Logjam at the WMATA Board, part 2: Don't say it like that
Tempers got a little heated at yesterday's WMATA Board meeting, and jurisdictions are deadlocked. Part of the problem was the funding formula, but another part was the way staff presented options.
Two weeks ago, Interim GM Richard Sarles presented a budget that did a fairly nice job of sorting through the many fare and service proposals. It wasn't exactly what anyone wanted, but it was remarkably close.
It kept a few service cuts, mostly appropriate, a few not so much. It raised a lot of fares, mostly fairly, though not as targeted as it should be. It restored some MetroAccess service but kept significant cuts. It was mostly equitable between jurisdictions, if a little bit tilted against bus riders.
The Finance and Administration Committee discussed the budget on April 29 and members suggested possible changes, but they didn't officially endorse any. Then, yesterday, staff presented a new budget proposal. The presentation just listed all of the suggested ideas and their costs.
However, staff also took some, but not all, of the ideas that had been brought up on April 29th, and summed those ideas up into a new fare table entitled "reflecting committee direction" and which increased jurisdictional subsidy requests, including DC's from $12 million to $14.5 million.
The problem with this approach was that instead of letting jurisdictions horse trade for things they want, staff seemingly accepted some of the items but not necessarily the pieces that would be traded for those. And the new collective package was far more unfair to inner jurisdictions than outer jurisdictions.
Board members entered the April 27th meeting with a wish list of items they'd like to change. DC wanted to keep late night service going until 3 am and not charge a flat $4 fare after midnight. Fairfax wanted to get rid of parking increases.
DC's Jim Graham started out with a concrete proposal. He'd keep the late night service and charge a rush hour fare instead of a $4 fare. In exchange, he recommended increasing the peak-of-the-peak charge from 10¢ to 20¢. The late night service mostly benefits DC, Arlington, and Alexandria, though it also benefits suburban riders who ride to locations in DC, Arlington, and Alexandria.
The peak of the peak also hits DC, Arlington, and Alexandria riders a bit heavier than others, since being a flat fare, it's a greater percentage for those who ride short trips. The peak of the peak, as formulated, also will miss some riders from Shady Grove, Vienna, and other stations with long rides to the center, because many of those riders get on the train before 7:30 and are still on it when it's crowded downtown. But it's a reasonable tradeoff to make to pay for something that inner jurisdictions want.
Graham also suggested increasing the maximum fare, which does hit suburban riders. CFO Carol Kissall said that wasn't necessary to pay for his suggestions, so he didn't push the idea.
Next, Jeff McKay of Fairfax proposed cutting the parking fees. To pay for it, he suggested reducing the bus-rail transfer discount. Making transfers more expensive would have been a terrible idea, both for Fairfax and DC. It would discourage bus riding and push more Fairfax riders to drive to rail instead of taking bus to rail, even though riding the bus creates less congestion. And it would have harmed many inner jurisdiction residents who ride bus to rail and live nowhere near parking or don't even own cars.
Graham said he was happy to work with Fairfax to find a solution to the parking, but that the bus-rail transfer idea wasn't going to be the answer.
To summarize, now we have something Graham wants, the late-night changes, and something he's willing to do to pay for it that got general asset, the peak of the peak. And we have something McKay wants, the parking, and nothing specific to pay for it that's got broad support. When the meeting adjourned, it sounded like Graham was going to get late night changed and the higher peak of the peak, and McKay was going to need to find a funding source for his parking that wasn't unfair to DC, Arlington, and Alexandria.
Staff promised to research some of the ideas. They did so, and did a nice job of analysis. If they'd just presented a slide showing the costs of each change, the members could have resumed horse trading. But instead, they summed up only three items: the late night, the peak of the peak, and the parking, and ended up not surprisingly with a deficit. They then allocated that deficit to all of the jurisdictions, making DC and Arlington pay just as Fairfax and Maryland were.
This makes no sense. Inner jurisdictions get something and pay something, and outer jurisdictions get something, and everyone pays.
No wonder Jim Graham said that DC would veto the budget as is. To solve this, the Board needs to go back to the Sarles budget, and start horse trading again from there. The peak of the peak seems a fair way to cover the late night. Then, what would cover the parking? There's surely a deal to work out.
Next: Why is Fairfax so obsessed with parking?
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