Montgomery Co. urges Metro to avoid ‘death spiral’

WASHINGTON — In a letter sent to Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans Monday, the Montgomery County Council urged Metro leaders to avoid fare hikes and service reductions as the transit agency looks for ways to cut costs and balance its budget.

“We do not need to tell you that both public confidence and ridership numbers have been heading in the wrong direction,” the letter states.

“Cutting services and increasing fares in the face of poor performance is a prescription for a ‘death spiral,’ something that all of us have a strong interest in avoiding.”

In the letter, council members provided advice, asking Metro to make an accounting correction.

“We are advised that $23 million for spare parts was entered into both the operating and capital budget. Simply eliminating this double counting would allow the board to reduce both the breadth of the service cuts and fare increases,” the letter states.

Council members also said they hoped Metro could utilize federal grant funds earmarked for capital investments in the operating budget.

Roger Berliner, the council’s president, spoke to reporters and encouraged Evans to do whatever he can to limit the negative impacts on riders.

“If you think you can do it without sacrificing reliability and safety, then you ought to take a look at that seriously,” said Berliner, who chairs the council’s transportation committee.

The budget plan proposed by Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld includes cuts to bus routes and longer waits between trains, changes that Metro projects would cut $40 million from its bottom line due to layoffs and lower power costs.

Evans has previously said that he is strongly against raising fares but that service cuts are likely to be implemented.

“We are where we are. We have what we have. And my first priority is to not raise fares,” Evans said in January.

“If we don’t want to do some of the service cuts, can we really afford it? My view right now is probably not,” he said.

Evans promised to continue being outspoken about what he sees as a significant need for increased funding from a dedicated regional tax, additional federal funding or other sources.

 

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