WASHINGTON – Maryland could eliminate bus lines, shorten routes and increase its Metro subsidy as it works with the District and Virginia to close a $29 million deficit in the regional transit authority’s budget year that begins June 1.
A proposal presented to Metro’s board Thursday contains $9.4 million in cuts to Metrobus service in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. It also adds $7 million to the $206 million in operating money Maryland provided to Metro for the current fiscal year.
The board approved allowing riders to comment on Maryland’s plan and those of the District and Virginia at a series of public hearings to be scheduled for next month, two in each jurisdiction.
“No one on this board wants to reduce our level of service,” said Peter Benjamin, a board member representing Montgomery County. “No one on this board wants to increase our fares.”
Maryland’s plan calls for eliminating the B27, B29/B31, C12/C14, C7/C9, R3 and W15 Metrobus lines. The plan also proposes shortening nine lines and decreasing the frequency on four others.
The biggest savings — almost $3 million after accounting for the loss of fare revenue — would come from trimming service on the Q2 line south of the Wheaton transit station and North of the Rockville station.
Another $1.2 million would be saved by the elimination of the R3 line between Greenbelt and Fort Totten. The state is also saying it could save $800,000 by ending the C12/C14 line, which runs between the Branch Avenue and Naylor Road stations on the commuter rail’s Green Line.
Marcell Solomon, who represents Prince George’s County, was the lone finance committee member to vote against forwarding the menu of cuts to the full board. The elimination of the C12/C14 and a reduction in frequency on the A12 line will hurt poor people in particular, Solomon said.
“Poor people are usually the last ones to receive service and now are one of the first to receive cuts,” Solomon said. “Prince George’s County is getting dumped on.”
Several board members also continued to advocate for a fare increase, an option opposed by Metro’s D.C. representatives.
Alexandria, Va., Mayor William Euille, lost a motion to have a 5 cent fare increase included among the options presented at the public hearings.
Constituents have been sending e-mails favoring increased fares over service cuts, Euille said.
“Limiting (options) to service cuts is not the way to go,” he said.
Several board members also argued that public input should have been sought before jurisdictions decided which bus lines to eliminate or change.
“These are tough choices, and I think they deserve options,” said Elizabeth Hewlett, who represents Prince George’s County and favors a fare increase.
“We need to hear what they have to say about this and maybe we can do some combination of the cuts and the fare increase or maybe we just go with the fare increase.”
Ben Ross, representing the transit riders coalition Transit First!, said Metro should have considered a fare increase.
“At this point, you’re down to where you can do it with a nickel on short rail trips and a dime on long rail trips,” he said.
Ross also supports using money from Metro’s capital budget, which is getting a $200 million boost from the recovery package.
“It would not be unreasonable to take something out of the capital budget … when we do have all this federal stimulus money,” he said.
But D.C. Councilman Jim Graham reiterated the District’s opposition to any fare increase for the 2010 fiscal year “The message I hear from people I represent is no fare increase,” he said.
Ross called Maryland’s cuts “drastic,” and said the reduced C4 service would be especially hard on Montgomery County riders.
“That’s a very common commute,” he said. “That’s actually the busiest bus line in all of the suburbs.”