Testimony: WMATA Board re FY25 Budget (VA)

My name is Stewart Schwartz and I am the Executive Director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth. CSG is leading an 18-group non-profit coalition and teaming with the business community to support Metro funding. 

We thank WMATA for its hard work to identify cost savings and efficiencies to reduce the $750 million operating budget gap. We also thank the jurisdictions for proposing $480 million in additional operating funding for FY25. This includes the combined $130 million proposed by Virginia, split 50/50 with Northern Virginia. So the state would provide $65 million in FY25 and $84.5 million in FY26.

But we urge our elected leaders to do more to reduce and even close the entire gap. We all know that failure to close the entire gap will still mean some service cuts, fare hikes, impact on the workforce, and delays in the capital program. It is disappointing that a state statute has imposed a 50/50 requirement for splitting Virginia’s share of WMATA funding, and that the state is only being asked this year to provide $65 million.

Contrast this to the $150 million the state gave in 2023 to widen just 8 miles of I-64 east of Richmond, and the $322 million in toll buydown being promised to Hampton Roads which includes $130 million to cover unpaid tolls.

Metro is critical to our region and the state’s economy, access to jobs and opportunity, the functioning of our entire transportation system, and to fighting climate change. Transit should be our region’s top transportation funding priority and more funding should be shifted from highways to transit.

The pandemic and growth in telecommuting have required new approaches to achieve our region’s long-standing goals for a sustainable, equitable, transit-oriented future. So, we strongly support the agency’s commitment to all-day frequent, reliable, safe rail and bus service, and a simplified fare structure, as the best way to restore ridership.

In fact Metrobus ridership has returned and is now exceeding pre-pandemic levels on weekends. And the Better Bus initiative, including bus network redesign, offers to transform our bus service.

Frequent, all-day bus and rail service is critical for all sectors of our workforce, providing access to jobs and opportunity, saving household transportation costs, attracting the next generation workforce, and enhancing our economic competitiveness. Metro is key to supporting transit-oriented communities and supporting car-free and car-lite living, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

Without additional revenues beyond the $480 million now proposed, Metro faces hard choices. We believe service cuts and fare hikes should be minimized to the maximum extent possible. This means living with the shift of capital funds to preventative maintenance and delaying some capital projects. But we hope that this shift can be limited to FY25. 

We urge our region’s officials to come to an agreement by December 2024 on a long-term dedicated funding solution for Metro. We should act while officials are focused on the issue, and CSG would like to be at the table for these discussions. Thank you. 

Stewart Schwartz
Executive Director