The short answer: It’s hard to tell. But there are early indications that the political brawl over the future of Metro funding will have an effect on the lives of those who rely on Metro most.
1. New taxes.
Wiedefeld wants a new tax to pay for long-term capital needs. But he’s agnostic about what form that tax takes. A sales tax? A property tax? If it’s a property tax, will everyone in the region pay, or just those who live closest to a Metro station?
Local leaders have thrown around different ideas for a dedicated revenue source for the region’s beleaguered transit agency, but rest assured: If it comes, it will come from local residents, many of whom have already been helping to pay for Metro through their existing taxes, and through their daily fares.
2. Limits to new service/more service cuts.
Wiedefeld already angered Metro customers when he lengthened the wait times for trains during peak-period hours and cut bus routes to balance the budget for the coming year. But that’s likely not the last you’ve heard of service cuts. His financial plan calls for continual “right-sizing” of Metro’s services, a euphemism for cutting operations to match ridership.
If ridership continues to fall, Wiedefeld says the agency can’t justify the cost of providing the same level of service to fewer riders. Part of his plan involves capping increases in the subsidies jurisdictions contribute to the agency at 3 percent a year.
“That [subsidy cap] is to put pressure on the agency and the region to deal with financial realities — so that we can’t just keep adding service, we can’t do things without understanding the impact it has,” Wiedefeld said last week. “It also forces the general manager to keep the budget down as best they can, through whatever means they have.”
“I think it would be very easy to say yes to a lot of things, for someone in the general manager’s seat,” Wiedefeld added later. “And you can’t do that.”
So … get prepared for Metro to say “no” more often to requests for services.
3. Fare hikes … but how much, and how often?
Wiedefeld says he wants to keep fare increases predictable and modest.
“I agree with the policy that the board has, that every two years you look at fares. It’s a good policy,” he said.
But his approach isn’t guaranteed. He’s seeking to cap the annual increase of jurisdictional subsidies. If, despite cost-cutting measures, Metro’s costs grow more than 3 percent annually, the agency won’t have many places to look for new money other than increasing fares.
It’s all part of Wiedefeld’s belief that Metro has too long depended on diverting funding for capital needs to pay for day-to-day operations. If the agency wants to add services in the future, it’s going to have to figure out how to pay for them first.
“Squeezing things in — it comes from somewhere,” Wiedefeld said.