Metro Board Trying to Avoid Budget Battle
The board of directors has scheduled a meeting for Thursday morning to continue reviewing ideas about balancing its next budget, which takes effect July 1. If you want to contact the board with your own ideas, use this e-mail address: BoardofDirectors@wmata.com.
Last week, Board Chairman Jim Graham of the District asked the transit authority staff to research several options for saving money or increasing revenue, including research into parking fee options. Metro doesn't charge for parking on weekends.
The idea of imposing some fee for weekend parking is one of the ideas that divides riders. Some tell me they think it's crazy Metro isn't tapping into this potential source of revenue. Others say that with all the weekend track work, taking Metro already is off-putting, so why add a parking fee to further discourage weekend transit use? Metro could find the reduction in weekend train fare revenue to be as great or greater than the gain in weekend parking revenue.
So far, the board and its Riders' Advisory Council have been reluctant to say anything that sounds like an endorsement of a service cut. For the board, that could get ugly. It sets up a battle that typically pits the inner jurisdictions against the outer suburbs. For example, there's not much Metro parking in the District. Any fee increase would fall heaviest on the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, where the huge parking garages are located.
The upside is that we've very likely already heard the worst of the service cut possibilities. They're in the range of reductions in bus service on certain lines and the closing of some rail station entrances at off hours. They also could include wider gaps between train arrivals, even during rush periods. Bad as these things would be -- and they would be bad -- they don't match the draconian possibilities floated earlier, such as closing the rail system at 10 p.m.
While we've all been focusing on the service-cutting prospect, there are some things to worry about on the revenue side of the budget. The board has been pressing the transit authority staff to raise revenue estimates. That's a classic way of solving budget problems, notoriously applied by New York City leaders in the 1960s, leading to the city government's financial collapse in the 1970s.
At the Metro board's urging, the staff has raised the estimate on how much extra money the transit authority will make in the next fiscal year off the elimination in January of the paper transfers. No one has any real idea how that's going to work out. There hasn't been enough time to establish a trend. The staff thinks it will begin to become evident by April. Even though it raised the revenue estimate at the board's prompting, it rates that $5 million estimate as "high risk." See the staff's revenue and expense estimates on this page.
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