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Transit advocates stepping up

Not a moment too soon, Metro riders and their support groups are urging the local governments that finance the trains and buses to come to their rescue. Metro board members should join the riders in this quest, even if it turns out to be quixotic.

Several speakers representing riders, community groups and environmentalists used a public platform at Thursday's Metro board meeting to call on the local governments to help close Metro's $189 million budget gap. If they don't, pointed out Dennis Jaffe, then riders will bear 70 percent of that burden through fare increases and service cuts.

The board scheduled a special meeting next Thursday. It plans to vote on setting a hearing schedule for public comment on the general manager's proposed budget. That budget contains another round of administrative cuts, but it also would raise fares substantially and reduce train and bus service.

The 10-cent surcharge that takes effect Sunday is designed to help close the gap in the current budget, which is a mere $40 million or so. The surcharge will expire in the early morning hours of June 27 as the night-owl service ends. When service resumes that Sunday morning, riders will very likely be paying the even higher fares needed to close the $189 million gap.

"The jurisdictions must partner with riders to avoid service cuts," said David Kaplan, speaking on behalf of the Transit First Coalition. "If riders accept fare increases, then the jurisdictions should close the rest of the budget gap through increased contributions. The proposed budget shows that $74 million in increased subsidy is needed to avoid service cuts.

"We make this request for additional subsidy recognizing the unprecedented fiscal challenges facing local and state governments, but Metro is too important to this region's economy and too much has been invested to create the system to let it fail now."

Such efforts may be fruitless because both Maryland and Virginia are quite far along in their legislative sessions and the time is rapidly passing for them to budget extra money for Metro this year. The governments in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax and the District should also be lobbied.

When riders feel the full blow of the changes at the end of June, they will regret any missed opportunity to rouse the local governments.

By Robert Thomson  |  February 25, 2010; 3:30 PM ET
Categories:  Metro , Transportation Politics , transit  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, MetroAccess, Metrobus, Metrorail  
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