Metro Officials Dismiss Idea of 5-Cent Increase

Agency proposes bus cuts instead

Would you rather be nickeled and dimed, or would you rather see service cuts?  That's the question Metro officials are trying to figure out.  So far, they're in favor of eliminating service.

While New York City's mass transit agency recently approved a 50-cent hike in fares, Metro on Thursday rejected a proposal to consider a 5-cent fare increase as the transit agency scrambles to close a multimillion dollar budget shortfall.

Instead, board members will look to plug the gap by reducing bus service.

Public hearings will be held next month on the proposed cuts, which could affect 42 bus lines. The proposals include eliminating 10 lines, while another 12 lines could have some segments eliminated. Others could see larger gaps in service.

Subway service will not be affected. The earliest the service cuts would take effect is late June.

Metro is facing a $29 million budget gap. Reducing bus service is expected to save the transit agency more than $13 million; the rest of the gap would be closed by increased subsidies from the jurisdictions served by Metro.

Besides cutting bus service, Maryland and Virginia board members pushed to have passengers weigh in on a possible fare increase, saying they should have more options.

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"I've had a lot of people say to me I'd rather pay an extra nickel or dime" rather than have service cut, said board member Chris Zimmerman, who represents Arlington, Va.

But District of Columbia officials vetoed the idea. They noted the agency raised fares last year and that another increase should come only as a last resort.

"This is a rough economy," said board chairman Jim Graham, who represents D.C. "There's no sense in agitating people needlessly."

Board members opposed using about $200 million in federal stimulus money to close the shortfall, arguing that the use of one-time funds would simply push problems into the following year. They said that money also is needed to help maintain the aging system.

Transit agencies nationwide are facing budget gaps because of the economic downturn, which has meant less local tax revenue is available to fund expenses. On Wednesday, New York City's transit agency voted to increase the base fare on subways and buses from $2 to $2.50. Two subway lines and 35 bus routes will be eliminated entirely.

Metro initially reported a budget gap of $154 million, prompting an independent committee of regional transportation officials to come up with possible cuts that included closing the subway system several hours early.

But officials have slashed the transit agency's shortfall through other means such as administrative cuts, which have included 313 job layoffs.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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