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GREENBELT — In an effort to improve its fiscal year 2020 budget and Capital Improvement Strategic plan, Metro held its second of three public hearings to get feedback from the public on Jan. 31 at the Greenbelt Library.
Moderated by Board of Directors Member Michael Goldman, Chief Financial Officer Dennis Anosike and Metro Board Corporate Secretary Jennifer Ellison, a group of about 30 people attended, eight of whom gave their feedback, after a presentation by Anosike about the current plan for the budget.
“Metro, as we know, is an economic engine for the National Capital Region,” Anosike said. “It connects residents as well as visitors to the district, the state of Maryland and the Commonwealth of Virginia taking them to jobs, schools, housing as well as tourist destinations. But beyond Metro’s economic contributions, Metro also enables the region to reduce congestion in our roads.”
The proposed FY2020 budget totals $3.4 billion aligned with the vision to keep Metro safe, reliable and affordable, also referred to as KMSRA, according to Anosike. That is the statement Metro officials kept in mind when preparing the proposed budget.
Overall, the proposed budget identifies efficiencies required to limit the amount paid by jurisdictions and reflects anticipated ridership and revenue losses. It prioritizes safety, compliance, system preservation, improvements to customer experience and efforts to increase ridership.
The budget includes proposed changes to peak service times and fare changes. Hours of peak service will be changes to 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. adding an extra 30 minutes in the morning and 90 minutes in the evening. Proposed fare changes include the implementation of a $2 weekend flat fare on Metrorail and the reduced cost of 7-day bus passes to $15.
The budget also includes extended services where the organization wants to run all Yellow Line trains to Greenbelt instead of Mt. Vernon Square and extend the Red Line to Glenmont during weekday peak hours and weekends. Additionally, they would like to increase all trains to their maximum length of eight cars.
The Capital Improvement Program will invest $1.4 billion into safety and reliability improvements that include rebuilding the Metro system and improving efficiency to advance the safety of the system and modernization of facilities such as fare collection equipment, new platforms, escalator replacements and parking garage rehabilitation.
“All of these things will require regional support and Metro will be working with the region to try to try to implement this over the next few years,” Anosike said.
“So meeting the mandated three percent capital, as well as operating cap that the region recently implemented, will require serious effort on behalf of Metro and the 2020 budget alone requires Metro to reduce its operating cost by $46 million just to stay below the cap. Without those district changes, this $46 million will grow to $400 million by 2028 an amount that is almost half of Metro’s non-operating cost.”
Comments from the public varied from immense support for the budget initiatives to suggestions on how they could be better.
“It’s honestly a relief these days to see a new Metro budget that doesn’t include fare increases and service cuts,” said Dan Rowlands, a member of the Prince George’s County Advocates for Community-Based Transit.
Rowlands said he was glad to see the yellow line service extended to Greenbelt because it increases frequency of the rail service.
“I get the impression that for a lot of people, a major reason people aren’t riding Metro is the simple fact that, outside peak hours frequency (it) is pretty horrible these days, and increasing frequency for trains in any way can be done by eliminating the short stopping of the Yellow and the Red line or simply by increasing the frequency of evening and weekend service by a very large effect in increasing ridership.”
Bill Orleans agreed that frequency in Metro service was an issue. However, he was skeptical about the how well KMSRA has been implemented and felt that the safety initiatives should be more transparent.
“One might ask when we’re going to make the Metro safe, reliable and affordable,” he said. “A number of people, myself included, might question where we’re at the stage where metro is safe, reliable and affordable. Before we can begin to keep it that way, we should discern whether it is. I don’t think that it is.”
Three of the eight speakers spoke on behalf of the disabled community to ask for more representation in the budget and Capital Improvement Plan. The suggestions included more availability to Metro Access services, better accommodations for the blind, extended hours and possible collaboration between Metro and organizations such as the Commission For Persons With Disabilities.
Paul Semefort, a member of the Accessibility Advisory Committee, asked the Metro leaders to continue with improvements such as lighting and platform repairs which benefit the disabled and continue for the procurement of metro access vehicles with input from the disabled community on design.
Semefort was for the addition of all eight-car trains as if would benefit the disabled community, although Barbara Glick was one of those did not think eight-car trains were necessary.
“I’ve been on Metro many times, and there is one person in a car. Instead of going to eight cars, I would rather see the money go towards not keeping the fares up during peak hours if the trains become impossibly crowded,” the Greenbelt resident said.
Glick also touched on the idea that more effort should be made to get people who would typically drive cars onto the Metro. From an environmental standpoint, she said it would be more beneficial if fewer people were burning gas to drive cars.
“As somebody with a car, hopefully it will be my last car, I hear people say ‘well it’s so much easier to drive’ and I’d like to see Metro enticing enough so that it’s just not just people who don’t own cars who use it.”