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Smart Growthers back fare hike, borrowing

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.

The Coalition For Smarter Growth, an environmental group in the D.C. area, takes this position on the proposals to be discussed at the Metro board's public hearing starting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The coalition urges the board to:
-- Adopt a combination of capital borrowing and fare increases. Any capital borrowing for the operating budget, however, should be fully paid back over the next few years.
-- Implement cost-cutting bus priority corridors. Bus priority corridors will save money while making existing bus service faster for riders
-- Call on state, local and federal governments to increase their contributions. This crippling budget deficit comes after years of chronic underfunding by state, local, and federal governments.
-- Establish a culture of heightened attention to customer service, safety, openness, and accountability.

Dr. G: The coalition's position is quite similar to that of the Transit First! Coalition, subject of an earlier posting. Among advocacy groups and riders who have written in, there's a pretty consistent opposition to service cuts, as well as support for a fare increase as an alternative.

Jim Graham, Metro board chairman and D.C. Council member for Ward 1, wrote in Monday to express support for borrowing from the capital budget to close the gap in the operating budget.

That borrowing idea worries me -- as it does some Metro board members -- because it briefly gets us out of a current problem while opening up a problem for the future. Say you're having trouble paying your credit card bills, so you take out a home equity loan. But you know that in July, the rate on your balloon mortgage is going to shoot up. Meanwhile, your house needs a new roof. How are you going to pay for all that?

Metro doesn't have much more flexibility than a homeowner in a tight economy. The Coalition For Smarter Growth points out Metro's long-term financial plight when it calls for sustained investment in the transit system:

"Next year's operating budget is more bad news -- a $175 million deficit is projected for FY2011 [starting July 1]. In addition to the operating budget challenges, Metro's has longer term needs that requires the support of all levels of government to secure the needed funding to:
-- Replace track, switches, electrical power systems, and station platforms; and,
-- Purchase new buses and rail cars to keep up with growing transit ridership.

"Total replacement and capacity needs between 2011 and 2020 is $11.4 billion. In December, Congress approved and President Obama signed an appropriation of a first, one year installment of $150 million for capital investments to address some of this need. This is the first part of a 10-year proposal to match $1.5 billion in federal funds to $1.5 billion in state and local funds. But we will need additional commitments each year from local, state, and federal governments for not just the $3 billion, but the full $11.4 billion in needs."

So, let the borrowing begin?

By Robert Thomson  |  January 27, 2010; 9:37 AM ET
Categories:  Metro , Transportation Politics , transit  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metro budget  
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