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Today's read: Metro struggling with money gap

Finds funds for this year: But what about next? That's when the real worries kick in. Last spring, when Metro's leaders were setting up the current budget, they made some pretty optimistic assumptions about this year's revenues. Things like ridership numbers had to come in strong. So far, they haven't.

Lena H. Sun says in her story that Metro officials attribute ridership declines to growing D.C. unemployment, which rose from 10.6 percent in July to 11.4 percent in September; slower service and fewer trains on the Red Line immediately after the crash; and extensive track work. The Red Line did not return to normal service until Oct. 7. Extensive track work during the Labor Day weekend closed the Pentagon City, Crystal City and Reagan National Airport stations.

Metro's leaders already know they face bigger problems in the budget the staff will draft and present late this year. Board members are holding forums to discuss the difficulties. There's one at 7 o'clock tonight in Montgomery County: at the Kennedy High School cafeteria, 1901 Randolph Road, Silver Spring. There will be another one in Prince George's later this month: Nov. 18, at Prince George's Community College Rennie Forum, Largo Student Center, 301 Largo Road, Largo. That one also begins at 7 p.m.

By Robert Thomson  |  November 3, 2009; 8:34 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Today's Read  
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Isn't comparing to 2008 numbers silly? 2008 had *huge* spikes in ridership because gas went to $4, $4.50... $4 / gallon seems to be the breaking point for the Metro Washington area's drivers.

Posted by: EtoilePB | November 3, 2009 9:12 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: EtoilePB, yeah. When Metro leaders were preparing this year's budget, they really didn't want to do service cuts and wouldn't consider across the board fare increases. So they didn't leave themselves any room for their predictions on revenue to be off. Assumptions made about revenue from ridership were pretty unlikely to come true because of the recession and the decline in gas prices.

And of course, when they were making up the current budget, they couldn't predict the June 22 crash and the service disruptions that resulted.

Now, they're really in a bind. Meaning, we're really in a bind. Seems like they have to have a significant fare increase and maybe some service cuts.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | November 3, 2009 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Dr. G, and what role does Metro's fall off in service and consumer confidence play in declining ridership? We can't get a train reliably after 9:30pm all month...what do they expect? They're claiming victimization because people quit riding because their service was unreliable.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | November 3, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

I hope they're considering how much ridership a major fare increase will cost them. My metro fare and parking outside the Beltway already exceeds the cost of daily parking downtown. If they hike fares significantly, in combination with the proposed Smart Benefits changes (which have a much lower cap on fare benefits compared to parking), I might not even be able to pay all of my fares using pre-tax income anymore.

At some point, it is no longer worth it to pay more to spend longer in transit, while being exposed to whatever contagious disease my fellow Metro riders are infected with this week. (This would, incidentally, be the end of my print subscription to the Post, which exists largely as Metro reading.)

Posted by: adbiosec | November 3, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: From talking to Metro leaders, I think they're very aware that service problems not only hurt riders but also hurt the transit authority's bottom line.

There are some things I think the staff can control: Despite some improvements, Metro has a ways to go in communicating with riders. That's partly communications about the current state of the system and partly about sharing concerns and options about the future. (These forums that the board members and top staff are having around the region are a step in the right direction on the second part.)

There are other things I think are beyond Metro's control: If there's not more money coming in from local and federal sources, I don't see what choice the leadership has about raising fares and cutting services. They have to have a balanced budget. They made some pretty substantial cuts in expenses this year. They did leave some things to fix, like lights kept on in outdoor stations during the day, but so far there's been no Eureka moment where someone discovers a really significant way of saving money or raising revenue besides the standard ones.

Now, if they are forced to increase fares and cut services, of course that will have an impact on ridership. It will drop. Then they'll have to increase fares and cut services again. Same thing we had back in New York in the 1970s. It's not pretty.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | November 3, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

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