- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 28, 2009

The region’s financially struggling subway system Thursday ended a proposal to sell food at stations to generate more money.

Metro’s board of directors were receptive to the agency’s plan that includes such ideas as dry cleaners, vending machines or kiosks that sell stamps and other sundry goods. But the 12 members requested a revised proposal for next month that does not include the sale of food and beverages.

“We felt it was better to take food off the table, so to speak,” said Jim Graham, a board member and D.C. Council member. “We’re not prepared. There’s no way to control that, but there are other opportunities there.”

If approved, the sale of goods or services will be a first for the 33-year-old subway system — the second largest in the country. However, the cost of maintaining the rails and buying new cars continues to increase, despite record ridership, in part because the high gas prices of last year still have commuters leaving their vehicles at home.

The agency’s fiscal 2009 budget is $1.9 billion. Revenue comes from fares, advertising, deals with fiber-optics companies and municipalities serviced by the five-line system, which covers 106-miles.

This year narrowly avoided cuts in service by using reserve money, a Metropolitan Transit Authority spokesman said Thursday.

The system is among the last in major U.S. cities — including Boston and New York — not to have retail vendors.

Boston’s system has carts that sell such items as magazines, coffee and bagels inside stations.

The New York City system, the country’s biggest, has roughly 100 newsstands that sell candy bars and other snacks beyond the stations’ turnstiles. The system also has several places outside stations’ “fare-control zones” that sell pizza or doughnuts, the spokesman said.

He also said the agency makes $5.4 million in annual rent from the vendors.

Metro officials have not said how much they expect to make.

The Metro plan called only for packaged, or “to-go,” food and drinks at 12 stations, with some on outside sidewalks or adjacent parking lots. Each of the 12 stations serve roughly 6,000 daily riders.

The board also wanted the vending contracts open to more small businesses and more consideration for the other 74 stations, including some that have less nearby shopping.

Metro unsuccessfully proposed a similar plan in 2006.

The system, like those in Atlanta, San Francisco and Chicago, has a ban on eating and drinking inside stations.

Union Station, on Metro’s Red Line, also is Washington’s Amtrak station and has a variety of retail stores, restaurants and food-to-go spots.

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