Metro board wants more options, public comment
The board will not act on the proposed cuts today. Instead, it will hold a public hearing on various budget-cutting proposals, including a fare surcharge to reduce or eliminate cuts for this fiscal year.
The fare surcharge would apply for the last four months of this fiscal year only. The fiscal year ends June 30. The maximum surcharge on fares could be 10 cents. (This action happened in a rush because the board was trying to make a 2 p.m. deadline for the required notices in local publications. The board and staff needed to create the exact language for the public notice.)
After the public hearing and comment period, the board still has the final say over service cuts, a possible fare surcharge, or a combination of those elements. The board needs to set some figure on the potential surcharge before the hearing. When it makes its final decision on what to do, it could adopt a lower figure, or decide not to impose a surcharge at all. It would not vote for a higher figure than the one it advertised.
The board expects to make a final decision by the end of the month.
Themes in comments from board members:
-- They aren't satisfied with the budget balancing options presented by the transit authority staff. They want more options.
-- They've heard from riders that they think the proposed service cutbacks are not "minor" adjustments and are very distressed by them. They say people have told them they'd rather live with a fare increase if it would reduce or eliminate the service cuts
-- They debated whether the notice of the public hearing should say the fare surcharge would be up to 10 cents or up to 20 cents. (Board chairman Jim Graham would not vote for the 20 cent figure. That meany it could not pass because it was unsupported by the District, which like Maryland and Virginia has veto power over such a policy resolution.
11:30 a.m. The board clearly is not satisfied that it knows enough about the budget-cutting program at this point. Board members are taking turns asking for more specifics and talking about the public's need to have those specifics as well. Board member Jeff McKay is asking for details about how the proposed cost savings are calculated.
Board member Neil Albert is asking about the transit ridership picture nationwide. He asks about the experience of other transit agencies after fare increases occurred. Was there a slip in ridership? General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. says he doesn't know what their experience was, but notes that Metrorail's experience was that ridership did not decline after its last fare increase.
During a recession, he says, most of the decline in ridership is attributable to job losses.
Board Chairman Jim Graham registers concern as a representative of the District about the impact of the mezzanine closings, which would disproportionately affect D.C. rail stations, he says. He cites the U Street Station, where the two entrances are three blocks apart, noting the extra walking that people will have to do.
11:15 update: Board member Peter Benjamin says he is concerned about the budget numbers presented and is unsure where they all come from. He says that as the board goes to a public hearing and asks for comment, it's easy to "duck" behind the capital program, that pulling money from equipment purchasing and maintenance and putting the money into shoring up the current operations is a potentially dangerous practice. Robbing the future to pay for the present.
Benjamin says that when the public reviews this budget plan that the public understands all these facts and their implications on things like escalator and elevator maintenance.
11 a.m. update: Board chairman Jim Graham is saying that these cut proposals will be put out for public comment.
Board members now are asking questions about how the cutback plans was developed. The decline in Metrorail ridership is slowing more quickly than the decline in bus ridership, but what's the prospect for the future?
Board member Chris Zimmerman notes that the change in ridership is relatively small, yet it has led to Metro's current financial crisis. The budgets are so fine-tuned that small variations lead to big problems, he says.
Key question from Zimmerman: Why is ridership down, but not crowding? "I would think that suggests our capacity has been constrained," he says. (Many riders have told me they'd agree.)
That would suggest we really need to get back to automatic train operation, Zimmerman says. But that's long term. He says we're in a situation where if we go from eight-car trains to six-car trains, crowding is going to be much worse. What will be the effect of that on ridership and revenue?
Another key question from Zimmerman: A bigger part of the $40 million in budget cuts involves cuts in maintenance and equipment. He wants a more detailed explanation of the impact that will have on the system.
Acting Deputy General Manager Dave Kubicek: Metro will avoid targeting items that would degrade the system over the long term.
General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. opens the board's special meeting by noting that ridership has declined. Some he attributes to the June 22 Red Line crash, but most of it, he says, was caused by the recession and reflects a national trend.
This wasn't anticipated in the budget adopted for this fiscal year. Catoe says it's unlikely to bounce back anytime soon. Bus ridership is down six percent, and 12 percent below the budget's projections. Rail ridership was 1 percent down, so that looks more hopeful, he says. Still, both bus and rail are down, leading to the need to cut the current budget to reflect the lower revenues, he says.
While the total shortfall for this year is about $40 million, the focus today is on proposed cuts to the bus and rail service of about $4 million.
Dave Kubicek, acting deputy general manager, outlines the proposed bus and rail cuts.
-- Widen gaps between trains He says the effect is reduced somewhat because several lines double up in the region's core. For example, the Blue and Orange lines share a tunnel through downtown.
-- Eliminate eight-car train service at peak periods.
-- Reduce service on most holidays.
-- Adjust running time on the Red Line to reflect realities as well as to save money. The reality part includes the opening of the New York Avenue Station and the inability of trains to load and unload during peak periods in the scheduled 20 seconds.
-- Eliminate the Grosvenor turnbacks at peak periods.
-- Close some mezzanines on weekends at stations that have more than one mezzanine. (During baseball or other special events, both sides of Navy Yard Station would remain open.)
-- Close some mezzanines after 8 p.m. on week nights.
-- Eliminate low-ridership trips on 31 lines. (Increasing the gap between bus arrivals.)
-- Cut some route segments.
-- Eliminate some bus stops.
January 7, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
Categories: Metro | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrobus, Metrorail
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