Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hearing on Metro Budget Proposals in Arlington Tonight

As Metro officials face a $189 million budget gap for the 2011 fiscal year, this is their paradox:
  • If they propose service cuts, commuters will scream bloody murder.
  • If they propose fare increases, commuters will scream bloody murder.
  • If they ask for more funding, local politicians will scream bloody murder.
Metro officials are holding a public hearing tonight at 7pm at the Arlington County Board Office (2100 Clarendon Blvd, 3rd floor, above the Courthouse Metro). If you can't make the hearing, Metro has created an online survey to get public input about the budget options (note: the survey link didn't work for me just now, but I'm leaving it in the post in hopes it's a temporary glitch). The questionnaire only takes a few minutes & the results will be incorporated into the final staff report to the Metro Board later this month.

Both fare increases & service cuts are unfortunate options that will only discourage transit usage. So why is Metro even considering them? 

It certainly doesn't help that Metro has to ask three different jurisdictions for money, while most major transit systems are controlled by only one. That regularly leaves Metro short on cash, forcing them to squeeze resources from their riders & their budget (often cutting preventative maintenance funding). As today's Washington Post editorial points out, "Metro's ridership contributes about 55 percent of the system's $1.4 billion operating budget, more than the ridership of virtually any other major transit system in the nation. That contribution is set to rise as a result of stiff fare increases."

Looking at the big picture, local officials continually prioritize spending on new & existing roads over funding for Metro. Virginia officials have been practically begging Arlington to let them spend $75 million for "spot improvements" in hopes of improving traffic flow on I66, which carries only about 100,000 cars per day. But the Virginia General Assembly regularly balks at a dedicated funding source for Metro, which carries 1.2 million passenger trips per weekday at vastly lower costs to our public health & environment.

You get what you pay for. And if Virginia, Maryland & DC can't come together to give Metro the support it needs, the system will continue to struggle.

Photo via Flickr's ElvertBarnes
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