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How can Metro close a $100 million gap?

Metro's 2011 budget starts out about $100M in the red from a preliminary analysis, but the General Manager has to submit a balanced budget to the Board by December. Here's some things he should consider:

photo by nevermindtheend.

Revenues: A fare increase is unavoidable this year. Metro should increase all fares by some base amount, about 5%. For SmarTrip bus fares, this is about a nickel, maybe a dime. For cash bus fares, $1.50 is a reasonable increase that makes the cash payment easy to manage in exact change. Less than 15% of Metrobus riders pay cash, according to Metro's data (weekday and weekend). For Metrorail, off-peak fares should increase a dime at the low end to $1.45, and a fifteen cents at the high end to $2.50. Peak Metrorail fares should increase fifteen cents at the low end to $1.80, and the maximum fare should increase fifty cents to $5.00.

Parking fees should increase by a minimum of 5% (about 25 cents). Parking garages that are completely full should have higher parking fees to manage demand. Even the bike locker fee should be increased by $5 (to $75 per year), with higher increases targeted to stations that have a waiting list.

The fare increases should include a broad-based component, ensuring that all riders contribute to keeping Metro's budget balanced, and a targeted component to overcrowded Metro services (like parking, peak rail and bike lockers), and segments that are relatively price insensitive (like peak-hour commuters). If the SmarTrip technology allows it, Metro could consider a "peak of the peak" rail fare that's higher during the most crowded hour of the 4-hour peak period and a little lower, but still higher than the off-peak fare, during the "shoulder" period. That would encourage commuters to spread out their usage as much as possible.

Another price-insensitive group is tourists. The New York City subway has been raising the base fare more than the unlimited pass fare, which most residents use. Metro could provide a discount for SmarTrip usage on the rail system. There's already a discount on buses.

This kind of fare increase should raise around $65M, about half of the amount raised by a much more targeted fare increase in 2008. Since Metro already assumed a $34M fare increase, that's $31M more than previously stated.

Contributions: Last year, in one of the worst economies since WWII, Metro's funding partners were able to contribute an additional 3%, or $16M. This year, with the economy starting to recover, we should expect the same or more. It is not fair or equitable to expect Metro's customers, who do not select the members of the Board or participate meaningfully in Metro's governance, to bear the primary burden of keeping the transit system solvent through fare increases or service cuts.

If the Board is unable or unwilling to hold down cost growth in areas like employee compensation (up $53M a year) or paratransit (up $20M), then the Board should be able or willing to go to its local governments and ask for the money those increases require. In discussions, Board members often treat this cost growth as unavoidable, but the experience with BART shows that it is possible to constrain the growth of labor costs, and the staff has repeatedly discussed ways to reduce MetroAccess costs. With the riders expected to contribute about 10% more than last year, it is only fair that the subsidy should be increasing at about the same rate. Metro's funding partners should contribute no less than the increase in paratransit service, or $20M, but really it should be closer to $30M, or about 6% of the subsidy last year (subsidy levels typically increase every year, while fares increase only some years, which is why it's not 10%).

Cost reduction: According to this presentation, reducing MetroAccess to the mandated 3/4 mile ADA corridor would save $2.8M per year or more. Another idea would be to ask jurisdictions to stop dropping their own federally subsidized paratransit programs, and directing their constituents to use MetroAccess, as the District did last year.

Metro could also mandate a 2-3% cost reduction effort in all departments except public safety, which would save about $3M per year. The board could decide to implement the "escalator to stairs" concept, with a delay between when the escalators are no longer maintained and the capital expense to convert them to stairs, saving them up to $1M per year. They could implement the cost reduction strategy of closing underutilized station entrances on Metrorail, as proposed last year for a savings of about $1M per year.

Local and state DOTs could speed up buses on the busiest lines by creating bus-only lanes or "queue jumpers." There are already proposals to speed up the busy Q2 line in Montgomery County, for example. WMATA estimated Spreading out bus stops to one every fifth or quarter of a mile, in areas where they are more closely spaced, would also speed buses. WMATA estimates that if all bus routes in the priority corridor network could speed up by 3 mph, they would save $40-50 million a year in operating costs.

As a last resort, they could continue to propose cutting Metrobus lines that underperform, or jurisdictions could offer to take them over, as Fairfax and Arlington Counties did last year. Finally, they could cut Metrorail service frequency outside of rush hour, going to 15 minute headways on weekdays and Saturdays during the daytime, which could save another $7.5M per year. Any of these service cuts are painful, but the budget gap is huge.

The total of everything above is about $75M per year, leaving another $25 million of gap. That doesn't count the bus priority improvements, which require local cooperation. The GM and the Board are going to have to find even more cost reductions, whether more subsidy increases, more fare increases, more cuts, or local bus priorities. It's going to be a tough budget year.

Michael Perkins serves on the Arlington County Transportation Commission, though the views expressed here are his own. He lives in Arlington with his wife and two children. 


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"Another idea would be to ask jurisdictions to stop dropping their own federally subsidized paratransit programs, and directing their constituents to use MetroAccess, as the District did last year."

Two questions:

Does WMATA then get the subsidies that would have otherwise gone to those local jurisdictions or does the federal government just pocket the money?

Why does WMATA even provide MetroAccess? I understand that the ADA requires some form of paratransit service, but I don't understand why that responsibility falls on WMATA and not the local jurisdictions. The BART system in SF doesn't have a system-wide paratransit service and neither should Metro.

by Adam L on Sep 14, 2009 10:51 am • linkreport

I assume that the closure of "underutilized station entrances" is referring to underground stations with exits on either end of the platform. What would be the plan for implementing that? Would there be signage indicating that one end is empty? Would people just circle back from the faregates if they realize their smartcard won't scan? What about at street level, will there be signs directing people to the other station entrance? It seems like a lot of work/expense to gain a small amount of budget flexibility.

It seems to me that fare increases + reduction of metroaccess/underperforming lines + increased pressure on funding partners for additional money is the only way to go on this.

by kidincredible on Sep 14, 2009 10:55 am • linkreport

Slap advertisements over every square inch of the stations and tunnels, and offer "premium fantasy" club cars with full bar service and stripper poles.

Also, shut down the escalators and charge extra for use of the "Stationary Stairmasters."

by monkeyrotica on Sep 14, 2009 10:56 am • linkreport

Adam L:

1. I doubt it. The program provided for 70% federal subsidy for localities that provided paratransit service for Medicaid-qualifying patients to get to their medical appointments. While I'm not especially familiar with the details, it's not typical for the Federal Government to try to compensate another program for the unintended costs when a locality drops out of a federal matching program.

In this case, it appears that DC dropped the program (keeping their 30%) and then the Feds got to keep their 70%. The former users of the system were encouraged to seek out Metroaccess as a substitute.

It should be noted that Metroaccess is paid for by the jurisdiction of residence, so now DC is paying for 100% of the higher costs. The presentation cited that the per-trip costs were less than $20 per trip, compared to $40 per trip for Metroaccess.

2. The reason is probably related to the fact that BART is only operated as a regional rail system with the localities operating their own bus or feeder transit systems, while Metro, after the consolidation of regional bus service into Metrobus, was practically the only transit operator in the region when the ADA required Metroaccess to start up. Therefore it made more sense for the local transit agencies in SF to provide the complimentary paratransit service, but for Metro there really wasn't that model available.

Historians or people living here during that time frame are more than welcome to correct me.

by Michael Perkins on Sep 14, 2009 11:02 am • linkreport

@Monkeyrotica: For the serious portion of your comment, I'd note that Metro is expecting a $44M drop in non-fare operating revenue, most of which is advertising. Have you seen the number of ads that Metro's contractors have not been able to sell? Movies that have been out of the theater so long they're in the dollar bin at the grocery store? Film festivals from last summer?

As to your other suggestions, bring it on. I don't know what union the dancers would belong to, though.

by Michael Perkins on Sep 14, 2009 11:05 am • linkreport

I don't understand why Metro doesn't already charge higher rail fares for paper farecards than for SmarTrip. Right now, there's little incentive for tourists and other short-term or infrequent riders to get SmarTrip cards. WMATA could even emulate London and jack up the paper-farecard fares to astronomical levels (say, a $5 flat fare to go anywhere). Some tourists would pay the higher fare, and that's more money for Metro. Others would get SmarTrip cards, and we would all get into and out of the stations faster.

by Johanna on Sep 14, 2009 11:13 am • linkreport

2 other things Metro needs to do. Turn off the escalotrs at underutilized and commuter stations in the middle of the day. Also what happened to the cars painted in advertisements?

Lastly Metro's ad budget should be reduced. There is no need for them to purchase a full page ad on the back of The Express to announce station closers. Announce them a month or more ahead (as they've done with the Columbus Day closures) and send out periodic press releases. Also I'm not sure if they have advertisements on WTOP, but do people really need radio ads to ride public transit?

by Joshua Davis on Sep 14, 2009 11:15 am • linkreport

Something I just thought of would be to charge an extra 50 cents or so to exit at Navy Yard or Gallery Place for an event. Metro already has to provide extra rail cars to handle the crowds.

by Michael Perkins on Sep 14, 2009 11:16 am • linkreport

@Michael Perkins:
I think the stadiums should be kicking back money to Metro like crazy. If Metro wasn't there, I don't know that I'd ever fight traffic or parking to get to an event within the city limits.

User fees always seem like an appropriate way to handle these sort of budget crises, so I'm okay with the extra charge to use Gallery Place or Navy Yard (though with Gallery Place, that would probably drive many people to walk to Metro Center).

by kidincredible on Sep 14, 2009 11:20 am • linkreport

The only thing with an event surcharge for Gallery Place is that you'd just push the traffic to the stations near Gallery Place. Also, such a surcharge would not effect people who get off at Metro Center for events at Verizon Center which means more lost revenue.

Navy Yard might be a little easier to pull off since the walking distance to alternatives is a bit longer.

by Jason on Sep 14, 2009 11:23 am • linkreport

Personnel cuts in the back office and major pay cuts. Then fill the rest with base fare increases and subsidy increases from jurisdictions.

Metro's personnel overhead is beyond bloated. They get paid entirely too much and deliver entirely too little. If people in the private sector and local governments are getting laid off and asked to take pay cuts en masse, why can't Metro? It's long past time to take on the union.

by SG on Sep 14, 2009 11:34 am • linkreport

IIRC, in London you can buy an oyster card (smarttip equivalent) but then return it to get your deposit back at the end of your visit. Seems that such an approach would alleviate the criticism of soaking tourists. Any locals have basically no excuse for not having smartrip card at this point.

by ah on Sep 14, 2009 11:38 am • linkreport

@kidincredible: Indeed they should, but they don't. And WMATA doesn't have the power to compel them to. So WMATA can ask nicely, and the stadium operators can say "no".

DC could require that all stadium or arena event tickets would have a $3-5 fee attached to them, and in return the patrons would all get free transit. (Technologically this doesn't work because it's an administrative hassle to make it work. This works for other transit agencies that have pay and display or "honor system" fares).

by Michael Perkins on Sep 14, 2009 11:38 am • linkreport

@Michael Perkins:
Could DC levy a tax or something against the stadiums in support of Metro? Call it a "prime mover" tax since the stadiums generate a large amount of ridership during events. DC could even allot a portion of the revenue to the Metro DC Police for traffic issues caused by the events as well. Then leave the stadium operators to balance that tax obligation however they see fit (probably by an increase in ticket prices).

Same effect as above, but without a direct subsidy of fares and the administrative hassle that comes with it.

[It's probably not politically feasible, but is it legally possible?]

by kidincredible on Sep 14, 2009 11:55 am • linkreport

I'd like to see a truly thorough audit of WMATA's budget. They way the IRS goes through your tax return once they've decided they don't like you. I'd like to see the Board's feet held really to the fire.

I'd also like the local governments to step up and pay their fair share. How come Maryland can spend 4 Billion on a single HOT lane on I-270, while it's whining about a couple of Million for WMATA?

The pricing structure is complex enough as it is. Creating separate pricing for non smartrip users complicates things unnecessarily. People who are proposing increased pricing for paper cards are all smartrip users. It's even dumber to hit tourists with higher prices.

It doesn't help to transfer lines to other bus-networks. It's filling a hole by digging another.

I do like the idea of making every event ticket a free metro-ride. It should not be very hard, as TicketBastard already has some magnetic strip on the back of most cards. On the other hard, seeing as how WMATA is handling their scheduling data, I can not imagine anyone wanting to even deal with them to do something handy.

The price increase is probably unavoidable, but unfair seeing that roads didn't get more expensive.

by Jasper on Sep 14, 2009 12:16 pm • linkreport

This year, with the economy starting to recover...

Dream on, honey:

by No job= no spending on Sep 14, 2009 12:24 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: Regarding transferring bus lines, it's not necessarily a one-for-one transfer. When lines are transferred from WMATA to a local, the costs of operating the lines is often very different. For example, according to the national transit database, here is the operating cost per hour for local buses (2007 data unless noted):

WMATA: $138.97
Fairfax: $78.47
Arlington (2004): $72.00
Montgomery: $91.47
Prince George's: $83.05

by Michael Perkins on Sep 14, 2009 12:33 pm • linkreport


"but unfair seeing that roads didn't get more expensive."

Where do you think Maryland is getting that 4 billion for the HOT lanes? They sure didn't find it in the couch.

And don't forget time costs. No one ever thinks of this when they talk about driving. If your commute grew from 45min to an hour, that's 15 min of lost time. At $20/hr your commute just cost you $5 per trip.

by kidincredible on Sep 14, 2009 12:37 pm • linkreport

Metro's budget woes are due considerably to dramatically rising personnel costs. Until these are brought under control, balancing the budget will be difficult, if not impossible.

Metro needs to bite the bullet and consider a wage freeze across the board. Also, labor contracts should be reevaluated to restructure cost-of-living provisions and to establish wage ceilings.

One has to wonder how many bus drivers and train operators and other union employees are making more than $100,000 per year. While these workers have important jobs, they are not not on the same level of professors, scientists, or lawyers, and their compensations should reflect that. For way too long, Metro has been gorging at the public trough and with too little accountability. That has to change. Metro needs to open its books more fully so that its burgeoning personnel costs can analyzed and evaluated by all concerned parties.

by Anon on Sep 14, 2009 12:37 pm • linkreport

WMATA estimates that if all bus routes in the priority corridor network could speed up by 3 mph, they would save $40-50 million a year in operating costs.

I find this incredibly hard to believe. If it's true, then John Catoe is even more incompetent than this summer has made him look. $40-50 million savings by speeding buses in priority corridors up 3 mph? If that's true, then WMATA should be knocking down the door of regional DOTs to make this a reality. Does anyone have the sourcing on this? I just find this number to be ridiculous.

by JTS on Sep 14, 2009 12:40 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: "The pricing structure is complex enough as it is. Creating separate pricing for non smartrip users complicates things unnecessarily."

Another option would be to charge non-SmarTrip users peak fares at all times. That has the advantage of simplicity, but the disadvantage of taking away the incentive for tourists to travel at non-peak times.

"It's even dumber to hit tourists with higher prices."

Why? Because people will stop visiting DC if they have to pay an extra $5 to ride Metro?

Every other transit system I can think of offers some sort of cost advantage for people who ride regularly for extended periods. And that's only fair, in my view: Tourists (or most of them, anyway) don't pay taxes to the governments that fund the transit system, so they shouldn't benefit as much from the subsidized fares.

by Johanna on Sep 14, 2009 12:48 pm • linkreport

If we're contemplating added complexity to the fare structure, like peak-of-the-peak, another place to increase the fare would be Gallery Place to/from Orange/Blue line stations. There's quite a crush of people riding one stop between Metro Center and Gallery Place on the Red Line, especially around Verizon Center events, and it'd be good to give the Orange/Blue riders an incentive to walk from Metro Center to Verizon Center instead of transferring to the Red Line.

by thm on Sep 14, 2009 1:03 pm • linkreport

1. Eliminate "station managers." Go to 100% unattended stations. The station managers don't actually manage anything and contrary to popular belief play no role in station security. In fact, Metro now requires them to sit outside of their booths at some stations, thus making it impossible to even see the security camera monitors. Use some of the cost savings to hire more police and security and bank the rest.

2. I have no problem with a fare increase, especially given how many of the fares are paid for by the federal government through its subsidy program.

3. Set a minimum length for all escalators, then convert all escalators below that length to stairs. For example, nearly all escalators between the mezzanine and the plaform.

4. Slash Metro access to legal minimums and increase rules on usage to legal maximums. In Las Vegas, users are required to take a test to demonstrate their total inabilty to used fixed-route service. Keep Metro Acess only for the truly needy. Use some savings to actually improve the service, bank the rest.

5. Advertising, more and more and more. Not easy in this economy, to be sure, but every inch of a bus or train that does not have an ad is money out the door. Allow smaller businesses to place single ads within busses and trains. Get creative, perhaps consider (just consider) selling naming rights to stations (bold? perhaps but money is money...)

6. Look to contract out as much of the station cleaning and maintenance as possible. Fight the unions at every turn on this and win.

7. Move all Metro offices and facilities to the cheapest places possible, and sell or lease any high-value real estate. Metro headquarters can function just as well in Landover as it can downtown.

8. Create some sort of "tourist day pass" for $10 or more that allows unlimited use. Market the heck out of them. Sell them through hotels, vending machines on the street, anywhere you can. Let the big travel sites (Expedia, etc) sell them as an add-on when booking hotels or flights. Tourists will buy them for the simple convenience, and then likely not fully utilize them.

9. Audit Metro's non-transport vehicle fleet. That means justify the use of every pick-up truck, every SUV, etc. Set a goal to reduce the total number of vehicles by 10% and total miles driven by all vehicles by another 10%. Look at ways to position vehicles throught the region to cut down on miles driven and vehicles needed. Elininate "take home" cars. Terminate employees who misuse Metro vehicles or use them for personal errands.

by metronic on Sep 14, 2009 1:07 pm • linkreport

@ Michael Perkins: And why is WMATA so much more expensive than the rest? It would seem that a transit paradise like Arlington can not be underpaying it's drivers too much.

@ JTS: It's simple. If buses drive faster, you need less buses to keep the same frequency. This saves an enormous amount of money on frequent lines. Do the math, it is surprising.

@ Johanna: It is dumb, because it hurts the hospitality of DC. It tells tourists: You don't vote here, so we raised fares on you. It is simply unfair. Tourist actually do pay plenty of local taxes. DC, for instance levies a 14.5% tax on hotels. MD 5-8% and VA ~10%. They pay sales tax (5-5.75%). Their stays also provide for the income of many businesses and individuals, indirectly yielding plenty more tax revenue. In short, if tourists would cost money, we'd be chasing them away.

by Jasper on Sep 14, 2009 1:12 pm • linkreport

@metronic: Go lobby for Catoe's job. I'll support you.

@thm: That could be accomplished by charging a fee to board/alight at Gallery Place during events. Make it clear that you're doing that and smart people with Orange/Blue destinations will walk to Metro Center (I already do to avoid cramming onto a Red Line train for one stop then cramming onto another train at Metro Center)

@Anon: $100,000/yr for a driver is crazy judging from the attitudes I've seen on metrobuses and unsuckdcmetro

by kidincredible on Sep 14, 2009 1:18 pm • linkreport

Oh, I'm sure it saves money, but $50 million? Does increasing average speed by 6 mph save $100 million? That number seems huge. As for doing the math, I'm not too ashamed to admit I wouldn't even know where to begin. Ergo, asking for a source on that number. If you could demonstrate the math for me, I'm sure I'm not the only one who would find it interesting.

I am aware that cost savings can be obtained with fewer buses via improved consistency and frequency, but even with lots of buses on these corridors, there are areas that are not exactly consistently (or frequently) serviced. I'm all for a dedicated bus lane, but if the savings are actually this high, I'm also all for firing the people that haven't been clamoring to get these built with the urgency $50 million in savings should require.

by JTS on Sep 14, 2009 1:51 pm • linkreport

Rough numbers for the X2 line:

Annual operating hours: 69,000
Annual revenue miles: 452,590

Average operating speed: 7 mph
New operating speed (+3 mph faster): 10 mph
% gain in speed: 40%

Conservatively, let's assume a 25% gain in speed. That means that for every 4 buses operated, there can now be 3 buses operated, because they can reach the end point and turn around much faster. The frequency is not affected.

According to Metro's figures, the X2 costs about $100 per hour to operate.

Cost before: $7.1M/yr
Cost after (25% less): $5.3M/yr

Additionally, it is expected that increased operating speed (and reliability will have some effect on ridership. Let's assume that a 30% increase in operating speed has a 10% affect on ridership.

Current fare revenue: $3M/yr
New fare revenue (10% higher): $3.3M/yr

Subsidy is Costs - Revenues

Old Subsidy: $4.1M/yr
New Subsidy: $2M/yr

A savings of $2.1M/yr, or just over half. This function should be non-linear, so 6mph increase doesn't double the benefits, it should more than doubles the benefits.

Note: getting a 3mph increase in average operating speed is not easy. Additionally, the ridership improvements postulated would likely result in an increase in required bus frequency to alleviate crowding. It's a virtuous cycle.

Data from

by Michael Perkins on Sep 14, 2009 2:44 pm • linkreport

$3.60 to ride 2 stops into the district is getting pretty steep. Much easier for me to pay $5 or $7 for early bird parking and leave when I want. for people who don't get free transit rail fares get pricey, quick. Also, my car breaks down less than the orange line.

by charlie on Sep 14, 2009 2:46 pm • linkreport


The operating cost savings numbers you're describing are only for Metro's Priority Corridor Network (PCN), the 24 routes that serve half of Metro's bus riders.

The savings estimate is based on the number of buses needed to serve the PCN network based on current speeds versus the number of buses needed to serve those routes if the buses involved could travel more quickly.

The back of the envelope says: traveling 9.4 miles (average PCN route length) at 12 mph takes 47 minutes. 9.4 miles at 15 mph takes 36 minutes. It takes 456 buses to provide peak service now for PCN routes. The ratio reduction of 36/47 suggests needing only 350 buses to provide the same service, a reduction of about 100 buses, which could be placed in service elsewhere or provide added service in that corridor. At 300,000 - 400,000 annual operating cost per bus, that's the source of the estimate.

A somewhat simplistic calculation, but it's suggestive of the potential magnitude.

You said Metro should be approaching DOTs in the region to raise this issue -- they are.

by jnb on Sep 14, 2009 2:51 pm • linkreport

Thanks Michael. I had only estimated a percentage in the tens of %s.

BTW: We should be pretty embarrassed that tranist moves with a pathetic 7 mph. I know it's pretty typical, but it's still pathetic.

by Jasper on Sep 14, 2009 2:56 pm • linkreport

@charlie: you think the only difference is the $2-4.40 more you pay for the early bird parking over the metro. But how much earlier in the day do you have to leave to get the early bird deal? What is the cost to you of having less time with family? What is the cost of lost wage time if you're sitting in traffic waiting to get to the early bird parking.
Transit isn't just for those who are too poor to own a car, it's also for those who don't want to absorb the costs, monetary and non-monetary alike, of personal auto travel.

@jasper: a large part of that 7mph is because of shared ROW with regular traffic. Not only that, but pulling right to get to a bus stop then merging back left. Part of me wonders if maybe bus transit can benefit in the same way UPS did when they eliminated left hand turns from their routes.

by kidincredible on Sep 14, 2009 3:10 pm • linkreport

@ kidincredible/charlie: Transit isn't just for those who are too poor to own a car, it's also for those who don't want to absorb the costs, monetary and non-monetary alike, of personal auto travel.

And it is for all kinds of other people, just like cars aren't only for the rich. What is up with all the prejudice on people who use traffic?

And yes, buslanes and queue jumpers would help a lot. They do everywhere else in the world.

by Jasper on Sep 14, 2009 3:21 pm • linkreport

Metro used to give you $22 of fare if you bought $20 at once. This means that people who bought only a little Metro subsidized those who bought a lot. Most tourists fell in the first category and most locals fell in the second. Of course a lot of the poor fell in the first category too.

by David C on Sep 14, 2009 3:23 pm • linkreport

@kidincredible This is just a gut feeling, but it seems like there is more variance in Metro commute time (post-wreck) than there is in 1+ hour automobile commuting. Personally, I'm a daily Metro commuter now... if Metrorail surpasses a daily drive in cost and hassle, there's a very good chance that I'd start driving to work every day.

Does anyone else think that Metro should focus on cutting overhead costs? I'd start by axing Metro's entire advertising department (and just hire Google or somesuch to sell/choose the ads, and only be responsible for printing/installing) as well as Metro's advertising budget (i.e. the ads that Metro buys in the papers, on radio, etc.).

by yatesc on Sep 14, 2009 3:55 pm • linkreport

@yatesc: Metro already outsources advertising to companies like Viacom, CBS and others. Next time you're in Metrorail, you can see the nameplate for the ad administrator on the outside of station panels.

I had the media kit for Metro at one point, but I can't find it in my email anymore :(

They had specialized packages of ads that sold in different ethnic markets (African-american, Hispanic - they knew approximately which bus lines had various ethnic mixes).

I seem remember that purchasing a "station domination" for Metro Center costs about $250,000 for a month (station domination is where every ad in the station is for the same thing, and there are extra banners and stuff).

by Michael Perkins on Sep 14, 2009 4:01 pm • linkreport

Variance is one thing, average trip times is another. I'll take an average of 15 min with a variance of 45 min over an average hour trip.

If I end up late for work one day because of metro, I might have to stay late that night. But every other night that week I was getting home earlier than I would if I were driving.

Mostly, my advocating for metro is all about options. My best case scenario is having the option to take the metro, take a bus, or drive if I have to. (I'd love to be able to add telecommute into that, but I dunno...)

by kidincredible on Sep 14, 2009 4:04 pm • linkreport

"and offer "premium fantasy" club cars with full bar service and stripper poles."

I love it - the Risky Business method of balancing the budget. It's "My name is Joel Goodson. I deal in human fulfillment. I grossed over eight thousand dollars in one night. Time of your life, huh kid?"

by dcd on Sep 14, 2009 5:31 pm • linkreport

These numbers are shocking, the cuts you are proposing are quite drastic and the fares are already quite high. With the new fairs a trip for my wife and I into DC, assuming we left during rush hour and returned off peak would be well about $20 counting the parking at the station. Since there would be two of us taking the bus would not save us much money.

If I manage to get an evening parking special of $10 or so and another $4- $6 in gas that saves me some money, and to be honest driving into the city during the evening is against the flow of traffic so its takes the same amount of time if not less then the metro.

I am all for metro doing what is needed, and I know fare increases are one of those things but its just something to think about. At some point fares will be so high that it will put more cars back on the road.

Also how are other cities like New York handling this? How can they afford to have lower rates then DC does.

by Matt on Sep 14, 2009 8:02 pm • linkreport

FTA has projected speed increases in tables in their 2009 "Characteristics of Bus Rapid Transit for Decision-Making" Look under stop spacing. While the speeds are not necessarily equivalent to WMATA speeds on any given line, the ratios between stops at 1/10 of mile vs 2/10 of a mile. 2.5/10 mile or 1/2 mile are reasonable estimates. You can also derive the ratios of regular mixed use lanes vs bus lanes which can be easily implemented. The savings for each can be over 20% depending on "dwell time"--the time spent from the time the bus opens the door for passengers until the time it closes the door and pulls off.

Michael: on your bus operating costs--yes suburban jurisdictions have cut wages and benefits and many have risen substantially since initially taking over service. And the county operating costs often don't include contract oversight, transfer of police functions, liability costs and other local government functions that get transferred from WMATA to the local jurisdiction. The figures you cite also don't include the sometimes duplicative capital costs of buses and garages or account for fare box recovery. When calculating the difference between what it actually costs a county to run the service versus what WMATA charges the county to operate the same service--the differences are often quite small. Fairfax calculated the savings to be about $200,000 on $3 million worth of service when they took over the 12s & 20s service earlier this year and they did not include the replacement capital cost of the new West Ox garage nor seemingly some of the other functions I described above. This was after opening the service non-union at about $10/hour less in wages than WMATA with very limited benefits. The employees have already voted for union recognition. Their "savings" will likely turn into "costs" very quickly when reality sets in.

by kreeggo on Sep 14, 2009 10:42 pm • linkreport

@Matt: That was most of the point of this post, to demonstrate how large a shortfall $100M is. Last year, the shortfall was about $130M, of which about $36M was us shooting ourselves in the foot by passing a fare increase that applied to 18 months of operation but which paid for only 12 months of costs. WMATA found about $75-80M in internal cost reductions (bus system reorganization, reduced station cleaning, other reductions), and the rest was a combination of borrowing, re purposing preventive maintenance as capital, subsidy increases and service cuts to the tune of about $28M.

How likely do you think it is that WMATA will be able to find another $80M in cuts on top of the previous years'? They can't keep repurposing even more preventive maintenance, they already borrowed all of the operating reserve (and paid back only $9M out of $13M).

Cities like NYC have higher ridership and higher fares on bus. A single ride is $2.25, compared to $1.35 here. An express bus is $5.50, compared to $3.00 here.

I'll look more into other agencies and I was trying to find some data so I could compare operating support to regional GDP. My hypothesis is that operating support has lagged regional GDP growth since 2001.

by Michael Perkins on Sep 14, 2009 11:21 pm • linkreport

Has Metro recently made any comprehensive effort to audit energy use and look for savings there?

I am not under the illusion that WMATA can fill the budget gap this way - it cannot. But, there is money on the table.

- station lighting is poorly designed and/or maintained.

- escalators run all the time. In Europe escalators slow down when no one is on them (they keep going at a much reduced rate so you know what direction they are going). This would save significant energy, and it would reduce maintenance costs. I know everyone here thinks escalators should be phased out wherever possible...but I don't think that is coming real soon. NY MTA has tried this, I don't know how it is working out (see

- all doors open every station in the rain, in the hot, in the cold. European passengers have learned to push buttons to get doors to open. Perhaps this could be achieved in the capital of the most powerful nation on earth?

Transit thinks of itself as energy-efficient, and fuel and electricity are not the biggest cost they get largely ignored. So, there are real improvements available. For all sorts of reasons, the bus fleet will probably become mostly hybrids, with significant efficiency gains. Trains are already AC, which also really helps. But neither mode is operated efficiently. Speeding up buses as discussed above (and increasing stop spacing - sometimes it is ridiculous!!) would certainly help. For rail, it is a lot tougher.

This is just me mouthing off. WMATA should do a real audit to figure out what could be done.

It is the right thing to do, would be worth the investment, and it would look good at a time the agency needs to have hat in hand.

by DavidDuck on Sep 14, 2009 11:31 pm • linkreport

It's depressing how many folks here are ready to slash MetroAccess as much as they legally can (and whine about ADA when they get a chance). I for one am damn proud that our country has recognized that disabled people exist (we are, I think, ahead of just about every country on Earth, but I dunno for sure) and need to be able to get to their jobs, etc. Keeping them stuck at home is not going to make our area better off. I'm also proud that Metro is accessible and many disabled folks can just use Metro, clearly a benefit of our recent system.

Hell, why don't we just kill off the Blue line? I never ride it. About as fair as slashing MetroAccess.

by DavidDuck on Sep 14, 2009 11:37 pm • linkreport

kreeggo: Why are the costs similar between systems that only recently started transferring lines as systems that have operated lines for a while?

If the counties are willing to pay those other costs without affecting the WMATA budget (meaning that they don't use the increase in those other costs as justification for pulling additional funding away from WMATA), then why should that be a concern here?

We're not talking about $10 or $20 an hour here, we're talking about $40-50 an hour, which is about what a fully burdened bus driver costs (when you include wages, overtime, sick leave, vacation, health care, pension, training time, payroll taxes, etc.)

That's significant, and it partially explains why jurisdictions have been willing to try to run their own lines.

These numbers come from FTA, so I assume they're based on real data they have to submit to obtain federal grant funding, and are therefore fairly accurate.

There are probably some reasons why WMATA's costs would naturally be more expensive, related to operating special types of buses (hybrids, articulateds, natural gas), operating in an environment that has more liability for accidents, operating in an environment that has more graffiti, wear and tear due to more beat up roads, etc.

by Michael Perkins on Sep 15, 2009 5:49 am • linkreport


The acessible nature of the Metro system, in which every single train and every single station is accessible, is the reason why Metro Access should be scaled back to legal minimums. No one, whether they have a disability or not, is entitled to "door to door" service provided by the government (the law, in fact only requires "curb to curb"). Metro Access should be reserved for those cases in which the existing system is not able to provide a the legally required level of service. Nothing more.

Should the law be changed to allow for an expansion of Metro Access, perhaps. But it is not WMATA's responsibility to make that call. Their job is to run a transit system for all people, those with and without disabilities, and that means that they have to watch how they spend every dollar. Social experimentation is not in the budget and should not be taken on by WMATA.

by metronic on Sep 15, 2009 10:34 am • linkreport


MetroAccess provides transportation service. Door-to-door service is not "social experimentation," whatever that means (or implies). A decision has been made about the sort of transportation service that WMATA provides, yes, just like other decisions: trains running until midnight, 3am on the weekends; trains with a lot of seats relative to NYCTA trains; stations with a mysterious lack of benches; etc. WMATA is a political body and they make political decisions.

And I'm here to defend that decision. The reality is that if we cut MetroAccess to the legal minimum we will cut disabled people off from jobs and essential services. I'm hypothesizing that cutting these folks off might cost government (as a whole) more than MetroAccess - people would lose their jobs (and tax base) and have to move from houses into institutions, which cost. You can argue that I'm wrong (I could be) or that this is not WMATA's problem (but it is the taxpayer's problem).

But MetroAccess is part of WMATA's core mission and there it will and should stay. What depresses me is the simplistic "Cut services for the disabled" response to the general stress on the system.

by DavidDuck on Sep 15, 2009 9:27 pm • linkreport

According to the presentation linked above, less than 500 metroaccess riders were outside of the 3/4 mile boundary, but accounted for $2.8M in costs.

There are federal grant programs for providing paratransit above the ADA requirements. I wonder whether WMATA qualifies for any of them. I don't know the details.

Again, if the localities believe this should be part of WMATA's mission, then they should have no problem increasing subsidies for WMATA by at least the full $20M this year and whatever it takes in years to come.

by Michael Perkins on Sep 15, 2009 9:58 pm • linkreport

So 500 people costing 2.8 million works out ot 5600 a year which is quite a bit. Do these people pay for this service, at least at an rate equilavent to a bus or metro ride? I can see chargeing people that live beyond the federal minimum distance extra money, and if they do not want to pay they can take access at a closer point. I know this is an important service we provide, but $100 is a big shortage.

by Matt on Sep 16, 2009 7:15 am • linkreport

@Matt: Metroaccess customers get charged $2.50 for themselves (a personal attendant rides free) if their trip is within the ADA-mandated 3/4-mile boundary. This is by law, Metro cannot charge more than double the fare for an equivalent transit trip, which Metro considers to be bus service.

For trips beyond the 3/4 mile boundary, Metro can do whatever it wants, including not providing service at all. Currently, a customer gets charged $1.00 for each additional three miles beyond the boundary, up to 12 miles maximum.

If Metro does not scale back the boundary to the ADA limit, I would recommend that the Board consider raising the additional charge to be equivalent to the per-mile cab fare for that jurisdiction. This is about $2.00 per mile in Arlington or Alexandria, not sure off the top of my head what it is elsewhere.

In short, if you live and travel within the "transit zone", we'll provide service and charge a reasonable fare, as the law requires and is morally right, in my mind (we'll still encourage you to ride the regular system, through training and free fares). If you're travelling far from transit, we'll ensure you have a properly equipped vehicle and drivers that know how to accommodate your disability, but we're going to ask you to pay cab fare for that portion just like any able-bodied rider.

by Michael Perkins on Sep 16, 2009 8:54 am • linkreport

Oh, and I had the number wrong, it's actually less than 400 customers for the month of January 2009. Could be more or less for other months or over the course of a year.

by Michael Perkins on Sep 16, 2009 9:02 am • linkreport

Money, money, money, Metro is squandering tax dollars.

Every single salaried employee should have 2009 year's salary in print with job description, all relatives in the company past and present, what list private organizations you are a part of locally, e.g. mason's lodge.

Then each department list employees by location. Integrate jobs/duties and reduce salaried employees by 35%. Some work can be taken home with ethernet connection.

Then hire part-time employees again to reduce overhead/overtime.

Fire the employees who sleep on the job. Reduce custodians, train and bus cleaners because they are cleaning as they should now and play cards, play on computers, go have breakfast on the clock etc.

Hire in their place people to clean the train windshields, windows, etc..

Have signin/out sheets daily for the custodians so their cleaning times are monitored. Have a supervisor randomly check behind the workers.

Make change available in change machines in stations for customers. Have hand printed instructions on how to use fare machines to hand customers/visitors in several languages.

Reducing salaries, overtime, and across the board salary cuts is a must. You cannot keep raising fares.

Training is the key to reducing accidents.
Safety awards, perfect attendance awards, yearly bonus for being accident free with photo in newsletter is needed.

Don't ask me how again. Period

by Dana on Oct 21, 2009 1:10 am • linkreport

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