“We encourage the Biden-Harris administration to renew the federal government’s commitment to Metro’s future and strongly consider joining the three jurisdictions as our fourth partner in a [Metro] funding agreement,” the letter said. “We strongly believe that maintaining a safe and reliable public transit system for the nation’s capital is a national priority and should be treated in that way.”
Like many transit agencies, Metro is struggling with an unprecedented budget crisis since the pandemic wiped out fare revenue because of a steep drop in riders this year — the result of increased telecommuting, unemployment and virus transmission fears.
The agency has announced a buyout program to retirement-eligible workers to cut 1,400 positions because of a $176.5 million deficit this fiscal year.
Metro projects that ridership will stay at lower levels in the coming months. The agency proposed cutting an additional 2,400 positions, eliminating weekend rail service, cutting bus service by half and closing 19 stations starting in July to meet a projected $494.5 million shortfall in the next fiscal year.
In April, the federal government provided Metro and other transit agencies with a $25 billion bailout that was part of the $2 trillion stimulus known as the Cares Act. About $767 million went to Metro, but officials said that money will run out by March.
Transit agencies have asked Congress for a second bailout, and lawmakers have said they are making progress this week on negotiating another federal stimulus that could include transit funding. But talks have been ongoing for weeks, and Metro officials said there’s no guarantee they will receive enough money to stop the proposed cuts.
The heavily subsidized transit agency gets money for capital projects from the District, Maryland and Virginia, as well as the federal government. But only the three jurisdictions provide money for the system’s annual operating expenses.
The two states and the District contributed about $1.1 billion of Metro’s $1.9 billion operating budget last year. Maryland provided about $432 million, the District contributed $408 million, and Virginia kicked in $286 million, according to Metro.
The federal government does provide Metro with operating money through a travel stipend it gives federal workers, who make up Metro’s largest rider base. But those funds aren’t guaranteed, especially when commuting levels are down during the pandemic.
“The National Capital Region’s economy depends on these workers, especially the more than 300,000 federal employees who work throughout the region,” the joint letter to the Biden administration said. “While [Metro] has been a lifeline for essential workers, a large number of federal employees have been working remotely throughout 2020, leaving the transit system that serves our nation’s capital facing severe financial pressure.”
The letter pointed out how much the federal government benefited from Metro. Much of the transit system was designed specifically to serve the federal government.
Forty percent of Metro’s morning commuters are federal employees, while 50 stations serve major federal facilities such as the Pentagon and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the letter noted.
Metro “serves as a linchpin to federal government operations, yet the lack of a federal contribution for operating [Metro] fails to reflect this fact,” the letter said.
Bowser, Hogan and Northam urged the federal government to begin its funding quickly because the pandemic has hurt tax revenue.
“Without federal support, [Metro] faces major budget shortfalls that will force layoffs and additional service interruptions, further hindering our region’s economic recovery,” the three leaders wrote.