Dozens of Metro riders blasted the transit agency during a public hearing Monday evening for its proposed $1.8 billion fiscal 2018 budget, which cuts 1,000 positions, increases fares and significantly decreases bus service.
Officials said the drastic cuts are necessary to bridge a $290 million budget gap, but that didn’t stop residents and union officials from all three jurisdictions in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia from criticizing the agency’s plan, especially the proposal to eliminate several bus routes.
Linda Wood of Fort Washington, Maryland, demanded Metro board members and officials not eliminate three bus routes in her area, especially since she doesn’t enjoy riding Metrorail.
Marquitta Winston of Clinton, Maryland, spoke more succinctly on why she uses public transportation as a research assistant at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda.
“Traffic [on the road] is evil,” she said Monday after waiting nearly three hours to give her testimony during the hearing at Metro’s headquarters in northwest D.C.
Fare increases also came under scrutiny during Monday’s hearing. Some of the proposed increases are one-way bus fares from $1.75 to $2 and Express bus fares by 25 cents; Metrorail peak fares to board a train from $2.15 to $2.25 with the maximum fare at $6; and all parking fees would increase by 10 cents.
But the majority of testimony focused on the bus route changes.
Indian Head Mayor Brandon Paulin said the W19 bus route remains the only viable public transportation option for Charles County residents to travel into the District.
While Paulin spoke, some members of Amalgamate Transit Union Local 689 hoisted signs toward the board members and officials present that read, “No service cuts. No fare hikes. No layoffs,” and “WMATA, who will ride when you push all of the riders away?”
The union distributed a two-sided document labeled the “People’s Agenda for Metro” regarding the budget with recommendations and opinions from three public sessions various unions held this month in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and Arlington, Virginia.
The listed items include:
• The region needs more service, not less in Prince George’s County;
• Buses are important because they provide necessary gaps fillings when there are failures on the rail side in Northern Virginia; and
• The front-line workers deal with the good, bad and ugly, all while sacrificing time with their families.
Raymond Jackson, second vice president with Local 689, praised board member Malcolm Augustine for being the only official to attend one of the union’s three meetings this month, but maintained that union members and patrons will make their voices are heard if Metro’s board of directors approves the budget in March.
“You don’t hear us right now, but you will hear us at the next election,” he said.
Some questioned why Monday’s hearing, which began roughly 5 p.m. and ended just after 9 p.m., is the only scheduled public forum on the subject, though Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said customers can take surveys at various Metrorail stations and submit comments via online surveys, which can still be done by 9 a.m. Feb. 6.
“It’s excellent to hear directly from the customer and different stakeholders, so that’s very good,” Wiedefeld said. “It’s trying to reach that balance in reaching everyone and I think we got that tonight.”