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Rail News: Passenger Rail

WMATA budget: No fare increases, some headcount trimming


Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager Richard White Dec. 20 submitted to the board the proposed $1.4 billion fiscal-year 2003 budget — which does not include service cuts or fare increases, but does trim staff positions and rein in certain projects.

"This budget was prepared in a new post-Sept. 11 economic environment in which we are taking a realistic look at our ridership projections and how both the terrorist attacks and the economic downturn have affected the entire region," said White in a prepared statement.

Ridership had been increasing 7 percent annually before the attacks. After, it has subsided to 3 percent growth. Resulting revenue declines and the slower economy have resulted in a $15 million revenue shortfall in WMATA’s current budget year. The shortfall is expected to reach $23.8 million in FY 2003.

In seeking ways to accommodate the decreased revenue, officials set priorities to minimize customer and service-level impacts, and preserve safety and security, says White.

Cost reduction efforts include eliminating or freezing 35 staff positions, cutting back the number of overtime hours employees may work, delaying office space construction at WMATA facilities, and cutting back on work that’s outsourced to consultants and contractors. Some off-peak services also would be adjusted based on customer demand.

The proposed operating budget has no new initiatives, but rather allows continuation of existing projects including increased spending on paratransit, expanding the use of SmarTrip cards so all regional transit agencies use the same fare media, and investing more resources into rehabilitation and replacement of aging elevators and escalators.

Proposed FY 2003 capital programs include funds to continue outsourcing elevator and escalator repairs, installing escalator canopies, continuing the rail car rehabilitation program and purchasing up to 110 compressed natural gas buses to replace diesel buses.

The capital program also earmarks funds to expand the number of rail maintenance bays, constructing new mezzanines at two stations, enhancing an entrance at another, and adding parking structures at two other stations.

Work on WMATA’s Largo Extension and New York Avenue stations will proceed, as will environmental and financial planning work, and preliminary engineering for the planned Dulles Airport extension.