One Problem Down, New One Looming For Metro
Metro board members are wrapping up an agonizing season of decisions about service and staff cuts. And they're already starting to look forward to the next round of budget decisions.
In this case, "already" isn't too soon. We didn't wind up with any of the drastic cuts in service or widespread fare increases that seemed like possibilities early this year. But how was that done? In part, the solution was to use financial fixes available only once, and to make pretty optimistic assumptions about some incoming money from such sources as ridership increases and the rail-bus transfer policy started in January.
"We can't skate through this again," Board Member Chris Zimmerman said during a board committee meeting this morning.
"I do think we are going to have a significant problem with our next budget," Board Member Peter Benjamin said.
Board Member Jim Graham doesn't want you to panic. He doesn't want another "media circus," like he says we had this year. But I think you're big enough to take it: Metro won't go even one more year without another big problem in balancing its budget. A fare increase is very likely, and service cuts are certainly a possibility, to close what could be a gap of about $130 million in the budget that will start in July 2010.
The Metro board needs to monitor the new budget very closely, to see when and where those revenue and savings estimates go off course. It needs to get the riders involved early in discussions about what awaits us next year. And it needs to get all the contributing governments involved in figuring out whether they can raise their subsidies enough to forestall big fare increases or reductions in service.
Raising subsidies will be very tough for our governments, as Zimmerman pointed out: "We know that this coming year for governments and WMATA [Metro] is not a whole lot better and could be worse than the last one." But if there's going to be any chance for the local governments to avoid a serious problem for transit riders in 2010, we have to get their attention now, so they can start discussing ideas.
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