Metro GM proposes “reality check” budget plan
Calling it a Reality Check Budget Plan for FY18, Metro officials will present an austere recommendation to the Board’s Finance Committee at its meeting Thursday. The budget downsizes the workforce by an unprecedented 1,000 positions, cuts certain employee health care expenses, and rightsizes rail and bus services to support current ridership.
In preparing the $1.8 billion operating budget, General Manager/CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld directed his executive team to fully fund key safety improvements, improve track and train reliability, sharply cut management and labor costs, outsource functions where possible, improve maintenance personnel productivity, and scale train and bus services to match existing ridership demand. The budget also funds stricter fare enforcement, a plan Wiedefeld calls Fair Fare Collection.
“Metro has to face reality when it comes to what the region says it can afford and direct those resources to best serve the riders we have today,” said Wiedefeld. “This plan has Metro doing everything in our power to get major expense categories under control while improving safety and making the trains run on time.”
After accounting for $50 million in projected savings through management and labor actions, Metro balances the budget through shared contributions distributed among all Metro stakeholders. While reducing its reliance on federal grant funds by $35 million, the operating budget assumes $60 million of grant funding of eligible maintenance expenses. Forecasting ridership that is down more than 20 percent from 2009 levels, rail service would be reduced, making trains less frequent during peak and off-peak travel times, but more reliable through aggressive rail car and track maintenance. In addition, about a dozen low-ridership bus routes are proposed for elimination.
As proposed, rail service beginning July 1, 2017, would operate as follows:
- During peak periods, trains would operate every 2-4 minutes at stations served by multiple lines in the system’s core.
- Trains would run every 8 minutes in peak periods instead of every 6 minutes today.
- Service would become more frequent for Blue Line riders, where trains are now scheduled every 12 minutes.
- Rush+ trains would be eliminated.
- During most off-peak periods (e.g. midday, early evening, and weekends) trains would run every 15 minutes on each line.
The plan assumes growth in commercial (non-passenger) revenue, including advertising and joint development agreements. Consistent with Board policy for periodic fare adjustments and recognizing that passenger fares have been held constant since 2014, an increase is proposed to generate $21 million, less than 10 percent of the budget gap. The combination of fare increases and service cuts would generate about $50 million from riders to help balance the budget. Contributions from the jurisdictions are projected to increase by $47 million from the District of Columbia, $44 million from Maryland, and $39 million from Virginia.
“The most difficult part of this plan is the impact for Metro customers and employees,” said Wiedefeld. “Tough choices are required to balance the operating budget.”
The proposal equalizes the local bus fare with the off-peak rail boarding charge at $2 per trip. Off-peak rail riders would pay the $2 boarding charge in addition to current distance-based fares. During peak hours, the boarding charge would increase a dime to $2.25 with a new maximum fare of $6 (vs. $5.90 today). For bus riders, one-way local bus fares would increase from $1.75 — among the lowest nationally — to $2.00. Express bus fares would increase from $4 today to $4.25, and daily parking fees would tick up by a dime.
Metro’s Board of Directors will be asked at its December meeting to approve a public hearing among other online and community based outreach for consideration of the budget. Community outreach and public hearings would begin in late January. The final budget, including any service and fare changes, requires approval by the full Board in March in order to take effect July 1, 2017.
News release issued at 11:54 am, October 30, 2016.