- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Officials who run the subways and buses serving the metropolitan Washington area yesterday said they can maintain services at current levels without a fare increase in the upcoming fiscal year.

"There's been no slack off by our bread-and-butter, day-to-day customers," said Metro General Manager Richard A. White.

Mr. White wants to spend $862.3 million in fiscal year 2003, an increase of 5 percent over the fiscal 2002 operating budget. It includes a projected revenue shortfall of $15 million, attributable in part to a decline in tourist ridership since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Mr. White said local residents who rely on Metrorail, Metrobus and the ancillary transit services operated by the agency continue to use the system in record numbers. Combined bus and rail trips are averaging about 1.1 million a day.

"Our ridership is still growing, but not at the rate that our budget had predicted," said Mr. White, citing the temporary closing of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport after the terrorist attacks and the slow recovery of the tourism industry.

"It's the midday, late evening and weekend ridership that's been down," said Mr. White, who warned six weeks ago that a fare increase or a reduction in services might be necessary.

While the proposed budget would not allow for expansion of the system, it would maintain current service levels. It also would enable Metro to meet all requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Mr. White expressed optimism that in the coming year, non-commuter revenues would continue to build toward their levels preceding the attacks.

"The real indication will be what happens next cherry blossom season," he said.

The start of the metropolitan region's heaviest tourist activity coincides with the bloom of Japanese cherry trees along the Tidal Basin in early spring.

Metro's operating budget includes $399.1 million in subsidies, a 2 percent increase over fiscal 2002. The money is from the federal government, the District, and jurisdictions in suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia that use Metro services.

"We have to make sure our projections are right," said Dan Sickles, a Metro Board member who represents Montgomery County. "The fare does not pay for the system."

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