- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Terrorism has turned into a major question mark for Metro budget planners working on the 2003 spending plan for the transit agency.

Weekend and night ridership has dropped since September 11 while commuter traffic is now slightly ahead of last year, thanks in part to the Green Line expansion and a new garage at the Vienna station.

And there are signs the tourist traffic is returning.

The Metro board was told yesterday the transit system will lose about $13 million this year, rather than the $15 million first expected.

"We can't build a budget with a moving target," said Metro budget analyst Rick Harcum. "The bottom line is that things did get a little better in November."

He pointed to figures showing the average number of weekly passengers getting on the train at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport station increased 69 percent compared with October. Despite the growth, the figures are still down 33 percent compared with November 2000.

The number of passengers using the Smithsonian station, meanwhile, has not improved much since the attacks. And commuter traffic is now slightly ahead of last year, and hotel and convention center bookings after the summer are at normal rates.

Metro is projecting 1 percent growth this year, and a 3 percent ridership increase in 2003.

Budget Committee Chairman Gladys Mack, who represents D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams on the Metro board, expressed concern about taking $15 million out of the base revenue for 2003 to balance the projected shortfall.

"I really believe that this is an extraordinarily conservative estimate," Mrs. Mack said.

Mr. Harcum agreed that Metro is taking a cautious approach in planning the budget.

"Barring any unprecedented events, it seems like we're going to get better over the next several months," he said.

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