- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2007

Metro General Manager John B. Catoe yesterday said he is optimistic that the transit agency’s board of directors will approve a revised plan he will introduce today to increase fares as soon as January.

The revision was announced two weeks after board members refused to consider a proposed fare increase, asking Mr. Catoe for additional budget information.

“I hope this provides the board — and I believe it does — with the info they’ve requested,” Mr. Catoe said during a meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “If I could go back two weeks ago, I would have provided additional information to the board on where we needed to go with the fare increase and what the budget would be like.”

Mr. Catoe said yesterday that in the two weeks since his first proposal to the board he has trimmed the projected fiscal 2009 deficit from about $173 million to about $109 million. He said the cuts in the estimated $1.3 billion fiscal 2009 budget were made by postponing $21 million in planned service expansions, eliminating a $12 million reserve fund and moving debt service payments from the operating budget to the capital budget.

The plan Mr. Catoe will present today also includes an anticipated 6.5 percent growth in local subsidies from Maryland and Virginia in the transit system’s revenue.

Mr. Catoe’s revised plan presents board members with four options for raising fares. The options include a choice between raising fares in January or in July. The July increase requires steeper fares and a higher decline in ridership, according to projections.

During the board’s last meeting Sept. 13, members acknowledged the eventual need for a fare increase. Mr. Catoe said some members may have needed more time to consider a fare increase that was presented independently of a budget proposal.

He said he hopes the board will approve the plan at its Oct. 11 meeting.

Under the revised proposal, the maximum rail fare would increase by between 60 cents and $1.25. Regular rail fares during peak hours would increase by between 20 cents and 40 cents.

Regular bus fares would rise 25 cents and fares for express routes would increase 60 cents. Parking fees would increase by 50 cents.

Mr. Catoe said the fare increase will not eliminate the need for a dedicated funding source for the transit system, which receives more than 40 percent of its revenue from government subsidies.

He said Metro has secured commitments from the District, Maryland and Virginia to put up $150 million required by a bill in the House of Representatives that would grant Metro $1.5 billion in federal funds over 10 years.

“We have not painted the picture right,” Mr. Catoe said. “People think we’re making a profit.”

Mr. Catoe said he also will present for the first time a “concept” for creating a transportation index that would govern future increases.

He said the index would be linked to the cost of labor, fuel and other factors and would have a cap to maintain a consistent cost-to-revenue ratio to prevent excessive fares.

Mr. Catoe said he has made several procedural and personnel changes after a series of accidents and safety-related service interruptions called attention to undertrained employees and poor accountability within the system.

He said he recently suspended a “very high level” manager for violating track procedures. Employees now are required to carry cards that outline hand signals to be used in tunnels after testing revealed many employees did not know the signs to ask a train operator to brake or stop.

National Transportation Safety Board officials said yesterday that a report on a January train derailment is expected in about a month.

Mr. Catoe acknowledged that “Metro will not look good” in the report, but said he has corrected track problems that led to the accident and later this year will ask the Metro board to approve communication system upgrades.

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