Metro hearing draws small crowd
What motivates people to attend a public hearing like the one the Metro board held Monday night in Northern Virginia? Some go because they believe in transit as a concept and want to say so. Others go because they have an idea they think could help hundreds of thousands of riders. Most go because they think they've got something very important to lose, like a bus route.
There wasn't much evidence of the latter at the Monday hearing, the first of six the board will hold before deciding how to close a huge gap in its upcoming budget. Several people did speak in personal terms against the proposals to restrict the MetroAccess paratransit service for the elderly and disabled.
But this session in Vienna did not draw a crowd of typical Metrorail and Metrobus riders, the people who face big increases in their fares and big cuts in service that could increase crowding and slow their trips.
That doesn't mean they are unconcerned. "What is on the table is a stress factor for many people," said Catherine Hudgins, a Fairfax County representative on the Metro board who chaired the hearing. Indeed, Metro's packet of information detailing the proposed increases and cuts is 243 pages long.
But this hearing was west of the Capital Beltway in Fairfax County. This isn't the most transit-dependent part of our region. The other hearings will be better attended because they are short walks from Metrorail or because they are surrounded by high concentrations of bus riders and MetroAccess users.
The bus riders and MetroAccess users see that many of the budget proposals would cut off the service they use now. Those groups, the most directly threatened, generally provide the bulk of the speakers at public hearings on transportation issues, and they will be heard from, especially at hearings in the District and Prince George's.
These hearings have two main roles in transportation politics:
-- They will give the Metro board a sense of what riders hate more, the fare increases or the service cuts. As of last night, they hate the service cuts more, but think some of the proposed fare increases -- particularly those for MetroAccess -- are too steep.
-- They will give the local governments that fund Metro a sense of how much they need to worry about rider anger. The Metro board and many of its riders hope the local governments will raise their contributions to Metro and lessen the impact of the fare increases and service cuts. On that score, the first hearing was inconclusive, but it's only the first.
March 23, 2010; 9:13 AM ET
Categories: Metro , Transportation Politics | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metro budget, MetroAccess, Metrobus, Metrorail
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