The budget hearings that the Metro board is launching tonight are different in several ways. One is that the transit authority leadership is offering riders a variety of ways to complain, praise and otherwise interact about train and bus service.
This is a welcome change from the old practice of having a board member or two sit silently behind a table while riders walk up to a microphone and say they don’t want their transit service cut. Instead, each of the six sessions will start with an open house at 5:30 p.m., offering a chance to speak informally with Metro officials; followed by a town hall meeting at 6 p.m., which should be a chance to exchange ideas in a forum, followed by the official public hearing at 6:45 p.m., required to take comment on proposed service cuts.
My comment is that the main reason for holding the official public hearings shouldn’t be on the docket. When confronted with the staff proposal to cut weekend train service still further to save less than $6 million on a $1.466 billion operating budget, the board should have instructed the staff to find a way around that.
I hope that hard-pressed local jurisdictions can find the extra money to further subsidize the transit authority. But it can’t inspire confidence among those jurisdictions to see that Metro can’t find a way to make an adjustment of less than one percent in its budget to save riders a lot of pain.
What are the riders supposed to say when we get to the official public hearing part of the agenda? Here’s a prediction: They’re going to say, “Don’t cut the weekend service.”
What more are they supposed to say at that point? There’s no fare increase proposal on the docket this year, so they can’t offer to support that alternative. Besides, last year’s hearings resulted in the biggest fare increase in the system’s history. So don’t they deserve one year without fare increases or service cuts?
It’s insulting to riders to put them through a new round of uncertainty about service over such a relatively small amount of money.
I do hope that riders will come out and give the board members a piece of their mind on this and many other topics during the six sessions. Here are the locations.
Treetops Professional Place, Atrium, 8181 Professional Place, Hyattsville.
• George Washington Middle School Auditorium, 1005 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria.
• St. Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church, Fellowship Hall, 4125 Fessenden St. NW, the District.
• Arlington County Board Room, Third Floor, 2100 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington.
• First Baptist Church of Wheaton, Fellowship Hall, 10914 Georgia Ave., Wheaton.
Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, John H. Kearney Sr. Fellowship Hall, 2616 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, the District.