Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Virginia contributing $119M to close Metro budget gap

Sarah Y. Kim
Metro’s Board of Directors at a April 25 meeting, where members unanimously approved the agency’s budget for Fiscal Year 2025.

Metro’s board approved its FY2025 budget this week, avoiding service cuts.

Read the original story on the WAMU website.

Metro’s Board of Directors approved a budget Thursday that will enable the agency to close its deficit for the next fiscal year and avert service cuts that could have disrupted regional transit.

That’s due to a $463 million combined contribution from Washington D.C., Virginia and Maryland. Those funds are in addition to annual subsidies the jurisdictions are already legislatively required to contribute.

As outlined in the budget proposal, D.C. is committing $200 million, Virginia is sending $119.4 million and Maryland is contributing $143.3 million. Those amounts are similar to the commitments lawmakers proposed earlier this year.

Metro General Manager and CEO Randy Clarke told reporters Thursday that he is “beyond thankful,” noting that local jurisdictions are facing budget constraints themselves.

“Everyone came together,” Clarke said. “Long process. Challenging process. But overall, a really good outcome.”

When Metro officials presented their first budget proposal in December, they projected a $750-million deficit that would have forced the agency to slash almost half of its bus routes, end train service at 10 p.m., close 10 train stations and reduce service by about 33% in each jurisdiction. Officials also warned they would have to increase fares by 20% and lay off nearly 2,300 of its employees. At the time, officials said those changes would be inevitable without hundreds of millions in additional funding from D.C., Virginia and Maryland.

'Targeted' changes, a 'modest increase'

The service cuts and layoffs are now off the table. Instead, Metro is opting for “targeted” changes to rail service. Peak service periods, when trains run most frequently, will be two hours instead of four. Rail service will also be less frequent on select holidays, and the shorter six-car trains will be used more often.

There will be a “modest increase” in wait times for the Orange line during both peak and off-peak hours, as well as weekends. Wait times are also expected to be slightly longer for the Green and Yellow lines on weekends.

Buses will not be impacted. Starting next year, Metro will get started on its Better Bus Network Redesign plan.

Fare hikes will still take effect, but will be more modest. Riders will pay at least 12.5% more for buses, trains and MetroAccess starting in July. Fares for late nights and weekends will range from $2.25 to $2.50 – meaning riders will be paying up to 25% more than now. (Metro officials proposed these lower fare hikes in February, after lawmakers from D.C., Virginia and Maryland promised tentative commitments of $480 million total). Clarke said the fare increases are “fair” and in line with inflation in recent years.

MetroAccess’s coverage area will be unaffected. At public hearings on the budget in recent months, disability advocates had raised concerns that their transportation would be disproportionately affected as outlined in the initial budget proposal. Members of the Accessibility Advisory Committee thanked Metro leaders Thursday, saying the budget responded to their needs.

The budget also identifies $113 million in savings for the next fiscal year. $38 million of that comes from freezing salary and wage increases for employees in Metro’s two largest collective bargaining units and all nonrepresented employees.

While the approved budget assumes no increases, Metro is still in the process of finalizing collective bargaining agreements with unionized employees.

A hiring freeze that went into effect in January will phase out. CEO Clarke said the agency was still hiring for “critical positions” but they will start being more flexible in hiring now that the budget has been approved.

When Metro initially proposed mass layoffs due to the deficit, Clarke acknowledged that it could lower worker morale. On Thursday, he said that “morale and pride in the organization remains high” and seems to be going up, according to workplace surveys.

“People feel a lot of pride working here, and want to actually stay and be employed here,” he said, adding that there was no significant impact on operations or workforce in recent months.

The rest of the $113 million in savings come from “capital administrative efficiencies” and other expense reductions.

The approval of the Fiscal Year 2025 budget is a short-term victory. Metro is uniquely disadvantaged among major transit systems because it doesn’t have dedicated funding. Instead, it struggles to balance its budget every year, piecing together state and federal contributions, and fare revenue.

D.C. Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, board chair of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said in a statement Thursday that this has to change. MWCOG’S board of directors and Metro’s will begin meeting on May 1 to discuss long-term solutions for sustainable funding.

“Nationwide, WMATA is one of the few major systems where ridership is growing and service is improving,” Allen said. “It’s time to recognize that WMATA is the lifeblood of our region and secure its future, instead of careening from one fiscal crisis to the next.”

ATU Local 689, one of the major unions representing Metro employees, renewed its call for dedicated funding.

“As we look ahead to implementing this budget and future budgets, it is crucial that WMATA’s budget is not balanced on the backs of the frontline pandemic heroes and does not drastically harm the disadvantaged communities that rely on the service,” the union said. “No zeroes for our transit heroes!”

Related Stories