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Metro Board Considering Service and Fee Options

Metro board members this morning got into the transportation politics of how to limit service cuts in their jurisdictions without increasing the subsidies that those jurisdictions pay to operate Metro. The staff is calculating that the budget shortfall is down to about $29 million.

We're in striking range of potentially solving this problem, said Peter Benjamin, who represents Maryland on the board.

Jim Graham, who represents the District and is board chairman, refered to the cuts under consideration -- cuts in bus and rail service and in rail station operations -- as drastic.

Among the questions under consideration in this board work session at Metro headquarters is whether any of the federal stimulus money can, or should be used to help close the budget gap. Board members and staff do not appear to be real warm to this idea, because it means they wouldn't have that amount of stimulus money available for other projects. It is possible that $30 million in stimulus money could be used to close the budget gap if the board chooses, the transit authority staff says.

Weekend Parking
Also under review, at the request of Graham, is the impact of charging for parking at Metro lots and garages on weekends. Metro officials are pointing out they don't have much data to work with yet in calculating the impact of a weekend charge of say, $2.50 or $3 per day, on revenue.

An initial calculation suggests parking revenue might increase by $26,715, but that doesn't account for whatever decline in rail ridership might result from a decline in the number of people parking on weekends because they don't want to pay the parking fee.

"I think the ridership is expecting us to be creative" in coming up with solutions that limit service cuts, says Graham.

Graham is asking for more information from the staff about the impact of a fee on parking at particular stations.

Maryland and Fairfax representatives don't want to go down this path. (Most of Metro's parking is in the suburbs.)

Benjamin says that he will not support a parking fare increase on weekends.

"It is a fare increase," Catherine Hudgins of Fairfax County says of the possibility of a weekend parking charge.

Graham asks board members to keep an open mind on the issue.

"Ultimatums don't work," Graham says in response to the negative comments from the Maryland and Virginia representatives on the weekend parking fee idea. (Most of Metro's parking is in the suburbs.) "I don't put this idea on the table to annoy the people who are against it."

Chris Zimmerman, board representative from Arlington, says he doesn't believe anyone in the nation is going to experience free public parking in the years ahead, and he'd like more information on parking fee issues for Metro. He, like Graham, notes that Metro has 57,000 parking spaces. (Metro is the region's largest provider of parking.)

MetroAccess Service
The transit authority staff has been reviewing the financial and service implications of adjusting the service for disabled riders so that it doesn't exceed the minimum requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Benjamin expresses discomfort with this. Graham is asking for more information about the real life impact of this on riders.

Retail in Metro
Can Metro make more money by offering retail outlets at stations? Potential clients are saying they don't believe they could make enough money by setting up shop at stations unless they could sell food and drinks, the transit authority staff says. Metro staff is not crazy about this idea, because they don't want people carrying food and drinks into the train system.

Zimmerman is questioning whether anybody wants to do anything besides sell food and drink. Don't people want to sell other stuff? he asks. Can't we let small vendors sell stuff -- umbrellas, for example -- that riders want? He's not suggesting that the revenue would make a serious dent in the budget gap. He's at least as interested in the basic idea of providing more amenities for riders.

Staff does not recommend calculating extra revenue for retail to close the current budget gap. General Manager John Catoe notes that the budget under developed for fiscal year 2010, the budget they're talking about today, already contains several revenue assumptions that have not been fully tested and he is reluctant to add more.

What's Ahead
Things are moving fast. The budget calendar says that at the board meeting next Thursday, staff wants to see board approval to go out for public hearings on servicce reductions. There would be two weeks notice of the hearing times and places.The hearings would occur between March 23 and April 3, according to the schedule.

Board members are talking about whether they can now go back to their jurisdictions with the numbers provided to them today about their jurisdictional responsibilities and figure out how to close the remaining gap through some combination of service cuts and subsidy increases.

It's not at all clear how that will come out. The District, for example, is not prepared to increase its Metro subsidy, and at the same time, Graham says, it finds the proposed cuts in bus service in the District to be unacceptable.

On the other hand, Zimmerman says "We can swing it in our jurisdiction without the service cuts."


Metro Resources:  Riding the System  |  Trip Planner   |   Map  |  Post Coverage

By Robert Thomson  |  February 26, 2009; 10:15 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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Of all the issues Metro has, filth ranks very low among users' minds. We'd love to see the dreary stations livened up with retail -- food and all-- but "umbrella stands?" Come on. We already have flower vendors and boy do they cheer things up! Those plastic buckets with magic marker scrawl are so wonderful.

Posted by: reller521 | February 26, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

I would be inclined to diagree with you on the "filth ranks low among users' minds." Even with the food/drink ban on Metro people are bringing it on and leaving the resulting mess/spills for the rest of us to deal with...I'd hate to see what happened if they were allowed. (Joy, more sticky seats and bugs and thus more maintenance fees and higher fares, or better yet, we get to deal with unappealing, messy cars *as well as* crappy service due to the two-track system, *as well as* the idiots who seem to think that we all want to hear their loud cell phone conversations! Woohoo! Not.)

Posted by: | February 26, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I don't see what is wrong with allowing bottled water. It drys....back to normal. Its cleaner than rainwater that inevitibly gets tracked in on bad weather days.

Posted by: thetan | February 26, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I pay to park at a metro parking lot through the week because traffic is worse than the expense of metro.

However, for a family of 4, it already costs $20 round trip to come into DC on the week-end. With parking added on, it just wouldn't make sense and I would drive instead.

Since driving for two miles to a station puts a lot less pollution into the air than driving 15 miles into DC, it doesn't make sense to charge so much to park at metro. It would make more sense to have parking garages in DC charge an extra $5 per day that would contribute to reducing the parking fees that metro charges.

Posted by: DWinFC | February 26, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I join with DWinFC. Oh, well, more cars in DC on the weekends.

Metro loses.


Posted by: bs2004 | February 26, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't mind paying one dollar to park on the weekend but three dollars is too much. I don't agree with allowing food vendors either. Dropped food, even outside the station, will be tramped on and tracked inside the stations and trains.

Posted by: justhere | February 26, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree with reller521 on the gloom the metro brings. Jiving up the atmosphere could invite more riders but I do not think it would bring that many. The one thing I do not get is, why every time the budget is talked about, the board screams fare increases. Our these guys idiots? Look around Metro, the economy is crap, raising the price will just turn off riders...isn't that basic buisness logic? Who sits on the board anyway? Why isn't an average person on the board, you know someone who rides everyday.
Bring on the vendors! All of them, the people who complain about the food are the same who would complain about not having padded seats. Its a Metro people, A to B is the goal, not luxury.

Posted by: duckie86 | February 26, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Why won't they use the stimulus money to plug the shortfall? If this is a dire time for Metro then some projects have to be put on hold.

Posted by: scrappyc20001 | February 26, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Metro would have some nerve increasing the fares or parking. What are they doing with all the money the riders are giving them? How in the world can an escalator (Foggy Bottom) be out of commission for over six months? Do you know how annoying it is to have to stand in line once you leave the train to get out of the station? Totally ridiculous. If metro's prices go up any further it will start driving to work. It will cost me almost as much to catch metro as it does driving - $16 a day. Get it together Metro!!!

Posted by: ItrustinGod2 | February 26, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

I think having retail outlets around Metro stations is a great idea. It provides more services to the riders and generates revenue for Metro. Examples of retail outlets could be books and newspaper stands, bottled water,candy and gum vendors,shoe polish vendors, lottery tickets vendors etc.We can still have the rule of not consuming food and drink in force inside the metro station. At least the riders can buy water and candy on their way out of the station and consume it outside the station. Metro officials need to re-examine their finicky attitudes about allowing retail outlets on Metro. In this economy, they need to shed their traditional views.

Posted by: WashingtonDC3 | February 26, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse

I think for now, parking on the weekends & holidays should be $1.

Posted by: VelocityAtrocity | February 26, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

I don't ride the Metro very often now, but I used to ride it every day. When I did, there were many times that I wished for a retail stand that sold magazines, newspapers, books, and music. It always seemed like a no-brainer to me that such stands would make great money in the stations. Now, 25 years later the stations and trains are run down and full of trash, but I still can't buy a magazine to read.

Posted by: mddave | February 26, 2009 8:55 PM | Report abuse

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