Metro officials are again considering raising fares and parking fees, increasing ad revenues and trimming costs to ward off a deficit. Transit authorities took similar actions last year. The 2004 budget-cutting ax, Metro Board Chairman Robert Smith said earlier this year, is “very sharp” — out of necessity.
The transit agency’s proposed operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 is $934 million — enough to maintain quality service and to cover personnel costs. The projected deficit, meanwhile, is $47 million, leading officials to consider across-the-board spending cuts of 5 percent.
Of course, that cost-cutting plan doesn’t sit well with the people who think the federal government and various jurisdictions should ante up more subsidies. But that is unfair to regional taxpayers who never or rarely use Metro and regional governments whose taxpayers are urging their elected leaders to direct more funding toward road projects, education and tax cuts.
Metro’s pay-as-you-go transit services are among the world’s best. Its rail service is clean, safe and reliable. Whenever huge events are held in and around Washington — such as presidential inaugurations, annual Independence Day celebrations, NFL preseason kickoff weekends, or protests and demonstrations that draw hundreds of thousands of participants — Metro delivers. What is more, Metro effectively moves hundreds of thousands of commuters, tourists and school children on any given weekday.
There also are complaints, of course. Metrobuses often are standing-room only, and riders of the rails complain of chronic overcrowding on cars and on station platforms. Meanwhile, both groups of passengers want Metro to expand into new markets and maintain an aging transit system. All of the above costs money — money that Metro has admitted in recent years that it just does not have.
After fast-tracking completion of Metrorail and after cutting and pasting their budgets following September 11, Metro and regional officials must look toward the future and develop long-term operating and capital budgets. The twin goals are to maintain cost-effective transit service that remains attractive to commuters and other frequent passengers. As sure as the budget ax must fall, Metro authorities must increase fares and fees — actions that are responsible and inevitable.