Commuters wait for shuttle buses at the Federal Center SW Metro station after a non-passenger train derailed on Aug. 6, 2015, in the District. (Amanda Voisard/For The Washington Post)

D.C. representatives on the Metro board vow that bus and subway fares will not increase next fiscal year, saying they will veto any budget plan that includes a price increase or service cut for commuters.

With revenue declining because of falling ridership, and with Maryland and Virginia officials reluctant to boost their financial contributions to a transit system plagued by safety and management problems, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s financial staff has said that fare hikes might be necessary to balance the next budget.

Metro’s budget staff is scheduled to present a new spending plan to the board next month.

But the District’s two voting board members, D.C. Council member Jack Evans and businessman Corbett Price, said they will not support raising fares or cutting service under any circumstances for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

“Corbett and I are on the same page on this: There’s not going to be a fare increase,” Evans said. Asked if he instead wants to squeeze bigger financial subsidies from the jurisdictions served by the system, he replied: “Yes, I’m talking about squeezing the jurisdictions. Because we’re not going to take it from the customers.”

D.C. Metro board members Jack Evans and businessman Corbett Price say they will not support a raise in fares or cutting service for the next fiscal year, as the transportation service struggles with revenue problems due to ridership decline. (WUSA9)

Although the board has six other voting members — two each representing Maryland, Virginia and the federal government — Evans and Price, who were appointed to the board this year by D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), can together exercise a rare “jurisdictional veto” over any proposed action by the board.

“It could be that we’ll do that,” said Evans, who is chairman of the board’s finance committee. “In my personal view, the ridership decline is based on two things: It’s based on the system not being reliable and also costing too much. Public transportation only works if it’s convenient and affordable. And Metro is neither.”

The adamant public stance by the city’s two principal members of the board appears likely to further complicate a budget process that already was guaranteed to be a struggle, given Metro’s revenue problems and growing public animosity toward the agency stemming from major service disruptions in recent months.

The worst of the breakdowns occurred Jan. 12, near the L’Enfant Plaza station, where scores of Yellow Line riders were caught on a stalled train in a smoke-filled tunnel when there was an electrical malfunction on the tracks. More than 80 passengers were sickened by the noxious fumes that filled the train, and one died of respiratory failure.

There have been numerous service disruptions since then, including a derailment on Aug. 6. The train that derailed was not carrying passengers, and no one was injured. But the incident forced Metro to close two stations in the city’s core and halt service on stretches of the Orange, Blue and Silver lines for nine hours, leaving tens of thousands of riders scrambling for alternatives.

Other board members also have made it clear that they want to avoid increasing fares, but no one other than the District’s representatives has definitively ruled out raising prices.

“It’s going to make this a very difficult [budget] process,” Board Chairman Mortimer L. Downey, who represents the federal government, said Tuesday. “I don’t know how we’ll work our way out of it. But we’ll have to find a way.”

Board member Michael Goldman, one of Maryland’s two voting representatives, said his state will not agree to significantly increase its financial contribution to Metro — suggesting the possibility of an eventual standoff with the District over how to finance spending in the next fiscal year.

“What I’m told by Maryland officials is that Maryland has a very tight budget this year and that a large increase in subsidy funding is not in the cards,” Goldman said.

“To the extent that there might be a need for more revenue” in the next fiscal year, he said, “it’s going to have to come from cutting non-safety-critical items in the operating budget or from the only other source of revenue, and that’s the fare-paying riders.”

Huge portions of Metro’s budget are funded by operating revenue — mainly, subway and bus fares — and by contributions from jurisdictions served by the transit system. For the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, the agency plans to spend about $3 billion, including an estimated $1.8 billion for day-to-day operations.

During discussions to finalize the current budget, the agency's financial staff initially proposed seeking $919 million in subsidies from the eight counties and cities served by Metro: Montgomery, Fairfax, Arlington and Prince George’s counties, the District and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church. That amounted to an 18 percent increase over the previous fiscal year’s subsidies.

Board members said the figure was too high and ordered staff to find spending cuts and in-house revenue increases so that the subsidy request could be reduced. Metro’s chief financial officer, Dennis Anosike, eventually returned to the board with a reduced budget proposal that called for $877 million in jurisdictional subsidies.

In formulating that budget, fare hikes were not an option. In 2007, the board adopted a policy of not increasing fares two years in a row — and the previous year, the board had raised fares by 3 percent, boosting the cost of the typical subway ride to $3. However, after eschewing a fare hike in the current budget, the board is allowed by policy to increase subway and bus fares in its next budget.

“The money needs to come from the jurisdictions,” Evans said. “Now, what I’m saying to the public — and I’m addressing the public now, not the elected officials — if you want the system you want, then you’re going to have to get Maryland and Virginia on board to pay for it. The District, the mayor, we’re already on board.”

Under the board’s rules, a majority vote alone does not necessarily suffice for a measure to be approved — there has to be a yes vote from at least one of the two members from each of the four jurisdictions. If two voting members from one jurisdiction are opposed to a particular item, they can veto it.

In 2004, the maximum possible fare on Metrorail was $3.90, according to transit agency records. The cost went up to $4.50 in 2008; to $4.60 in 2010; to $5.75 in 2012; then to $5.90, when the most recent fare increase was imposed.

“We’ll put together a balanced budget that has no fare increases,” Evans said. “I’m head of the finance committee, so I guess I have a say in that.”