D.C. residents weigh in on Metro’s budget woes

Beltway residents packed into a Columbia Heights church Thursday to discuss remedies to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s $189.2 million budget shortfall for the 2011 fiscal year.

Stacked at the back of the hall were around 50 253-page packets, which laid out the gap-closing measures proposed by Metro’s outgoing general manager John Catoe. The proposal includes both fare increases and service reductions, which together is expected to completely fill the budget shortfall.

WMATA’s Board of Directors voted earlier this year to levy a 10-cent fare increase from March to July, but the Board will decide soon what will be done to close the still looming budget gap before the fiscal year starts July 1.

“There have been six hearings over the past couple weeks, and we’re

compiling evidence from them,” said Steven Taubenkibel, a Metro spokesperson.

One profit-increasing measure planned to make riders who do not pay with a SmarTrip card pay a higher fare. Another change would be a decrease in the age children can ride Metrorail for free. For now, children under age three can ride for free.

The most controversial part about the proposition is the decrease in services. Under the proposal shared Thursday, Metro would operate on reduced hours. Some parts of stations, like McPherson Square West and Shaw Howard University South would close earlier and three stations-Morgan Boulevard, Cheverly and Deanwood – would not be open on weekends.

Many people at the meeting spoke out against the service cuts outlined in the budget proposal.

“The impact on economic development in the [Shaw] neighborhood that would result from ending the Yellow line extension to Fort Totten and late night weekend service through the area would end up costing jobs and potentially loss of businesses in the area and also tax revenue for the District government,” said Alexander Padro, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in the Shaw neighborhood.

At the hearings, citizens had two minutes each to give their opinion and recommendations to the panel of Metro officials. Some who spoke were former Metro employees, like Mike Golash, a retired Metro bus driver.

“Metro needs more money. That money cannot come from the fares because people just can’t afford to pay much more. The local businesses, the federal government and developers have to pay their fair share,” Golash said.

“I came here primarily to save bus service and hold the fares down so as to prevent the layoffs of Metro employees,” he said of his reason for attending the hearing.

Metro is continuing to encourage Metro riders to take a survey that allows people to give their opinion on what should be done to close the budget gap.

So far 2,800 people have taken the survey, which can be accessed from Metro’s Web site.

Metro’s Board of Directors meets next on April 8.

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