With sharply reduced ridership and lacking fresh federal relief, Metro is proposing a new operating budget with a nearly $500 million deficit. Here’s what to know.
NBC Washington’s Adam Tuss on Metro’s proposed budget cuts
With sharply reduced ridership and lacking fresh federal relief, Metro is proposing a new operating budget with a nearly $500 million deficit.
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said Monday the proposed 2021 budget includes closing metro rail at 9 p.m., ending weekend service, closing 19 stations and reducing the number of trains, which would result in longer wait times.
“We’re facing. obviously, a historic budget crisis. It started in (fiscal year) 21 and will continue in (fiscal year) 22,” Wiedefeld said.
Everything would be reduced to “bare bones service” meant to support essential travel, while ensuring Metro survives to serve the region during a recovery. Under the proposal, bus service would be reduced to about 45% of pre-pandemic levels. Weekend bus service would be increased to account for the lack of weekend rail service.
According to Metro’s budget proposal, the 19 stations that would close are:
- Arlington Cemetery
- Cleveland Park
- College Park
- East Falls Church
- Eisenhower Ave
- Federal Center SW
- Federal Triangle
- Judiciary Square
- Morgan Boulevard
- Mt Vernon Square
- Van Dorn Street
- Virginia Square
“This is by no means a doomsday scenario,” Weidefeld said. “It’s really not even a worst-case scenario. A worst-case would be if revenues stayed totally flat…a doomsday would be if we had to shut down service or something worse.”
Metro’s proposed FY2022 budget also includes salary freezes, layoffs and deferring wage increases for union employees.
The changes, if approved, would be effective in July.
WTOP has contacted the union representing Metro employees for comment.
While Metro is forecasting sharply lower revenue next year, its expenses are rising. In addition to employee benefits, the agency is still paying for the second phase construction of its Silver Line expansion while adopting expenses from its Cinder Bed Road Bus Garage.
Metro’s expenses have also grown because of the pandemic, as it has paid more than $10 million for testing, increased personal protective equipment and cleaning.
The transit agency said riders have slowly returned, with Wiedefeld saying current data show the return of 20-25% of the pre-pandemic ridership. While numbers are expected to increase next year, they plan to remain far below historic levels. Projections, Wiedefeld said, depend on the availability of a coronavirus vaccine and the willingness of riders to use the system.
The effects of the pandemic caused Metro to scale back its operations, with Metrorail opening at 5 a.m. and closing at 11 p.m. on weekdays. It received $876 million in federal funding in May through the CARES Act to help maintain a balanced budget, while scaling up its operations for reopening and providing coronavirus protection supplies to employees.
While the transit agency restored the majority of its rail and bus services to…