Metro's menu contains four budget options
As transit advocates have requested, Metro proposed a menu of options for public consideration at the public hearing on Wednesday
Friday, January 27 at 5:30 pm.
When discussing this hearing with John Catoe, he mentioned that participants will be asked to place stickers on display boards to indicate their preferences. He thought some might consider this "juvenile," but I think it's actually a great idea.
Out of a $40M budget gap for the current fiscal year, which ends in June, Metro has decided to close all but $16M of the gap using staff cuts, reductions in customer service call center hours, using the insurance payout from a settlement, a rainy day fund, and using money from the economic stimulus, where some projects came in under budget.
The remaining $16M gap needs to be closed using fare increases, service cuts, or shifts from the capital to the operating budget, or more likely a combination of these. Mr. Catoe declined to give his preference, and only said he was glad the riders had more options to choose from.
Metro proposed these changes as a choice between four options, but said that riders should consider combinations as well. Here are the four options as presented:
- Option 1: $12M in shifts from the capital budget to the operating budget, $4M in service cuts
- Option 2: $16M in shifts from the capital to operating
- Option 3: Shift $11.2M from the capital to operating, raise all fares by 5 cents and passes by the equivalent of 5 cents.
- Option 4: Shift $6.4M from capital to operating, raise all fares 10 cents and passes the equivalent of 10 cents.
Here are some of the specifics behind each of the choices:
Capitalize parts or preventive maintenance ($6.4-16M depending on board action): If the maximum amount of money is shifted to the operating budget, then a renovation of three rail yards will be delayed by one year. Metro has provided a lot of detail about the possible effect of delaying this renovation in the docket.
Fare increases ($4.8-9.6M depending on board action): This option would raise bus, rail, and paratransit fares anywhere from five to ten cents, and passes up to $1.00 to $1.50 per week or $4.00 per month. The $9.6M represents the maximum gained by fare increases. Options like a nickel fare increase for bus and a dime for rail or just peak rail are possible, but will increase revenue somewhere in the middle of the range given.
It's interesting that for rail passes, Metro considers $1.50 per week to be an "equivalent" raise for a ten cent fare increase, but for bus, it considers $1.00 per week to be an "equivalent". The Metrorail Short Trip Pass is based on ten times the cost of the maximum fare it's valid for, priced at $26.40 for weekly trips up to $2.65. It seems more equivalent to change this price to $27.50 and make it valid for trips up to $2.75. Now it will cost $27.90 and will only be valid for trips up to $2.75.
Service cuts (up to $4M): Customers will comment on the following cuts to rail and bus service (highlights discussed below, full details in the docket):
- Cutting 8-car peak period trains to 6-car trains
- Reducing the trains between 6am and 6:30am
- Re-do the train frequency and scheduling on the Red line to reflect current operating conditions. While this is listed in the service cuts, it's probably a necessary change to reflect the addition of the New York Avenue rail station, longer station times due to increased ridership, and to space the trains out slightly to accommodate manual operation.
- Close station entrances on weekends: Currently, four rail stations with multiple entrances only open one entrance on weekends. This is at Farragut North, Farragut West, Judiciary Square, and L'Enfant Plaza. Metro proposes closing a station entrance at Anacostia, Stadium Armory, New York Avenue, Friendship Heights, Shaw/Howard University, L'Enfant Plaza, King Street, Navy Yard, U Street and Silver Spring.
Some of the station entrances to be closed on weekends are also proposed for evening closure: King Street, Stadium Armory, McPherson Square, Shaw/Howard University and Friendship Heights.
As requested by Board member Chris Zimmerman, Metro has proposed an option of opening the system up to an hour later and/or closing the system an hour earlier.
- Opening the system at 8am instead of 7am on Saturday and Sunday would save $150,000 for the four-month period.
- Opening at 5:30am instead of 5am on weekdays would save $198,000.
- Closing the system at 11pm Sunday through Thursday and at 2am on Friday and Saturday would save between $560,000 and $1M.
These reductions in operating hours cut eleven operating hours per week, and save about $1M. My initial estimate was based on Metro reportedly charging groups $27,000 per hour to open early or stay open late. These cost savings actually divide out to about $9,500 per hour. Since the board has put fare increases on the table, and the cost savings per hour were less than I estimated, none of these reductions in span are appealing enough to recommend.
Metro also proposes reductions in bus frequencies or elimination of specific trips on 32 bus routes.
For certain bus lines, Metro proposes "rationalization", which in this case means cutting back low ridership portions of the line, cutting routes during certain times of the day, or consolidating routes.
For the service cuts, I will only support the ones that are good for the long-term. From the list presented, that's probably only the red-line redesign, since that aligns the system with the actual operating conditions while maintaining 3 minute or 6 minute headways. The rest of the changes are service cuts that in less lean times I'd rather see put back. So in all, I support option 4, with the red line realignment and an effort by Metro staff to look into bus stop and route consolidation for more efficient service.
The hearing for public comment is Wednesday, January 27, at 5:30 pm. Unlike most comment periods, this one is closed at the end of the meeting, so staff can summarize the comments to present to the Board the next day.
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