WMATA mulls fare increase

September 17, 2009

Facing an estimated $144 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2011, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency (WMATA) is considering a fare increase, as well as several other revenue-raising and cost-cutting measures, in order to balance next year’s operating budget.

The budget gap, according to Metro board member and D.C. City Councilman Jim Graham (D – Ward 1), is the result of increased costs, lagging revenues, and a decrease in local government support for Metro.
“States and municipalities will have a very difficult time increasing their subsidy to Metro in these challenging economic times,” Graham wrote in an email. “It is difficult to predict what each jurisdiction will do as they weigh the options of fare increases, increased subsidies, and reduced service.”

WMATA emphasized that they are only in the preliminary stages of drafting a budget for next year, which must be approved by June 2010. A budget proposal is expected to go before the board in December.

“Everything is on the table,” said Steven Taubenkibel, a WMATA spokesperson. “We’re just gearing up and in the early stages of a very challenging year.”

The fare increase is one of several proposals being considered by WMATA. Other possible ways of balancing the budget include service cuts and seeking new streams of revenue. Graham mentioned adding retail space to stations, increasing advertising, and charging market rates for parking as potential alternatives.

“I have generally opposed fare increases,” wrote Graham, acknowledging the impact a fare hike would have on college-age and low-income riders. “However, many poor residents depend [on] public transportation and some would rather pay more than lose service.  We will be weighing such considerations as we consider this budget.”

According to WMATA, the deficit only affects the operating budget, which is separate from the capital expenditures budget that funds projects like the proposed Silver Line.

While the Metro operating budget has decreased, WMATA recently received a $78.3 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security to upgrade security at Metro stations.

“The grants will help protect infrastructure and secure riders,” Taubenkibel said. “It’s beneficial to the region.”

The grants will cover such upgrades as increasing the number of security guards at Metro stations and installing security cameras on railcars.

“The cameras are extremely important,” said Taubenkibel. “We’ve never really had cameras in railcars before.”

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