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Metro Board Cool to Fare Increase

Metro officials presented a budget proposal for next year to the transit authority board this afternoon, then listened as board member after board member stomped hard on the idea of a fare increase.

Collectively, the board members placed the fare increases and service cutbacks at the bottom of the pile of ideas for closing Metro's $116 million gap in the budget that will take effect in July.

Jim Graham, the D.C. council member who chairs Metro's budget committee, arrived with a prepared statement that opened with "I will be unable to support any fare increase, or any change in fare policy that results in a fare increase, until I am satisfied that we have as a board done all we could to insure that every possible step was taken to address the shortfall by other means."

As board member after board member weighed in, it was clear that Graham's position had widespread support on the board. So distressed were they that the fare increase part of the budget proposal might be construed as a runaway train that they took pains to point out that this is just the beginning of the very lengthy process of approving a budget.

Jack Requa, Metro's acting general manager, had begun his presentation to the board by saying "this budget will be built over the next six months with much input from our customers and the contributing jurisdictions and the board."
Yet the board members took pains to make sure everyone in the region would get that message by repeating it.

Every jurisdiction that's part of the Metro board was heard from. Board member Chris Zimmerman, who also serves on the Arlington County Board, also criticized the proposed cutbacks in bus service. Dana Kauffman, a board member who also is a Fairfax County supervisor, said he was particularly pained by the bus cutbacks proposed for his jurisdiction.

We're a long way from done on all this. There will be plenty more meetings and plenty of public hearings before the board adopts a budget the spring.

By Robert Thomson  |  December 14, 2006; 3:02 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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Comments

I'm glad to hear the board spoke out against a fare increase. The impression I've gotten from the hundreds of posts left here and under the front page article is that people are offended at the prospect of a rate increase in the face of declining service.

So how do we increase service?

It's simple and complicated at the same time. Metro employees have to be told that they either have to do a good job, or they'll be fired. You know, sort of like how the rest of us keep our jobs.

The problem is that no one at Metro wants to be the "bad guy." Being a leader sometimes requires making tough and unpopular decisions. Firing lazy, surly and bad employees I'm sure will "hurt employee morale" at Metro in the short term, but in the long run, firing bad employees SHOULD increase the morale of the good employees (and yes, many Metro employees do a good job).

But sadly, way too many people around DC think it's their right to have a job, no matter how badly they do it.

Posted by: Chris | December 14, 2006 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Let's all remember that the decision on raising fares is made by elected officials who approve the Metro budget in Maryland, DC, and Virginia. If each jurisdiction kicked in $26 million, all of the fare increases and service cuts would go away.

If Virginia can afford to spend $676 million on a single highway interchange (the mixing bowl) and Maryland can spend $3 billion on a highway that will do very little to reduce congestion (the ICC), surely they can come up with the $26 million.

Posted by: BethesdaRider | December 14, 2006 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Regarding Chris's point, where is WMATA headquartered? If it's in DC, they have good reason to be wary of firing people, even for cause. DC juries are NOTORIOUS for screwing over employers. Doesn't matter how incompetent the employee is. The juries find wrongful termination, especially if they can find an excuse to inject race into it. It's why employers all have "work improvement plans" and the like for incompetent employees--they're papering the file so that the judge will be faced with overwhelming evidence so as to rule as a matter of law (i.e., the jury won't get the case at all).

Sad, but that's the reality of business in DC.

Posted by: Rich | December 14, 2006 11:25 PM | Report abuse

The problem I see with the fare increase is not the increase itself, but the nature of the proposal. It's been three years since the last increase, and the price of everything has gone up--what's unreasonable about a modest increase?

The problem is that the increase is immodest, and despite the spin that it will "encourage off peak use", it's clear that it's designed to raise prices the most for the people who have the fewest alternatives. Why else would one impose a peak-hour surcharge on down-town stations? That's not going to encourage people to use other stations--people work where they work. And it's unlikely to encourage use at off-peak times. People work *when* they work (and the peak-hour windows are too wide to allow modest work schedule modifications).

Posted by: ah | December 15, 2006 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Rich, these things work both ways. If you worked for a boss who didn't like you or couldn't be relied on to treat employees fairly, you probably would want some workplace protections, including fair warning of perceived performance problems, a chance to demonstrate your improved performance through "work improvement plans," etc. Maybe you could save your job that way some time. I believe in accountability but I don't begrudge any employee having access to some protections although I know there are jobs where people simply can be fired at will. As a Metro rider, I try to point out role models. I've experienced a few rides where the train operator did especially well in communicating with the riders during lengthy delays. I've responded by sending in commendations to Metro through the customer comment form (http://www.wmata.com/about/phnumber.cfm) , noting that I would like to see more operators do the same. I provide as much information as I can about the train I was on so the operator can be identified. I don't know anything about Metro's employee incentives and rewards program, but I figure it doesn't hurt to let WMATA know when someone does something right.

Posted by: Feedback | December 15, 2006 11:40 AM | Report abuse

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