Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) GM Paul J. Wiedefeld released a revised Fiscal Year 2018 budget plan that lessens the impact of bus and rail service changes for riders, while maintaining “balanced sacrifice” by distributing contributions between the funding partners, WMATA management and employees, and customers.
“[We] listened very carefully to our customers who said they would prefer to pay a little more than lose key rail and bus services,” said Wiedefeld. “I recognize that even with some relief for customers, this proposal is tough medicine for the region, jurisdictions, riders, and Metro employees, all of whom must contribute to balance this budget.”
More than 11,000 members of the public participated in WMATA’s budget surveys and public hearing, and 54% of them rated the GM’s original proposal as “very” or “somewhat” fair. By a margin of more than two-to-one, participants said they prefer fare increases over service cuts.
Wiedefeld’ s revised plan would increase rail, bus, and parking fares for the fiscal year that begins July 1, as originally proposed; however, in response to concerns from riders, WMATA would keep its seven-day bus pass priced at $17.50, thereby allowing frequent bus riders to avoid the quarter per trip fare increase.
Other changes in the $1.82 billion revised proposal include:
- Rail service proposal would only reduce frequency in peak travel periods, such that trains would operate about every eight minutes on all lines.
- Off-peak rail service reductions originally proposed would not be implemented.
- More than $5 million in bus service changes have been withdrawn from the revised plan, mostly adding back routes in MD and VA that had been proposed for reduction or elimination.
- No paratransit rider is left behind. All MetroAccess riders whose home address is eligible for service today, would continue to receive paratransit service. No bus routes are eliminated that would leave paratransit customers outside the current service zone.
- Lifeline bus service is added to support riders impacted by the change in late-night rail service hours.
These revisions were made possible by funding some eligible rail car parts through the capital budget, thereby reducing pressure on the operating budget. Under the revised plan, WMATA is seeking increased support from the funding jurisdictions, from about $845 million in Fiscal Year 2017 to about $976 million in Fiscal Year 2018.
Notably, the budget would also enable Wiedefeld to use savings from his employee absenteeism initiative to establish a trust of up to $3 million for OPEB (unfunded retiree health care benefits).
The revised budget plan includes $1.25 billion for Fiscal Year 2018 capital investments as originally proposed to support WMATA’s safety and reliability improvements. The capital budget would invest in 7000-series cars to replace 1000-, 4000-, and 5000- series cars; rehabilitation and maintenance of the better-performing legacy fleet; investments in station escalators, elevators, and lighting; and new buses and paratransit vehicles.
The GM’s revised budget proposal will be considered by the Board’s Finance Committee at its meeting on Thursday, March 9. It is anticipated that the full board will vote on the FY18 budget at its meeting on March 23.