbelt. The line is at present scheduled to be the last one completed on Metro's 101-mile system.