The upside to Metro’s most recent reports on the financial and operational state of the system?
Things could be worse.
Documents released Monday in advance of this week’s board meeting offer an updated picture on how things are going at Metro — and suggest that things may be stabilizing, ever-so-slightly.
According to Metro’s financial update for July 2016 through March 2017, ridership is down 17 million trips systemwide from the same period the previous fiscal year — a 7 percent decrease. Most of that drop-off came from the rail side. There was a 9 percent decrease in the number of rail trip, a 4 percent decrease in bus trips and a 4 percent increase in MetroAccess rides.
But the ridership gap between fiscal years 2016 and 2017 has gotten smaller since the beginning of this year. At the end of December, the difference between the two years was a whopping 12 percent.
So, what changed? It helped that January had no scheduled SafeTrack work, and also that the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington brought record numbers of riders to the system on a Saturday. (Even so, there was no Cherry Blossom Festival “bump” in March this year, because a surprise cold snap took a toll on the peak bloom.)
Other aspects of the financial report indicate that things are, in the short term, at least not getting worse. Metro won’t need to go back to the District, Maryland and Virginia for more money to cover this year’s operating costs —the potential for which had been raised earlier this year in the face of steep ridership losses.
Agency officials expect to be able to balance the budget for the remainder of this year largely because of the elimination of hundreds of jobs and plans to tap into a reserve fund that exists because of a previous year’s slight surplus.
“Management cost reduction actions have offset most of the revenue losses to date, and the year-end deficit forecast has improved by $37 million from the previous update,” Metro’s financial staff wrote in the report. “But aggressive efforts must continue in order to balance the budget.”
According to Metro’s latest “vital signs” report, which also measures the first three months of this year, customer satisfaction about Metrorail and Metrobus service remains almost exactly the same as from the same period the year before. In both years, 74 percent of riders said they were satisfied with their experiences on Metrobuse. Satisfaction with Metrorail increased by a single percentage point, to 69 percent.
The report was optimistic that this (very) modest upward trend would continue in the coming months.
“Efforts to reduce bus early arrivals, completion of SafeTrack, and adjusted police allocations will improve motivators of customer satisfaction,” the report said.
Still, both of those performance measures remain below Metro’s target of 85 percent customer satisfaction.
“Motivators for reduced satisfaction included on-time performance and consistency of buses arriving at expected times, customer perceptions of personal safety at bus stops and onboard buses, vehicle cleanliness and climate control and operator courtesy,” Metro officials said.