Does Anyone Care About the Metro Budget?
Last night we held the first installment of our budget workshops. The evening consisted of a Public Comment period, and a Budget 101 presentation.
We received great press announcing the meeting. We were in Dr. Gridlock, and Sprawl & Crawl, we also had other mentions in the Post, Express and Examiner. We showed up on the back page of the Express in the Metro Buzz, we had a press release go out, and we posted 100’s of posters and flyers. We also showed up in a number of Lists and Blogs.
The net result of this press coverage was three (3) public commenters, 1 observer, 2 press members, 5 RAC members, and 5 Metro Staff.
I believe that the public is not as concerned about the budget as they should be, based on the assurances they have received from the WMATA Board and the GM. We on the RAC have our doubts that there won’t be some form of fare increases and service cuts. Mr. Catoe is going to have a difficult time finding $64M to trim from his budget.
Salaries and benefits for Administrative and Management Staff is $252M. Will he recommend a 25% decrease in Staff?
The Advertising revenue is $35M. Will he recommend a 3-times increase in advertising on Buses, Trains and in Stations?
The operating subsidy from MD, DC, and VA is $500M. Will he insist that the taxpayers foot the bill by increasing the subsidy by 13%?
Metro HQ has 430,000 SF of prime real estate. Will he propose selling the property at $174/SF for $75M? Or will he rent it out at $35/SF for $15M. Where will he put the Administrative and Management Staff?
The RAC believes that our workshops as an independent effort involving public participation can generate alternative recommendations for use in FY08 and in future year budgets. This is your opportunity to generate innovative and creative ideas that will improve the quality of Metro services, expand peak capacity, increase the use of under utilized resources, and rationalize fares.
Three ideas that have already started to take form are:
increased non-fare revenue from sensible advertising and expanded ATMs;
improvements to the SmarTrip program to move away from cash; and
free or significantly reduced parking fees and/or reverse commute fares to encourage re-use of evening off-peak utilization of the rail system.
If Metro chooses to increase Advertising, what level is appropriate? Twice the billboards? Three times? Banners in every station? Increased bus adds? Only Electronic signage? Wait for an integrated communications system? How many Trains should be wrapped? How many Busses should be wrapped?
How many new ATMs should be installed? Should Metro sell naming rights to stations?
Should we open Metro to all cell phone companies? Wait for an integrated communications system, that would upgrade Metro to electric signage (LCD Panels) paid for by the cell phone company(ies)? Should enhanced phone service be free or paid for? Do we want wi-fi, and broadcasts?
Should we recommend a change to the food and drink policy? Should Metro generate revenue from kiosks in the stations selling magazines, souvenirs, food, coffee, donuts? Should we put a hotdog stand in the last car of each 8 car train?
What is a sensible SmarTrip policy? Should cards be free? Should the cost of not using them be increased to $2.00 per bus trip? Should transfers only be allowed using SmarTrip? Should new policies only be put in place once SmarTrip is available at CVS, Giant, Safeway, etc? Should add fares be at stores, Banks, elsewhere? Add fare on the Internet, tied to credit cards (like eazy-pass), on busses?
Should daily fares be capped? If so at $10, $12, $15? Should parking be free on entry after 4:30? 5:30? 2:30? Reduced to $1.00, $2.00?
Should bus fares be held as is? Should train fares be raised? Made more sensible? Include a congestion tax? Reduced fares for reverse commute? Capped daily? Changed to three tiers?
Should Metro go Green on all electrical needs? Invest in solar? Sell rights to install solar? Sell to the power grid? Wait for new technology tied to train inertia?
Should under performing bus routes be eliminated, reduced, and the vehicles re-assigned to support express bus, and over utilized routes? Should riders whose routes are eliminated be compensated? Offered metro access? Offer taxi chits? Should a taxi-like, on-demand service be established to cover late night service? It could be cheaper than running empty busses?
Should we aggressively endorse higher subsidy from jurisdictions? At what cost to tax payers? Schools? Highways? Public Health? Other Services?
What have we forgotten?
All these ideas need to be vetted and prioritized. They all have an impact on the budget and can raise revenue, decrease costs, or impact riders!
We welcome all Metro Customers as participants in the workshops during the next two Saturdays; or you may send your comments to RACcomments@wmata.com.
I. Michael Snyder
Chair, Riders’ Advisory Council