Maryland and Virginia don’t want to pay for a Metro plan to expand rush-hour service, adopt a flat $2 weekend fare and make other service improvements designed to lure back riders.
Officials in both states say the proposal from General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld — to be considered at a Metro board meeting Thursday — would break a new 3 percent cap on annual increases in the operating subsidies they give the transit system.
“Maryland is dead set on sticking with the cap, and so is Virginia,” said Metro board member Jim Corcoran, who represents Virginia.
Board member Michael Goldman, who represents Maryland, wants Metro to consider a 4 percent fare increase for rail and bus riders as a possible option so the jurisdictions would not be bound to raise their subsidies by tens of millions of dollars at Metro’s behest.
But the District, which supports Wiedefeld’s plan, indicated it would veto any fare increase, and Virginia also opposes a general fare hike.
If Maryland and Virginia reject Wiedefeld’s plan, it would set back his strategy of enhancing service to rebuild rail ridership, a top priority for the transit agency.
Wiedefeld’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, adds $20 million in annual subsidies, above the 3 percent cap, for service improvements. Those include extending Yellow Line service to Greenbelt, running all Red Line trains to Glenmont, and expanding all trains to eight cars. It also would add 30 minutes of peak-frequency service in the morning, ending at 10 a.m., and 90 minutes in the evening, concluding at 8:30 p.m.
“We as a region say we want more hours, we want more cars, more bus routes . . . and we’re here to do that,” Wiedefeld said. “It’s got to come with dollars.”
He said the cap need not be an obstacle if the jurisdictions agree to pay extra for specific service enhancements.
“We should always be looking very hard to control costs and this [cap] forces us to do that,” Wiedefeld said. “It was never meant as a mechanism to say, ‘And we should never add new service.’”
The disagreements among the jurisdictions and Metro signal the end of a period of relative harmony following the historic regional accord earlier this year to approve $500 million a year in dedicated funding for capital expenses. Clashes also erupted this week over how to punish fare evasion and whether to restore late-night service.
Board members representing the District said Tuesday they would effectively force their colleagues and the agency to restore late-night service in July, despite Metro’s desire to continue with reduced service hours to allow workers more time to do preventive maintenance.
The D.C. board members said they plan to use a rare jurisdictional veto to block a move to reauthorize the service cuts, restoring the system’s old schedule — bringing back 3 a.m. weekend closings for the first time in three years.
Transit advocates and members of the business community said the region would be taking a risk by neglecting to pair dedicated funding with service improvements, merely because of apparent funding fatigue in Maryland and Virginia.
“It is essential that the level of regional collaboration that went into securing dedicated funding continues,” said Clare Flannery, campaign manager for Metro Now, a coalition of pro-transit groups.
Emeka Moneme, deputy executive director of the Federal City Council, said board members should go “back to their jurisdictions and lay out the case and do their job of helping bring their resources to bear.”
The budget dispute has arisen largely because of the 3 percent cap in annual subsidy increases adopted by law in Virginia and Maryland as a condition of providing dedicated funding. The two states in effect agreed to significantly increase their contributions to Metro’s long-term capital expenses, in exchange for limiting the growth of their operating subsidies. The District did not adopt the ceiling.
The proposed budget would follow the new guidelines by limiting the increase in the base operating subsidy to $32 million, or 3 percent. The base subsidy would rise to $1.111 billion from $1.079 billion this fiscal year. Wiedefeld said Metro will need to find savings or new revenue totaling $48 million to stay under the cap.
But above the cap, the agency is seeking an additional $20 million for service improvements. It also proposes $50 million in new subsidies for expenses that it says are legally exempt from the cap, including costs associated with the opening of phase 2 of the Silver Line, and legally mandated costs such as for paratransit services and litigation.
Virginia officials said they agree those costs were properly exempted from the cap, while Goldman said the issue needed to be studied.
The total subsidy — including the 3 percent increase, new money for service improvements and costs described as exempt from the cap — would rise to $1.182 billion from $1.079 billion. That’s an increase of $103 million, or 9.5 percent.
“That’s a very big number, and we are reviewing options to determine an appropriate response,” Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn said of the subsidy request.
Goldman said fare increases should be part of the discussion. He also suggested scaling back the proposed increase in rush-hour service, or slowing the transition to all eight-car trains.
“We ought to be smart about this and at least put out there potentially [other] ways to raise funding,” Goldman said.
Maryland’s other voting member, Clarence C. Crawford, said it was premature to weigh in on fares or budget matters. But he shared Goldman’s concern about breaking the subsidy cap just as it was set to take effect.
Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans, who represents the District, said he and the District’s other voting board member, Corbett A. Price, would block any fare increase. Metro’s jurisdictional veto means two “no” votes from the same jurisdiction are enough to kill a proposal.
“That would be dead on arrival,” said Evans (D), who also is a D.C. Council member representing Ward 2.
Metro board member Christian Dorsey, who represents Virginia, also opposes a general fare increase. But he pitched a compromise in which the board would support Wiedefeld’s expanded rush-hour service windows provided that Metro charges peak fares for the added service.
The board is scheduled to give initial approval to a budget proposal Thursday. The proposal would then go for public hearings in January and February, and to a vote in March.