- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2005

Metro’s Budget Committee yesterday approved the largest spending package in the transit agency’s history, but the $1.5 billion measure likely will face a tough debate next week when it goes to the full board.

Representatives for Montgomery and Prince George’s counties voted against the budget, surprising their committee colleagues from other jurisdictions.

“Maryland views the subsidies in this budget as unsustainable,” Montgomery County’s Robert J. Smith said after the vote. “This has got to be corrected.”

It’s “not unlikely, it’s impossible” that local governments can continue footing subsidy increases in the future, Mr. Smith said.

Metro’s operating budget includes an 8 percent increase in funds paid by local governments, bringing the total for the next fiscal year to $434 million.

The subsidy increase means that Metro can avoid increasing fares to cover rising costs.

Metro officials say expenses in the $1 billion operating budget rose because of service expansion and inflationary growth in health care, payroll, pension and fuel costs.

The total budget includes $537 million in capital improvements for things such as new infrastructure and maintenance.

Several committee members said they were concerned that the Maryland delegates’ “no” vote meant they would veto the budget at next week’s full board meeting.

Mr. Smith said he wants assurances that revenue forecasts are accurate and that Metro will cap its operating reserve at 1 percent of costs.

Rising fuel prices have eaten away at the reserve, and transit officials asked the board to consider increasing it to 2 percent.

Metro says the new budget includes funds for 62 new rail cars and new parking garages at the West Falls Church, New Carrollton and College Park stations.

The transit agency also will hire dozens of new employees to improve track inspections, station lighting and customer service. There are also plans for installing 300 explosion-resistant trash cans in the system.

Metro’s growing budget comes as ridership reached a record high in April.

Officials told the Budget Committee yesterday that average weekday ridership that month was more than 717,000 trips — the highest ever. They attributed the numbers to a good cherry blossom season, continued growth in rush-hour trips and fans going to Washington Nationals games at RFK Stadium.

Also yesterday, the committee approved a plan to charge $25 to non-subway riders who park at Largo Town Center and Morgan Boulevard — the stations closest to FedEx Field — on Washington Redskins game days.

SmarTrip cards that show a train ride within two hours would have no fee deducted on weekends, or just the normal $3.50 charge on weekdays.

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