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Metro board wary of proposed fare increase

November 2, 2018

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s budget for fiscal 2020 includes several service improvements, but some Metro Board members are wary of a proposed fare increase.

Mr. Wiedefeld’s budget calls for extending rush-hour service, replacing six-car trains with eight cars, eliminating Green Line turnbacks and imposing a $2 flat weekend fare. The estimated $30 million cost, he says, can be offset by $10 million worth of revenue, leaving Maryland, Virginia and the District to pony up the remaining $20 million.

Metro Board member Michael Goldman, who represents Maryland, proposed raising fares by 3 percent to 4 percent to cover the costs.

He likened it to Whole Foods, suggesting that riders would be willing to pay “a little more for this increased quality of service.”

“I don’t support fare increases, period,” said board Chairman Jack Evans. “The District doesn’t support it.”

Steve McMillin, a federal appointee to the board, indicated that he also wants to see alternatives to increasing the financial burden on local jurisdictions so soon after they already contributed $500 million in dedicated funding to restore and repair the transit system.

Virginia’s share of the dedicated funding agreement comes with a binding agreement for Metro not to raise operating costs by more than 3 percent within a year, but it contains exceptions for purely service-related costs like the general manager is proposing.

Mr. Wiedefeld told The Washington Times after Thursday’s board meeting that the plan is the agency’s “best chance” to restore ridership, which has fallen steadily over the past decade amid ongoing construction, service cutbacks and competition from ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft.

“I think it’s just common sense that if you provide a better product, people want to use it,” he said.

The fiscal 2020 budget would restore late-night service, which was reduced two years ago.

Mr. Evans said there is one way to cover the $20 million cost: make the federal government pay up.

“I have never seen such an outpouring of congressional support for anything as I saw for the RAC,” he said, referring to the four senators who wrote to him to save the Riders Advisory Council from the board’s plan to ax it last month.

“Given the interest of our congressional delegations’ in Metro, it is clear to me that they should step up to the plate,” said Mr. Evans. “If they want to have some influence, give me my $300 million they owe me.”

The board is expected to vote on a revised budget in March after the public has a chance to share their thoughts during hearings likely to be scheduled in January and February.

On Thursday, Metro’s real estate manager, Nina Albert, briefed the board on the agency’s plan to relocate its headquarters from the Jackson Graham Building in Chinatown to the 150,000 square-foot Reporters Building at 300 Seventh Street SW near L’Enfant Plaza. Ms. Albert said the agency got a “good deal” and negotiated down the $59 million asking price.

The move is part of Metro’s plan to save $130 million in operating and capital costs by executing a ground lease on Jackson Graham and spreading its offices to three buildings in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

Asked if the transit agency plans to boot the popular pizza parlor and barbershop that have operated in the Reporters Building for the last decade, Ms. Albert told The Times that she wasn’t sure “in the long term” but Metro plans to keep them for now.

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