- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2011

WASHINGTON | Metro’s Board of Directors on Thursday advanced proposals to cut bus and rail service to help close a $72 million budget gap.

The most contentious plan is to reduce weekend rail service to save $6 million annually. The waits between trains on Saturdays would be extended from 12 minutes to 18 minutes, and on Sundays from 15 minutes to 20 minutes. The wait for trains after 9:30 p.m. on both days would be 25 minutes.

The 13-member board also moved forward a proposal to eliminate bus lines with low ridership: the Chevy Chase (E6), Takoma-Walter Reed (K1) and Nebraska Avenue (M4) lines, and the Tenley-Glover Park loop (N8).

The cuts would save about $1.1 million annually.

The Anacostia fare buy-down - a 50-cent discount on bus rides in that area of the District - is on the chopping block, but the plan is to transfer the discount to rail riders.

The board rejected a proposal championed by D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, a D.C. representative on the Metro board, to increase parking fees by $1 at Metro lots that routinely reach 100 percent capacity to help “mitigate any cuts in service,” saying it would generate little additional revenue and that parking numbers fluctuate. The proposal was suggested by the Transit First coalition.

The public will have the opportunity to weigh in on the cost-cutting plans in mid-May at town hall meetings, public hearings and online. Metro will announce the dates in the coming weeks.

If the proposal is approved, the changes could take place as early as September.

Service cuts and fare increases must be put on a docket for public comment, but there are other funding options the Metro board can consider as the budget-approval deadline nears.

Metro officials recommended $72.5 million in new spending and $74.2 million in cuts to offset the additional costs. The fiscal 2012 spending plan is $1.5 billion, roughly $2 million more than in fiscal 2011.

Cuts to bus and rail service could save more than $30 million, and an additional $1.5 million could be saved by streamlining the Metro Transit Police Department, officials say.

After an 18 percent fare increase last year, the Metro board decided against another increase. An alternative plan for a 5-cent surcharge on Metro rail fares in and out of Union Station in the District was briefly considered, then postponed, on Thursday. The money would have gone toward capital improvements at the 35-year-old station.

Board member Tom Downs, a D.C. representative, said more “transparency” and study are needed before the surcharge could be imposed.

However, the board approved spending $2.25 million for design plans for capacity and safety upgrades at Union Station.

To help with a growing backlog of proposals and contracts and in anticipation of even more capital projects, the board approved the hiring of 30 total new staffers in the Office of Inspector General and Office of Procurement and Materials at a cost of $3.95 million to the fiscal 2012 capital budget and future capital budgets.

In addition, Metro’s chief financial officer, Carol Dillon Kissal, said that as of February, Metro is on budget and could finish the fiscal year, which ends June 30, with a surplus in its capital budget.

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