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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.

By Robert Thomson  |  March 23, 2010; 9:13 AM ET
Categories:  Metro , Transportation Politics  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metro budget, MetroAccess, Metrobus, Metrorail  
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Comments

Maybe because those who care about the fare increases are WORKING!

Posted by: wpjunk | March 23, 2010 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Is it really a surprise that on Friday the 19th at 2:16 pm they announced a meeting for the next Monday the 22nd no one shows up? How did they expect people to know about this meeting?

Were we supposed to see the half-assed taped up notice on the Metro on Monday and rush to get out to Vienna for a 6:30 PM meeting the same day?

As a Virginia Resident I don't know where Oakton High School Lecture Hall in Vienna, VA is but my first guess is that it would take some planning to get to.

Posted by: iolaire | March 23, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

WMATA issued a press release Friday afternoon for a Monday public hearing. No wonder it had little attendance! I definitely would have been there had there been more notice. As it is, I'll have to wait for the Arlington hearing. And frankly, having the hearing in Oakton instead of Reston or Herndon favors the commute crowd (as most of the non-Fairfax buses operate solely or chiefly during rush hour) instead of the all-day travelers (since the Reston/Herndon area has long supported substantial public transporation during off-peak hours). I suspect the venues for these hearings were decided largely by what large rooms were available on short notice.

Posted by: jeffq | March 23, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

I didn't hear about the hearing until Monday and even if I'd wanted to attend I couldn't because I was stuck on the Orange Line for about 40 minutes trying to go from East Falls Church to Dunn Loring. At least we had a good driver who told us what was going on and apologized several times for the delay.

Posted by: archers44 | March 23, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Does anyone actually believe that their opinions matter???

Posted by: corrections | March 23, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Just like Metro to give a two minute warning about the hearing then hold the hearing in northern in Vienna Va, were it's hard has hell to get there! that's like finding a Metro employee actually Doing his job without screwing up ! Try ever asking one of those nuckle heads for directions or help with the fare card machine. Like pulling teeth from a buck teeth mule !!

Posted by: curtis1112 | March 23, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I filled out the Metro qestionaire, & that took time enough.-Is it really necessary for the ridership of thousands & thousands of people to show up to voice in a few minutes, what's on that lengthy survey? Besides, Groups such as Greater Greater Washington, that follow WMATA issues closely, do a good job of representing individual riders. And if the governing board actually rode Metro daily, they'd know better where to raise fees, & not cut service, to drive away riders & put them o the roads.imo

Posted by: Hattrik | March 23, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Metro already knows what we want and need. All THEY want is our money, not our ideas.

Posted by: jckdoors | March 23, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Until there is an external, independent audit of Metro, any 'suggestions' about the budget are lip service. There are no real options to balance the budget until there is transparency and accountability on what the money is spent on.

Corrections statement above is dead on: "Does anyone actually believe that their opinions matter???"

Posted by: 123cartoon | March 23, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

I was one of those who attended and would ask that WMATA look closely at the sites that it picks for such hearings. The walk from Vienna Metro Station to the high school had to be done partly in the streets (about two blocks of it) because of sidewalk obstructions. Lighting was also poor on the return trip to the station. The walk itself was probably close to 3/4 of a mile--which I'm fine with--but some others would have had trouble navigating. On the positive side, signs pointing the right direction to the hearing were plentiful.

Posted by: kreeggo | March 23, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

This is not gaming the system!

Read Metro's own website @ http://www.wmata.com/fares/metrobus.cfm

Metrobus to Metrobus: Bus-to-bus transfers with a SmarTrip® card are valid for free, unlimited Metrobus connections (including round trips) within a three-hour period.

Posted by: wpjunk | March 23, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Um...in this day and age, they haven't thought about doing VIRTUAL public hearings? Where people could log into a teleconference system, after registering to attend?? Sheesh...catch up with the time, people. Add in the horrific disruptions outbound on the Blue and Orange lines tonight AND the rain...you're basically guaranteed a poor turnout!

Posted by: sigmagrrl | March 23, 2010 10:43 PM | Report abuse

@kreego: "The walk itself was probably close to 3/4 of a mile--which I'm fine with--but some others would have had trouble navigating."

Actually, CUE (Fairfax City's bus system) has two buses, Gold/1 and Gold/2, that run past Oakton HS when they depart from Vienna and go past the other way when they return. (Fairfax Connector's 466 also goes directly past OHS from Vienna, but only in 1 direction, so it takes quite a while for the OHS-to-Vienna return leg.)

Metro's Trip Planner recommended CUE to get to this meeting (with "walking distance" less than the default 0.6 miles). CommuterPage's PalmOS and Windows Mobile schedule apps for all Virginia buses, not to mention the PDF schedules available from each bus system, make it easy to carry schedules info around if you don't have paper copies but do have a smartphone.

I think the Metro area's bus systems are incredibly underused, especially given their low fares (usually free after the first trip each day, using SmarTrip). We riders ought to consider using these buses more to help convince the regional governments that we're serious about widespread public transit, not just Metrorail. The more we connect to rail through buses, the easier it is for them to justify their entire public transit budgets (including a proportional piece to WMATA), and thus the more these buses will be available to all. It's a virtuous cycle that starts with us using the buses that are already in place.

Posted by: jeffq | March 23, 2010 11:02 PM | Report abuse

Why didn't Metro hold a hearing downtown where many commuters work? None of these hearings are very convenient to DC residents who don't live in Columbia Heights. The other DC hearing isn't even near a Metro. the closest Metro, Potomac Ave,is 13 blocks away.

Posted by: Elkay1 | March 25, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Elkay1, because making these meetings convienent to the public would mean that the public might actually show up. Metro doesn't really want to hear what the publics thinks, they will plow on with whatever they come up with. These meetings are just for show.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | March 25, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

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