Image by iMetro.

Over 170 riders gave their opinions of the WMATA FY2010 budget at last night’s hearing. Almost all argued against service cuts, and among those who picked one of the four options, they overwhelmingly recommended Option 4, the 10¢ 4-month fare hike.

Many noted the difficult choice Metro faces; both the Examiner and WAMU quoted Rodney Green, who analogized the situation to a hero in an action movie where the villain makes him chose between cutting off an arm or putting out an eye. (WAMU also quoted me on the dangers of the “death spiral.”)

A number loudly called for the resignation of Metro’s management and/or Board, often to applause from the audience. But for every rider voicing their understandable frustration with exhortations that would be counterproductive, another gave considered and constructive input.

The large number of riders was no surprise, but more unexpected was Metro’s efficient handling of the huge crowds packing WMATA HQ, which no room large enough for all the people, and the speedy conduct of the hearing.

The line outside. Photo by iMetro.

When I arrived, a few minutes late, there was a long line out the door to get through security. Metro staff were telling us the Board room was full, and they weren’t sure whether everyone would get into the building. But a few minutes later, they said an overflow room was set up with a live video feed of the main Board room hearing.

Metro split up the speakers into two rooms, with about half the Board members in each, and quickly moved through the speakers limiting everyone to two minutes. As the main rooms cleared, they invited people waiting in the overflow rooms to move. Metro staff were everywhere with large, prominent name tags, directing traffic.

They took speakers in the order they checked in, rather than the order they signed up. While I’d signed up early and was about #15 on the list, I got speaking number 50 out of about 70 speakers signed up in advance. Everyone who didn’t sign up got to go after the registered speakers. I assumed that, with 49 people scheduled before me, I’d be waiting until about 10:30 for the hearing which began a bit after 5:30, but to my surprise, I spoke at 7:15. By 7:30 the other of the two rooms, which was moving even faster, had completely finished their speaker list.

The Board will debate the budget at their meeting today. It starts at 11, but with the budget late on the agenda, it might be well into the afternoon before we know more.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Surface Transit. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions here are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.