The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

D.C. fails to pay Metro; funds held up due to shutdown

Metro trains have been less crowded since the federal government shutdown began. (Washington Post – Luz Lazo)

Metro is short $74 million after the District failed to make its quarterly payment to the transit agency’s annual operating budget.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said the payment wasn’t made because the city didn’t have the funds, due to the federal government shutdown. The District is impacted by federal shutdowns because its budget is appropriated by Congress. Those appropriations have stopped.

City officials said other services are in danger of not being paid as well. The payment to Metro was due Oct. 1.

Metro has a $2.7 billion operating and capital budget that is funded by revenue from riders paying fares to ride buses and trains; federal grants; and subsidies from the District, Maryland and Virginia. The payment that was due from the District on Oct. 1 is part of the $274 million the city pays annually to help fund Metro’s $1.6 billion operating budget. The city also makes payments into the capital budget to service Metro’s debt for major projects.

Not receiving the $74 million could mean the agency will have to juggle funds. Some officials are worried that the shortfall could mean Metro will have to cut back service.

Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said Tuesday in an e-mail that there is no “immediate issue” with service to passengers without the $74 million from the District but cautioned that Metro is “closely monitoring” the situation.

“There is no impact on service at this time,” he said of the lack of payment. “We are evaluating the impact on the budget.”

Tom Bulger, a Metro board member who represents the District, said the money was “being held hostage to the whims of Congress.” He said the city was getting caught in the federal government’s shutdown and “now it is having reverberations to Metro.”

“This is the unintended consequences in shutting down the government,” he said. “It reverberates through everyone’s lives. It is an unintended effect of a government shutdown that affects local citizens.”

Muriel Bowser, a D.C.Council member who also serves on the Metro board, said “the only solution to getting the money paid [to Metro] is for the federal government to open up or exempt D.C. from this shutdown so we can have access to our own local dollars.”

Bowser, a Democrat who represents Ward 4 on the city council, said there was “only so much cutting back you can do.”

Already, Metro has switched to running six-car trains instead of eight-car trains, because ridership has dropped roughly 20 percent with many federal employees on furlough.

“You have to run in a safe way,” Bowser said. “Certainly nobody wants to have any cuts to hours. There is really only so much cutting back you can do to a system like ours and run safely.”

Bowser said the District would use about $6 million from its Circulator bus fund at Metro to help pay its portion of the transit agency’s debt service.