While Metro General Manager Paul J.Wiedefeld’s revised fiscal year 2018 budget Metro restores some of the bus service originally slated for elimination, the nation’s sixth largest bus system will still take a big hit.
Metrobus riders, for example, would pay 25 cents more to ride; Wiedefeld has proposed increasing the fare to $2 as one of several“tough choices” officials say are necessary to balance the transit agency’s budget. Peak-period rail fares would increase 10 cents, with $2.25 as the new minimum and $6 as the maximum one-way fare. Off-peak fares would increase a quarter.
But while the changes will help Metro close its budget gap, riders and advocates are concerned about the impact on already declining service, the longterm sustainability of the regional bus system and the burden the cuts will have on the region’s residents who ride the bus because it’s cheaper than Metro.
“Bus service in much of the region is already sub-optimal and underfunded,” said David Snyder, a member of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission. “It is hard to see how cutting it further will contribute much in the short term to Metro’s financial picture. It might actually harm Metro in the long-term.”
But it could be worse. Metro originally proposed to save $17 million by altering or eliminating up to three dozen bus routes. The revised budget unveiled Monday restores $5 million for bus routes that had been slated for elimination.
Officials said the plan ensures that any bus changes won’t impact MetroAccess service. Federal regulations require transit agencies offer paratransit service within three-quarters of a mile of a fixed bus route. When routes are taken out of service, the MetroAccess service area also is adjusted. Metro said paratransit riders whose home address is currently eligible for service will continue to receive service.
In addition, officials said the agency plans to invest $2 million to add some lifeline bus service to help riders previously dependent on late-night trains.
Metrobus service to Dulles and BWI airports will be severely impacted by the changes. The 5A to Dulles, a popular route for workers traveling from L’Enfant Plaza to the airport with stops in Rosslyn and Herndon, will operated at a reducee frequency. And the B30 to BWI will run only on weekdays, and every hour instead of every 40 minutes. Originally, Wiedefeld had proposed to kill the B30.
In the District, riders of the B8 and B9 routes in the Northeast Washington Fort Lincoln neighborhood will lose their routes. As an alternative, Metro will extend the H6 bus to serve the area.
“The time it will take to get to Brookland is now doubled on a slow moving bus through a majority residential neighborhood,” said Robert Looper III, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member in Fort Lincoln. “We have consistently explained that feeder-only service will no longer work and unless this changes the bus will continue to render itself useless to new riders.”
In Maryland, residents in the southern part of the state will be most impacted. The system’s only bus line from Indian Head in Charles County to the District will be eliminated, while some of the popular express lines from southern Prince George’s to downtown Washington will be shortened to serve the Metro system in the county.
“This change is likely to result in longer commute times for some residents and may increase the cost of transportation for others,” said Zeno W. St. Cyr, a Fort Washington resident and president of the South County Economic Development Association.
“I would not be surprised if the proposed changes result in more traffic congestion on our roads,” St. Cyr said. “Rather than endure these changes to public transportation, some residents may believe it is more advantageous to now drive to work.”
Following is the full list of revised Metrobus service changes:
The Metro board’s finance committee is expected to vote on the budget Thursday. A full board vote is likely March 23.
Critics say the proposed changes will further exacerbate Metro’s ridership problems. Both bus and rail ridership have declined sharply in recent months. Through the second quarter of fiscal 2017, Metrobus recorded 62 million trips, a decline of 4 million trips — or six percent– compared to the same quarter last year, according to Metro. This led to a revenue loss of 11 percent compared to the the prior year.
Some officials and bus advocates say the answer to reversing that trend is new investment in bus service. Even minimal increases in bus service could attract more riders to the bus and rail networks, they say.
“If WMATA is seeking to stop hemorrhaging riders, this is not the way to retain current and attract new ridership,” St. Cyr said.