WASHINGTON — Amid declining ridership and a bigger projected budget gap, Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans said he promises to block any fare increases next year.
The D.C. Councilman said he and his fellow voting member appointed by the District, Corbett Price, would use what is known as a jurisdictional veto to prevent any fare increases.
“They’re already too high, and every person I talk to, in looking at Washington Metro, says that we are at the tipping point,” Evans said.
Ridership has been falling for years, but has dropped more sharply in 2015 and 2016. Metro has blamed the decline on riders’ concerns about safety, reliability and delays in addition to broader trends.
Evans has made similar comments about fares, but now he says keeping fares flat is a way to pressure local jurisdictions to back his efforts to get more funding from the federal government. He says that in the past, Metro has given “the region a way out.”
“There is not going to be ‘no way out’ again,” Evans said. “I am not putting this on the riders. I am not doing it, and, yes, Corbett Price and I will veto a fare increase.”
General Manager Paul Wiedefeld declined to comment on the issue, but stated that his complete budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year will be unveiled in about two months.
Key factors in the budget include any service cuts set to come before the Metro Board in December and any deal reached with Metro’s largest union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 — if it comes soon. The union’s contract expired this summer.
Evans said any agreement is unlikely to significantly cut into rising costs.
“There is no possibility of solving the problems that Washington Metro has with its finances by using labor,” he said.
Metro has projected a need for an additional $300 million in operating cash next fiscal year if no cuts are made, and there are nearly $3 billion in unfunded pension and benefit liabilities. This year, Metro brought in millions less than budgeted, due in large part to fewer people riding the system, but budget cuts over the course of the year led to a balanced budget.
Just under half of Metro’s operating budget this year is covered by fares and fees; a similar portion is covered by state and local government funding and a fraction of the funding comes from other sources like advertising revenue.
The capital budget, which is used for infrastructure, track and other major projects, includes funding from the federal government combined contributions from the local jurisdictions and long-term borrowing.