Riders and employees expressed outcry at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) proposed 2018 fiscal year budget during a public hearing on January 30th. The budget would raise fares for Metrorail by 10-25 cents and Metrobus by 25 cents, while reducing rail and bus service and eliminating nearly three-dozen bus routes.

Speakers in the crowded four-hour hearing focused on saving bus lines and fighting fare hikes. They argued that governments and businesses that benefit from the public transit system do not contribute enough to keeping it working.

Speakers also noted that many bus routes slotted to be cut serve primarily low-income and minority neighborhoods, leaving residents with fewer transit options at a higher price. In addition, the budget would eliminate 500 administrative and operational positions at WMATA.

2016 was a rough year for WMATA riders due to the SafeTrack maintenance program, which shut down and single-tracked Metro lines for weeks at a time. The proposed bus service adjustments anger riders who grew increasingly reliant upon the bus network rather than crowded, infrequent, and expensive trains.

The service cuts and fare hikes in the proposed $3.1 billion budget attempt to pay down the $290 million shortfall from the 2017 fiscal year – a deficit struggle WMATA’s budget report blames on declining ridership. The report estimates that the new budget will even further decline ridership by approximately 15 million trips in the 2018 fiscal year.

But bus operators argued at the hearing that ridership is “at an all time high,” according to bus operator Linda Mercer, yet fares cannot be collected because of broken fare collection boxes on many buses.

Many riders at the hearing told the Board they might lose their jobs if their bus line was eliminated. Some riders calculated how much more money they would have to spend per week riding Metro instead of the bus – a substitute the budget report proposed for riders who lost their bus route.

After the hearing, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld told reporters he was moved “[t]o hear the impact it has on peoples’ lives when you take away their service, and just some of the other issues they raised, but we also have to deal with the financial realities.”

Robert Puentes, the president of Eno, suggests that WMATA think outside the box to better serve riders, like the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority’s partnership with Uber and Lyft. Puentes told WAMU, “There are so many innovations that are happening on the transportation side that there is no reason why this region should not be able to solve a range of different problems.”

In addition, speakers advocated for more public hearings, particularly town hall meetings held in neighborhoods that would be affected by service cuts.

The Board will decide the final budget in March. Until then, riders can submit a survey commenting on the proposed budget until February 6th.