Metrorail’s proposed budget: No fare hike, longer trains, more service

It looks like a big win for Metrorail riders if the budget proposed Monday by Metro’s General Manager is okayed.

Paul Wiedeneld’s budget holds the line on fares, creates a flat $2 fare for all weekend trips and increases the length of all trains to eight cars. It also lengthens the morning and evening rush-hour time and expands the frequency of rush-hour train arrivals at several stations on the Yellow and Red Lines.

“The past year has been about demonstrating to customers that we are getting Metro ‘back to good,’” Wiedefeld says in a news release. “Now, we have to get better than good as we work to attract and retain customers. While there are a number of improvements such as pass discounts and automatic train operations that we can do within the new cap on subsidy growth, the service improvements I am including in this budget will need the region’s support and the Board’s approval.”

The budget proposal will be discussed by the WMATA Board of Directors’ Finance Committee this week. The full Board will continue the discussions over the next two months. Public hearings and outreach are expected to be scheduled in early 2019, prior to final budget approval by the Board in the spring. The final budget takes effect July 1, 2019.

Here are the details of Metro’s proposed budget:

Subject to Board approval, the General Manager’s recommendations would:

1. Expand rush hour service periods. Trains would run at more-frequent rush hour service levels for an additional 30 minutes each morning (until 10 a.m.) and an additional 90 minutes each evening (until 8:30 p.m.). The move would reduce the time customers wait for trains and make Metro a more attractive option for customers who commute later in the morning, as well as those using Metro for evening activities. The GM’s budget does not include any fare increases, and this recommendation would not change the hours when peak fares are charged.

2. Reduce weekend fares to a flat $2 on Metrorail. Under the GM’s proposal, any Metrorail trip on Saturday or Sunday would cost $2, regardless of distance, in recognition of the necessary maintenance and rebuilding work that often affects weekend schedules. The $2 fare creates an attractive option for value-conscious travelers in the region, including visitors. Seniors and people with disabilities would pay $1 per trip.

3. Extend Yellow Line service to Greenbelt. Today, Yellow Line trains turn back at Mt. Vernon Square during rush hours and at Fort Totten at all other times. The GM’s recommendation would extend every Yellow Line train to Greenbelt, which would double service during rush hours and address current crowding conditions at the nine stations north of Mt Vernon Square (Shaw-Howard, U Street, Columbia Heights, Georgia Ave-Petworth, Fort Totten, West Hyattsville, Prince George’s Plaza, College Park, and Greenbelt). During off-peak times, the four stations north of Fort Totten would see an increase in service. Many current Green Line customers traveling to Yellow Line stations in Virginia (such as Reagan National Airport) would be able to make the trip without changing trains.

4. Run all Red Line trains to Glenmont. Currently, some Red Line trains “turn back” at Silver Spring, while others operate to the end of the line at Glenmont. In a move intended to simplify Metro’s service pattern for customers while increasing service at another three Red Line stations (Glenmont, Wheaton, and Forest Glen), Wiedefeld will recommend running all Red Line trains to Glenmont. The proposal would complement a related service enhancement on the Shady Grove end of the Red Line: Beginning December 17, all Red Line trains will begin/end at Shady Grove, instead of some turning back at Grosvenor. As a result, rush-hour service levels will double at four stations: Shady Grove, Rockville, Twinbrook, and White Flint.

5. Expand all trains to the maximum length of 8 cars. The GM’s budget recommends that all trains be increased to their maximum length of eight cars to increase capacity and reduce crowding. The move would also allow Metro to simplify its yard and maintenance operations by standardizing trainsets (i.e. reducing the need to continually add and remove cars to trains).

6. Lower the price of passes. The GM’s budget includes making rail and bus passes a better value for customers in a number of ways. First, the proposal adds unlimited bus trips to all current visitor passes and SelectPass (unlimited monthly) products. In addition, the price of 7-Day Unlimited Regional Bus Pass would drop from $17.50 to $15, and the cost of a 1-Day Pass (which would include unlimited rail and bus) would drop to $13 (currently $14.75) and the cost of a 7-Day Pass would drop to $58 (currently $60) and include unlimited bus, as well. Finally, Metro would add a new $28 3-Day pass providing unlimited rail and bus travel.

7. Demonstrate Metro’s commitment to customers and improve accountability by expanding Metro’s Rush Hour Promise service guarantee to include delays of 10 minutes or more. Today, customers who register their SmarTrip cards receive a Metro credit for future travel if they experience a qualifying delay of 15 minutes or more. In recognition of the fact that Metro is becoming even more reliable, the GM’s proposal would not only continue Rush Hour Promise, but enhance it to include delays of 10 minutes or more. The Rush Hour Promise program is a first among rail transit systems, as it is entirely automated with no claim forms. Customers need only register their SmarTrip card to take advantage of the service guarantee.

 

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Ed Tobias
Ed Tobias brings more than four decades of reporting and news management experience to his work at FairfaxNews. Tobias managed news coverage for Associated Press Radio for over twenty years.  This included coverage of the 9/11 attacks, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the death of Princess Diana, the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters and national election primaries, conventions and campaigns.  He was part of the team that built AP’s on-line video operation. Prior to joining AP, Tobias was News Director at all-news WTOP in Washington, D.C. He has won two Ohio State Awards for his reporting and producing and he led coverage that won an Edward R. Murrow Award.