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Metro Talks About Possible Fare Increases

The transit authority staff today is presenting the Metro board with a preliminary outline of an operating budget for next year that would include a fare increase and no service cuts.

There's a long way to go: The staff won't present a formal budget for fiscal 2011 until December, and then the board will get a crack at making significant changes, as it did last year. But today's meeting provided a look at some of the issues ahead.

A fare increase, which would be the first in four years, would not close the budget shortfall if it were pegged to the rate of inflation, the staff said. The staff and board are not discussing a specific proposal at this point.

For next year, the staff is assuming conservative growth rate on bus and rail ridership of 1 percent, as well as a drop in advertising revenue. After 10 years, the current ad contract is set to expire in June and a new one is in the works, says Metro Chief Financial Officer Carol Kissal, but it's not likely to generate as much revenue as the current one.

Personnel expenses are likely to rise by 3 percent, while fringe benefit costs -- listed separately -- are likely to rise by 11.5 percent. A big change: The cost of providing transit services for disabled people is likely to rise by 25 percent, to $98.6 million. The staff thinks the program's rate of growth is "unsustainable."

In planning for the current operating budget, the transit authority first considered and then abandoned proposals for significant service cuts. Instead, it cut staff, dipped into its rainy-day fund and made some generous estimates about projected revenue.

Some of the local jurisdictions that subsidize Metro helped out to eliminate or reduce some bus service cuts in their areas, but there was no increase in the annual subsidy that the jurisdictions pay to finance the transit authority.

A subsidy increase for the 2011 fiscal year, which starts in July, is unlikely, given the state of the economy. In fact, board member Peter Benjamin of Maryland described the idea of even keeping subsidies at their current levels as "a reach" given the state of local government finances.

Board member Chris Zimmerman of Arlington, looking over the budget forecast, said that most of the items contributing to a potential budget gap appear to be beyond the immediate control of Metro. Thinking about this year's painful deliberations about choosing between fare increases and service cuts, he said it's important to ask the governments "How much Metro do you want to pay for?"

If the jurisdictions cut their subsidies, he said, it's likely to push the fare increase higher.

"We need to have that stuff on the table" in the months ahead, he said.

A riders advocacy group,, implored board members this week to urge their contributing jurisdictions to provide a "sizable increase" in the subsidy to close the impending budget gap.

The riders group also called on the board to schedule a public hearing soon after General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. offers his budget proposal in December. Normally, the board schedules hearings only after it has spent months reviewing a budget proposal. The group wants the public involved early so it can have a greater impact on the discussions.

Board member Gordon Linton of Montgomery County proposed a series of town meetings to bring these issues to the public before Catoe presents his budget in December. The board asked the staff to come back with a plan for such meetings.

See the Metro staff's Budget Guidance here.

By Robert Thomson  |  September 10, 2009; 12:40 PM ET
Categories:  Metro , Transportation Politics , transit  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metro fare increases, Metrobus, Metrorail  
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Someone remind me why we don't just have a straight-up percentage of our sales tax be dedicated for Metro funding. With that, we wouldn't have to hear about subsidies and all that other nonsense.

Posted by: pikamander007 | September 10, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Who's sales tax though? VA's? The folks down in Richmond would never go for it. MD's? Same thing as in Virginia, not everyone in the state makes use of/benefits from metro. DC's sales tax? They'd only do it if MD and VA agree to do the same.

Metro seriously needs to take a look at salaries and consider cuts there. Get rid of bloated programs like Metro Access too.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | September 10, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

As long as metrobus drivers have 6 figure incomes, metro will never balance their budget.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | September 10, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Dear Metro,

I will pay more when you are more reliable.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | September 10, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Dear Metro,

I will pay more when you are more reliable.

And stop killing your passengers/workers.

Posted by: Axel2 | September 10, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Metro needs a few Trillion dollars to bail itself out of bad management, theft and improper accounting practices that has left many people millionaires.

Once that is all done, they need to re-build the entire metro system....

I will bet you now that they will either be taken over by the government or bailed out for years to come,

Posted by: indep2 | September 10, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

the Board and WaPo think metro management is just fine. Riders would disagree in droves, but what does WaPo think riders know? not much given that Metro "hasn't been as forthcoming" as it should...

it's management. fire catoe, start over.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | September 10, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Personnel expenses are expected to rise by 3%? How many metro riders are getting 3% pay raises in this economy?

Posted by: anotherbt | September 10, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Re: UMDTerpsGirl "Get rid of bloated programs like Metro Access too."

I do believe providing access service to seniors and disabled passengers is required by federal law. I also believe the fares that can be charged can only be a certain amount over the regular fares. I could be wrong, but I recall some kind of discussion like that in the past.

Hopefully, you'll never be on the receiving end of someone trying to cut a vital service you may need. Often, these disabled and seniors have no other transportation options, and they rely on Metro to get them where they need to go.

Posted by: philip_s | September 10, 2009 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Partial list of steps to take to make Metro safe and affordable for riders:

1. Metro expenses need to be slashed...too many "management" employees....excessive salaries for management and non-management (bus drivers making way more than some airline pilots for example)....employees need to be made to WORK ! Every day one sees groups of Metro employees--from 2 to more than a dozen--standing around WATCHING 1 or 2 other employees work. WashPo has even published pictures of same.

2. Riders should pay the costs of riding. No reason for those who don't use the Metro to underwrite its operation--especially since that operation is wasteful and inefficient.

3. DC residents shouldn't have to subsidize suburbanites with respect not only to fares but bloated "costs."

4. Senior management needs to be replaced as the first order of business.

5. The entire Metro system needs to be placed in some sort of receivership. Thorough auditing and examination of operations....budgetary slashes of standards and procedures to hold employees accountable...creating a SAFE and affordable Metro system. This kind of process helped improve the operations of the DC government and is essential for Metro.

Posted by: PostToastie | September 10, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

3. DC residents shouldn't have to subsidize suburbanites with respect not only to fares but bloated "costs."

Um, without those of us living outside of the DC borders (Silver Spring, Arlington etc) there would be like 10 people who use metro. We're the lifeblood of the fare usage.

Posted by: JG55 | September 10, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Fringe benefits rising 11.5%. Thanks Union. At least you folks will be sitting pretty all alone on Metro because you will be the only ones that can afford to ride.

Also, the first fare increase in 4 years??? I think not. I have only lived here 4 years and there has been a fare increase since I moved here.

Posted by: epjd | September 10, 2009 5:29 PM | Report abuse

@UMDTerpsGirl, only the jurisdictions in VA & MD that are served by Metro should levy the sales tax dedicated to Metro. The Metro Atlanta area does this, so that people in Savannah are not paying for MARTA. The problem is as you say, that one jurisdiction won't do it if the others don't.

Posted by: midanae | September 10, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Right, what midanae said. I wasn't implying that Richmond should pay for NoVA service, nor that Baltimore should pay for the service in PG and MoCo. And perhaps one of those jurisdictions should step up and be a good example for the others. Of course, the real issue is that Metro's union is doing an A+ job of getting money for its members that they most certainly do not deserve.

3. DC residents shouldn't have to subsidize suburbanites with respect not only to fares but bloated "costs." I don't know if you realize this, but it's completely the other way around. DC seems to be under this impression that people living in the suburbs have all this disposable income to work with and thus can be charged all over the place to ride. $4.50 each direction for the train PLUS ~$4.50 to get out of the parking garage? Just so DC can have their insanely low bus fare? I don't think so.

Posted by: pikamander007 | September 11, 2009 7:46 AM | Report abuse

I would be okay with fares increasing (even though I'm already paying nearly $7 / day to get to and from work, and dearly miss my Boston & NYC flat-fee monthly passes) *IF* service were acceptable or improving.

But my commutes get worse every day. Now that we've passed Labor Day, Orange Line trains going inbound are too crowded to accept all of the passengers waiting on the platform at Clarendon. And the Red Line isn't the disaster it was in late July, but it's not exactly perfect either. And this morning when there was a group of teenagers having a fist-fight, a Metro employee riding in that car just sat back and watched. (A passenger used the intercom to alert the driver.)

So, no, the service they're giving me is not worth a fare increase. *IF* I could use the Metro reliably without a 30-minute wait and a 40-minute delay on weekends, *IF* my commute to work would get back to being under 60 minutes, the way it was when I started in early 2008, *then* I'd be willing to let them hike the fares.

Posted by: EtoilePB | September 11, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

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