Board of Supervisors - Hunter Mill District

Fairfax County, Virginia

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1801 Cameron Glen Drive
Reston, VA 20190

Walter L. Alcorn,
Hunter Mill District Supervisor

Feb. 25, 2020 Board Matter: Comments on Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)'s Proposed FY 2021 Operating Budget and Related Service and Fare Proposals

Background:

WMATA's proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 operating budget totals $2.09 billion. It includes a base operating budget that is within the mandated 3% subsidy growth cap, with the exception of excluded items per the enacted legislation. The FY 2021 proposed budget adds hours to keep Metrorail open later and increases the frequency of trains on Sundays. The proposal also makes targeted improvements to weekday and weekend service on Metrobus and fare changes to grow ridership, improve customer experience and allow Metro to better serve the region. It also includes numerous fare changes. However, to balance the budget, the proposal includes service reductions and consolidations for efficiency and effectiveness. 

Proposed Metrobus service cuts for routes operating in Fairfax County include the following:

• 2A (Washington Boulevard — Dunn Loring Metro) — Entire Route
• 3A (Annandale to East Falls Church Metro) — Entire Route
• 5A (Dulles Airport to Washington, DC) — Entire Route
• 16E (Culmore to Washington, DC via Columbia Pike — eliminate Pentagon to DC segment)
• 29W (Braeburn Drive/Little River Turnpike to Pentagon) — Entire Route
• NH2 (Huntington Metro to National Harbor — eliminate Huntington Metro to King Street Metro segment)
• 3T (McLean Metro to East Falls Church Metro via Pimmit Hills) — Entire Route
• 15K (East Falls Church Metro to Langley/CIA) — Entire Route 
• S80 (Transportation Association of Greater Springfield [TAGS] Circulators) — Entire Route
• S91 (Transportation Association of Greater Springfield [TAGS] Circulators) — Entire Route

Key proposed fare changes of interest to Fairfax County include up to the following: 

Metrorail

• Raise peak period base fares by $0.25 from $2.25 to $2.50

• Raise maximum peak fare $1 from $6 to $7

• Implement a $2.75 weekend flat fare on Metrorail 

Metrobus

• Create a $0.25 surcharge for cash transactions on Metrobus, including senior/disabled cash transactions

• Increase the transfer discount utilizing SmarTripe between rail and bus systems from $0.50 to $2, equal to the base fare on Metrobus regular routes

On Feb. 4, 2020, The Board discussed the service and fare proposals at the Board Transportation Committee and directed staff to prepare a letter to WMATA transmitting the County's comments.

Motion:

Therefore, Mr. Chairman, in order to limit the subsidy increase to no more than 3% and still maximize efficiencies with the least impact on WMATA riders, I move that the Board approve the attached letter in response to WMATA's Proposed FY 2021 Operating Budget and Related Service and Fare Proposals, including: 

• The Board wishes to work with WMATA staff to maintain, and/or modify, the S80, S91, 3T, 15K and 3A routes to reduce subsidies but maintain service.

• The Board requests that WMATA not eliminate two "tripper trains" that currently operate during the morning peak on the Orange Line. 

• The County does not support WMATA implementing the free transfer between bus and rail.

• Fairfax County does not support a weekend flat fare of $2. 

Following the Board discussion, Supervisor Walkinshaw offered a friendly amendment to include Route 29W to the list of routes staff is requesting that WMATA maintain service. Supervisor Alcorn accepted this friendly amendment. 

Feb. 25 Letter to Mr. Paul J. Wiedefeld, General Manager and Chief Executive Officer, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority:

Reference: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) Proposed FY 2021 Budget and Related Service and Fare Proposals

 

Dear Mr. Wiedefeld:

 

On behalf of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, I am writing to share our comments regarding many of the recommendations included in the FY 2021 Proposed Budget and Related Service and Fare Proposals. 

 

  • Metrobus Service Changes – Ten Metrobus routes have been proposed for elimination in Fairfax County.  While the County recognizes the need to increase efficiencies, several of these routes have circumstances that warrant consideration for continued service.  Specifically, the County wants to maintain Routes S80 and S91.  These circulator routes in the Springfield area are partially supported by developer proffer funds.  If the routes are eliminated, the County would be without valuable services and would be unable to use the proffered funds.  Also, Fairfax County would like to maintain the portion of route 3T that operates in the County from the McLean Metrorail Station to the West Falls Church Metrorail Station.  Lastly, the County also wants to maintain the 3A, 15K, and 29W routes.  Although ridership statistics on the affected routes were collected by WMATA prior to the Cinder Bed strike, the Board is concerned that other factors may be affecting the ridership on these routes.  For example, ridership on the 29W has been hampered by inconsistent service delivery and frequent lack of real time arrival information on WMATA’s mobile app.  For all these proposed Metrobus service changes, Fairfax County wishes to work with WMATA staff to maintain these routes, with possible adjustments to reduce costs and enhance service.  
  • Orange Line Service Changes – The WMATA budget proposes eliminating two morning “tripper trains” on Metrorail’s Orange Line from West Falls Church to New Carrollton.  With the recent uptick in overall system ridership, we believe that the elimination of the tripper trains could result in lower ridership, especially since the upcoming Orange Line station repair work scheduled for the summer will depress ridership.  A demonstrated commitment to maintaining a reliable system will help WMATA retain riders when those stations reopen. 
  • Fare Changes – Balancing the need to stay under the three percent budgetary cap and the County’s desire to maintain several existing bus routes, Fairfax County does not support proposed fare changes that would result in a significant reduction in revenue. 
    • The County does not support proposed free transfers between bus and rail.  The change would cost the County approximately $5 million, including the loss of local revenue on the Fairfax Connector. 
    • The County also does not support the $2.00 weekend flat fare. However, the County might consider a higher flat fare that has a reduced impact on revenues.

 

The funding saved by eliminating these proposals will help WMATA and the County to maintain some of the Metrobus routes proposed to be eliminated – specifically the S80, S91, 3A, 3T, 15K, and 29W.  Conversely, the County does not support increasing the maximum Metrorail fare by $1.00, from $6.00 to $7.00.  Such a fare increase disproportionately impacts commuters from outlying jurisdictions, such as Fairfax County. 

 

In the future, the Board hopes the proposed budget will equally reflect the priorities and needs of all jurisdictions served by Metro.  The Board also encourages WMATA staff to coordinate with Fairfax County staff earlier in the budget process.  On Friday, November 22, 2019, just before the Thanksgiving holidays, the County received a listing of the proposed route changes.  Staff were asked to evaluate the proposed changes and provide feedback, including potential alternative changes, by December 6, 2020.  This timing is not sufficient.  Thankfully, the WMATA Board delayed the budget item by one month, which gave County staff until January 6, 2020, to evaluate the proposed changes and submit responses.  In the future, we would ask that staff be informed at least one month in advance of any proposed service or fare changes that impact Fairfax County residents. 

 

Lastly, County staff has asked Metro staff for an accounting of how much subsidy the County overpaid during the 60-day Cinder Bed strike and are waiting for a response. We are also interested in understanding how and when the County’s overpayment will be addressed. 

 

Thank you again for your consideration.  If you have any questions or need additional information, please call me at (703) 324-2321.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Jeffrey C. McKay

Chairman

 

 

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