New Metro budget: Expanded bus service but ‘tough choices ahead’

Metro officials have released new proposed budget details ahead of a board meeting Thursday meeting, which comes after the transit agency says it can now stave off drastic service cuts and layoffs thanks to an expected federal funding boost of around $610 million.

Among the revisions is added Metrobus service, up to 82% of pre-pandemic levels in May.

“The added service would help maintain social distancing of approximately no more than 20 passengers at the same time on a standard bus and support higher ridership as well as improve reliability,” the agency said in its budget amendment.

But Metro officials are warning they face the possibility of severe cuts again in 2022.

Specific proposed Metrobus improvements for this year are listed as:

  • 7 lines with full or partial restoration of weekday peak-period coverage
  • 4 lines with full or partial restoration of weekday all-day service
  • 10 lines with restoration of Saturday service
  • 9 lines with restoration of Sunday service
  • 34 lines with service extended to 2 a.m.

Metro’s fiscal year ends June 30.

The amendment notes that Metrobus will be providing service during Metro’s summer platform replacement project, with work set to begin on improvements at six Virginia and Maryland stations.

As far as Metrorail goes, the amended budget does not recommend any changes to current service — 80% of pre-pandemic levels — until January 2022.

The budget seeks to maintain:

  • 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily operating hours
  • Standardize weekday and off-peak rail service frequencies on each line
  • Open Silver Line Phase 2: July 1, 2021

That spares more than 1,200 full-time jobs from being eliminated in February, though the amendment states the agency will “continue workforce reductions through attrition, voluntary departures and efficiency driven non-voluntary reductions.”

According to Metro’s budget documents, there could still be massive rail service cuts in January 2022 if the financial picture doesn’t improve.

“Metrorail service would be reduced to 30% of pre-pandemic service for the last six months of FY2022 to close the remaining funding gap,” the documents state.

Specifics detailed are:

  • Reduced service span 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days per week
  • 30-minute headways on Blue/Orange/Green/Yellow/Silver and 15-minute on Red
  • Yellow Line and Red Line Turnbacks
  • Closure of 22 Stations

Metro said the cuts would result in a net savings of $69.4 million for six months.

Metrobus would also face severe cuts in January 2022, where service would be reduced to “50% of pre-pandemic service for the last six months of FY2022 to close the remaining funding gap.”

Also under consideration is “consolidating the Metrobus system into 45 lines of service that would serve the highest ridership, fully or partially covering 64 existing lines.”

The agency said the Metrobus reduction would result in net savings of $102 million for six months.

In a statement, Metro Board of Directors Chair Paul Smedberg said Metro will “need additional federal relief to avoid service reductions next fiscal year as the region stabilizes.”

The new budget will be revised at its Finance Committee Thursday, where Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld will discuss the next fiscal year’s budget.

He expressed optimism about keeping the service fully intact for the first half of the year, but warned of “tough choices still ahead.”

“We are far from out of the woods, without sufficient revenue to cover all of next fiscal year,” Wiedefeld said. “While the choices may not be quite as severe, there is still enormous financial pressure on our funding jurisdictions, and ridership and revenue is likely to return very gradually.”

Metro originally proposed an operating budget with a nearly $500 million deficit in December. It including closing Metrorail at 9 p.m., ending weekend service, closing 19 rail stations and reducing the number of trains in order to make up for the losses created by the pandemic. Job cuts and layoffs were also proposed.

The budget passed 6-2 and headed to the public for review before the COVID-19 relief package was signed into law.

Public input for the revised budget, with the COVID-19 relief funding included, will take place in February, with the budget’s final approval coming in April.

WTOP’s Matt Delaney contributed to this report.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2021 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up