Metro’s board of directors plan to vote on a $3.5 billion fiscal year 2020 budget Thursday without a fare increase and keep the current Metrorail hours intact.
One controversial item the transit agency proposes is a $1 million pilot program to work with ride-sharing companies and taxi services to help the commute of late-night workers, primarily in the hospitality and health care industries.
Commuters would receive the first $3 of the fare with a maximum of 10 trips per week between midnight and 4 a.m. within Metro’s service area.
“The system is safer and more reliable today as a result of the robust preventive maintenance work we are doing during those critical overnight hours,” said Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld. “At the same time, we understand that Metro is a vital link for many late-night workers. That’s why we are looking at innovative ways to provide affordable transportation for workers while balancing our commitment to safety.”
But some people disagree.
“That is effectively a fare increase doing a subsidy program for Uber and Lyft,” said Basav Sen, climate justice policy director for the D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies. “You get $3, but if your ride is $20, then you are paying $17 for a ride. How is that fair?”
Sen, who wrote a letter to Metro criticizing the subsidize plan, also said Uber has a shoddy track record for riders with disabilities. Disability advocates sued in various states such as New York for not providing enough wheelchair accessible vehicles.
In addition, he says some state lawmakers must possess “more political will power” to pass stronger regulations against companies such as Uber and Lyft to assist riders with disabilities, transit workers rights and other public transportation concerns.
“We must do more and stand up for what is right,” he said.
Meanwhile, Uber announced in November to provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAV) through MV Transportation, a third-party company with additional fleet that provides commuter trips of 15 minutes or less in New York City, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Toronto.
The plan will be to attribute those commute times in San Francisco and Los Angeles this year. The eight cities account for half of Uber’s trip in North America, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a Nov. 20 letter.
“We’re committed to making accessibility a meaningful part of what we do, and we’re proud to be doing our part to enable improved access to transportation for people with disabilities,” he said. “We know there is still a long way to go and that we’re at the beginning, not the end, of this journey.”
Elsewhere in the proposed budget, Metro would reduce prices for a seven-day bus pass from $17.50 to $15, a one-day visitor’s pass from $14.75 to $13, and a seven-day visitor pass from $38.50 to $38.
The agency will also add a three-day weekday pass at $28 and unlimited bus in all visitor and SelectPasses.
The budget also plans to extend Yellow Line service to Greenbelt. The line currently ends at Mt. Vernon Square in Northwest during rush hour and at Fort Totten in Northeast at other times. Metro officials have said extension of Yellow Line heading north would double service.
In addition, Green Line riders can travel south without having to transfer to the Yellow Line at Fort Totten.
Red Line service would extend to Glenmont in Silver Spring, a move that officials say would double the service at the station as well as at Wheaten and Forest Glen in Montgomery County.
This budget would also start with the agency receiving $150 million in dedicated funding from Maryland, D.C. and Virginia toward infrastructure, repairs and other safety needs.
Some work at Metrorail stations and other properties highlighted in the budget include eight parking garages, six station platforms in northern Virginia and replace elevators at possibly 13 stations. Three additional locations proposed are Court House Station in Arlington, Congress Heights in Southeast and Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter in Northwest.
Del. Erek Barron (D-District 24) of Mitchellville, Maryland, who helped last year in crafting legislation for a dedicated funding source for Metro, wants the transit agency to enhance its inspector general’s office.
“We’re forking over even more money than we ever had been with less accountability,” he said Monday. “There’s not enough of a stick to go along with the funding.”