Hardly a day goes by when one does not hear more grim news about the deteriorating national economy. According to Mayor Euille’s State of the City Address on February 26, Alexandria had to slash $10M from its FY09 budget and is planning to cut its planned FY10 budget by $44M and cut 121 positions (many of them vacant, but 20+ City employees will be receiving pink slips soon) just to maintain the current level of City services, including, but not limited to, fire and EMS, beautification programs, and the City’s annual contribution Metro funding.
Anyone who has lived and commuted in the Greater Washington, DC area via metro bus/rail knows that metro is underfunded and overworked. Not only is the system nearing capacity, but it is rapidly approaching the end of its physical life cycle. (Fortunately a massive capital improvement project has been underway since 2008 to upgrade its infrastructure to offset the deterioration). The Metro system is facing a whopping $154M deficit and officials are considering cutting eliminating its 3 AM rail service on weekends, closing weekday stations at 10 PM, and cutting all local bus routes (bus routes that begin and terminate within a single jurisdiction, i.e. a bus that does not cross any municipal/county/state borders).
Even though First Vice Chair Peter Benjamin said, “The last thing we really want to do is cut service…We do any service reductions only if we can’t see any other reasonable way out,” why hasn’t Metro sought to increase off-peak ridership or advertisements extolling the virtues of riding Metrorail/bus instead of going by car? Gas prices will spike again.
One of my colleagues was a guide at the Inauguration and he mentioned how many tourists could not identify metro from the street. The drab, brown columns on the sidewalks don’t exactly jump out at you. He said one of those intrepid tourists asked him where the nearest metro station was while he was leaning on the metro column itself. Why doesn’t Metro repaint them in bright, bold colors to attract additional attention and double-down with an aggressive advertising campaign urging residents and commuters to use Metro more often to generate additional revenue? Although cutting service on metro may allow the agency to bridge its project deficit for FY10, it will encourage its users to rely increasingly on personal vehicles, which will numb economic activity in the jurisdictions it serves.
How many restaurants in Alexandria will suffer in Metro decides to close at 10 on weekdays when a couple wanting to escape from Washington for the night for a relaxing dinner by the waterfront elects to stay in? How many young professionals will the City lose if the Metro forces them to choose between the vibrancy of DC and the community-orientated Alexandria. Already too many people believe that “Taking transit is not convenient for their jobs” – it would be a shame if that number increases even further.
Unless it begins to aggressively promote itself, Metro could find itself with less service, fewer riders, and jurisdictions less willing to fund the system.