Saving the DC Metro

The DC area rapid transit rail system (called ‘the Metro’) is facing something of a budget crisis this year.  They need to close about a $180 million budget gap for the next fiscal year; the gap itself has many causes but a major one is the reduced travel due to the recession.  Last week, the interim GM of WMATA (the agency in charge of Metro) presented a solution to the problem that features widespread fare increases but minimal service cuts.  I don’t want to go into specifics because other sources have done a great job at analyzing the various options open to Metro but I do want to comment on how open people have been to fare increases.

The worry seems to be the similar for many who speak up against service reductions in place of fare increases; to reduce service to a level such that metro does not fulfill almost all of people’s transportation needs would in fact destroy the entire system.  Many people (including myself) depend on Metro as a main source of transportation.  For many it is not simply a supplementary method but something that is a requirement of normal living and to curtail it would be to breach a certain trust.  People have modeled their lives around the persistence of a robust Metro, therefore limiting that system would also limit their ability to live normal lives.

People are willing to pay a lot to keep Metro healthy because it is, in many ways, a primary method of transportation for much of DC.  I find it unlikely that this aversion in service cuts would take place in many metropolitan areas in the US outside of New York.  Unlike most rail systems in the US, Metro is far more than a commuter system; rather, it is a legitimate transportation system by itself.  Just as with highways, once this is the case it is very difficult to take such a system away from people.