- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

Metro officials are considering increased fares and truncated evening and weekend services as the transit agency looks for ways to cut almost $47 million from its fiscal 2005 budget.

At yesterday’s weekly meeting, Metro’s board of directors considered various service cuts, including closing some stations on the weekends, running two-car trains after 10:30 p.m. during the week, and delaying the opening of services at the New York Avenue and Largo stations for six months.

“We have to generate revenue in order to [maintain current levels of service],” Gladys W. Mack, second vice chairman of the board, said. “We will look at advertising [as an option], and we have to look at fare increases.

“Up until last year, we hadn’t had an increase in eight years,” Miss Mack said. “This is the year we look further ahead than just what is needed in order to balance the budget.”

Metro officials are looking to cut 5 percent, or $46.7 million, from the $933.8 million budget for fiscal 2005, which starts in July. Metro faces a deficit of between $29 million and $36 million, depending on the subsidies provided by local jurisdictions.

In the proposal, more than 20 bus routes would be discontinued. Funds allotted for maintenance of the rail and bus stations and facilities also would be reduced, which some board members say ultimately would be detrimental.

“The cleanliness of our stations is one of our most attractive features,” Miss Mack said. “We often hear comments from not just city residents, but tourists, that this is one of the cleanest [metro systems] in the country.”

Miss Mack said the talks are preliminary and that discussions of fare and revenue issues will continue Thursday.

Chairman Robert J. Smith, who previously had requested that each department assess what would be eliminated if an additional 5 percent were cut from its budget, expressed disappointment that the departments had not submitted the reports, but acknowledged that it was difficult.

“It’s a painful process [making budget cuts],” Mr. Smith said. “But we need to know just how each department would be affected if we had to make the cuts.”

Mr. Smith said he expects the reports in May or June.

Chris Zimmerman, a board member who represents Arlington County, said the cuts would turn Metro into a “second-class system.”

Metro had to overcome a $48 million deficit last year to meet its budget for fiscal 2004, which ends in June, and raised fares to make up one-half of that total.

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