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Metro board wants more options, public comment

Final summary:
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.

Original post
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.
Rail:
-- 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.

Bus:
-- Eliminate low-ridership trips on 31 lines. (Increasing the gap between bus arrivals.)
-- Cut some route segments.
-- Eliminate some bus stops.

Background
-- Budget-balancing bus cuts
-- Metrorail service cuts and adjustments.

By Robert Thomson  |  January 7, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrobus, Metrorail  
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Comments

Why does it cost more to run 8-car trains compared to 6-car trains? Energy used? Is that cost savings substantial enough to eliminate eight-car train service as mentioned in the post?

Posted by: rbg99 | January 7, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Ridership has declined because service and reliability have declined.

Fire Catoe.

There are going to be thousands of additional hires by the federal government in the next few months, as well as the expansion of the Navy Hospital at Medical Center.

Fire Catoe.

The issue is one of Metro service and wasting revenue on things like M Channel.

As much as I hate to say it, being a union member, renegotiate the contract with the union.

Metro staff must take pay cuts along with the rest of state and federal employees.

Fire Catoe.

Redevelop Shady Grove in a Kentland like manner and reinvest the money earned by retail and residential leasing into the expanding the Redline to Gaithersburg and up Georgie Avenue.

Fire Catoe.

And FIRE CATOE.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | January 7, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Is this just for show? Metro has already eliminated 8 car trains on the Orange Line.

Posted by: member5 | January 7, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

If Metro continues to refuse to keep the 10-story Bethesda street escalators operational, then I would like to see John Catoe hike up one in 30-degree weather.

If you have had to climb up the Bethesda escalators in recent days, please go to wmata.com and submit the complaint form. Maybe if enough people complain...

Alternatively, maybe we should call the local news stations and see who can get a satellite truck there the quickest.

Posted by: eed017 | January 7, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

I still can't believe they're considering eliminating 8-car trains altogether. They need more, not less. However, I agree with member5 that 8-car trains on the Orange Crush seem fewer and farther between. I seriously don't get how this saves money. Will anyone please explain that to us?

Posted by: emacco | January 7, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

The board has done nothing regarding the June 22nd crash when 9 people died. That is inexcusable. What else are they waiting for? God help us.

Posted by: 123cartoon | January 7, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

From an earlier Dr. Gridlock post, eliminating 8 car trains would:

"What you'd get if plan is enacted: 0 eight-car trains at peak periods, to save $672,000.

How that saves money: Less wear and tear on the rail cars, less maintenance, lower propulsion cost."

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | January 7, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Why would they eliminate the Grosvenor "turnbacks" but not the Silver Spring/Glenmont?

Charge "peak" fares during "off-peaks" times. Make the tourists pay the bill.

Posted by: bmfc | January 7, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse


Where is the loss of ridership? I ride the orange line every day from West Falls to Farragut West and the train is packed, solidly packed with people unable to get on at every stop after West Falls Church (the 3rd stop!!). There is a great need for 8 car trains!

From what I hear, red line's trains are just as packed.

Posted by: ashdaleuf | January 7, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Metro board is incompetent. Do they even keep up with current events in the DC Metro system? There have been countless mishaps over the last three years (Catoe years), and they do nothing but debate budgets. What about safety?! Reliability?! Customer service?!

Posted by: 123cartoon | January 7, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

At the next GetThere LiveOnline chat, I'd like to know if Catoe and his Metro Board applied for Stimulus Funds from Congress and if thy have lobbies Congress for more permanent funding for the subway. And if there is a surcharge, extend it thru the summer so more Congressmen can hear from their constituents.

And I'd gladly pay a surcharge for a while, if it means keeping stations open, ewcalators operating, and trains running regularly.

Posted by: Max231 | January 7, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Before you cut service and raise fares, eliminate luxuries. Eliminate the costly, high-maintenance carpeting in the trains. They get wet, dirty and moldy. For all future repairs, stop using the labor-intensive slippery red tiles on the platforms. Switch to a finished concrete surface, maybe stamped or colored. Install the most durable, cost-efficient seat covers possible. Run 2 and 4 car trains on late night, less crowded routes. Turn off short escalators in stations at off-peak hours. Require all weekend and evening events (sports, races, marches, shows, etc) that rely on Metro to provide extra service must agree to pay the full cost of the additional service when they apply for their public permit to organize. Don't rob the budget used for functional repairs like tracks, switches, and non-cosmetic components of trains.

Posted by: NASC2000 | January 7, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

If ridership is down, higher fares and parking fees are to blame in addition to poor service and reliability.

If Metro is more expensive and less reliable than driving (even in traffic), the incentive to take public transportation goes away. Metro can go a lot further to reduce costs and increase revenues without cutting service or raising fares yet again. Until it operates more efficiently, Metro cannot justify cuts in service or fare increases.

Posted by: rme465 | January 7, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps the board members should actually ride the system to find out what's wrong with it.

Posted by: jckdoors | January 7, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

123 they're waiting for the NTSB report, and are actually rather angry that it hasn't come out yet.

NAS-That all still costs money. You certainly can removed the red tile, but where does the money coem from to do that?

Also, they tried 2 car trains at night for about a week before the justifiable howls about the trains being overcrowded pushed them back to 4-6 car trains, and most night they need 6 cars to handle the crowds since they only come alogn evyer 10-15 minutes.

Posted by: EricS2 | January 7, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

The most useless Cato since Clouseau's butler.

Posted by: bs2004 | January 7, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Is the transit Authority Staff really that ignorant that they believe that cutting service, adding time between trains and making the system feel more congested is a good way to close the budget gap? Maybe temporarily. But all that will do is drive away more regular users and put them back in their cars. Then revenue will be lower and you are back where you started. How do they not realize this? If you start making me wait 6-9 mins during rush hour instead of 2-3, which makes my commute take longer and will pack the trains, I will definitely consider using my car even though I have been riding Metro for 15 years. And plenty of others will too which means your cuts in service are all for naught because you will lose more revenue.

I would be much happier to pay more in order to keep the service at a level that it is already at, although it should be better! I think a fare increase is a much better alternative to every single thing that was proposed to the board! It is hard for me to believe that Catoe and his staff can't realize the ramifications of cutting service.

Posted by: happydad3 | January 7, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

The Orange line is packed from Metro Center to Vienna during the morning and evening commute. At peak hours any mishap or unloading of trains overcrowd platforms and become dangerous. I'm sure nothing will happen until several people accidently get pushed onto the platform or the doors malfunction and open in a packed train.

The new cars are ridiculously designed with hardly any bars for anyone to hold onto near the doors and the new hanging metal handbars are virtually useless for anyone not tall to reach them since they're positioned inward over the seats. Whoever engineered the new cars or approved them are jokes. They need hanging straps from the center and around the doors or at least in the area where they used to have some vertical bars.

Metro needs some real-time management to handle the daily problems during the morning and evening commute. Last Tuesday was a nightmare at Rossyln. They should of switched some blue line trains and changed them to orange. 8 car trains are absolutely needed on the red and orange lines during the rush hour commute. Catoe and especially the board should be held accountable.

Posted by: moku999 | January 7, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

If Metro needs more money then increase the MetroAccess fees. Metro pulls money from the rail system to subsidize these riders.

Posted by: metro_rider_1984 | January 7, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

I'll pay the extra 10 to 20 cents surcharge. No big deal.

I'm a recent transplant from Raleigh after my employer went bankrupt there. As DC collects more of us from the countryside, ridership will be back up.

Posted by: davidjrichard | January 7, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

"I would be much happier to pay more in order to keep the service at a level that it is already at, although it should be better!"

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 and furlough days to deal with this recession, Metro should not be immune to this. Trim the fat metro!

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | January 7, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

This is so ridiculous. Here are my recommendations:
1. Freeze salary increases, most business have stopped giving raises and most businesses did not give out bonuses this past year.
2. Triple what they charge to the Metro Access... their fees are just too low for the service provided.
3. Take a look at what they are being charged from contractors and seek reduced contracts. The rest of the business world is reducing what it pays to contractors.
4. Change Union policy that requires applicants for the Metro Rail position to be Metro Bus drivers... I'm sorry, but the skills necessary for train operators is much higher than a bus driver. Highly qualified train operators will not want to be forced to be a bus driver for a few years.

Budget (notice the salary increase):
http://www.wmata.com/about_metro/docs/approved_2010_budget.pdf

Metro Access Fees are too cheap:
http://www.wmata.com/accessibility/metroaccess_service/customer_guide.cfm#eligibility

Posted by: kc_in_dc | January 7, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Create a luxury car and have a separate smart trip card with higher prices. Like an HOV lane. I would pay 5 bucks more a day for it.

Posted by: dedlinetosilverspring | January 7, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Did anyone happen to mention how much Metro is spending to repeatedly advertise what a great new attitude they have? If it weren't for the ads I'd never have been aware of it.

Posted by: msegal | January 7, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

I appreciate the idea of changing the Red Line travel time to reflect reality (it should be a given that the stated travel times are based on reality), but how does this save money?

Posted by: DOEJN | January 9, 2010 7:07 AM | Report abuse

Were Grosvenor turnbacks discussed at the board meeting? I notice they are not mentioned in the list of proposed changes now on WMATA's web site.
The period without turnbacks this summer was HORRIBLE - that's what made several of my coworkers who live at or below Bethesda stop riding the Red Line - no way to get a seat ever in the morning without trains starting at Grosvenor.

Posted by: grosver | January 9, 2010 10:22 PM | Report abuse

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