Metro warns of future budget issues despite additional funding for this year

While Metro appears to be on track to avoid a budget shortfall this year, the head of the transit agency is already warning area leaders about future budget issues.

D.C., Maryland and Virginia are working on providing an additional $480 million in funding to help keep Metro afloat and avoid drastic service cuts going into effect later this year. Meanwhile, Metro is cutting down on administrative costs and has proposed a 12.5% fare increase to bring in more revenue.

Metro General Manager and CEO Randy Clarke told the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Board of Directors on Wednesday that changes need to be made to how WMATA is funded.

“Everyone’s proportion is going to have to go up, or we’re going to have to make cuts next year,” Clarke said.

Metro has been filling the gap in its operating budget by using money from its preventive maintenance fund. Eventually, Clarke said, that’s going to create problems with its capital budget by the 2028 or 2029 fiscal year, when WMATA reaches its debt limit.

“It wasn’t that long ago, we had track fires every day. We had platforms collapsing, we had old rail cars [and] an old bus fleet,” Clarke said. “We really have pretty good infrastructure right now. But that has to stay on top of it every single year, or it quickly gets away again.”

The board passed a resolution calling on the region to find a more sustainable way to fund Metro.

“This is a one-year solution. We are going to have another challenge next year,” D.C. Council member and COG board chair Charles Allen said. “It is incumbent on us to do the hard work of, ‘what does dedicated regional funding look like?’ That is the long term answer.”

Tied into Metro’s problems has been a slow rebound in ridership since the COVID-19 pandemic. Clarke said he hopes to see more federal workers use the system, noting it had the highest ridership of federal employees since the pandemic on Feb. 6.

“It’s magic that the first week of the month and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the days that we get this,” Clarke said. “I think we’d like to see that continue more than just the first week and more than just Tuesdays and Wednesdays.”

President Joe Biden’s administration is also pushing federal agencies to have employees return to the office at least 50% of the time, but implementing that goal has produced varied results.

“Every agency is on that 50/50 path or that balanced path,” Loren DeJonge Schulman, an associate director at the federal Office of Management and Budget, said. “I would say that they either have implemented or are in the process of implementing, but they’re all on different trajectories at this point in time.”

Meanwhile, the board also passed a resolution condemning a proposal in the U.S. Senate to increase flights at Reagan National Airport.

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