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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Riders at three Red Line Metro stations will see a doubling of rush hour service starting July 1, thanks to Metro’s Board of Directors unanimously approving its fiscal year 2020 budget March 28.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) Board of Directors passed a $3.5 billion budget for the fiscal year (FY) 2020, with the operating budget of $1.95 billion and $1.55 billion for the capital program. The board also passed the FY 2020-2025 Capital Improvements Program of $9.24 billion.
“We were able to pass the budget with increased service without the need for an increase in fares,” said Board Member Clarence Crawford, who represents Maryland.
The service increase includes ending the historic Silver Spring turn-backs so that all Red Line trains will travel to the end-station Glenmont during rush hour.
The Red Line change will double rush hour service at Forest Glen, Wheaton and Glenmont stations, which are all located in Montgomery County. Currently, riders at those stations must wait twice as long as they would at other Red Line stations due to the turnbacks.
Red Line riders have been experiencing the turn-backs at Silver Spring since 1984 due to a shortage of railcars. Service changes will take effect on July 1. Yellow Line riders will also see increased service through an extension of stations served by trains on the line.
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said FY 2020 would be the first year Metro will spend money that came from the three jurisdictions’ money that they set aside for Metro’s capital budget. Wiedefeld, board members and legislators call the set-aside capital money “dedicated funding.” Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia made history when lawmakers passed similar legislation in 2018 to commit to dedicating funding to Metro.
The fact that Metro will receive dedicated funding means that Wiedefeld and Metro officials can sell bonds on the money that the agency is scheduled to receive.
Maryland and Virginia legislation on dedicated funding, or money set aside for Metro’s capital budget, mandates that their jurisdictions are supposed to have no more than a 3-percent increase on operating subsidy to Metro from one year to the next. Wiedefeld calls the limit a “cap.”
Unlike Maryland and Virginia lawmakers, D.C. legislators did not put a clause in its dedicated funding bill to require a three percent cap on operating subsidy increases.
Despite the cap, some costs are exceptions to the three percent cap rule, like providing MetroAccess to older riders and drug testing employees. Therefore, Maryland’s operating subsidy will increase slightly more- by 4.3 percent – compared to Fiscal Year 2019’s budget.
“It’s a 4.3 percent increase (for Maryland’s subsidy to Metro),” Montgomery County Board Member Michael Goldman said after the meeting. “It’s three percent (increase) which is the cap. The other 1.3 percent is the so-called legislative exclusions, and those this year were a further run-up in MetroAccess costs and a requirement for drug and alcohol testing (of employees).”
The subsidy increase for Maryland’s contribution was proposed to be even larger than 4.3 percent when Wiedefeld first presented his budget, Goldman said. However, the board amended the budget to cut $37 million for an increase to service on the Silver Line, since the construction of the extension of the Silver Line is not ready for service because it has been riddled with problems such as improper concrete installation.
Management decisions totaling $47 million are what limited to subsidy increases a three percent increase, according to a memorandum to the board of directors for the March 28 meeting.
Crawford said working around the operating budget caps are just part of the budget process.
“It’s one of those things that you just have to work through,” said Crawford, on the three percent cap.
The board also approved a service increase on the Yellow Line, in which a turn-back will be replaced with extended service to Greenbelt Station. Currently, rush hour trains turn back at Mt. Vernon Square Station and trains turn back at Fort Totten Station at all other times. The change will extend every Yellow Line train to Greenbelt.
Wiedefeld has said he hopes the service increases will bring riders back after declines in rail ridership during the last few years.
Service increases and no fare hikes are not the only way the general manager has sought to increase ridership for FY 2020. The budget also includes ways to attract riders through reduced prices for special bus and rail passes, such as the one-day unlimited combo rail and bus pass, which will become $13, down from $14.75. The Monthly SelectPass, for rail, will have unlimited Metrobus added to it. For bus passes, the seven-day regional bus pass will drop to $15 from $17.50 and the seven-day regional senior or disabled bus pass will be reduced from $8.75 to $7.50. Wiedefeld has said he proposed those changes to attract people who may have left the system and draw new riders to bus and rail.
Goldman said he is happy to support the proposed budget. Then he said that in FY 2020, Maryland will contribute a larger subsidy than either the District or Virginia, at $431 million.
Maryland’s contribution will be 10 percent higher than the budget the board approved a year ago for Fiscal Year 2019 because WMATA had not settled the collective bargaining agreement with one of its unions yet, Goldman said. The board subsequently amended the budget for Fiscal Year 2019 to “reflect the increases for the (Amalgamated Transit Union) Local 689 wage increase and the MetroAccess costs,” which came after budget approval, said Goldman.