And the Hits Just Keep on Coming for Metro – “austere recommendation to the Board’s Finance Committee”

metro-anarchy
Photo by PoPville flickr user Collin Anderson

From WMATA:

“Calling it a Reality Check Budget Plan for FY18, Metro officials will present an austere recommendation to the Board’s Finance Committee at its meeting Thursday. The budget downsizes the workforce by an unprecedented 1,000 positions, cuts certain employee health care expenses, and rightsizes rail and bus services to support current ridership.

In preparing the $1.8 billion operating budget, General Manager/CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld directed his executive team to fully fund key safety improvements, improve track and train reliability, sharply cut management and labor costs, outsource functions where possible, improve maintenance personnel productivity, and scale train and bus services to match existing ridership demand. The budget also funds stricter fare enforcement, a plan Wiedefeld calls Fair Fare Collection.

“Metro has to face reality when it comes to what the region says it can afford and direct those resources to best serve the riders we have today,” said Wiedefeld. “This plan has Metro doing everything in our power to get major expense categories under control while improving safety and making the trains run on time.”

After accounting for $50 million in projected savings through management and labor actions, Metro balances the budget through shared contributions distributed among all Metro stakeholders. While reducing its reliance on federal grant funds by $35 million, the operating budget assumes $60 million of grant funding of eligible maintenance expenses. Forecasting ridership that is down more than 20 percent from 2009 levels, rail service would be reduced, making trains less frequent during peak and off-peak travel times, but more reliable through aggressive rail car and track maintenance. In addition, about a dozen low-ridership bus routes are proposed for elimination.

As proposed, rail service beginning July 1, 2017, would operate as follows:

During peak periods, trains would operate every 2-4 minutes at stations served by multiple lines in the system’s core.
Trains would run every 8 minutes in peak periods instead of every 6 minutes today.
Service would become more frequent for Blue Line riders, where trains are now scheduled every 12 minutes.
Rush+ trains would be eliminated.
During most off-peak periods (e.g. midday, early evening, and weekends) trains would run every 15 minutes on each line.

The plan assumes growth in commercial (non-passenger) revenue, including advertising and joint development agreements. Consistent with Board policy for periodic fare adjustments and recognizing that passenger fares have been held constant since 2014, an increase is proposed to generate $21 million, less than 10 percent of the budget gap. The combination of fare increases and service cuts would generate about $50 million from riders to help balance the budget. Contributions from the jurisdictions are projected to increase by $47 million from the District of Columbia, $44 million from Maryland, and $39 million from Virginia.

“The most difficult part of this plan is the impact for Metro customers and employees,” said Wiedefeld. “Tough choices are required to balance the operating budget.”

The proposal equalizes the local bus fare with the off-peak rail boarding charge at $2 per trip. Off-peak rail riders would pay the $2 boarding charge in addition to current distance-based fares. During peak hours, the boarding charge would increase a dime to $2.25 with a new maximum fare of $6 (vs. $5.90 today). For bus riders, one-way local bus fares would increase from $1.75 — among the lowest nationally — to $2.00. Express bus fares would increase from $4 today to $4.25, and daily parking fees would tick up by a dime.

Metro’s Board of Directors will be asked at its December meeting to approve a public hearing among other online and community based outreach for consideration of the budget. Community outreach and public hearings would begin in late January. The final budget, including any service and fare changes, requires approval by the full Board in March in order to take effect July 1, 2017.”

63 Comment

  • Does this plan account for how ridership has been down because the metro has been in such a sad state? I have taken the metro much less in the past year because it has been so unreliable, and I think the same goes for a fair number of people. Using lower ridership to justify fewer trains is logical in a way, but it also seems like it could lead to a death spiral, with even fewer people riding because they’ll have to face longer wait times.

    In whatever case, I hope you can come up with a good solution, WMATA. I’m very thankful that running this system is not my job.

  • At some point not hiring the best people available catches up to an organization. I know of people that work at Metro and it’s an organization in chaos behind the scenes. It needs a drastic culture change but that will be difficult because such a change would require dealing with some thorny societal issues.

  • What Wiedefeld doesn’t seem to realize is that suburban lawmakers will simply call his bluff. They don’t use the system and don’t care about their constituents who do.

    • I don’t believe this to be accurate.

    • the “don’t care about their constituents who do” part seems to be a logical flaw in your reasoning

      • I disagree with your disagreement. None of the management rides the metro (it has been discussed so many times in the past) and the fact is that they rarely if ever take into account their riderships concern. The only time I can remember them ever taking riders concerns was in adding the 15 minute window if a rider gets to a station and within 15 minutes leaves from the exact same station due to delays.

      • When is the last time a Maryland or Virginia politician even proposed an increase in funding for Metro? They sure don’t look like they care. Meanwhile, highways, which I’ll bet these politicians use on a daily basis, are being expanded as I write this.

    • You could say the same about many DC reps who have served on Metro. the general problem is that the Board has sucked at nuts and bolts things–like maintenance, for the past 25 years.

  • Great, let’s downsize rail AND bus service at the same time!
    .
    Good luck folks! I hope this doesn’t mean they’ll be reducing service on the busier bus lines, as well. We’re already packed like sardines at certain times of the day. Hell, the S buses were standing room only (or very, very close) at 7am this morning because of the Red Line closures.

    • Also, I don’t ride Metro much because it’s already expensive, but I just noticed this: “Off-peak rail riders would pay the $2 boarding charge in addition to current distance-based fares.”
      .
      Does this mean, for example, that if I want to from U Street to Chinatown mid-morning on a Saturday, that it will cost me $3.75 one way? I understand that WMATA is hurting (and I agree with T that I’m glad it’s not my job), but I have sympathy for lower-wage workers whose jobs don’t cover their transit. That’s a lot of money.

      • I don’t think so. The bus base and off-peak rail fare (what they call boarding fare) now is $1.75; that’s going up to $2.00, plus distance charged for rail (there aren’t any distance charges from U street to Chinatown). Peak rail fare will go to $2.25, with a slight increase in express fares. (As I understand it – the press release isn’t a model of clarity.)

        • “Off-peak rail riders would pay the $2 boarding charge in addition to current distance-based fares.”
          .
          Agreed with dcd — I think by “boarding charge,” they mean “minimum total fare.”
          .
          TERRIBLE wording, though. I have never before heard this term “boarding charge” in conjunction with WMATA (or anything else, for that matter). I bet 99% of the people reading this are going to be confused, and of those, a significant portion are going to think Metro is adding a boarding charge on top of its existing fares. (Or as a base fee under its existing fares, if you prefer to think of it that way.)

          • Ohhhh….. that makes more sense. It really is AWFUL wording. I even went onto the WMATA fare calculator to figure out fares and didn’t see anything referred to as a “boarding fare” vs a “distance fare.” It really did sound like they were adding an additional $2!!!

      • Or any worker whose job doesn’t cover transit? Only federal workers have their transit covered. Most private sector employees don’t get any money for transit, only the option to put money on their Smarttrip card pre-tax.

        • The federal subsidy is a big part of the problem. A significant portion of metro riders are shielded from the full effect of the fare increases, so it’s a lot easier to raise fares than it should be.

          • maxwell smart

            Not only that, but since it’s not your personal dime paying for metro, I think there is more willingness to accept mediocre conditions.

          • anonymouse_dianne

            The subsidy is only $150 a month. Van pool users get a much much better deal. So I disagree. Also as a contractor I was getting $200.

          • Agreed to some extent with Maxwell Smart. I’m not sure about the “willingness to accept mediocre conditions” per se, but when your choice is using WMATA and having your commute all (or mostly) covered vs. paying out of pocket for something else (parking garage, Uber, whatever), you’d have to find Metro REALLY unsatisfactory to want to go for option #2.

          • Dianne, the federal subsidy was $125, then went up to $250 for a while, then went back to $125, and was recently increased to (IIRC) $250.
            .
            So it can be fairly significant amount, depending on how much one’s daily public-transit commute costs.

          • @Diane – not sure how what you posted disagrees with anything I posted. Also – only $150, or $200? If someone pays the minimum fare during peak times, (now $2.25) and assuming 21 work days per month, that’s $94. To hit $150, someone would have to spend more that $7 per day on Metro. And even if someone spends $10 per day in transit costs, my choice of words was intentional – he or she is “shielded” from the full impact of increasing fares.

        • Yes, but you have to admit, there’s a difference between people who make minimum wage paying almost an hour in transit fares each workday, and public sector employees, who are likely more able to have alternative modes of transportation available to them and who are more likely able to afford to live closer into the city.

        • I don’t work for the federal government and my job pays for transit.

          • maxwell smart

            Good for you. The point however, was that not EVERYONE’S job pays for transit, especially low wage jobs, which arguably are the people who this will affect the most.

  • I don’t understand why every proposal for Metro making up the budget deficit includes service cuts when Wiedefeld himself has said that a majority of Metro’s overhead is wages and benefits. The recent layoffs are a good start but pension, wage and benefit cuts should be on the table too right?

    • They are cutting wages but they are doing it by firing people. Some of those will be people directly related to services like bus/rail some will be offices but they are cutting wages. I wonder if it is easier to fire wholesale than it is to cut wages (a cut likely to hit some workers more than others) when you consider going up against a union.

      • WMATA has shown a willingness to go against the union; it’s just that they haven’t had any success when the issue gets to arbitration.

      • It is almost always easier to cut wages by laying off the worst workers rather than across-the-board paycuts. Those latter paycuts have been shown to crush the morale of the entire workforce and lead to your best people leaving. On the other hand, by firing the worst workers, those who remain recognize their efforts have been noted and are often as or more productive as they were previously.

  • Dangerous. These days it’s cheaper to take Uber pool than Metro (even cheaper than bus for two people). With how unreliable Metro has been and with all of the SafeTrack shutdowns, people are finding these alternatives and realizing there is no need to even deal with Metro as long as these other options exist. I’m sure raising prices (particularly when there is no positive change in service whenever they do this) will continue to not be well-received by riders. It is clear that Metro has been severely mismanaged and it seems like it always comes back to having the riders pay for it. I don’t have a magic solution, but this doesn’t seem like one either.

    • maxwell smart

      They are really in a self-destructing spiral at this point, especially for people who use metro daily. At this rate, their only source of fair revenue will be from tourists and from people commuting from the other burbs… although at some point $6 each way + parking probably is about the same cost as driving.

  • It seems to me that WMATA is seriously in danger of entering a death spiral. These fare hikes are ridiculous. Even with its current lack of reliability, I would metro to work in a heartbeat if it was cheaper, but I live in DC and work out in one of the furthest stations in Maryland and it costs me a hefty $10+ per day to use it. I believe with the proposed hikes that would raise to $12?

    Even with taking into account insurance costs and repairs, driving ends up cheaper per month with current fares by nearly $80 – which is totally ridiculous. I HATE driving to work but I’ll continue to do it since I’m not made of money. I’m obviously just one person and I don’t have a solution, but it still seems pretty clear to me that this is not the way to gain ridership back and turn metro into a functioning transport system once more.

  • These proposals are pretty alarming — there was a brief moment when in my hazy morning fog, I was asking myself whether today was April Fool’s Day.
    .
    I guess the proposals are Halloween-appropriate in their scariness??
    .
    I get that they need to cut costs and increase safety, but these are some major service cutbacks they’re talking about. And I’m not sure what proportion of Metrobus riders are paying out of pocket (rather than with a subsidy from a job), or whether the increase in bus fare will be reflected in weekly/monthly bus passes… but there are a LOT of Metrobus riders who don’t have much money, and I question whether “equalizing” bus and train fare is really a good way to increase revenue.
    .
    The bus will still come out cheaper for many people given the 2-hour free transfer option… but if the prices of weekly/monthly passes go up, that could hit a lot of poor people really hard.

  • A fairly detailed WMATA Finance Committee presentation on this is here: http://www.wmata.com/about_metro/board_of_directors/board_docs/110316_4AGMCEOFY2018ProposedOperatingBudget20161029.pdf

    If anyone is interested in commenting to WMATA at all, it looks like the budget approval process (including service reductions) runs through March. From p.29 of this doc:
    Next steps:
    – December: GM/CEO proposal of FY2018 Capital Budget and six-year CIP; request for budget public hearing
    – Jan 14-Feb 6: Public outreach and public comment period begin
    – Week of Jan 30 (tentative): Public hearing
    – Feb 6: Public comment period closes
    – March: Adoption of FY2018 Budget

    • Thanks — this is very helpful!

    • maxwell smart

      Whew.. My bus routes are safe! Although personally, I find it hard to believe the E6 and M4 are worth saving and/or could be combined into 1 more useful route.

      Also I wonder if they could look at eliminating redundancy in overlap on routes. The L2 for instance makes a detour going up Connecticut through Adams Morgan – which is already well covered via the 42/43. Rerouting would reduce mileage. Same for quantity of stops – many routes have FAR too many stops, also slowing down trips – more idle time = more fuel.

      • Sure, if you live in Adams Morgan you can take the 42/43 to get to Dupont Circle… but in the other direction, the 42/43 ends at Mount Pleasant.
        .
        I don’t know which other bus routes go up/down Connecticut, but I know from experience that if you want to get from Adams Morgan to upper Connecticut Avenue — say, the Avalon Theater — the L2 is the only option.

        • maxwell smart

          You could take the 96 or Circulator across the bridge to Woodley and transfer to the L1/L2.

        • Yes, I live in Adams Morgan and take the L2 anytime I need to go NW on Connecticut. Taking the 96/Circulator and transferring would be a pain, and I likely would not bother making trips up Connecticut or ubering if I had to do it.

      • Metro routed the L2 down Columbia Road a few years back precisely because the 42/43 routes were already at capacity ridership and the L2 route, running basically parallel to the Red Line, was not.

        • maxwell smart

          Yes, and it has easily added 20+ minutes to the route due to the left turn onto Calvert (with no signal) and the right turn onto Connecticut (with the shortest right turn signal).

    • I see on page 10 a table labeled “Proposed Bus Service Reductions,” but I haven’t read the entire report. Are these the routes they’re proposing to eliminate? Or just to reduce service on?
      .
      If the former, they ought to have labeled it more clearly.
      .
      I see they’re proposing to reduce (or perhaps eliminate?) the B30 bus route, which goes from Greenbelt to BWI. This is interesting to me because just the other year(?), they were proposing the elimination of the 5A route from L’Enfant Plaza to Dulles… but after a significant public outcry, they kept it.

      • The bus routes to Dulles and BWI seem to me like prime candidates for elimination. I don’t know what ridership is like but they could be easily replaced by county/state/private transportation services. I see no reason why WMATA in particular should or can better operate these routes.

        • When they were proposing to eliminate the 5A, they named the Washington Flyer shuttle bus as an alternative.
          .
          The cost difference isn’t as a big of a deal now that the Washington Flyer shuttle bus goes only from Dulles to Wiehle-Reston and costs $5… but it used to be something like $13 and went to East Falls Church, which was a ripoff in comparison to the 5A bus, which I think was $6 at the time. (It’s now $7.)
          .
          The 5A bus goes from L’Enfant to Dulles and back. Stops include Rosslyn and the Herndon Park and Ride Lot. Whenever I’ve taken the bus, there have always been airport workers on it — not just travelers.
          .
          Ridership for the 5A would probably be greater if the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority — which has a diabolical deal with Washington Flyer to be the airports’ “official” transportation provider — didn’t do its best to conceal the 5A’s existence. It’s a little bit like if Heathrow did its best to conceal the existence of the Tube and steered you to the Heathrow Express instead.

          • Hmmm, OK. I’m not sure if you’re agreeing, disagreeing, or simply listing your observations about the 5A. In any case, I don’t see why WMATA should operate either airport route, especially if they are among the biggest money losers.

      • The bus service “reductions” means elimination or transfer (to a local service provider). End of page 6 in the report.

  • They should totally privatize WMATA and sell it to Jeff Bezos.

    • When’s the last time you sought out the Washington Post for non-local news?

      • or for local news…privatization means all accountability is lost. I hope the downsizing means that the mostly inert management positions take a particularly big hit.

      • I actually missed the Washington Post’s stories on the Trump Foundation until PoPville reader/photographer Beau clued me into them. I had become so used to reading the Washington Post for local news only and to reading only the New York times for national news.

      • This morning

  • nightborn

    Talk about a death spiral. I guess I’m taking Uber Pool to work from now on…

  • I like this plan. Maybe after the GM implements this plan, he can run for Mayor of DC and fix this city’s problems too.

  • How in the hell are we supposed to be world-class city with a shitty public transit system. I mean ever Houston and Phoenix are investing in rapid-transit. Do suburban lawmakers in MD and VA really want to see Metro go under?

    • The priorities of Annapolis and Richmond are not aligned with urban mass transit. F#cks are not given by voters outside the metro area. Even though Metro provides massive economic benefits to their states.
      Hence why this is such a mess.

      • maxwell smart

        Yep.. and the fact that not 1, not 2, but 3 governments need to come to an agreement about financing makes this a huge mess.

  • They never should have said “Safety Trumps Service”. That attitude has given them carte blanche to disregard the customer experience so severely that they are driving away and alienating the people who they need to be the advocates for Metro. When Metro treats you like an inconvenient pile of poop every day its hard to have the energy to be an advocate for the system. We understand that there are serious safety problems, but they have used that as an excuse to not even bother trying to balance maintenance with a commitment to providing the best possible service to customers.

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