- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Metro Board on Thursday discussed a 5-cent surcharge for rail riders coming and going from some of the transit system’s heavily traveled rail stations, especially Union Station in the District, in an effort to fund capital improvements.

Tom Downs, a board member from the District, floated the idea of a surcharge during an emergency meeting to discuss potential solutions to the agency’s $72 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2012.

He singled out Union Station - the transit system’s busiest station with an average of 32,745 riders per weekday. It’s also one of the oldest Metro stations, opening in the historic building in 1976.

Mortimer Downey, a federal appointee to the Metro Board, said that a year ago the board discussed a similar idea to impose a surcharge for the purpose of funding capital improvements, but the idea was not pursued.

That proposal would allow each jurisdiction to levy the surcharge at two stations to fund repairs and maintenance for things like passageways and escalators at that station. The surcharge would remain in effect until the improvements are completed.

But while board members said a surcharge was not the same as a rate hike, some members seemed aware that was the way it would be perceived.

“This will be the equivalent of fare increases for a chunk of people that use the system,” said Mary Hughes Hynes, a board member from Arlington County.

The Metro Board pledged not to raise fares after it approved an 18 percent bump to bridge a gap in the fiscal 2011 budget.

Officials are attempting to close a $72 million budget gap in the $1.466 billion budget for fiscal 2012.

The board must bring any changes in service to a public forum, but Mr. Downey said a hearing on the proposal seemed unnecessary because the board had already heard from the public when it considered the idea of a surcharge last spring.

Metro General Counsel Carol O’Keefe agreed that a hearing was not needed but said future discussion “might be appropriate,” depending on how long the surcharge remains in effect.

The board plans to discuss the surcharge at a meeting next week.