- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Only four Metro riders testified last night at a public hearing in Alexandria before the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority about proposed fare increases for Metrorail, Metrobus and Metro access parking.

James Parmelee of Centreville, representing Republicans for Tax Relief, said, “The problem of the agency is [that] their attitude is we have to make at least as much as we spend. That’s outrageous. You have to spend only what you can make.”

Metro officials are trying to eliminate a deficit of $28.8 million to $36 million depending on the subsidies provided by local jurisdictions, without curtailing Metrobus and Metrorail service. Transit system officials also are looking to reduce the $933.8 million operating budget by 5 percent, or $46.7 million for fiscal 2005, which begins in July.

This is the second proposed increase in rail and bus fares in as many years. Under the proposals, peak and off-peak base rail fares would increase 15 cents, with the highest rush-hour fare rising to $4.05. Bus fares would rise to $1.35, an increase of 15 cents. Daily parking would increase to as much as $1.30, and the monthly parking-spot reservation fees would rise by $10.

James Roth of Burke said, “Metro is looking us in the face and telling us we’re going to more than double the rate over two years.”

Even as it seeks to balance its budget, the transit agency has been hit by a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash receipts from its parking lots and garages. An internal audit accused cashiers employed by its parking contractor, Penn Parking, of stealing $500,000 to $1 million a year from cash payments made at parking lots and garages.

“Metro is resting on their laurels and not investigating a problem they have known of for at least a decade,” Mr. Roth said. “If Giant raises the price of a loaf of bread by double, I’d go to Safeway. I don’t have that luxury with Metro. They’re the only game in town.”

Metro officials warned that more budget shortfalls are expected in the near future, which will require similar measures to generate additional passenger revenue on an ongoing basis.

The hearing in the South Fairfax County Government Center at 8350 Richmond Highway near Fort Belvoir was the first of nine to be held in the Northern Virginia, the District and suburban Maryland through March 29.

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