WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Metro Board of Directors unanimously voted to not increase fares when it approved its operating and capital budgets for Fiscal Year 2019, providing at least one year of fare relief after an increase to fares last year.
Finance committee chairman Michael Goldman, who represents Montgomery County, said a highlight in the approved operating budget was the absence of service cuts and fare increases.
“[Maintaining fares and service levels], that reduced the amount of controversy and it also sticks to the general manager’s commitment to keep the subsidy [request] increase to the jurisdictions to 3 percent from the prior year,” Goldman said Thursday.
WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld in his proposed FY ’19 budget said he planned to put a 3 percent cap, or limit, on the semi-annual increase in operating budget requests to the funding jurisdictions. A year ago, Metro’s Board of Directors approved and adopted the Fiscal Year 2018 budget, which included fare increases to both bus and rail. The Metro Board raised fares for FY ’18 by 25 cents per bus trip and about 10 cents per mile on Metrorail. Spokesperson Dan Stessel said at the time it was the first fare increase in three years, and that normally the board of directors follows a model of increasing fares every other year.
The board’s newly-adopted budget included money to retain existing rail service levels rather than piling on additional service cuts. After the board approved Wiedefeld’s proposed cuts to service on select lines – making fewer trains run per hour – for FY ’18, the board did not opt to increase train headways farther in the FY ’19 budget.
On Thursday, the board approved the Fiscal Year 2019 capital budget, which funds construction projects and repairs. Wiedefeld in his proposed FY ’19 budget asked for $500 million in annual dedicated funding for capital projects from the funding jurisdictions D.C., Maryland and Virginia. The money had to be a “dedicated funding,” or money on which Metro managers could sell bonds. They voted to approve the six-year capital improvements plan as well.
D.C. Council member and Metro Board chairman Jack Evans (Ward 2) said he is hopeful that Metro Board members will soon be able to say they have dedicated funding for the transit system, according to a funding formula for how much each jurisdiction contributes. Maryland is the remaining jurisdiction whose legislature is pending approving the funding.
Evans said Virginia and D.C. governments passed and approved dedicated funding for $154 million, and $178.5 million, respectively.
“Now it switches to Maryland, and hopefully they will be able to come through with their share of the formula, which I believe is $167-plus million dollars, and that will get us to the $500 million that we need to proceed,” Evans said last Thursday.
Governor Larry Hogan earlier this month said he supported the idea of a dedicated funding source for Metro.
Goldman said he did not expect the jurisdictions would all pass legislation for the dedicated funding in time for the upcoming fiscal year, but that dedicated funding seems imminent – if Maryland legislators pass the legislation which would reserve for Metro at least $150 million in funding from Maryland’s Transportation Trust Fund.
“I think this is a big achievement that all the jurisdictions came together to do it this year,” Goldman said of the legislation’s progress. “I personally thought it wouldn’t get done until next year, but I’m pleasantly surprised that it both happened in Virginia – new governor, new legislature – and Maryland this year where we’re in an election year. So, I think there’s still some tweaking that has to be done between jurisdictions.”
Wiedefeld has said part of the reason he pressed for the dedicated funding was because the organization may lose a critical source of funding for the CIP within a year – after the final fiscal year of a federal grant called the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) ends. The general manager, then, will need millions more dollars from the jurisdictions annually to fund Metro’s capital projects. Wiedefeld told the Maryland Senate Public Safety, Transportation, and Environment Committee this month those projects are safety-related and he couldn’t delay them.