On Sunday, WMATA released a preview of its budget proposal for next year. The “Reality Check Budget Plan,” as general manager Paul Wiedefeld is calling it, includes less frequent service, higher fares, and employee lay-offs.
Wiedefeld’s hope is that these moves will free up $50 million, which would go a long way toward closing WMATA’s
$275 $290 million budget gap. The plan also reflects Metro’s estimate that next year, ridership will be 20 percent below peak ridership levels in 2009.
On October 13, Metro presented an early glimpse at changes coming to the transit system. While some of the proposed changes that sparked public outcry, like closing stations during off-peak times, are not included, a lot of what WMATA staff is proposing is sure to turn heads.
There will be longer waits on Metrorail, and some bus service will cease
Under the new proposal, each line would run every 8 minutes during peak times (on weekdays from 5:00 am to 9:30 and from 3 pm to 7). At stations in the city center that are served by multiple lines (Blue-Orange-Silver, for example), trains would come every 2-4 minutes. On the Red Line, trains would run every 4 minutes between Silver Spring and Grosvenor.
This reduction in service takes each line’s frequency from the current 6 minute spacing to 8 minutes at peak. During off-peak times, the wait for each train would stretch to 15 minutes on every line.
Blue Line riders, however, would get a boost in service, as more trains would be added to help with congestion. Instead of running every 12 minutes, they’ll come every 8. But Rush+ service, which sends some extra trains from Franconia up the Yellow Line, providing more trains to Columbia Heights and other Green/Yellow stations, would be cut. Neither of these changes were in the October 13 proposal.
Metro also proposes eliminating the 14 bus lines with the lowest ridership. Here’s a list:
Notably, it looks like the idea of cutting Metroway BRT is off the table, at least for now.
The new proposal increases the minimum rail fare to $2 during off-peak times and $2.25 during peak times. The new maximum fare would go up a dime, to $6. Metrobus fares would increase by a quarter, to $2 per trip for one-way rides. Express fares would go up by a quarter, to $4.25. Parking will increase by a dime.
Metro will also lay off employees and cut health benefits
In the October 13 proposal, Metro said that it was already laying off 500 employees during FY 2017, which would net $25 million in savings for FY 2018. The new proposal moves that number to 1,000 employees (the 500 previously-mentioned ones plus 500 new ones).
The earlier proposal also suggested that some health benefits would change, such as higher premiums and adding deductibles, and that these were already underway in FY 2017 and will be complete in FY 2018. Though the new proposal does not have details about whether these specific changes are the ones being considered, it seems likely that they are.
Metro staff members meet with the board’s Finance Committee on Thursday, November 3. The Board of Directors will then meet in December discuss the proposal, and public meetings will begin in January 2017. A vote to actually pass the plan would be in March.
The proposal is already facing opposition.
In addition to answering questions about the cuts proposed here, Metro should also answer questions about the status of the proposal to cut late night service. While it isn’t directly related to this budget proposal, it does affect revenue because Metro should provide late night service in some capacity, whether it is through rail or bus.
If Metro opts to cut rail service during off-peak times but does not end late night service, riders are still looking at longer wait times. If Metro opts to end late night rail service but provides extended bus service, how does that affect any lines that might be getting the axe for lower ridership? Can those lines be altered and used elsewhere? Do they still get the axe?
Update: This post originally said WMATA’s budget gap was $275 million. It’s actually $290 million.