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Metro riders group backs fare surcharge

See other postings in this series on Metro's 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

Another of the region's transit advocacy groups, MetroRiders.Org, has sent out a copy of the testimony it is offering to the Metro board for the 5:30 p.m. hearing on closing the current budget gap.

The group opposes using service cuts to help balance the budget and wants Metro's contributing jurisdictions to increase their subsidy levels or at least explain why they can't. Out of the four budget-balancing options on the table, it strongly supports Option 4, which would impose a 10-cent surcharge on fares and take $6.4 million from the capital budget.

The group will make these points:
-- WMATA's setting out four distinct policy options on which comment is sought has been helpful to us. This is an improvement over the recent past. We were, however, disappointed by the District of Columbia's vetoing public comment on a broader range of revenue and expense options to close the current budget gap. We believe each jurisdiction's veto power should be limited to WMATA decisions that have demonstrable fiscal or service impacts on that jurisdiction -- and constraining the public's ability to comment on a broader range of options at a public hearing does not satisfy that test.

-- The board's choice of four options took off the table, without any opportunity for public debate, whether WMATA's contributing jurisdictions should be urged to help cover part of this $40 million budget gap -- or at least to respond in a transparent process why they can't afford to meet passengers part way in closing the gap. . . .

Yes, all state and local governments have severe budget problems but so do individual Metro riders. These governments must do their utmost to preserve and strengthen our Metrorail and Metrobus system. . . .

-- We urge the following actions: No cuts in Metrorail or Metrobus service . . . WMATA should adhere to two primary principles: to preserve peak period capacity and off-peak frequency. In particular, we are opposed to the following proposed actions: Increasing Metrorail headways from 20 to 30 minutes on weekday evenings and weekend nights; and 15 to 20 minutes on Sundays, reducing eight-car trains to six-car trains during rush hour, cutting bus service that will leave many riders waiting long periods in the cold, rain and heat.

-- There should have been an Option 5, which MetroRiders.Org would have supported: increasing Metro fares and parking fees to raise $16 million through June 30 so that $6.4 million won't have to be borrowed from the capital budget and added to next year's budget gap. Again, the District of Columbia's veto of this option was unfortunate. . . .

-- Balance the remaining FY2010 shortfall by adopting Option 4, a combination of, basically, a 10 cent across-the-board fare increase ($9.6 million) and temporarily borrowing $6.4 million from the capital fund. . . .

-- Other long-term cost savings: Implement cost savings by securing the commitment of state and local governments for more efficient movement of buses within the region.

Dr. G: See Jim Graham's letter in the set of links at the top of this posting. Graham is consistently reluctant to do fare increases or service cuts, or even to get people riled up in anticipation of those things happening. He'd rather close this budget gap by taking money from the capital budget. (This is sometimes referred to as "borrowing." I think I'll stop using that term till I hear the Metro board make a commitment to paying it back.)

While the District blocked the board from asking the public to comment on a fare surcharge of up to 20 cents, it did a good job in laying out the other options in advance of the public hearing. In years past, many riders said that when the public comment period came around, too many budget-balancing options already were off the table. (Note that I make one exception regarding the service cuts: The elimination of eight-car trains at rush hour should not have been on the table, because of a longstanding Metro commitment to provide that service.)

By Robert Thomson  |  January 27, 2010; 10:46 AM ET
Categories:  Metro , Transportation Politics , transit  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metro budget  
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