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Patch: Metro Service Cuts Averted With Passage Of COVID Relief Bill

Originally Published At Patch

Metro Service Cuts Averted With Passage Of COVID Relief Bill

The American Recovery Plan will provide $1.4 billion for transit agencies across the metro D.C. region.

WASHINGTON, DC — Just a week ago, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority warned its customers that it would be forced to close up to 22 stations, cut bus routes, layoff employees, and delay the final stages of the Silver Line unless it received more federal funding.

But, that dire outlook all changed shortly before 3 p.m. on Wednesday, when the House of Representatives passed the $1.9 trillion American Recovery Plan on a near-party-line vote of 220-211.

"Congress has once again stepped up to address the needs of Metro and the regional transit systems that will be critical to our region's economic recovery," Metro Board of Directors Chair Paul C. Smedberg said, in a release. "While it will take more time to work out all the details, including Metro's exact share of this funding, the $1.4 billion provided by the American Recovery Plan for our region's transit agencies will allow us to avert the painful service reductions and layoffs that were on the table."

Metro General Manager/CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld also thanked the leadership of the region's entire congressional delegation in support of Metro's workers and riders.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which represents transit employees around the country, also praised the passage of the American Rescue Plan. The union opposed the inclusion of layoffs and services cuts included in WMATA's original Fiscal Year 2022 budget proposal.

"Our best path forward is to offer more service and help bring riders back to the system and this funding makes this the perfect time to run more buses and more trains." said Raymond Jackson, president and business for ATU Local 689, in a release. "With this funding, we've helped avoid the worst scenario. Now we have a responsibility to start thinking about how we can build back a public transportation system that was even stronger than before."

Metrorail ridership has decreased most years in the last decade, but the most significant decline happened in 2020 due to the pandemic. According to Metro data, average daily ridership declined each year from 2011 to 2018. Ridership increased in 2019 to 626,000 average daily riders before a significant drop to 177,000 average daily riders in 2020. So far in 2021, average daily ridership is 77,000. Metro estimates Metrorail ridership is down 90 percent and Metrobus ridership is down 60 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Metro Board is currently soliciting public comment on its proposed budget for FY 2022. Smedberg reported that more than 18,000 people have provided feedback already.

Metro customers can provide feedback through an online survey by 5 p.m. on March 16 or call toll-free 844-468-5748. There are also several public hearings planned and public feedback will be given to the Metro's Board of Directors as part of the decision-making process in April. The board is required to adopt a balanced budget for FY 2022 by June 30.