The cost of riding Metro won't be going up this year, but the transit agency warns it is only a temporary reprieve.
With ridership down, some Metro board members are concerned about the financial future. The news came Thursday as Metro's general manager presented his proposed $1.6 billion operating budget for fiscal year 2014. It does not include a fare hike, but the transit agency says expect fares to go up the following year in 2015, at a time when many riders are feeling the pain of last year's price hike.
"It's a board policy that every two years, we will have a fare increase, and it's up to the board to decide if they want to approve that or not," said Carol Kissal, Metro's Chief Financial Officer.
The possibility of future fare hikes frustrates many riders who haven't seen the return for their money.
"I pray it's only growing pains, but it seems as though the actual quality has diminished throughout Washington and it seems protracted," said Ashaki Blanton, who commutes on Metro from Waterfront in the District to Dupont Circle.
Revenue and ridership are down in the proposed budget, in part, because the last fare increase drove people like Rosario Gomez away. She rides Metro into the city from Dunn Loring, Va., but it got too expensive.
"I walk like six blocks," she said. "Before, I used to take a ride on the bus. Now I walk."
Metro should get a financial boost now that a transit subsidy for federal workers was restored from $125 to $240 in the fiscal cliff deal. To meet its proposed budget, the transit agency tapped surplus funds from last year. But counting on that every year makes some board members nervous given uncertainty in funding, ridership and declining revenue.
Cities and counties Metro serves are being asked to pick up an additional $27 million tab to account for the shortfall in revenue. It is much needed money for services.
"We're extending the Silver Line. We're improving on-time performance. We're improving bus on-time performance. We're providing more Metro extra service in this budget," Metro General Manager and CEO Richard Sarles explained as he described service improvements for next year.
The budget does not include money to expand Metro rail service to all eight-car trains or for the necessary traction power upgrades. Metro is laying the groundwork and expects it will take 5 to 6 years to increase the number of eight-car trains and expand capacity.
It all comes at a cost and some visitors to D.C. believe Metro's riders should appreciate what they have got.
"I live in a city where we don't have a Metro," said Jeannette Seaberry. "I'm from Omaha, so this is a luxury."