Metro board Vice Chair Stephanie Gidigbi expressed some concern Friday about the transit agency’s proposed fiscal 2022 budget that projects a nearly $500 million funding shortfall due to low ridership amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Gidigbi, who represents D.C., said riders need assurance they can return to the transit system.
“I think that is a real opportunity to really provide a new vision for the system, especially as we recognize that people have choices. It’s important for us to amplify and share that message that we’ve been working to build back better for the riders,” she said during a Metro Finance and Capital Committee session. “I’m not sure that this budget as it stands now that we’re rushing to put out for public comment speaks to that piece.”
Board member Michael Goldman agreed, saying there are two reasons to wait until next month to formally present the proposal for public comment versus when the board meets Thursday: Congress could pass a federal stimulus package and a possible rollout of coronavirus vaccines this month.
“I think they will have a big impact on this [Metro] budget,” he said. “Ridership and revenue should be recovering by July 2021 [and] with the vaccine more available.”
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said the financial outlook appears bleak. He stressed the need for more financial help from the federal government, especially with about 35 percent of those workers who’ve utilized the transit system.
Because of the pandemic, some riders have made “a personal decision” to not come back and use the system right now, he said.
“That’s why we want to go out to the public. We want to hear more that so we can adjust … but we’ve got to find the dollars to do it,” Wiedefeld said. “If we get the federal dollars, we can basically react from what we’re hearing from the public as the dollars are coming in. The messaging gets much stronger if you can provide the higher-level service and you need the dollars to do that.”
Here’s a summary of the proposed budget scheduled to be approved in March and go into effect in July:
• Approximately 19 Metrorail stations would close.
• The remaining Metrorail stations would have trains run every 30 minutes, close by 9 p.m. and offer no weekend service.
• No Yellow Line trains would run north of Mt. Vernon Square in northwest D.C.
• Dozens of bus routes would either be modified or eliminated.
There’s also a proposal to lay off up 2,400 workers by July. The agency already approved to amend this year’s fiscal budget last month to cut up to 1,400 positions, but the hope is that employees will accept buyouts.
Hundreds of Metro workers reside in Maryland’s Prince George’s County, where county Council member Dannielle Glaros (D-District 3) of Riverdale Park said more drastic announcements could be on the horizon this month as a federal moratorium on evictions ends and food insecurity heightens near the holidays.
“December could shape up to go a few different ways,” Glaros said. “Everyone is really hopeful that Congress will pass a stimulus package.”
One of the 19 rail stations eyed for possible closure is Cleveland Park in northwest D.C., an area represented by D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3).
“Our riders will need immediate access to public transit as a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, and our service industry, already struggling to make it to the other side of the pandemic, will stall without night and weekend service,” Cheh said in a statement Friday. “We need Congress to step in with funding as D.C. and every jurisdiction across the country are facing steep budget shortfalls.”
James Wright contributed to this story.