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Metro again facing fare increases, service cuts

No, you haven't read this posting already, even though some of the details will sound familiar.

During the same Thursday meeting at which the Metro board voted to impose a 10-cent surcharge on fares, the transit authority staff handed each board member a white binder containing General Manager John B. Catoe Jr.'s proposed budget for fiscal 2011, which starts July 1.

Follow that link to see the budget proposal, but remember that the board saw it for the first time Thursday and can modify the plan before calling for a new round of public hearings to discuss it.

If you were among the more than 600 people who submitted comments to the board, a natural reaction now would be to say, Wait. Didn't a lot of us say we'd pay 10 cents extra per ride to avoid service cuts, and isn't that what the board agreed to do Thursday?

Answer: That was then. This is now. The 10-cent surcharge avoids service cuts through June 30. The fiscal 2011 budget takes over on July 1, and the general manager's proposal contains these items, among many others, to close the $189 million gap between anticipated expenses and anticipated revenues:

-- Raise the bus boarding charge by 25 cents
-- Increase the rail boarding charge by 25 cents and increase the distance-based fare by 4 cents for each mile above three miles but less than six and by 3 cents per mile thereafter to a maximum fare of $5
-- Increase MetroAccess fares to the maximum allowed under the Americans with Disabilities Act. (That's twice the equivalent fixed-route fare.)
-- Cut bus service on less-traveled or redundant routes
-- Reduce the frequency of trains and hours of operation
-- Reduce the hours of operation and the service area for MetroAccess

See more details on the next page.

The proposed budget goes on to list some possible ways of reducing rail and bus service. And when we drill down to this level, the proposals start to sound very familiar.

For example, the detailed list of possible cuts includes:

-- Reduce weekday peak service by operating all 6-car trains; no 8-car trains. That would reduce peak period service by 58 rail cars, according to the budget.
-- Reduce weekday service between 6 and 6:30 a.m. by widening headways from six to eight minutes.
-- Weekend headways (the time between trains) reduced to every 15 minutes during the day Saturdays and 20 minutes Sundays, and 30 minutes at night.
-- Widen weekday headways to 15 minutes midday and 30 minutes at night.
-- Close some station entrances at nights and on weekends.
-- Open one hour later on weekends.
-- Open a half hour later on weekdays. (5:30 a.m. instead of 5 a.m.)

Some items have been debated, but don't usually appear on lists of options in budgets. They are here now:

-- Close Metrorail at 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights instead of 3 a.m.
-- Eliminate the Yellow Line extension to Fort Totten.
-- Reduce Yellow Line service late at night and on weekends to a shuttle between Huntington and King Street.
-- Close three stations on weekends.

Before you storm Metro headquarters on this, remember that the board is going to review this before coming up with a proposal for public hearings, which could take place in March, April or May under various scenarios. If fare hikes or service cuts or both result, they would probably begin June 27.

[I'll have more for you about Metro's budget crisis on Sunday's Commuter page in The Post Metro section.]

By Robert Thomson  |  January 29, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro , Transportation Politics , transit  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metro budget  
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If any of those service cuts take effect, ladies and gentlemen, we will be entering the death spiral, where service deteriorates, riders desert the system, and Metro cuts service further to make up for the lost revenue.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | January 29, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

So if this were to pass as is, and to take the 10c increase into account, the average roundtrip will end up costing closer to $1.50 more per day, if you take the bus and rail.

I don't really mind paying that much more, but for less service? That's crazy. I only take the metro out of convenience, but I feel terrible for those taking the metro out of necessity.

Posted by: steampunk | January 29, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Excuse me for a just a moment while I go down to my parking space and kiss my car.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | January 29, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

The "maximum fare of $5" part is nice, at least. I wasn't expecting to see that. (It's already $3.50 each way for me... wait, sorry, $3.60. Whenever that 10-cent surcharge goes into effect.)

Maybe we could go zone based... $2 base fare to enter and use the system anywhere in that same zone (so most of point-to-point within DC), then add another $0.30 or $0.50 or something per zone. So going from zone 3 (Ballston?) to zone 3 (Silver Spring?) wouldn't be much more expensive than it is now...

The service cuts, though, are atrocious. Maybe some periphery cuts could be tolerated (closing at 1 or 2 on Friday and Saturday, instead of 3) but rush hour service is already down to "barely usable." I've been keeping track in 2010 and although I've left home within the same 5-minute span every single workday in 2010 so far, I've arrived at my office anywhere from 8:55 to 9:55. (9:00 is considered on time, and I've arrived after 9:15 more than 50% of the time.)

For the record, in 2008, when I started this job, leaving the same home in the same 5-minute period generally put me at my desk at 8:45.

Posted by: EtoilePB | January 29, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

30 minute headways at night? What does Metro define as 'at night'? After peak fare hours are over, or some other definition?

As it is, I waited 20+ minutes last night for a Glenmont-bound train at Farragut North, after arriving at the station at five past eight. That wouldn't be so bad if I didn't still have another train (green line to Greenbelt) and a bus to wait for. All told, I didn't get home to College Park until 9:35. If that's going to be a regular commute, I may seriously look into buying a car.

Posted by: MelissaMsK | January 29, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't mind paying an additional 25 cents on top of the 10 cent fare increase if it helps keep service at status quo. I'd even be ok with an additional 50 cents if it'd improve maintenance, increase the capital budget, and improve safety.

Posted by: iammrben1 | January 29, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

I have school from 6-9 at night two days a week in Alexandria, and I live in Silver Spring.

So you're telling me that instead of it taking an average of 80-90 minutes for me to get home (as opposed to 45 minutes to drive from point A to point B), it's going to take me two hours? Assuming there isn't another event that night (Verizon Center) that makes boarding the trains next to impossible when they do show up once every 30 minutes?

I can drive to Pennsylvania in two hours.

If all of those changes took effect, that would probably be enough to get me to pay the $20+/day to park downtown for work and then drive down to class. (Which as opposed to the $13.70 it would already cost me per day under the new plan to park and ride down. Might well be worth the $6.30 to get rid of the aggravation of sitting out on the platform and having it take forever to get home, especially when it's cold out.)

Posted by: | January 29, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

So if the trends of fare increases and service cuts continues we will have to pay an infinite amount of money for no service at all. Sounds like a typical government project.

Posted by: nubeldorf1 | January 29, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Get your s**t together and fix it!

Posted by: jckdoors | January 29, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Why is there an inverse relationship between fares and service? Are Catoe and the board from bizarro world?

FYI, I waited 20 minutes at 730pm for a redline train at metro center on Wed night.

Posted by: 123cartoon | January 29, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

There is no relationship between fares and service - except that they both feed into the bottom line. To save money, you can change one or both.

Posted by: Chris737 | January 29, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

I think we're already there, mr. or ms. lindemann...

Posted by: charlotte7 | January 29, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

What exactly are the three stations to be closed on weekends? I assume Arlington Cemetery could be one, but I can't figure out what the other two could be.

Posted by: pikamander007 | January 30, 2010 2:34 AM | Report abuse

EtoilePB - I think the $5 cap is each way - by the time you add up possible fair increases, you can now get up to $5. So it's a burn for you - you sound like you're already riding at the capped fare.

I'm leaving DC in June, but I suggest you all go to battle for this - but don't just fight Metro people, fight the government over it. If all transport money from your taxes goes to roads, this is what happens.

Posted by: qualifier | January 30, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

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