Metro set to OK free fares during blizzard, after WTOP questions

WASHINGTON — The Metro Board is poised to retroactively approve the free rides allowed on the Monday after the massive January blizzard, despite questions about whether the move was really allowed by Metro policies.

A resolution on the Board of Directors’ Thursday agenda acknowledges that Metro’s fare policy only allows the general manager to temporarily reduce fares from peak to off-peak during an emergency, not to lift all fares.

“All other cases of lowered fares for the same events may occur only by the vote of the Board of Directors. Whenever the General Manager or Designee lowers fares under this section, the General Manager or Designee shall seek Board approval of this action at the next meeting of the Board of Directors,” it reads.

This is the second board meeting since the blizzard. Metro has not cited any authority for the apparent violation of policy.

WTOP raised questions in the days after the blizzard about whether the move conformed to Metro policies. New Metro Board chair Jack Evans and outgoing chair Mort Downey answered that they were not familiar with the details of Metro’s restrictions on when the general manager can lower fares, but thought it was the right thing to do. The rail system only opened in a piecemeal fashion Jan. 25, with heavily reduced service.

The proposed resolution says that the Board of Directors as a whole approves the decision to run without fares.

The resolution and supporting information summary does not cite any authority granted by the Board of Directors to lift fares entirely.

The Metro Board is responsible for laying out the policies that the general manager and staff are supposed to follow.

In the past, some board policies have been cited by staff as impediments to the most efficient or best decisions for the Metro system.

There was no Metro service of any kind on Saturday, Jan. 23, or Sunday, Jan. 24. It took days for full service to resume.

Metro estimates that the extra cleanup costs and lost revenue tied to the blizzard totaled $7 million to $8 million.

General Manager Paul Wiedefeld expects Metro will be able to absorb the costs, even with declining ridership this year, because Metro has also been cutting costs.

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