- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

Metro’s board of directors yesterday approved new General Manager John B. Catoe Jr.’s proposal to delay fare increases scheduled for July.

The board’s Budget Committee unanimously approved a 30-day extension to give Mr. Catoe time to complete a comprehensive review of Metro’s budget and operations before moving forward with plans to increase Metrorail fares by as much as $2.10.

Committee Chairman Jim Graham, also a D.C. council member, said the agency should “put the brakes on” a proposal in December to increase the fares to raise $64 million for a projected $116 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2008.

Other board members were concerned about the delay closing their window of opportunity because Mr. Catoe’s proposal stated the review could postpone a fare increase “until after the start of the fiscal year.”

However, Mr. Catoe and Rick Harcum, the agency’s budget director, said the process would not keep Metro from implementing a fare increase by July 1, the start of the fiscal year. Mr. Catoe said cutting back Metro service to balance the budget was “the last thing that we should propose [because] such a reduction would be contrary to the mission of Metro.”

He also said a new analysis shows the projected $116 million shortfall is closer to $51 million. And Mr. Harcum said an external audit could show enough potential savings in the next 30 days to eliminate a fare increase.

Board members also approved a multiyear safety-assessment plan presented by Fred Goodine, Metro’s assistant general manager for safety. The plan, which calls for an outside company to assess the agency’s safety practices, is intended to reduce accidents and workers’ compensation by 50 percent, Mr. Goodine said.

Said Mr. Catoe: “We expect major improvements in the first 18 months.”

The initiative follows several recent accidents and safety problems, including the accidental deaths of four Metrorail employees in a little more than a year and a Jan. 8 derailment on the Green Line in which 20 persons were injured.

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