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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Fare increase marks fight to fix budget

Metro fares increased by 10 cents starting Sunday, and while the fare boost is temporary, it serves for many as one more sign of the problems the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is facing.

Under more scrutiny since last June, when two Metorail trains collided and killed nine people, Metro underwent a three-day National Transportation Safety Board hearing on the crash last week. A final report on the cause of the incident is not expected until this June, but in the meantime, Metro is trying to address all the safety and budget issues it can.

While the fare increase is scheduled to only last until June 26 to make up for this year’s budget shortfall, more fare increases are possible.

On Feb. 18, the Metro’s Board of Directors learned that the system will have a $189.2 million budget gap to fill for the 2011 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The cause, the board was told, was due to increased expenses and lower-than-expected ridership.

“The question is, how do we close that gap?” said Metro Board chair Peter Benjamin in an interview with The Hatchet.

Both fare increases and service decreases are options, Benjamin said. Getting financial support from local jurisdictions was also considered, but “local jurisdictions are in trouble… they don’t have money,” he said.

With the public unwilling to have services cut and such a large gap remaining in the budget, the fare increase was approved by the board.

Benjamin said the biggest fare increase in Metro’s history happened two years ago – when rush-hour fares went up 30 cents to $1.65 in January 2008.

“When we did that, our ridership went up,” Benjamin said, though he added he knows that will most likely not be the case this time.

To tackle the budget deficit, Benjamin mentioned a jobs bill currently in Congress. The Senate is considering a $15 billion jobs creation bill that includes funding for highway and transit programs through 2010. Depending on the final outcome of the bill, Benjamin said it could “certainly be something we’d use for [the budget gap].”

Another issue for Metro is that General Manager John Catoe plans to retire after leading the system for three years. An interim manager is needed by April 2 to take his place.

“We want to do a very careful and deliberate search,” Benjamin said.

The interim manager will hold the position while Metro does an international and nationwide search for a new general manager.

Benjamin said Metro’s general manager is in a unique situation dealing with three states and the federal government – not to mention 10,000 employees, the media and politics.

GW students, faculty members and employees – many of whom rely on Metro to get to Foggy Bottom – have no shortage of opinions on the public transportation.

Jared Davis, a freshman, uses the Metro every other week. Though he says Metro “is remarkably clean compared to New York’s subway and Atlanta’s subway systems,” he said it should be more like New York by charging the same price for any trip.

Statistics professor Qing Pan, on the other hand, said she thinks Metro is horrible.

“I don’t like it and it makes me sick,” said Pan, who uses Metro about twice a week.

“There should be better training for the workers and staff in the Metro. Also better pay for workers and maintenance crews,” she added.

Pan also recommended that old train replacement and track work be paid for with more stimulus money for public transit.

“It would be beneficial to see less service disruptions,” said Michelle Stock, a psychology professor. Stock said with Metro’s budget gap she does not see a way to improve the system.

“New lines should not be built until the old ones are new and safe,” she said.

Due to the crippling effect of two snowstorms in one week, GW canceled classes four days in a row because Metro was unable to keep all stations open.

“Any incidents seem to shut them down pretty quickly,” said astronomy professor Kalvir Dhuga. “It feels like it is short-staffed or low-resourced, like when the snow storm hit.”

Dhuga said more resources and upgrades are needed, though he said he thinks D.C’s Metro is cleaner than New York’s or London’s systems.

When asked about the snowfall, Benjamin praised the employees who dug all the snow from two snowstorms in February to get Metro running again.

Though Metro is still working on ways to address “substantial challenges,” Benjamin said Metro has always been a great transit system.

“I think as a group we’re up to the challenge,” he said.

Chris Oak contributed to this report.

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