Metro’s governing board Thursday gave final approval to a $3.5 billion budget for the next fiscal year that will pay for increased service on two subway lines and other measures aimed at boosting the transit system’s sagging ridership numbers.
But, as expected, the spending plan does not include money to expand the subway’s operating hours — to midnight on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends — which the District government had pushed for, to help city businesses and their patrons.
Federal officials objected to the proposed increase in train operations and threatened to withhold transit funds from the region, arguing that later closing hours would impact rider safety by limiting the time available for subway maintenance.
“We have always prioritized safety, reliability and building the capacity for Metro,” D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said after the unanimous budget vote by the Metro board. “So now we need a commitment from Metro that they will return to late-night hours and that they will not become a system that only caters to white-collar workers commuting from the suburbs.”
The $3.5 billion spending plan, which takes effect July 1, is divided between $2 billion in operating expenses and $1.5 billion in capital funding.
Washington-area jurisdictions will foot about $1.1 billion of the operating costs, with the remainder covered by fares and other revenue sources. The operating budget “increases service for Metro customers . . . without any fare increases,” General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said Thursday, an accomplishment he called “pretty big.”
The new spending plan will restore some of the rail service that was cut in 2017 when Metro adopted an austerity budget. Among other increases, Yellow Line service will be extended to the Greenbelt station and all Red Line trains will run between the Shady Grove and Glenmont stations, eliminating periodic turnbacks at the Silver Spring station.
This will double the number of trains at a dozen stations, Metro said. The agency’s goal is to boost ridership — and increase fare revenue — while the rail network continues to undergo substantial rebuilding, which has forced the truncated operating hours.
“I appreciate the jurisdictions stepping up and providing dedicated funding to help keep Metro as affordable as possible for riders,” Wiedefeld said, referring to Maryland, Virginia, the District and the federal government, all of which contribute funding to the transit system. “Importantly, this budget invests more than $1.5 billion in funding to rebuild the system and improve the effectiveness and safety of our current network.”
Under laws in Maryland, Virginia and the District, the jurisdictions’ contributions to Metro’s annual operating budget cannot increase by more than 3 percent year-to-year without the imposition of financial penalties. The 3-percent cap, meant to force Metro to hold down costs, was adopted as part of the new dedicated-funding system for the agency.
The budget also includes a $150 million federal grant Metro had thought was at risk of being eliminated by the Trump administration and a divided Congress.
D.C. officials had advocated for the restoration of closings at midnight on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends. But they relented on a threat to veto another year of shorter hours after the Federal Transit Administration warned that more than $1 billion in federal funding for the region would be at risk if that happened.
The subway currently operates from 5 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, from 5 a.m. Fridays to 1 a.m. Saturdays, from 7 a.m. Saturdays to 1 a.m. Sundays, and from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays. The Maryland and Virginia representatives on the Metro board agreed with the FTA that those earlier closing times should be continued to give workers more time for maintenance. Wiedefeld also agreed.
But Bowser remains opposed.
“We’re not going to replace Metro with Uber and Lyft because we can’t move our region forward by further clogging our roads,” the mayor said. “We need a Metro system that works as hard as our workforce and stays open as late as our region.”
A flat $2 weekend fare advocated by the District and Wiedefeld was kept out of the budget, as were initiatives to expand rush-hour service times by two hours and run all eight-car trains, eliminating six-car trains.
The benefits of the service increases represent a trade-off for the agency. Extending the Yellow Line to Greenbelt, for example, will cost an estimated $8.2 million. But the cost is expected to be offset by a ridership increase and a corresponding boost in fare revenue, lowering the cost to a net figure of $3.2 million, Metro said.
Meanwhile, the Red Line extension, costing $3.1 million, is expected to generate ridership growth that will lower the net cost of just over $1 million, the agency said.