Friday, December 2, 2011

Bend Over

Some takeaways from yesterday's Metro Board discussion on raising fares to close a $124 million budget gap:

"We are keeping the agency on a path of continued improvement." -- Carol D. Kissel, Assistant General Manager and Chief Financial Officer

It would seem riders and jurisdictions are being unfairly burdened with filling Metro's annual budget gaps. According to Metro, the pension plan for ATU 689 workers accounts for 65 percent of the base increase in Metro's costs. The average retiree's pension plan is worth $400,000, Metro said. There is NO employee contribution into that plan, Metro said. Who's gonna have the stones to get the union to face reality? ATU 689 likes to say "we make it work," but I think they mean "you."

Metro is planning for no wage increase in 2013, but they just shelled out a nine percent increase this year after a costly legal battle. I'm not sure how they plan to avoid a wage increase this time around given their track record. Maybe there was an agreement.

Despite stagnant-to-lower ridership, Metro had a revenue INCREASE between 2010 and 2011 of $54 million dollars, largely on your backs after taking you for $109 million more in 2011. That was offset by declining revenues in other areas, namely advertising. Who'd want to advertise on Metro, right? Oh wait, there's this outfit called Metroforward, and they're advertising EVERYWHERE.

Metro has 250 people involved in manual time keeping. Um, computers.

"This would mark the fourth year of stagnant or declining rail ridership. There is no good story yet about what's happening about the lingering aspects of the accident, [fare] elasticity and perceived unpredictability of the rail system during reconstruction. It doesn't bode well for us, and I would encourage staff to develop better data about what is happening with ridership." -- Board vice chair Tom Downs

Despite a relatively robust economy here in the DC area, Metro staff continues to blame its declining-to-stagnant ridership woes on the nationwide economic malaise. I guess they think stuff like this doesn't peel riders away.

Fare "changes and adjustments" means fare and parking increases. See the details of proposals here (starting on page 24). It was obvious from the discussion that the proposed fare hikes are going to meet with a lot of resistance from the Board's diverging interests. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out. Dig deeper.

Some Board members don't understand the current fare structure. I'm not sure (insert genius) would either.

"Our timing and distance [fare] system is actually a very good system." -- Kissel

Anyone (tourists) still using paper fare cards, could be be completely effed based on a rather arbitrary ring called a "visitor zone" idea. Paper fares (non SmarTrip) within it would be $3, while fares outside would be $6. Rosslyn to DC-$3; Clarendon to DC-$6. Just cough up the five bucks for the SmarTrip already.

250,000 riders are "price insensitive," Metro said. It was unclear just exactly who those riders are. Peak of the peak was meant to serve two purposes: raise revenue and reduce rush hour crowding. It worked bigtime to raise revenue, but did little to shift riders' habits, perhaps because a good chunk of riders--the conventional wisdom is 40 percent of Metro riders are Feds--have their rides heavily to completely subsidized and don't care about peak of the peak fares. Starting Jan. 1, if the transit benefit is not extended, this cohort will become way more concerned with price. Did Metro not know there was this group before instituting the insulting peak of the peak fares?

Things like paying for overtime (fatigue management), adding police on buses, preventative maintenance on the escalators and improving the radio system would be, in essence, up to the individual jurisdictions as to whether they want to fund them. This could end up with some wacky negotiations.

Sarles admitted that previous years' budget gap discussions of service cuts were red herrings. Thanks, man.

Metro blew a lot of money getting "transit strength" snow removal equipment--amount unknown. It seems snowmageddon triggered it. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst of the worst?

After listening to Kubicek's inartful tap dancing about Dupont closures, I need a drink. He really says "thaddaways" --all the time! The right hand man.

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