Could Metro rider drop doom DC-area development?

WASHINGTON — With Metro considering fare hikes and service cuts amid sharply dropping ridership, some Prince George’s County leaders are concerned that such a move could demolish some development plans.

“We’re all counting on this system that is supposed to be working, that’s supposed to be attracting these new millennials that are supposed to be preferring to ride and use public transportation, yet the ridership numbers continue to go down,” County Council member Deni Taveras told Metro leaders Monday.

“I am concerned about the other big elephant in the room: It’s that we’re all really regionally counting and betting on WMATA, and we’re creating a development plan,” she said.

Taveras represents the Prince George’s Plaza and West Hyattsville areas, where the county has been trying to capitalize on what other jurisdictions in the area have been doing for years: Growing property tax revenue by putting more homes and businesses around Metro stations.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld remains confident the ridership decline will eventually turn around.

“The key to that is reliability, and we have not been performing what we’ve advertised, and that’s very frustrating for the riders,” he said.

Wiedefeld argued that the system needs to shut down for more time on either nights, weekends or some combination to allow for more track work that could improve things.

D.C. Council member and Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans said he remains opposed to most fare hikes and the cuts to late-night hours.

“The District has changed; we’re not the District of 20 or 30 years ago that closed up at 6 o’clock and everybody went home, ” Evans said. “We have a very vibrant late-night night life in the District,” Evans said.

“I don’t want to commit the District without again touching base with the mayor and the council, but at the moment, the District is really tied to keeping the late-night hours and finding those extra hours in some other area,” he told the Prince George’s County Council.

Evans still hopes to find more federal money to help cover parts of Metro’s budget and reduce the amount contributed by local jurisdictions, even facing a Republican-led Congress and president-elect.

Evans said he and Wiedefeld visited with officials from the Office of Management and Budget, which is currently preparing a budget for the next president. “And so we want to try to get in that budget if we can,” Evans said. “They told us to come back after Jan. 20 and see if we can make something happen.”

Evans said he even had the opportunity to meet with some congressional Republicans, such as Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who had previously given Evans a “hard time,” he said.

“I went and met with him personally to discuss where we are and, frankly, everyone is receptive, but nobody has a good idea how to make it happen,” Evans said.

Evans and other D.C. Metro Board members expect to meet with Mayor Muriel Bowser late Thursday to reach a joint position on Wiedefeld’s proposed fare hikes and service cuts, which include trains running less frequently at all times of day in addition to the hours reductions.

Prince George’s Council member Todd Turner asked Wiedefeld, Evans and Malcolm Augustine — the Metro Board member representing Prince George’s County — to try to find a “reasonable middle ground” on late-night cuts.

“The numbers actually do not support, at least from a Prince George’s County standpoint, that a significant portion of our residents are actually taking the train in those hours,” Augustine said. “And, as a matter of fact, no one is taking trains in those hours across the entire system … it’s actually less than 1 percent of the total ridership.”

“We do have to find the bottom … we do have to start bringing people back into this system, and that has to happen sooner than later,” Augustine said.

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