- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 30, 2016

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s plan to wipe out the transit agency’s $290 million deficit could result in higher fares, longer waits for subway trains and 1,000 fewer employees.

“Metro has to face reality when it comes to what the region says it can afford and direct those resources to best serve the riders we have today,” Mr. Wiedefeld said Sunday after announcing his budget. “This plan has Metro doing everything in our power to get major expense categories under control while improving safety and making the trains run on time.”

Mr. Wiedefeld called the proposed $1.8 billion operating budget a “reality check” and said the plan would fully fund key safety, track and train improvements — but he noted that could come at the expense of convenience. All proposed changes would go into effect July 1.

“The most difficult part of this plan is the impact for Metro customers and employees,” he said. “Tough choices are required to balance the operating budget.”

The plan would increase the $1.75 Metrobus fare to $2 per trip. Off-peak rail riders would pay a base fare of $2 in addition to current distance-based fares. During peak hours, the base charge would increase to $2.25. And the maximum fare would increase from the current $5.90 to $6. Fares have not been raised since 2014.

Proposed service changes include:

During peak periods, trains would operate every two to four minutes at stations served by multiple lines in the system’s core.

Trains would run every eight minutes during peak periods instead of every six minutes currently.

Rush+ trains would be eliminated.

During most off-peak periods, trains would run every 15 minutes on each line.

Inefficient bus routes would be on the chopping block. Metro has compiled a list of 20 routes that carry few riders and most likely would be eliminated.

The proposed fare increases and service cuts would save Metro about $50 million.

About 300 operators and mechanics could lose their jobs with the service cuts. Mr. Wiedefeld did not go into detail about the other 700 jobs that would be eliminated.

While riders might not be happy with the service reductions, the jurisdictions in which Metro operates could be even more unhappy. Local governments, which currently contribute $850 million to Metro operations, would have to contribute $975 million under the proposed budget.

The budget calls for Maryland, Virginia and the District to each kick in millions more in funding. Contributions from the jurisdictions are projected to increase by $47 million for the District, $44 million for Maryland and $39 million for Virginia.

The Metro Board of Directors has final approval over the budget, and portions of the plan might rankle some board members. The District’s representation, including D.C. Council member Jack Evans and businessman Corbett Price, have said they’d strike down any fare increase.

Mr. Evans told The Washington Post that jurisdictional governments should pay for the shortfall, not the riders who utilize the system every day.

“Good god, we should applaud people who are still riding this thing, not punish them,” he said, according to The Post.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who does not sit on the board, said she wasn’t necessarily opposed to fare hikes if they are proportional throughout the region and don’t target D.C. residents.

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