Metro will start scaling back rail service next year after the agency’s Board of Directors approved a set of budget cuts necessitated by revenue shortfalls and the COVID-19 pandemic’s grip on public transportation.
The Washington Post reported that Metro has suffered a $176 million budget shortfall during the pandemic since CARES Act funding expired at the end of July. The Post reported that Metro will backtrack to “less-frequent” rail service and will once again start collecting fares on Metrobuses around January.
Bus rides have been free during the recent months of the pandemic, as passengers could bypass fare boxes and enter through the back of the bus for social distancing purposes.
With passengers now entering through the front of the bus, officials will install plastic shields between bus operators and entryways to keep vehicles safe and socially distant, the Post reported.
Students in D.C. anticipated the oncoming service cuts earlier this fall, fearing how the changes might complicate travel schedules for local commuters.
Metro’s board also approved a buyout plan where retirement-eligible employees can receive a $15,000 bonus for leaving the agency, as officials hope to terminate 1,400 positions and offset expenses to account for its budget deficit, according to the Post. The report states that although Metro has about 2,000 retirement-eligible employees, officials don’t expect to relinquish all 1,400 positions through the buyout proposal – meaning layoffs, which would start with non-unionized employees, would still remain an option.
Michael Goldman, one of Metro’s board members, said the buyout plan will still help the agency cut fewer jobs than originally expected, as officials first projected a loss of 1,700 working positions.
“I want to commend management for announcing a buyout proposal that will essentially encourage people at retirement age with a buyout bonus to retire early, so there won’t have to be — or at least we will be able to minimize — the number of involuntary job losses that will result from Metro employees,” he said in a release.
Workers with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, the largest union representing Metro employees, said Metro officials should have waited for additional funding to roll in following the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris before formalizing budget cut plans, according to the Post.
Paul Smedberg, the chair of the board, told the Post that officials couldn’t afford to delay budget cuts until receiving a potential relief package from the next administration. The Post reported that the funding maintaining Metro’s current service levels is set to expire around March 1.
“Without any degree of certainty for federal funding or federal relief for transit agencies, the reality is we have to deal with the situation that’s before us right now,” Smedberg said. “And while it’s very difficult, we had to make that decision. Unfortunately, we can’t wait two months or three months.”