Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld is proposing fare increases, reduced rail and bus service, job cuts and higher subsidies from the jurisdictions Metro serves, according to a briefing on his fiscal 2018 budget obtained by The Washington Post and presented to Metro’s Board of Directors over the weekend.
Wiedefeld is planning to request an additional $130 million from the District, Virginia and Maryland to help close an anticipated $290 million budget shortfall for the budget year that begins July 1 — a gap that is $15 million higher than estimated in recent projections to the board.
Under Wiedefeld’s proposed fare increases, bus fares would rise 25 cents, to $2 per ride. For rail passengers, the minimum and maximum fares would increase to $2.25 and $6 respectively — up from $2.15 and $5.90. Off-peak trip fares on Metro would increase 25 cents, while peak-trip fares would increase a dime. The cost of daily parking would also increase by 10 cents.
The proposal would also slash rail and bus service, increasing average rail wait times during peak hours from 6 to 8 minutes, and eliminating about a dozen unspecified “low-ridership” bus routes. Metro says trains would arrive every 2 to 4 minutes at transfer stations in the system’s core. But outside of peak hours, trains would arrive every 15 minutes.
“Metro has to face reality when it comes to what the region says it can afford and direct those resources to best serve the riders we have today,” Wiedefeld said in a statement. “This plan has Metro doing everything in our power to get major expense categories under control while improving safety and making the trains run on time.”
The proposal specifies a need to “rationalize services for today’s ridership.”
“The most difficult part of this plan is the impact for Metro customers and employees,” Wiedefeld said. “Tough choices are required to balance the operating budget.”
Metro is trying to stem revenue losses caused by falling ridership, which is expected to be worse than previously projected, according to Wiedefeld’s proposal. While previous projections estimated a $59 million budget shortfall because of fewer riders, Wiedefeld’s proposed budget nearly doubles that figure to $103 million. Under the proposal, Metro would seeks higher subsidies from all three jurisdictions it serves, including an additional $47 million from the District, $44 million from Maryland and $39 million from Virginia.
The proposal assumes no general increase in wages — even though Metro and its unions are in negotiations in which unions are seeking an across-the-board pay increase.
The proposal was unsatisfactory to Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans and board member Corbett A. Price, both of whom represent the District. The two have repeatedly spoken out against fare increases and service cuts, saying that fares are already too high and that such steps would only reduce ridership.
Evans has said he and Price would use the District’s jurisdictional veto to block any fare increases or service cuts. Asked about that Sunday, Price stopped short of threatening a jurisdictional veto, but opposed any fare increase or service cut.
“We continue to be opposed to any fare increases. It’s counterintuitive to raise fares and cut service,” because such measures would hurt ridership, Price said.
The proposal comes as little surprise after Wiedefeld and Metro’s budget staff warned in recent weeks about the need for “painful choices,” as declining ridership and growing costs have exacerbated the transit agency’s financial woes.
On Friday, he informed staff in an email that he is in the process of notifying 100 workers and managers that they are being laid off — part of an earlier plan to eliminate 500 positions through layoffs, attrition, and unfilled positions. The latest proposal would downsize Metro’s workforce by an “unprecedented 1,000 positions” in total, per a news release Metro sent out Sunday.
“I anticipate that Metro will have to make many difficult decisions to balance the budget,” Wiedefeld said in the earlier email.
Though Wiedefeld is advocating for this plan as the optimal approach to tackling a dire budget situation, it still must be approved by the Metro board. And several board members are opposed to fare hikes, particularly given the chronic service disruptions caused by SafeTrack and the general decline in reliability in recent years.
“I don’t support fare increases, I don’t support taking money out of the capital budget, I don’t support selling assets,” Evans, who also is a D.C. Council member, said earlier this month. “These are all just proven bad ideas.”
Last week, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser said she was not altogether opposed to fare increases — but would not support a price increase or service cuts that she believed disproportionately affected D.C. residents or bus riders.