Posts about Jurisdictional Contributions
In this series, I've analyzed WMATA's proposed budget and searched for ways to close a $189.2 million gap without driving away passengers and entering a "death spiral" of fare increases and service reductions.
In my day (and often night) job I represent ATU Local 689 in political and legislative affairs. That's the union that represents most WMATA employees. Now, I will take off my union hat and try putting on John Catoe's. At 6'2", I'm a big guy, but he's even bigger. Still, I'll try to walk in his shoes.
WMATA hasn't quite found their own way on the FY 11 budget either and includes $40 million to close their budget gap that has no real funding source. In addition, area governments face historic deficits of their own. Any additional aid from the federal government is uncertain at best.
However, I think it is important for WMATA to take all the steps possible to put together a budget that preserves our system, then ask regional governments for those additional contributions. The alternative is even more severe service reductions and/or towering fare increases beyond what's already proposed. WMATA should ask area jurisdictions: Is our transit system too valuable to lose?
Here's one way to put together such a budget. This isn't a wish list. It's an option to solve a practical problem as a starting point for discussion. I believe, like many of you, that there are some issues with the WMATA estimates, but they are the numbers as GM I have to work with.
Like John Catoe and the WMATA board, I would include other options for the public to consider. I would include options for bus transfer charges, off-peak rail stop-over privileges, and increased value of the rail to bus bus and bus to rail transfer. I would ask staff to analyze the cost/revenue and ridership gains/losses of each.
Below is my best shot with what I know now and what I would present as the General Manager's proposed budget for public hearing.
Bus service cuts: Implement wider bus stop spacing, modify 4 holidays and other holiday related schedules, and implement targeted trip eliminations for savings of $4.2 million. This compares to a WMATA target of $18 million in subsidy savings. WMATA's estimates peg ridership losses with this proposal at around 0.9 million.
Rail service cuts: Widen headways between 6 am and 6:30 am from 6 to 8 minutes, modify holiday schedules, close targeted station entrances early and/or on weekends and 3 stations altogether on weekends, for savings of $1.93 million. This compares to a WMATA target of $15 million in reductions. Estimated ridership losses are 0.1 million.
Taken together, modifying service reductions in this manner saves about 6.1 million in potential lost ridership and largely preserves the system but creates an additional budget hole of $28.6 million.
Rail fares: Compared to the WMATA proposal, increase the proposed peak-of-the-peak surcharge from 10¢ to 30, institute a 15¢ differential between paper farecards and SmarTrip cards, reduce the off-peak base bus increase from 20¢ to 15¢ and eliminate the proposal to reduce rail-to-bus transfer time from 3 hours to 2 hours. The net Metrorail fare increase would be $7.5 million over the WMATA proposal while reducing lost ridership by about 0.8 million trips.
Bus fares: Compared to the WMATA proposal, reduce the bus SmarTrip base fare increase from 20¢ to 15¢ and related passes accordingly while leaving the cash fare at $1.60 as proposed. Eliminate the proposal to reduce bus to bus transfer time from 3 hours to 2 hours. This costs $7 million in revenue loss over what was proposed but reduces lost ridership by 4.4 million trips.
The net from rail and bus fares is $0.5 million more fare revenue than WMATA proposes while reduceing lost ridership by 5.2 million trips from their estimate. This level of fare increase will still cause lost ridership of 9.9 million trips annually.
Bicycle lockers: Decrease the bicycle locker increase from $200,000 to $120,000.
Implement bus priority mid-year: Beginning January 1, 2011, implement one half of the bus priority measures WMATA identified, saving $1.25 million from a $5 million annual savings for the full program. Implement increased 8 car trains for one-half year (saving $0.5 million) and improved fare collection measures for one-half year (savings of $1.5 million). Expand bus stop spacing on eight other major arterial lines in the District (savings of $0.5 million).
Increase use of funds for preventive maintenance: Postpone three projects: the purchase of additional WMATA farecard machines, the upgrade of West Ox bus garage, and the purchase 9 new buses (91 instead of 100) as a result of savings in peak buses due to bus stop spacing. Utilize the $14.6 million designated for these deferred projects for preventive maintenance.
Return $8 million to next year's capital budget by implementing additional 8-car train service, bus priority measures combined with bus stop spacing, and enhanced fare collection measures over a full year to reduce next year's operating budget. Return $6.6 million to the capital budget in FY 12 by replacing money with fare revenue from increased ridership.
Increase parking revenue: Permit the General Manager to raise or lower parking fees at Metrorail stations according to demand. Let riders use reserved parking spaces and meters earlier in the day. Increase revenue by a rough estimate of $1.3 million.
Pensions and benefits: Recalculate pension plan contributions based on a 12/31/09 valuation instead of a 10/30/09 valuation. Include FY 2010 health and welfare cost savings recovery. Savings estimate for these two items: $5 million.
Salaried position reduction: Reorganize middle and lower level management in maintenance departments. Estimated savings: $2.5 million (approximately 20-25 positions).
Net effect: All of the measures above would avert the worst service reductions and save about 11.3 million lost passenger trips. Unfortunately, about 10.9 million passenger trips annually would still be lost to the system.
Increase in contributions from jurisdictions: Based on what I know today with my General Manger's hat on, I would propose the above, but it would still require an increase in jurisdictional contributions of $40 million This is the same budget hole in the real General Manager's proposed FY11 budget.
If the Board rejected any use of capital funds, the recommended contribution would rise to $54.6. If some of the assumptions did not pan out (like they didn't pan out for WMATA in FY10) and capital funds were rejected, it could easily rise to $62.6 million. The Transit First! coalition is now calling for increased contributions of $74 million to insure that there are no service reductions at all.
When I step out of the General Manager's shoes, I note that last year's additional jurisdictional contributions only totaled $16 million and was made in better times for local governments. But let's ask ourselves the question again. Is it worth preserving a jewel (yes, a tarnished jewel) that helps propel this area's economy? What are the consequences if we don't?
Next: Longer term solutions?
The Fairfax County Board is going to review their proposed FY2011 budget tomorrow, and
will advertise maximum tax rates and fees, possibly closing the door on the opportunity to realistically contribute more to WMATA. Please call or email your Supervisor and Chairman Bulova today to ask them to advertise a higher cap with room for transit contributions.
In Virginia, once a county advertises maximum rates in a public hearing, they can't raise them. That means that if the budget proposal as advertised doesn't contain any more money for transit, the only way to contribute more is to cut something else.
Arlington chose to advertise a higher rate than necessary, to maintain flexibility as they finish the budget process. Fairfax should do the same.
Advertising a higher rate, of course, doesn't force the Supervisors to set taxes or fees at those levels. Like the WMATA public hearings that let riders choose between fares and service cuts, advertising a higher cap would let Fairfax residents also weigh in on higher taxes and fees versus deep transit cuts.
What the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors needs to do
tomorrow is to keep its options open. For jurisdictions to contribute enough to avoid service cuts, Fairfax County would need to pitch in $9.26 million. Please ask your Supervisor and Chairman Bulova to advertise a higher cap tomorrow that has room for the $9.26 million in WMATA contributions.
- Chairman Sharon Bulova (at-large): 703-324-2321 or email
- John Cook, Braddock District: 703-425-9300 or email
- John Foust, Dranesville District: 703-356-0551 or email
- Catherine Hudgins, Hunter Mill District (and WMATA Board of Directors principal member): 703-478-0283 or email
- Jeff McKay, Lee District (and WMATA Board of Directors alternate member): 703-971-6262 or email
- Penelope Gross, Mason District and Vice-Chairman: 703-256-7717 or email
- Gerry Hyland, Mount Vernon District: 703-780-7518 or email
- Linda Smyth, Providence District: 703-560-6946 or email
- Pat Herrity, Springfield District: 703-451-8873 or email
- Michael Frey, Sully District: 703-814-7100 or email
Update: The Fairfax County Board has told us that they are not going to formally advertise the rates until March 9th. However, it's still helpful to email your Supervisor now, because we need them to advertise high enough rates at that time, and it's not very far away.
On Saturday, the Arlington County Board took a key action to make it possible for the County to contribute extra revenue to WMATA necessary to balance the FY2011 budget without "death spiral"-inducing service cuts.
The General Manager's proposed budget contains painful measures to close the $189.2 million budget gap, including rail cuts such as no 8-car trains and no Yellow Line on weekends, elimination of many bus lines and longer headways, and fare increases of 15-20% or more on all services.
Even this budget also requires $40 million to come from some other source, which unless money magically rolls off the back of Capitol Hill in the jobs bill, would have to mean contributions from the local jurisdictions.
Drivers benefit when many people take transit, since without transit our roadways would be hopelessly clogged every day. That's why everyone needs to share in the responsibility of maintaining good transit. Riders will be doing their part with a large fare increase; local governments need to contribute as well.
They should, at the very least, chip in for the $40 million set out in the WMATA budget. A better figure would be $73.7 million, enough to cover the $40M and all service cuts.
Arlington voted to advertise a hearing on FY2011 tax rates and fees, the first formal step necessary to set those rates. As the WMATA Board did when it set up a public hearing including the 10¢ fare increase that gave riders options to stave off service cuts, Arlington chose to advertise larger increases than the County Manager proposed, enough to chip in its share of the $40 million or even its share of the $73.7.
Other Virginia jurisdictions will be taking the same steps soon, and it's important that they advertise a large enough increase to provide this contribution. If they don't, they will be unable to later decide to raise the revenue, just as the WMATA Board could not consider a larger fare hike than 10¢ after they voted to advertise a maximum hike of 10¢. The only option for Fairfax County, Alexandria, and to a much lesser extent Falls Church and Fairfax City, would be to take money from other services, a tough proposition in an already difficult budget.
WMATA staff listened to our exhortations to provide more options in their budgets. The proposed budget suggests $15 million in rail cuts but provides $23 million worth of choices; bus has $26M of choices for $18M of cuts. All cuts and fare increases are painful, but options at least give riders the opportunity to weigh some options against others and make recommendations beyond simply, "Don't cut service! Don't raise fares!"
However, the budget still doesn't give riders the opportunity to choose between a fare increase and no service cuts, or service cuts and no fare increase, or other choices. The four options from the January hearing for FY2010 were very successful, giving riders the choice of no fare increase and no service cuts. In that case, they chose the latter.
WMATA staff should expand upon the options in the budget and devise a fare increase proposal large enough to eliminate all service cuts. That would be a $123 million fare hike, which is very large, and riders may not want it. However, it should at least be an option on the menu, so riders can choose between one extreme and another.
Besides, if the jurisdictions don't chip in for the $40 million this year, the WMATA budget will become even more dire for riders: WMATA will have to come very close to making all $50 million in suggested service cuts, not just the $34 million they currently propose, and a much larger fare increase, all at the same time.
That's certain to set the system into the dangerous "death spiral" where the combination of high prices and declining service send riders away, creating even deeper holes in the future. We need to ask elected officials across the region to ensure that doesn't happen.
Update: Fairfax will be advertising their rates tomorrow. If you live in Fairfax, call or email your Supervisor now to ask them to advertise a higher cap than necessary to leave room for increased WMATA contributions.
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