- The Washington Times - Monday, December 13, 2004

Metro officials on Thursday proposed spending $1 billion on operational expenses next fiscal year and in 2007, and with that came more than $72 million in budget shortfalls. The spending plan offered no definitive source of revenues to pay for the increased costs, which largely are due to the rising costs of employee salaries and benefits, and fuel and utilities. Officials simply said they want various governments to up the ante on subsidies. We urge transit authorities not to reject fare and fee increases out of hand.

The two-year budget plan included hiring scores of new workers, most of whom would be deployed to an expanded cleaning crew and other such laborers, as well as to make Metro more customer-service friendly. For example, some of the new hires would help make sure Metrobuses are cleaned weekly instead of biweekly, and some of the busiest stations would have two station managers and other additional workers to handle crowd control. Officials also said they want to spend $1.3 million on workers who would answer service queries.

Since we view crowd control as an integral security and safety ingredient, we offer this query: Why didn’t Metro officials focus more acutely on preventive maintenance measures, including track inspections to detect and repair cracks and other flaws on the rails? As rail passengers and the elected officials who oversee Metro expenditures learned the hard way in recent months, the Red Line has long been plagued with cracks and other mechanical problems — flaws inspectors were supposed to detect before they became as unsafe and problematic as they did this year. Another safety problem stemmed from priorities, with Metro seemingly more interested in nabbing a teen for eating french fries and a pregnant woman speaking loudly on her cellphone than in preventing crimes committed by assailants, stick-up men and car thieves.

Metro officials can have it — a $1 billion budget — both ways, but only if authorities are willing to push for more advertising revenue and are willing to keep an open mind to the fact that passengers must pay as they go. To learn that board member Jim Graham and others are closed-minded to fare and fee increases is disappointing. Fortunately, Chairman Robert Smith has until June to convince his colleagues otherwise.

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