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Metro Moves to Control Costs

Metro, facing new public scrutiny because of its proposals to raise fares and cut services, announced on Monday that it is imposing a hiring freeze on staffers who don't deal directly with operations and public safety.

Much of Metro's $116 million budget gap for the fiscal year that begins in July stems from planned raises and pension fund contributions. Many riders who have had bad experiences with station managers or customer service representatives are likely to be thinking of that as they consider how much they'd like to part with as much as $2.10 per ride.

During my Live Online discussion Monday, many reader comments focused on the fare increase and service cutback proposals. Judging by the comments on the chat and the "Dear Dr. Gridlock" letters I'm receiving, these are among the hot topics in the early stages of the Metro debate:

-- Should Metro move us more toward use of the electronic SmarTrip cards?
-- Should bus routes be eliminated to safe money?
-- If weekend service must be curtailed to save money, why target the morning hours rather than the late night party-goer service?
-- Why can't Metro raise more money through advertising and and save more money by operating more efficiently?

Of course, this is the overriding question among readers: Is the service I'm getting really worth the money they expect me to pay?

In other news ...
Today's letters to the editor in The Post have one from AAA-Mid-Atlantic's Lon Anderson defending the need for construction of the intercounty connector.

Dealing with issues like the ICC will be a trip down Memory Lane for John Porcari, the man Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley is picking for Maryland transportation secretary. Porcari served as transportation secretary under former governor Parris Glendening, who cancelled the highway project before Gov Robert Ehrlich took office and reversed the decision.

By Robert Thomson  |  December 19, 2006; 8:05 AM ET
Categories:  Transportation Politics  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: More Metrobus Changes Ahead
Next: Movement on ICC, in Both Directions

Comments

I'd be curious to see what the demographic/financial breakdown is of the people who are recommending a cutback in bus routes. I'd agree that there are certainly efficiencies that could be gained by tweaking bus route timing, but there are many people who rely on their bus route to get them to work, etc., who can't afford any other mode of transportation. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw that many of the people calling for fewer bus routes don't ride the bus themselves.

Posted by: imgoph | December 19, 2006 9:11 AM | Report abuse

As a yellow dog Democrat living in Maryland, I'll say it:
WMATA's labor costs are killing it. The cost structure of its "no strike" agreement with the transit union is the elephant in the room. WMATA's cost-cutting ideas are just deck chairs.

Posted by: Josey | December 19, 2006 9:25 AM | Report abuse

One thing to consider about bus routes is whether the county bus systems would offer similar routes/service where Metro backs out.

In the suburbs I don't think you can automatically assume that bus route cuts will result in less service.

Posted by: RoseG | December 19, 2006 9:29 AM | Report abuse

How much of the new Metro GM's $350,000 annual salary plus additional $60,000 annual living expenses is directly relarted to raising Metro's fees? Paying a GM $410,000 annually is outrageous.

Posted by: Greedy Metro GM | December 19, 2006 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Josey has it right. They are imposing a hiring freeze and hiring YET ANOTHER CONSULTANT!!!! They need to fire the bamas who do nothing!

Posted by: Bigg | December 19, 2006 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Buses are critical to transport service workers. Stop whining

Posted by: MD4BUSH | December 19, 2006 10:39 AM | Report abuse

I cannot reconcile WMATA's claims of record ridership during the most recent tourist season and the current budget shortfalls. Commuters have endured years of Metrorail's car shortages. On the same day WMATA claimed another one-day passenger record, I stood on a station platform waiting for a train I could finally squeeze aboard. All those passengers pumping money into the til and now WMATA cries it's too broke to operate?

I prefer to take the bus from the Pentagon into the city so as not have to deal with the over-crowded rail platform and lousy Blue Line service. WMATA gives South Arlington short shrift for rail service. It all goes to the Orange and Green lines.

It's been interesting to notice how bus ridership has increased on the 13 A/B bus lines. However, that service has also been cut back. Many of us work long hours but as usual, WMATA wears blinders as to riders' needs and patterns. If I work later than 6:30 pm, I cannot take the bus. I am forced to take the train and, naturally, the service has cut back there, too. Would it be too much of a budget strain to continue either the 13A or 13B into the later hours? The Pentagon is a major bus/rail transfer station but WMATA doesn't know that. Just try to coordinate getting from the city to the Pentagon to make a transfer after the WMATA designated rush hour.

I also can't get over WMATA suggesting that commuters travel in non-rush hour. Excuse me? What does WMATA propose for non-rush hour travel. And has WMATA floated this idea with the non-government companies? Just for the record, I have no interest in getting up at 4:00 a.m. for a, say, 5:00 a.m. start time; and I also have no interest in going to work from 11:00 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. or 8:00 p.m., thereby not getting home until after 9:00 p.m. Clearly, WMATA didn't think that one though.

I am thoroughly disgusted with the sloppy thinking, poor management and just plain stupidity that runs WMATA.

God help the commuter because WMATA certainly won't.

Posted by: callie | December 19, 2006 11:24 AM | Report abuse

How to cut costs? Eliminate the new CEO's $60,000 living expense allowance. It's indefensible. He should have the stones to give it up himself. Also, phase out the carpeting and padded seats on the trains. People have to realize that it's a subway system, not a freakin' club car. And for the record, I ride Metro from Gaithersburg to Vienna so less comfy cars would affect me directly. So spare me the whining about your sore butt. These would admittedly be small steps but definitely steps in the right direction.
Lastly, Lon Anderson's comments about the ICC should be taken with a grain of salt since he's paid to pimp for automobile users. Objectivity is not his priority.

Posted by: Wilmot Proviso | December 19, 2006 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Metro should examine the stunning success of the Octopus card in Hong Kong. It is used EVERYWHERE outside of the system for everything from parking meters to 7-11s to McDonalds and grocery stores. It has become the defacto 'electronic cash' for the city, and the slight fee (lower than a credit card).

Hong Kong Octopus card company collects nearly $100,000 USD a day in fees. That's about $36 million a year.

You should consider writing about this....

http://www.quamnet.com/fcgi-bin/columnists.fpl?par2=5&par3=6&par4=06&par5=12&par6=2006

Posted by: Andrew | December 19, 2006 12:54 PM | Report abuse

One of the main reasons I gave up on Metro was the lack of service on some holidays (vet's day, columbus day) I work on those days and would have to either be two late for work or take a cab. Metro is not convenient nor cost effient to the average person in the DC metro area. Metro is still out of step with its rideship. We have some of the worst traffic in the nation. Metro needs to realize that and adapt to it. How will they ever build ridership and move cars off the road when they cut service?

Posted by: naner | December 19, 2006 3:39 PM | Report abuse

jonny621

Posted by: jonny120 | December 19, 2006 5:18 PM | Report abuse

I asked my boss for a $60K "living allowance" today. Guess what he said?

Posted by: No Living Allowance for me | December 19, 2006 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Get rid of the fare card system--do it like every other subway system in the world--pay one price, any time any where. No explanations needed, no fancy computers, no machines at either end. I agree with what the other poster said about getting rid of carpeting and padded seats. Not necessary. Make Metro more efficient, not more expensive. VA-MD-DC State governments need to pay attention to this one--less people on buses and trains means more congestion and more traffic headaches. Why haven't we heard from the governors or the mayor?

Posted by: Deborah | December 19, 2006 11:08 PM | Report abuse

Every day I see Metro employees at Metro Center during the morning rush hours, standing two by two chatting away while tourists stare up at signs looking lost and commuters rush past. The Metro workers are oblivious to all around them as they discuss the weekend's games, the local news, and other issues of the day. These industrious workers are matched at suburban stations by the band of car-counters. You know, the group of Metro folks standing/sitting around in a clump apparently counting--together--the number of people in each car.

You want a more efficient system? Give these people something more efficient to do with their time!

Posted by: edgery | December 20, 2006 9:50 AM | Report abuse

I have been riding Metro for 26 years and would support a fare increase if service really improved. My 2 biggest beefs are 1) escalators out of service and 2) trains that are delayed waiting for the train in front to clear the platform. Metro should run fewer longer trains to avoid such congestion. I con't tell you how many times I have missed buses because the train stopped for a while before the station. Thirdly, I'd like to see Metro spend more money, time and energy on employee safety. Having 3 employees killed in a little over a year is horrible. They need to make safety a priority and not an afterthought.

Posted by: Scott | December 20, 2006 11:31 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Deborah's comment Dec. 19 on the need to go to a flat fare. Few transit systems use Metro's system, and some have abandoned similar systems for flat fees. Toronto considered and rejected a variable-fare system several years ago. The reasons: 1) it confuses and discourages riders who can't figure out what their ride will cost (and certainly Metro's system is not designed to be easy to figure out), 2) alleged increased revenue offset by increased cost of more-complicated fare-collection system and wasted employee time dealing with technical problems/rider queries, 3) it drives away long-distance riders who have cars. Toronto's single fare is approximately $2.45 American, not too bad for a high-cost urban area.

Posted by: Alexandria user | December 20, 2006 4:16 PM | Report abuse

" If weekend service must be curtailed to save money, why target the morning hours rather than the late night party-goer service? "

I think taking away the late night hours could have hazardous effects. Many who take the metro at that time have been drinking, and by taking away that service, you are putting drunk drivers on the road. Not only would it be risking the lives of the drunk drivers, but many other drivers as well.

Also, many concerts, sporting events, plays, etc. often end late. Would you really want that many more people driving into the city because they wouldn't be able to take metro home? Talk about horrendous traffic around MCI center, it's already bad enough.

I like the idea of only opening limited stations in the morning to save on costs of staffing. Do you really need to have Judiciary Square or the Farragut stations open on saturday/sunday morning at 7am? And in the suburbs if you have every other station open that would be suffient enough for people to drive and park if they need to take metro into the city.

As a frequent late night metro rider (either from work or play) I would be willing to pay slighty more during these hours. It certainly would still be cheaper than taking a cab from the city to Bethesda.

Posted by: Laura | December 20, 2006 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Here's something no one talks about - how much worse the crowded stations on the Blue and Orange lines will get when those overcrowded tracks have to take on the the Tysons line as well.

According to the Dulles rail web page, the Tysons line won't just stop at Falls Church - it will use the Orange, then the Orange-Blue lines all the way to Stadium Armory. See http://www.dullesmetro.com/about/overview.cfm

It's well known that the Blue-Orange line stations are totally overcrowded now; see slide #7 at http://www.fairgrowth.org/TODsp.pdf .

But how much worse are things going to get once people will have to wait for Tysons trains, in addition to the Blue and Orange?

There's no data out there. Why is no one answering these questions?

Posted by: Anonymous | December 20, 2006 10:59 PM | Report abuse

No one is answering these questions because everyone already knows the answer! Clusterf*ck. No other way to put it.

Merry Chrismtas!

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