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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.

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

By Robert Thomson  |  June 11, 2009; 12:16 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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It seems they make up losses with all of the escalators that are out most of the time.

Posted by: Badwisky | June 11, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Increase gasoline taxes and put the money toward transit. Keeping fares low and making driving a little more expensive will help ease congestion and pollution.

In Europe, it is common to see escalators that have motion sensors that turn on when you approach and while you are riding. I often see empty Metro escalators churning away with no one around. I bet the electricity and parts maintenance savings would help over the long term.

Posted by: WorldCup | June 11, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

How about charging "peak" fares all day, Monday to Friday instead of having "off-peak" fares during the middle of the day? I know that there is less service but this is an easy way to raise revenue without hurting DC-area residents as it's mostly tourists using the system during the mid-day.

Posted by: bmfc | June 11, 2009 4:14 PM | Report abuse

We need MORE media around Metro!

Remember what David Simon said a few years ago: "The next 10 to 15 years will be halcyon days for local corruption. It's going to be a great time to be a corrupt politician."

WARNING: Look at the New York state senate! Someone will try the same thing with WMATA!!!!


Posted by: bs2004 | June 11, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

So, I know this is minor in a HUGE budget like metro's, but this AM, the fare collector on my bus wasn't working. That meant that 35 of us rode for free. I know that 35 people = $43.75 so it's not huge, but how many other metrobusses out there have the same problem? And how much money are they losing with this problem?

Perhaps they should look into fixing this. They might find more money than they think.

I am, however, not complaining about my free ride...

Posted by: Ellvee | June 11, 2009 4:51 PM | Report abuse

They should do the following:
1) charge peak fares all day,
2) charge twice the fare for people who don't use smarttrip cards (this will mostly hit visitors),
3) start replacing short escalators with staircases,
4) limit MetroAccess service to only what is required and move it to a system where handicapped people can take subsidized cabs instead, and
5) look at eligibility for MetroAccess (i.e., you shouldn't be able to get MetroAccess because you are fat).

Posted by: columbiaheights | June 11, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

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