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Transit advocates urge Metro board to delay cuts

The Metro board is holding a special session Thursday morning at its headquarters in downtown Washington to review the budget-balancing cutbacks proposed for Metrorail and Metrobus.

Two groups are calling on the board to delay a decision.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth, an environmental advocacy group that supports public transportation, is urging board members to hold at least one public hearing and consider alternatives to the cuts in bus and rail service.

The coalition hopes the board will "commit to preserving peak period capacity and off-peak frequency, by finding other cost savings" to the proposed $4 million in cuts recommended by General Manager John B. Catoe Jr.

MetroRiders.Org, a group of rider advocates, sent a letter to the board urging its members to consider alternatives for balancing the books during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

"Metrorail riders across the region are very concerned about the headway reductions to 30 minutes in many areas," the letter says. "This change would make Metrorail one of the nation's least frequent systems off-peak. That's not appropriate for one of the nation's largest and most popular transit systems and the system serving our Nation's Capital."

The group makes this proposal: "To meet the current FY'2010 estimated deficit, why not follow the pattern of the last fare increase and impose the planned fare increase for FY2011 to take effect early -- during the remaining months of the current FY2010 -- hopefully to eliminate the need for the $4 million in proposed bus and rail service reductions that would otherwise have to be considered for those months?

"This would require speedy public hearings and Board decision-making after the General Manager presents his full proposed budget later this month to shape one fare increase that could take effect in late Spring 2010 and continue throughout FY'2011 starting in July."

Even though these cuts would deal with only a tenth of the anticipated shortfall of $40 million in the current budget, they'll still make the buses and trains more crowded and affect many thousands of riders. But board members will probably be thinking about several issues in considering a delay.

Even if the board approves cuts today, they won't take effect till March 28, giving Metro only three months to achieve the planned savings.

Why the lag time between decision and action? The proposed service changes would affect many bus and train schedules. The Metro managers, supervisors and bus and rail workers down the line need to be told. The bus drivers and their supervisors would need to learn the new routes. Last but far from least, all the maps and schedules for the affected routes would need to be redrawn, reprinted and distributed.

One of the proposed changes on Metrorail would eliminate the rush-hour train turn-backs at Grosvenor on the Red Line. The system maps on the trains and in the stations would need to be changed to reflect that.

On the other hand, the board might look at this $4 million service cut package and say that's mere chump change compared with the $175 million budget-balancing act that needs to be performed later this winter and spring for Fiscal 2011, which starts in July. There's almost certainly going to be a fare increase, which would require a public hearing. And further service cuts will be considered because all that can't be made up just through a fare hike.

The service cuts approved today for the current budget would be taking effect around the time people are going to the public hearings to discuss the changes proposed for the budget year starting in July. That gets pretty messy.

Layer onto that the prospect of needing to change bus and train schedules for Fiscal 2011 just after making all the changes required for the current budget. Now it's getting ugly.

If the board were to delay any action today, it might do so in favor of some proposal to deal with the two years' worth of budget shortfalls in a comprehensive way. But so far, we've heard no such proposal.

By Robert Thomson  |  January 7, 2010; 8:40 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrobus, Metrorail  
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I like that proposal of raising fares now. These service cuts (especially the 30 min wait on weeknights and weekends) are just unacceptable. I rather drive everywhere on the weekend and pay for parking than wait a half hour for a train that will be unbelievably packed. The fact that Catoe is proposing this shows that he is out of touch. Raise the fares, close some stations on the weekends ( Judiciary square should def be on that list if it isn't) maybe play around a tiny bit during the day, 2 minutes longer to wait for a train and no more, but not these drastic service cuts. Just can't happen in a real city.

Posted by: JG55 | January 7, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse

30 minutes is too long. Think about if you had to transfer from the Green Line to the Red Line after a concert. It could be up to 50 minutes of just standing on the platform. The transit system would cease to be useful for anything but commuting, leaving a huge investment to lie fallow and unproductive.

I sent the CSG petition to the Metro board, but I like the solution.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | January 7, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

These service cuts are crazy. Why don't they just raise fares? The crowding is already bad now, imagine what it will be like with trains only running every 30 minutes. They'll have to hire people to to shove everyone on the trains like they do in Japan.

Posted by: esmith22015 | January 7, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

If Metro's goal is to save money, then they should just shut down the whole system immediately. But if the goal is to provide transportation, they need to reassess spending and determine new sources of revenue. Maybe providing BETTER service would generate more revenue. Things like more express buses at higher cost, more park & ride facilities, etc. And do something about the buses tooling around with no passengers because the routes make no sense.

Posted by: annie7 | January 7, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

It took me two hours to complete a 50-minute commute yesterday, after being stuck at Clarendon for more than 45 minutes. There was exactly one announcement, right when I first got in, that a situation at Dunn Loring was "resolved." As it got to be 8:00, then 8:30, then 8:45, the trains just got farther and farther apart. I got to work close to 10:00.

And then I called up our benefits folks and had them stop putting pre-tax Metro deductions on my fare card. I've got enough cash on there now to get me to work through April 1; after then I'll have to decide what to do. I don't think "rely on Metro" can keep being an option, though... not unless I only have to do it 2-3 days a week or something. This week has been absolutely terrible coming and going and I can't keep being late to work.

Posted by: EtoilePB | January 7, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

raise the fares, please. don't make me wait 30 minutes underground, listening to your recordings.

i could walk most places more quickly. this is a joke.

Posted by: therewasacatch1 | January 7, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Metro shouldn't even consider service cuts like these. If anything, they should be spending money to improve service. If that would mean they'd need to raise fares by a lot, then so be it. I don't know anyone who complains that Metro fares are too high, but I know a lot of people who complain that the service is bad -- too unreliable, too crowded, too long a wait between trains, etc. I'd easily be willing to pay more for better service. But if service gets worse, I might start driving instead.

Posted by: robwilli | January 7, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Raising fares by one cent would make a bigger difference than any of the proposed slashes in service (many of which, such as eliminating 8 car trains, are already happening without board approval).

Posted by: member5 | January 7, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

"I'd easily be willing to pay more for better service. But if service gets worse, I might start driving instead."

And this is why I am against a fare hike. All these people saying just raise fares, but we will just pay more for the same mediocre service we have been receiving. They raised fares in 2008. Look how much better the service got!?! Metro needs to look at other ways to balance the budget before just holding out there hands and saying "please sir, I want some more". They seriously need to overhaul salaries and their work force. Every other industry has had layoffs to deal with this recession, Metro should not be immune to this. Trim the fat metro!

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | January 7, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse


Looking at salaries/retirement benefits for Metro employees is the last thing the Metro Board will do. They would rather shut down the system than bite the hand that feeds their reelections(employee unions).

Posted by: JohnRDC | January 7, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

PS: I want to put an end to the myth UMDTerpGirl alludes to where people never pay more for less service.

We do so ALL THE TIME. Redskins tickets cost way more today and they sure as heck aren't playing better. Health care premiums are up with benefits going down. Gas costs more, but my car gets no farther on a gallon. I get less food at the grocery for the same sawbuck I give them. Flying costs more. Driving costs more. It's not Metro that's screwing you over (in fact, if they do find any money from administrative fat, they should put it back in to safety and maintenance), it's the nature of life.

Posted by: SterlingNorth | January 7, 2010 7:24 PM | Report abuse

SterlingNorth, of course prices have gone up. I fully understand that. But when Metro raised fares in 2008, they were raised CONSIDERABLY. The idea/argument for such a large fare increase was that they didn't want to piece meal out increases but rather do it in one shot so that we wouldn't have to have fare increases every year. Now, two years later Metro AGAIN can't balance their budget. If we just let them pony up to the trough every time they can't make ends meet, who knows how high fares will eventually go.

Metro is already the most expensive public transportation system in this country and service has been steadily declining for years. They are hemmoraging money and until they look internally to fix problems, they shouldn't be gouging their customers. All that will happen is people will take to their cars, resulting in lower revenue for Metro and them once again asking for more money.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | January 8, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I honestly cannot offer a solution for Metro's immediate financial woes but in the long term they need to to increase ridership.

- Your mission is to get me from point A to point B quickly and conveniently for the best value. If not I will simply use other transit options.
- Focus on speed over safety. The ultimate goal is to get people out of their cars and on metro. Metro should be faster and easier than driving. Metro would still be much safer than driving.
- Increase service to attract more riders.

Essentially do what any business would do. Increase service while lowering prices to increase your customer demand.

Posted by: kevindiffily | January 11, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

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