Metro board asks for help
The Metro board this afternoon turned over all of its budget-balancing proposals for fare increases and service cuts for public comment.
It started out as a very long list, and during the Finance Committee's meeting preceding the full board meeting, the board made it longer. Board members expressed concerns and asked for additions and clarifications to what options would be offered for public review. [The link above will show you the original menu of options, before additions were made by the board.]
Jim Graham of the District began the discussion by saying he was concerned about the "uproar" presenting these options would cause. He referred to it as "an invitation to a fist fight." The District and Prince George's County could take many hits under these proposals, he said.
Graham particularly noted the potential impact on late-night riders and on the extended Yellow Line service to Fort Totten. He argued, as he often has, for considering the use of money from the capital budget, the long-term budget for maintenance and equipment purchases, to offset the shortfall in the operating budget, which covers current expenses.
Chris Zimmerman of Arlington sought to clarify that what the board presented to the public included all the options suggested by the public. The board today, he said, was not deciding whether a proposal is a good idea or not. That would come after the public comment period.
Zimmerman said he expected people would be upset by some of the proposals. They should be, he said. They need to be part of the conversation about the state of Metro. Withdrawing money from the capital budget, he said, is something the board can always do on its own. Unlike fare increases and service cuts, it doesn't need public hearings on that.
Anthony Giancola of the District asked for more options for fare increases, such as station-specific fares and flat fares for late-night service.
Elizabeth Hewlett of Prince George's County said, "I have a fundamental problem with the volume of the service cuts." But she said she gave the riding public credit for understanding what the menu of options means: "This is, in fact, a menu, not a decision."
"I'm willing to sit there and take the heat and hear from them," Hewlett said. She said she was willing to go ahead with offering the menu for comment, despite being "vehemently opposed" to some of the options.
Gordon Linton of Maryland said he was concerned about making sure that every option offered to the public was technically and legally possible. "We're inviting the family to the table," he said of the hearing process. "We want to hear from the household. ... We'll make some decisions at the end of that."
Peter Benjamin of Maryland said he supported sending as many options as possible to the public, even though it included options that he ultimately would not support.
The schedule is tight. Public hearings will start March 22, according to the plan. The board could approve fare increases and service cuts by April 8, so that the transit authority staff would have time to publicize the changes, adjust all the signs and recode the fare boxes and fare gates before the changes take effect at the end of June.
Board member Catherine Hudgins, among others, stressed that the only thing the board has done so far is ask riders what they think of a variety of possibilities for balancing the budget. In fact, the range of possibilities add up to $240 million, far more than the $189 million in revenue and savings than Metro thinks it needs to balance this budget.
Including those extra options -- such as a 50 cent increase in parking rates and a $10 per month increase in the cost of reserved parking -- will give the board more choices when it comes down to determining the final mix of revenue raisers and service cuts.
The staff incorporated several recommendations -- including the parking fee recommendations -- offered by citizens groups, transit advocates and the union that represents most transit workers. These are some of the other suggestions from those groups:
-- A new peak of the peak fare adding up to 50 cents to the cost of a Metrorail ride at the very busiest time.
-- An additional charge of up to 50 cents per trip for people using paper Farecards.
-- Applying peak fares to the Metrorail service after midnight on Friday and Saturday nights.
-- Adding additional fares for bus, rail and parking during special events.
Board members made their own additions to the list of options, including the possibilities of charging an extra dollar for parking and offering free rail-bus transfers on weekends. We'll post a final list when it becomes available.
March 4, 2010; 12:40 PM ET
Categories: Metro | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrobus, Metrorail
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