Public feedback informs METRO 2020 budget 

With its “Back2Good” campaign, the transit authority is now hoping to make service better than good. Photo courtesy WMATA

by Katherine Rivard

Someone at WMATA must have looked up the definition of “good.” Instead of aiming to just provide “adequate or satisfactory” public transportation, the aim of the “Back2Good” campaign, the transit authority is now hoping to make service better than good. The first step? A new 2020 budget informed by feedback from the public.

In November 2018, WMATA’s General Manager and Chief Executive Officer proposed the FY2020 Operating Budget and the FY2020-2025 Capital Improvement Program, both of which will be reviewed by the Board of Directors before being approved. The aim of the budget and program is to go beyond the current “Back2Good” mindset: a difficult aim for a transit system known for its frequent fires, delays, and single-tracking. D.C. has the second busiest rail transit system in the country and over 1 million average weekday passenger trips, yet service remains unreliable, of questionable safety, and for many, unaffordable.

The proposed budget will increase to $3.4 billion in 2020, from $3.2 billion for 2019. Service changes will include extending weekday peak hours (30 additional minutes in the morning and 90 minutes in the evening), increasing service by running all Yellow line trains to Greenbelt and running all Red lines trains to Glenmont during weekday peak hours and weekends, and lengthening all trains to their eight car maximum.

METRO’s new 2020 budget is informed by feedback from the public. Photo courtesy WMATA

At first glance these may all seem like positive changes, yet each change will have its adverse effects as well. For example, few object to the increased number of train cars and running the full length of the Red and Yellow lines, but extending peak hours may inconvenience those on fixed incomes who wait until after these hours to schedule appointments. The increased peak hours will mean fewer opportunities for them to take advantage of non-surge fare pricing. Other fare changes adjustments have also been proposed.

The proposal would create new passes, decreasing the cost of the 7-day bus pass to $15, adding unlimited local Metrobus trips to the unlimited monthly rail pass at no additional cost, and introducing an updated series of passes with lower prices. More controversial is the decision to implement a Metrorail $2 weekend flat fare. This cheaper weekend pricing does little when service is so poor on weekends to being with, nor will it help with the budget gap.

These budget proposal initiatives, as well as the strategic plan, are all designed to keep Metro safe, reliable, and affordable. Nevertheless, officials cannot know what they do not know, and that’s why public feedback is so important. In addition to the public hearings, surveys in English and Spanish have been handed out on transportation for riders to complete. There is also still time to complete the survey or provide comments online, in person, or in the mail through February 11th.

At the public hearings, many residents voiced their concerns about certain bus routes that were highly unreliable, leaving residents waiting for 45 minutes at a time even in the winter, often forcing riders to succumb to ride shares instead. Others suggested including more pass options for local university students and better non-digital communications for older community members or those without internet access. Above all, many who took advantage of the final Open House spoke out about the need for WMATA to keep the disabled community in mind when making any decisions: from the design of new trains to brighter lighting in stations.

Board approved fare and service changes are scheduled to go into effect on or around July 1, 2019.

The only thing more shocking than Metro’s Silver Line wooden train being sold out on their online store is the idea that there might finally be some impactful changes to public transportation as final decisions for the Strategic Plan and 2020 WMATA budget are finalized. Nevertheless it may be true. Though the three open house and public hearing events have all taken place, everyone is welcomed and encouraged to provide feedback via online survey, so that their voices are heard.