Comments: 2023 WMATA Budget

March 15, 2023

Paul Smedberg, Chair
WMATA Board of Directors
300 7th Street SW
Washington, DC 20024

Dear Chair Smedberg and members of the Board:

The Coalition for Smarter Growth supports WMATA’s FY24 budget proposal, which reflects significant analysis by the agency about how to grow ridership and revenues in a very challenging environment, while also providing affordable fare options for lower income riders. We support:

  • Weekday peak and off-peak fare structure consolidation
  • Simplification of Metrorail per-mile charges with standardization at 40 cents per mile
  • The Low-Income Fare Discount program available for all who quality for SNAP benefits, saving 50% on fares
  • Alignment of Metrorail and Metrobus base fares at $2 each
  • Continuation of the $2 flat fare on weekends and after 9:30pm
  • The Better Bus network redesign
  • Implementation of targeted Metrorail and Metrobus service frequency improvements

Fares:  We understand that some suburban jurisdictions have expressed concerns about the .40 per mile charge after 3 miles and the maximum fare increase from $6 to $6.50, which will also apply to off peak. However, we believe that the all-day $2 fare for trips of 3 miles or less makes a lot of sense and that the .40 cents per mile and peak fare of $6.50 (even with Metro station parking for those who need it) remains competitive with the cost of driving (IRS mileage reimbursement rate of 65.5 cents per mile) and parking. A large share of suburban commuters also enjoy access to employer transit benefits.

Service Improvements:  We are encouraged by the planned return of all of the 7000-series trains to service and the planned 3 to 6-minute headways in the core and 8 to 12 minutes outside the core. We hope that WMATA can complete the full return of the 7000-series by the end of this calendar year. We appreciate that the proposal adds improved frequency to three bus lines on top of those that were upgraded in Fall 2021 (20 lines to every 12 minutes all day and 16 to every 20 minutes), but would have liked more details in the budget document. 

Bus Network Redesign:  We strongly support the Bus Transformation Project and the ongoing Bus Network Redesign. We hope that the “budget neutral” version reflects the increased operating costs and budget and presumes closing the larger fiscal hole after this fiscal year, and that the Visionary Network will truly be that – a visionary network that makes the bus the go-to mode for far more people in our region, with dedicated lanes and high-frequency, that is easy to understand and use, and provides increased access to jobs and opportunity. The outcome should be adoption and full funding of the Visionary Network. With just seven years to address climate change we must fund expanded transit solutions. Therefore, we urge the Board and all elected officials in jurisdictions with Metrobus service to champion and actively participate in the Bus Network Redesign effort, leaving behind parochial concerns and focusing on the benefits to riders, to our workforce, and to our economy and environment.

Shifting federal capital funding to operating:  While we have some concern about shifting some federal capital funding to operating costs, we note that much of it will go to preventative maintenance, which is good.  Having a strong preventative maintenance program is critical.

Joint development:  We are pleased to see increased revenues from joint development, helped in part by the removal of the one-for-one parking replacement requirement. CSG is on the front lines in supporting the joint plans of WMATA and the jurisdictions for transit-oriented development and we urge the jurisdictions to remove obstacles and accelerate the planning and approval processes. Building our TOD at all of our Metro stations will not only provide more revenue directly to WMATA for joint development parcels but also increase the local tax revenues and help to cover needed operating subsidies.

Operating subsidies and the fiscal cliff:  We strongly support the local and state investments necessary to close the gap in WMATA’s operating needs in FY24 and beyond. In fact, we urge the jurisdictions to act to remove the 3% cap on operating increases, particularly in this inflationary period. We urge the Board and all elected officials to make addressing the transit fiscal cliff a top priority.  

Conclusion:  Metrorail and our bus network are the backbone of our region’s transportation system and have fueled decades of transit-oriented, sustainable and competitive growth. Fully funded, frequent and expanded transit is critical for achieving our equity goals, ensuring access to jobs and opportunity, lowering combined housing and transportation costs, and addressing climate change. Please put transit and walkable, transit-oriented communities first in your transportation funding priorities. Thank you.

Stewart Schwartz
Executive Director