Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld’s budget proposal kills 14 bus lines, including the agency’s only service to Baltimore Washington International Airport.
Fares on the regional bus system would increase to $2 from $1.75 as part of a series of “tough choices” Wiedefeld said are necessary to balance the transit agency’s budget. The plan would also raise Metrorail fares, reduce train frequency, and cut 1,000 jobs, including 300 bus and train operators.
“The most difficult part of this plan is the impact for Metro customers and employees,” Wiedefeld said in a statement Sunday announcing the plan.
The reductions in bus service are most likely to affect low-income residents, many of whom who ride the bus because it’s cheaper than Metro. And, in some areas it’s the only or closest option for getting around. In addition, some commuters have switched to the bus system because it’s become a more reliable alternative to Metro.
“We really want to have our public transportation options increased, not decreased,” said Zeno St. Cyr, a resident of Fort Washington, Md., where Metro would eliminate the P17, P18, and P19 buses that currently ferry about 1,167 riders on an average day.
Some of the bus routes to be eliminated under the plan are in areas already underserved by public transit, such as southern Prince George’s. Five of the lines are Maryland, eight in Virginia and one in the District.
Several of the bus lines on the list are commuter routes that provide service only during the morning and evening rush and some only provide service on weekdays. A few are express buses that have a higher fare of $4. The J9, for example, makes eight morning trips from Lakeforest Transit Center to the Bethesda Metro, and seven trips back in the late afternoon and evening. The 13Y, from Arlington to Union Station, for example, only runs Saturday and Sunday mornings before Metro opens.
Metro says the list reflects some of the least-used routes and those which require higher subsidies. The B30, from Greenbelt Metro to BWI, serves an average of 370 riders daily. The fare is $7 but fare revenue only covers about 40 percent of the cost of running the route; it has a subsidy of about $1.2 million.
Although the B30 is among the lowest ridership routes, some riders say it is a critical connection to BWI. About 70 percent of B30 users are not Maryland residents. A recent proposal to bus changes included adding a stop in the Arundel Mills area.
The proposal to kill the route is likely to draw criticism from Maryland leaders and airport travelers. A similar proposal to cut the 5A to Dulles failed last year.
— Carol Tyson (@DanceforMyself) October 31, 2016
In total, the 14 routes on the chopping block cost about $19.5 million to run, but only generate about $2.5 million in revenue. They depend on about $17 million in subsidies, according to Metro.
In the District, Wiedefeld has proposed to cut the limited stop No. 37, which provides service between Friendship Heights and Archives only during rush hour. The No. 37 carries about 600 people daily, has a recovery rate of about 14 percent and depends on $1.1 million in subsidies.
In Maryland, routes facing elimination also include the W13, which serves the Oxon Hill area and travels to Farragut Square; the W14, connecting southern Prince George’s residents to the Southern Avenue Metro station; the W19, which originates in Charles County and culminates at the Southern Avenue Metro station; and, in Montgomery County, the J7 and J9, which serve the I-270 corridor.
The P-line in Fort Washington provides only weekday, rush hour service to Washington and riders and community leaders say it is critical to the area’s transit infrastructure for government workers who don’t have cars to get to downtown.
St. Cyr said the proposal to eliminate routes near the growing National Harbor area would be detrimental to the region as many residents and workers depend on the bus to get around. Metro last month added a new line to connect National Harbor to Old Town Alexandria.
“Prince George’s county is already the most poorly-served area in the metropolitan region for public transportation,” St. Cyr said. “This is going to create additional travel time and perhaps a hardship for some individuals who instead of catching one bus, will need to catch multiple buses and will have to drive to their destination.
In Virginia, the eight routes slated for elimination include two lines serving the Fair Oaks area, including the 2B, which carries about 916 riders daily; and 1C, which has nearly 1,000 riders on an average day.
The fare increases are also likely to create some turmoil during the budget talks, particularly as many riders remain unhappy with Metro’s service and unreliability. Fares have not been raised since 2014. During the last increase, bus fares rose 15 cents; rail fares went up by about 3 percent.
This time around, the proposed fare increase will generate about $21 million and will account for nearly 10 percent of the budget gap, according to Metro.
Because the current bus fare is one of the lowest in the country, Metro officials say a $2-fare will remain “a good value” for the service and the risk to ridership drops because the increase is relatively low. Bus riders also are generally more pleased with the service than Metro riders.
Riders and other stakeholders will have an opportunity to comment on the plan at public hearings early next year before the Metro board approves a budget in March. The approved plan will go into effect July 1.