Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld proposed Thursday a $3.4 billion fiscal 2020 budget that includes a $2 weekend flat fare for rail, expanded rush-hour service, eight-car trains systemwide and, perhaps most importantly, no fare increases.
“When we look at successful systems around the world, they provide a high quality of service,” Wiedefeld said to reporters after the board of directors’ Finance and Capital Committee session. “We have to start moving back in that direction.”
During the session at the agency’s headquarters in northwest D.C., Wiedefeld laid out several new initiatives:
• Expanding rush-hour train service for an additional 30 minutes in the morning until 10 a.m. and an additional 90 minutes in the evening until 8:30 p.m.
• Extending Yellow Line service to Greenbelt. The line currently reverses course at Mt. Vernon Square during rush hour and Fort Totten in D.C. at all times.
• Running all Red Line trains to Glenmont in Silver Spring.
As for bus service, prices for a seven-day bus pass would decrease from $17.50 to $15 and unlimited rides would be permitted for all visitor passes and the agency’s SelectPass products.
Historically, the agency has increased fares every two years. Riders have complained in recent years about unreliable and infrequent service.
“What I heard today was no fare increase and an increase in services. There’s are things that I think are good for the region,” alternate board member Malcolm Augustine, who represents Prince George’s County, said after the committee meeting. “A [fare increase] is not good for the system. We’re trying to regain trust [and] trying to get people to come back.”
His Maryland colleague, Michael Goldman, did suggest a fare increase in order to pay for the proposed improvements, estimated to cost $20 million a year.
“It’s like the Whole Foods rule: if you’re getting a better, quality product, [then] you should be willing to pay more,” Goldman said. “People go to Whole Foods, and for organic tomatoes they’re willing to pay a little more than Jersey tomatoes.”
D.C. Councilman and Metro board chairman Jack Evans immediately shot down a fare increase proposal, especially in the District where Metro “is a necessity.”
“I don’t have to go to Whole Foods,” Evans said. “I go to Safeway because I don’t want to pay more.”
Other parts of the budget include $1.4 billion in capital projects to upgrade track and rail infrastructure, purchase of new buses and other improvements.
The board may authorize a public hearing on the budget Dec. 13.
In the meantime, some board members want Wiedefeld to supply more information on his proposals.
“I appreciate that people look at the service-level changes that have been proposed are prepared to fully endorse them. I am not,” said board member Christian Dorsey, who represents Arlington County, Virginia. “We’re going to have to go to work on this. We’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and really make some interesting trade-offs to do the detailed work to analyze this very effectively.”
The budget proposal also would include money to purchase a 150,000-square-foot office building in Southwest across the street from the L’Enfant Plaza station as Metro’s new headquarters. The station serves five of the six Metrorail lines, the Virginia Railway Express and several bus lines.
Nina Albert, the agency’s managing director of real estate, said the current location at the Jackson Graham Building in Northwest hasn’t been renovated since it opened in 1974. The purchase would save Metro $130 million over 20 years and reduce the total office footprint by 100,000 square feet.
The agency would also open regional offices in Maryland and Virginia.
Albert said the building opened in 1964 and once housed NASA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but is currently vacant.
A developer purchased the building in 2006 for $59 million, but Metro may spend less than that to purchase it, she said. Because negotiations remain ongoing to purchase the building this month, no prices were disclosed last week.
“It’s a good deal for Metro,” she said. “Because this is in the heart of the transit system, it makes … sense for Metro to be located there.”