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Metro is likely to avoid extreme cuts, but riders should expect higher fares

by Staff

Metro is likely to escape extreme cuts that would have decimated the region’s public transportation after D.C., Maryland and Virginia leaders vowed to make up nearly half a billion dollars of the transit system’s budget shortfall, Metro officials said Monday.

The infusions must still be finalized through votes in the jurisdictions over the coming months. They would allow the system to avoid shutting 10 Metro stations and eliminating half of its bus lines, among other painful changes proposed by Metro in December in response to a $750 million budget shortfall.

“We are as optimistic as we can be,” Metro General Manager Randy Clarke said Monday. Still, he said, “everybody has to be eyes wide open. Nothing is done until something is signed, and those budgets have to be completed.”

Even with the promised funds, Metro will need to take significant steps to close its remaining budget gap, Metro officials said Monday.

Those include general fare increases of 12.5 percent for both Metrorail and Metrobus. For example, the base fare for Metrorail would rise from $2 to $2.25. The maximum fare, $6, would rise to $6.75.

There would also be fare hikes of up to 25 percent on late nights and weekends, with a cap of $2.50 at those times. Additionally, Metro said it would seek to reduce fare evasion “with systemwide high-barrier faregate installation and increased fare enforcement.”

No stations would be shuttered under the proposal. But there would be more targeted reductions in service, such as running more six-car trains instead of eight-car trains.

Bus service would face no major cuts under the latest proposal. Instead, Metro would move ahead with plans to redesign its bus network, with the goal of increasing efficiency and improving service in a “resource neutral” way, officials said. There could be small cuts such as running fewer buses on low-ridership holidays, Metro officials said.

Metro is also proposing to shift significant funds from its preventive maintenance accounts to its operational budget, a move several officials called a problematic but necessary step given the system’s financial woes. Metro has been on a years-long campaign to improve its infrastructure and reliability, and tapping maintenance funds for everyday expenses is far from ideal, they said.

“The preventative maintenance fund is not intended to be used as a rainy-day fund,” D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, D.C. Council chair Phil Mendelson and Charles Allen, head of the council’s transportation committee, wrote in a joint letter to Metro last week. They cited concerns about the potential consequences to “WMATA’s state of good repair and its longer-term capital investments.”

In the letter, they said the District would increase its financial support for Metro by up to $200 million in the coming fiscal year, allowing the agency “to not rely too heavily on the preventive maintenance transfer.”

Metro officials said they would divert about $165 million in preventive maintenance funds for operations under the current proposal, a move they said would undercut spending on capital projects beginning in several years.

Maryland officials have also pledged to increase planned Metro spending by $150 million. Officials in Virginia are targeting $130 million in additional spending, Metro officials said.

Combined, the extra funds from the three jurisdictions would make up $480 million of Metro’s $750 million shortfall.

Those added funds come on top of the $1.29 billion the three jurisdictions had already pledged to provide Metro this year under an existing funding agreement.

Metro officials said they still face major longer-term budget challenges. Rail ridership has yet to rebound fully from the pandemic, contributing to Metro’s financial problems. Inflation and employee-related expenses have also driven up costs.

The proposal from Metro officials Monday includes a salary and wage freeze for managers and employees in two of its largest unions in fiscal year 2025, prompting pushback from labor leaders.

“This budget must not be balanced on the backs of working class people,” said the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which represents more than 9,000 Metro workers, in a statement Friday.

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