Nov 22, 2023 - News
Town Talker

Metro's problems stack up despite rise in ridership

A long Metro escalator

Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Metro ridership is up, but revenues are down — complicating a $750 million budget gap.

Why it matters: Metro is in a slow-motion crisis as it tries to avoid extensive service cuts, including to entire bus lines, and station closures by this July.

What I'm hearing: Problems are compounding for Metro general manager Randy Clarke.

1. Fare revenue between July and September missed projections by 16.5%.

  • Total Metro revenue during the last fiscal quarter was $108.4 million. That's $17.7 million less than projected, as the Washington Post reported last week.
  • The drop comes after the first fare hike in five years. And it's despite rail and bus ridership increasing 30% over a year ago, mostly thanks to weekend riders returning to 90% of pre-pandemic levels.

2. A D.C. powerbroker wants an independent commission to take charge of Metro's future.

  • The talk of the town last week was a splashy letter from former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams. He denounced Metro leadership for recently forcing out the agency's inspector general, who resigned a day after publishing a critical audit.
  • "I am resigning under duress and threat," the former watchdog, Rene Febles, wrote in a resignation announcement to the Metro board acquired by the Post. "You should all be ashamed of yourselves."

What they're saying: "The IG departure is a blow to public trust at the wrong time," Williams, who leads the influential Federal City Council group, told me this week.

  • Given the resignation fiasco and Metro's history of safety scandals, Williams says new funding should be tied to "top-to-bottom reforms." No reforms, no $750 million.

The other side: Clarke is set to unveil a proposed budget to the Metro board on Dec. 14, spokesperson Jordan Pascale said.

Between the lines: There's been little to no headway on solving the $750 million ticking time bomb.

  • D.C., Maryland, Virginia and the federal government jointly fund Metro. Clarke has been campaigning since the summer to convince everyone to contribute hundreds of millions more.
  • The state legislatures in Annapolis and Richmond convene early next year, meaning lawmakers will have just a few months to decide whether to chip in any help.

💬 Town Talker is a weekly column about local politics and power. Send me tips: [email protected].

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