WASHINGTON - Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld has admitted that the outlook for the transit system looks grim due to decreased ridership and a $290 million budget gap between expenses and revenue.
Even as the SafeTrack maintenance program winds down, and unreliable 4000-series railcars are taken out of service, Wiedefeld says service cuts and higher fares are likely.
The General Manager said on Tuesday that the transit system is in a deep financial hole. Years of safety and reliability concerns have resulted in many riders choosing other transportation options. Wiedefeld said ridership is down 12 percent across the board.
One example Metro gave is at Gallery Place / Chinatown station. The station, that once had a peak ridership of 27,000 is now down to just 22,500.
Wiedefeld says riders can expect fares on rail and bus trips to increase .10 to .25 cents. Trains can also be expected to run less frequently and some bus routes will be canceled. Also, he said, 1000 positions will be eliminated.
WAMU transportation reporter and FOX 5 contributor, Martin Di Caro, says the transit system is running out of places to find money. "Metro is one of the only transit system in the entire country that does not have a dedicating funding source," he said. "That goes all the way back to Metro's founding - even decades before metro opened. Metro never really had a golden age of financing."
Wiedefeld has said that he would like D.C., Maryland and Virginia to contribute $130 million into the budget cycle. He is also considering regional transportation taxes.
The Metro Board will review the budge on Thursday.
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld joined us exclusively Wednesday morning from Metro Headquarters to talk about the transit system's future.
"We've been very aggressive in terms of controlling our costs and managing as tightly as we can. As you know I've proposed eliminating - I already eliminated 500 jobs. I have 200 more I'm eliminated this spring and I have another 300 - that if we do the service cuts - will be eliminated," Wiedefeld said.
"We have to make sure we're managing this agency as tightly as possible. Even with that said - our numbers are not working in our favor," he continued. Wiedefeld said that decreases in revenue are hurting the system. "At some point we just have to come to grips, because my tools - the tools that I have left, are very few to control it from the management side."
Wiedefeld says he hopes to increase ridership by improving the safety of the system, improving track performance and improving railcar performance.
"This system is too important for this region to let it fail. To let it even slide further and that's what we're trying to prevent."
"We've been very aggressive in making sure that everyone understands that they are being held accountable," Wiedefeld said. He says he has spoken with both union and at-will employees about performance and professionalism.
HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?
Wiedefeld said the transit agency is dealing with the 2017 budget and is looking ahead to the 2018 budget.
"I've asked for sacrifice from across the board," he said. "We will continue to make pressures on the management side of the house. We've asked for increase in fairs - which we haven't done in three years. We have reduced service. We're proposing to reduce service on those routes that just are not performing very well. And we've asked the local jurisdictions to kick in some more dollars."
Beyond 2018, Wiedefeld says more work needs to be done with local leaders and the new administration to make it work.
"This is the capital of the free world. This is their infrastructure. This is their system. We want to make sure it reflects that as the best that we can at all times."
AFFORDABLE & SAFE
When asked if he ever thinks Metro will be an affordable and safe mode of transportation for the D.C. region, Wiedefeld says he believes it is today.
"It is a very affordable product. It is a vastly safe system and we made it safer - in terms of the rail service and in terms of personal safety," he said saying work is always being done to make it better. "I know it is a very safe and reliable system and very affordable."
IMPATIENT - NOT FRUSTRATED
When asked if he's frustrated with the process of making changes to the transit system - he said no. But he did say he is impatient.
Wiedefeld says he has tremendous pride in the system and is fully committed to staying with Metro as long as it takes. He said the agency continues to receive support from the business communities, the riders and Metro employees.