WASHINGTON — In what Metro is calling a “reality check,” the $1.8 billion budget that general manager Paul Wiedefeld has just proposed for the 2018 fiscal year includes cuts to service and staffing to reflect the realities of the transit system’s financial situation and declining ridership.
Under the “austere recommendation” released Sunday, 1,000 employees throughout the system would be laid off. There would also be cuts to employee healthcare expenses. And it would bring about significant changes to the rail schedule if the budget is enacted.
The proposal, which needs to be approved by the Metro Board of Directors, would see Metrorail trains run every eight minutes during peak periods instead of the current six minute gaps. However trains would operate every two to four minutes at stations served by multiple lines in the Metro system core.
Blue Line riders stand to actually benefit. With Rush+ eliminated under the plan, Blue Line trains would also run every eight minutes instead of the current 12 minute gap during rush hour. Off-peak service, which would include middays, evenings and weekends, would see trains run every 15 minutes.
If enacted, riders would have to pay more to wait longer, too. During peak hours, the boarding charge for Metrorail would increase by a dime to $2.25, with the maximum fare going up to an even $6. Right now the max is $5.90. Bus riders will also be paying more, with the flat rate rising from $1.75 to $2. Daily parking fees would also increase by another 10 cents, as well.
Metro says the rate hikes figure to generate $21 million, but that increases to $50 million when the service cuts are also factored in. The 2018 fiscal year budget also assumes $47 million more coming from the D.C. government, as well as another $44 million from Maryland and $39 million from Virginia. Right now the three jurisdictions combine to fund Metro to the tune of $845 million.
Wiedefeld has signaled for weeks that the fare hikes and service cuts were likely to be a part of his proposal and announced Friday that more layoffs could be on the way, too. But even Metro acknowledges that cutting 1,000 positions would be unprecedented.
The proposal is a starting point for Metro Board discussions, which will include opportunities for public comment. A final vote is still months away on any service cuts, fare hikes or increased requests for operating subsidies for the first time in a few years.
Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans told WTOP again this week that D.C. plans to block any proposed fare increases.
However, Mayor Muriel Bowser suggested at a news conference Wednesday that her largest concern with the potential proposals was with Metro staff’s suggestion that would have raised bus fares much more significantly as a percentage.
Some other Metro Board members have expressed support for limited fare increases.
Contributing to declining fare revenue, Metro faces a steep, continuing decline in ridership that has been exacerbated by 24/7 track work zones.