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Metro board approves 10-cent fare increase

The Metro board approved a 10-cent surcharge on all fares to avoid any service cuts through the end of June. The resolution proposed by board member Chris Zimmerman of Arlington does not call for any withdrawals from Metro's capital budget for long-term maintenance and equipment purchases.

The vote was unanimous, following a debate that lasted about 20 minutes. Board member Jim Graham of the District was the only speaker to make a case for closing the current budget gap by taking money from the capital budget. That way, he said, Metro could avoid both service cuts and a fare increase.

Other board members said they would not support taking money from future investments in the quality of the transit system. They said riders supported the strategy of imposing a fare surcharge of 10 cents for March through June to avoid the proposed service cuts.

Board debate
Zimmerman: The budget problem we have is not one, but three. The two that remain after this are far larger. He's referring to the fiscal 2011 budget, starting in July. There's a $189 million shortfall in that, up from the figure we have been citing of $175 million. Plus, there's a $3 billion shortfall looming in Metro's capital budget needs.

The problem under debate today, the gap in the current budget, is the least of the problems. "We are peering into the 'death spiral' that a former general manager [Richard White] warned us about a few years ago," Zimmerman said.

"We have created a system that many people in this region are dependent on." But we haven't provided the resources as a region to maintain it. The capital fund in this agency is about the future service. People said over and over again, don't raid the capital.

Zimmerman rejected all service cuts. Ridership, despite a slight decline, is still at historic historic highs compared to recent decades. Also, he said, takings from the capital budget should be minimized. He backed a 10-cent surcharge, plus further reductions in transit authority costs without service cuts.

On Wednesday night, the board heard from 88 people at a public hearing in Metro headquarters. Others submitted comments in writing, for a total of 684 public comments. One in five people supported what became known as Option 4, which included the 10-cent surcharge as well as a transfer of money from the capital budget. That was the option that drew the most public support. The option with the least support was Option 1, closing the budget gap with $4 million in service cuts as well as a transfer from the capital budget.

Board member Catherine Hudgins seconded Zimmerman's motion: People said they were willing to pay for continuation of service and the safety of the system. The increase in the fare gives us the basis of moving to discussion of the larger problem in the FY2011 budget. People understand the fundamentals of budgeting. If you erode your capital, you never get it back.

Board member Elizabeth Hewlett of Maryland: Supported motion. She spoke in particular to the people of Prince George's, who opposed service cuts.

Board member Peter Benjamin of Maryland: We heard from our customers that they would prefer a fare increase to a service reduction. He said he was amazed at how many people understood that if we take from the capital budget, we are hurting our service in the future.

Board member Jim Graham of the District: Cutting preventive maintenance was never an option. Using capital funds sparingly to close the budget gap got 18 percent support from the public. Capital money can be used to pay for current maintenance, as well as operating expenses. Capital dollars have been used in many jurisdictions to cover what otherwise would have been great budget gaps.

Looking ahead, we'll have to use a combination of strategies in addition to fare increases to make up for the large gap in the next budget. FY2010 capital budget: $623 million. Twenty percent of authorized capital spending will not be spent in this fiscal year. About $124 million won't be spent in this fiscal year. [This is the argument Graham made in a letter to me this week. See the link below.] Using $16 million from the capital budget this year would spare riders the service cuts and the fare increases.

General Manager John B. Catoe Jr.: We won't spend that capital money in this fiscal year, but we will spend it on the specific projects to which it is assigned. The projects do not go away.

Mortimer Downey, one of the two new federal appointees on the board: He supported the motion, not that any of the options was ideal. Delaying needed capital investment is a "very slippery slope." A little bit this year, then you double down next year, and pretty soon all your opportunity to invest in the system disappears.

He compared that slow wasting of the system to getting in the bathtub and slitting your wrists. It doesn't hurt at first, but when you're done, you're dead.

Board member Gordon Linton of Maryland: Backed the motion. As others did, he cited rider concerns about cutting service and taking money from future improvements in the system. Riders can't be confident in a system that does that, he said.

"We can't go down that road. We're going to have another situation with the next budget."

We do not want to go down that slippery slope of taking the capital dollars."

Graham's reference, he said, was to a spending rate. The money still is dedicated to specific maintenance project.

Board member Jeffrey McKay of Fairfax: The riders told us they didn't like any of the four options the Metro board presented to them, so Zimmerman had to cobble together a motion that was pretty close to what riders asked for.

Raiding the capital budget pushes projects down the path. He called for sustaining Metro's dedication to capital improvement. When you're in a hole, stop digging.

See other postings about Metro's options:
-- Metro board presents four budget-balancing options.
-- Jim Graham: Tap capital budget.
-- Transit coalition asks Metro to avoid cuts.
-- Rider proposes targeted fare increase.
-- Smart Growthers back fare hike, borrowing.
-- Metro rider outlines travel concerns.
-- Riders consider train lengths, service cuts
-- Riders group backs surcharge.

By Robert Thomson  |  January 28, 2010; 12:50 PM ET
Categories:  Metro , Transportation Politics , transit  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metro budget  
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Will this have any effect on the service cuts that Metro has already instituted and denied?

Posted by: member5 | January 28, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

I agree - there have already been some cuts to service. Metro can cite aging equipment and manual operation all they like, but the fact is that a year ago, even six months ago, service was not this bad. Except for in the immediate aftermath of the Red line crash in June, service was not even this bad over the summer. The operators have had six months to get used to manual control - there is no reason for there to be such long waits and overcrowded trains at this stage of the game.

Metro apparently has not realized that less trains in service means crowded and overcrowded platforms. This, in turn, poses the danger of a) more trains needing to be pulled from service because of wear and tear on the doors, and b) the platforms becoming so crowded that riders' safety is at risk.

Will I pay a 10-cent increase to keep service the way it is now? Sure, because I have no other choice. Would I prefer a larger increase to bring service back to a safe and efficient level? Darn straight I would, and I can't be the only one.

Posted by: MelissaMsK | January 28, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

When does this go into effect?

Posted by: Razor04 | January 28, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Maybe it should have been an 11 cent increase, and that extra penny could be used to buy Graham some common sense.

Posted by: 123cartoon | January 28, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

When will we see 8-car trains at rush-hour on the orange line?

Posted by: jckdoors | January 28, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

I also want to know when this will take effect.

I hope they don't have to replace all of the many signs indicating the fares in stations. That would be expensive.

Posted by: ellocin1 | January 28, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

It's truly sad that we as residents of the Metropolitan Area have no other recourse but to "bend over" and take this absurdity. I myself take the redline to work every day. The trains smell bad, they're always late, the escalators never work, the station managers are less than eager to assist you when you are in need, and of course there are the multilple tragedies that have plagued the system leading to a number of deaths. They need to start firing and replacing the powers that be and start cutting their salaries. Maybe the Federal Government needs to take over the Metro System

Posted by: ebarreto | January 28, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

The sooner the Fed takes control of Metro and funds it, the better. Having each jurisdiction hold hands every time there is an issue is ridiculous. Besides, I would guess that a majority of Metro ridership is by Federal employees commuting too and from work. The current individuals can not solve the death spiral on their own, nor can Catoe's replacement... unless they are bringing a large bag of cash with them.

Posted by: JorgeGortex | January 28, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

So, does an increase in Metro's fares equal an improvement in Metro's service?

I won't hold my breath.

Posted by: dallenva | January 28, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

When will we see 8-car trains at rush-hour on the orange line?

Posted by: jckdoors | January 28, 2010 1:56 PM


Yes! I don't mind paying the $0.10 more per trip, but the surcharge AND the stealth service cuts that make morning rides unbearable? No way.

Posted by: JoeSchmoe06 | January 28, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

How about a 1000% safety increase?

Posted by: citigreg | January 28, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

The fee hike will do absolutely nothing for Metro's bottom line. They are one of the worst managed agencies in DC's history, and how many more workers and riders will die because of poor leadership and faulty workmanship? Replace management first before raising rates!

Posted by: WildBill1 | January 28, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

So the 10 cent fare hike is only from March through June? Ha! What about transferring some of the $4.75 a day I pay to park at a Metro Lot to the transit shortfall? I don't see that I get much from my parking security, burned out lights....not even a car wash!!!

Posted by: nreyn | January 28, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Great. Elevators/escalators don't work, trains don't run on time, overcrowded trains, safety issues, poor customer service. And they vote to increase fares. Makes perfect sense. If these guys were a real business they'd go out of business!

Posted by: RB1019 | January 28, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

20 extra cents per day to commute!!! Dear God, how will I cope!!!

Posted by: Wallenstein | January 28, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

How are they raising the fare when they can't even get elevators to work throughout a whole month at ALL metro stops?!? I take the train into work every single morning and I must admit that my commute isn't bad compared to some that have already commented but in regards to safety, METRO should be ashamed of themselves.

Posted by: trecypooh | January 28, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Let's throw more $ at the problems! We know how well that has worked with the District's schools!!!

Posted by: cavalierauc | January 28, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Whenever you have a 95%+ "Metro Mafia" makeup of employees, you have corruption, theft, and failure. Add dozens of people killed over the years, and then you have murder.

Posted by: tjhall1 | January 28, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I am outraged at this decision to increase fare. The quality of the service has spiraled down, the trashy stations, the overcrowded platforms, the non-functioning elevators and escalators, the non-reliability of the train schedule, the unsafe conditions, etc. Why is it that the great powers that be in the city and the DoT cannot seem to look in the mirror first before jumping into raising fare or cutting services??? Why can't the solution be changing the whole inefficient and highly incompetent management!!!!!!!!!!! I still see the same big guy Catoe coming again and again with his laundry list of losses and threats to cut services - when he and his management team are the source of the problem to begin with. I say, fire Catoe first - since he will not do the honorable thing and resign!, then replace the whole board and management team with ones who actually have experience in budget restraint, efficient use of existing resources, and fiscal conservatism!!!! They wonder why they have decreased metro ridership? did they ever consider that fare hikes are a big reason? it is not the 10 cents they advertize - since the 10 cents is only applicable for the minimum fare for the shortest distance! For someone who pays almost $10 a day on metro alone for a round trip and another for parking, I do not see how I can still think riding metro is better than driving into town - it is absolutely not cheaper!!!! The metro station in Chinatown is a disgrace!

Posted by: genevieve2000 | January 28, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Service cuts? I thought they had already cut services. I don't see how quality could decrease any further.

Posted by: forgetthis | January 28, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe that District residents have been complaining about paying 5 cents for plastic bags, when there is a solution to avoid paying that fee (taking your own bags). But, the metro fare increase is a change that doesn't have an alternative solution for metro dependent commuters. And, yet, supposedly most of the 684 public comments support the fare increase. That doesn't make sense. And, this change doesn't solve the service and safety issues or the long-term deficit problem. I agree with some of the other commenters, we commuters are the ones really loosing in this decision.

Posted by: lsky | January 28, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Why not add a surcharge for paper tickets. They could add .10-.50 and the tourists won't notice.

The paper system costs more to run so smartrip users should pay less. Boston does this with their Charlie card. When I travel there I didn't mind paying a little more for the couple trips that I take. But it makes a big difference when I pay more every weekday.

Posted by: jww2 | January 28, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

I agree, as I've stated before, charge $1 for paper fare cards. This will hurt tourists and infrequent riders, not regulars who use SmartTrip cards. Tourists aren't going to stop riding for $1, they probably will put a little extra on the card and keep it as a souvenier anyway!

Posted by: GlenBurnie | January 28, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

I laugh when Metro talks about service cuts! There is no service so what more could they cut that we aren't already experiencing?

Last night at Dunn Loring the "up" escalator just stopped!! We had to finish walking up and do you know what the station manager was doing? He and a buddy who was in the kiosk with him had their backs turned to the escalator area and were laughing up a storm about something. This is not the first time that the station attendant has had "guests" and is not paying one bit of attention to what he/she should be!

I wouldn't mind paying this increase if I truly thought Metro gave any weight to the opinions of the people who attended the hearing last night. I truly believe they have known since their budget meetings that they were going to institute a fare increase; the public hearing was all for show!

They should have hunted down and prosecuted those gate keepers who ripped off cash from the parking lots several years ago. However, they just continue to rip off the riders because some of us don't have a choice but to use Metro.

Does Metro think that the poor economy hasn't hit us in the pockets, too?

Posted by: cheen48 | January 28, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Genevieve - Catoe announced plans to retire last week, effective April 2nd. So there you go.

But much as we commuters like to bash Catoe, the current mess is not solely his fault. Metro spent years building the system, and now that the time has come to focus on maintenance, the money just isn't there.

Also, it is a ten-cent surcharge on *all* fares. If you pay 4.50 now, you will pay 4.60 starting on March 1st. That includes bus fares, too.

Posted by: MelissaMsK | January 28, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

The already too-big Board is going to be enlarged with four new members soon. The Board has done an abysmal job of managing Metro, how will making it even more bloated help?

It's time for a federal control to tackle the budget problems, at least.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | January 28, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Did Metro freeze their own salaries and no more pay raises/bonuses for ever? They should and start at the top level mgmnt. Now!!

Posted by: LL817 | January 28, 2010 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, the debate devolved into fares vs use of capital money. Many of those commenting are correct--WMATA cannot run the ATO schedule in manual mode and the result is degraded service as trains bunch up creating long gaps followed by one train after another then another long gap.

WMATA could have made a sensible decision to add 1-2 minutes running time on the Orange Line and others and converting some six car trains to eight (same number of cars per hour). This would have given us more reliable service at a lower cost. Instead we'll have higher fares with continued lousy service.

Posted by: kreeggo | January 28, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

I for one am willing to pay an extra dime for riding the bus or train. Public transportation is incredibly important for the economy, the environment and the community at large - we need to support it. Having said that, there are much larger problems that need solving.

Posted by: ravensfan20008 | January 28, 2010 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Close Metro, they are unable to manage the system. Several days ago I heard the news talking about the addition of 2 FEDS to the Metro board and Jim Gramm saying that the FEDS need to contribute more. Well I say NO. It's time for Metro to learn (applies to all companies) work with in their budget. Va and MD just contributed 50 million dollars each this is on top of what DC pays in and not including the profit made by Metro. I also would like to point out that the FEDS just gave Metro millions for the inauguration They made over 200 million on the inauguration weekend. What have they done with approx 500 million dollars. They have not fixed the problems that killed 13 on the red line, haven't replaced the cars that crumpled in the same accident. At least one employee is killed each month. The list goes on and on. The Metro in DC - MD - VA is one of the smallest in the US yet the most expensive. It would appear that any thing manager from the district is bound to become corrupt SAD.

Posted by: askgees | January 28, 2010 6:41 PM | Report abuse

People are sheep especially in the DC metro area. If the PEOPLE would join hands and boycott these id10ts for ONE WEEK the problems could be solved. That will never happen and they know this. They do as they please because they know the people will do nothing other than bend over. Their sitting in the board room laughing at you.

But like the LIBS say, Unions are good for you. LOL

Posted by: askgees | January 28, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Well as far as I am concerned metro can go hang itself. I am tired of metro workers who can't seem to even get up enough self respect to do their jobs, much less do them well. Drivers doing the cross word puzzels on the 90/92 line, drivers reading the paper on the lee/route 29 lines, and drivers that run right past you because it seems like the fun thing to do at the moment. It has never been either more practical, efficient, or cost less, to ride metro rather then own/drive a car and this is just .10 more then I can stand. Metro can go bugger itself. I am getting a car.

Posted by: td11232 | January 28, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

I take Metro two stops each way, about eight blocks each way. $3.50 a day for that? Time to walk, I need the exercise anyway.

Posted by: gbooksdc | January 28, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

@askgees do you own a parking garage in the district? You must to suggest closing or boycotting Metro.. it costs $17 a day to park in SW where I am, vs $3.50 for Metro. I've been riding daily for the past 5 years, and Metro is what it is, shabby and grubby but comparatively inexpensive and reliable the majority of trips.

Posted by: john65001 | January 28, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse

Japanese style, the Metro board should comment seppaku together. That is the only way for them to atone for their negligence re safety and tolerating a management that believed many if not most safety incidents were freak incidents. No wonder people lack confidence in Metro. And the discipline of workers does need attention, as their jobs are not entitlements and there are many who would gladly step into their shoes. And finally, the departing board should enact clawback policies to recover funds from executives who just don't cut it.

Posted by: axolotl | January 28, 2010 9:05 PM | Report abuse

Melissamsk said: "Will I pay a 10-cent increase to keep service the way it is now? Sure, because I have no other choice. Would I prefer a larger increase to bring service back to a safe and efficient level? Darn straight I would, and I can't be the only one."

Exactly right, I agree 100 percent with this. Jim "The bowtie" Graham is the enemy as far as service cuts are concerned. He needs to understand that a large fare increase is the only acceptable way to go forward after June. Service cuts are a non starter and spending all of your reserve for capital prjects is insanity. Raise the fares however much is necessary and especially look into getting rid of off peak fares, that's a no brainer.

Posted by: JG55 | January 29, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

The Washington Post should run a spread with Metro's full budget, where the money is going, and the salaries for Metro employees. This would help us understand where the money is going and give those of us who rely on Metro a chance to review the situation. At that point we wouldn't be making blind recommendations and may be able to come up with new ideas that make sense.

Posted by: wb1313 | January 29, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

gbooksdc, yeah, get the frack off the train. You're in the way of actual commuters.

As for boycotts? They'd be about as effective as no-gas days. Metro probably wouldn't even notice an actual riot.

And yes, definitely, we need a budget overview.

Posted by: member5 | January 29, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

I have been riding the Metro since 1989. Starting in 1991 ridership increased significantly on the red line from Shady Grove to DC. Since then I have had to change my hours twice so I could make it to work on time. Every morning (during rush hour) the Shady Grove trains are full before they reach Rockville station. I haven't seen a reduction in ridership. I notice when there is an accident or repair needed you increase the fare. Doesn't anyone budget for emergencies or repairs? Didn't Metro receive some stimulus money recently? Where is all the money going???

I have a suggestion. Why doesn't the Board check into cutting back the trains coming from Silver Spring to DC and back to Silver Spring during rush hour. And adding more train from Shady Grove to DC. I noted this morning that the Shady Grove trains were packed (riders leaning against the doors), the other side of the track coming from Silver Spring to DC had just a few riders on each train. Also, during non-rush hours take out some of the trains, and extend the time between trains. At least, check out what lines and when are they at full capacity.

Posted by: mcj1 | January 29, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

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