Shutdown costing Metro millions of dollars, ridership down 20 pe - New York News

Shutdown costing Metro millions of dollars, ridership down 20 percent

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WASHINGTON -

The government shutdown is costing Metro millions of dollars. The steep drop in riders, potential loss of federal funds and a missed payment from the District could leave the transit agency strapped for cash.

All this as the agency begins discussing a fare increase next year.

"In the long run, you just can't sustain it. This it's like the rest of the country, you can't sustain it," said Richard Sarles, Metro General Manager and CEO.

While furloughed federal workers will get back wages when the shutdown ends, Metro will not be reimbursed for its losses which continue to mount with every passing day of the shutdown.

The transit agency has already made cuts, reducing the trains from eight cars to six to save cash. But with ridership down about 20 percent, the losses -- a few hundred thousand dollars a day -- are staggering.

"It's a couple of million dollars. That's why we're concerned,” Sarles said. “If the nation resolves their issues, then we can deal with that, but if it goes on too long, it certainly can have further impact."

Metro has a $30 million surplus from last year, which was earmarked for fiscal year 2015, starting July 1. Tapping that to cover the bill now will shortchange the budget and riders next year. The longer the shutdown lasts, the bigger the losses.

"As far of that's concerned, you need to talk to the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, and tell him to get his act together," said frustrated rider Rick Jones.

The implications could be far-reaching, affecting how much riders pay. Metro is discussing a modest rate hike next year, about ten cents per ride on rail and 15 cents on buses. But that could climb higher if Metro faces catastrophic losses.

"I think that is modest and I think I'd be okay with that, but I think there's a lot of people that that would significantly impact their budget," said Shannon Harris, who rides Metro downtown from her home in Silver Spring.

From federal funding to transit benefits that impact riders and the shutdown, Metro's fate is tied to Capitol Hill. Metro is monitoring the situation, but if something is done soon, the agency may have to take additional measures.

"At some point they'll have to be changes," Sarles said.

Because of the shutdown, D.C. missed its quarterly $74 million payment to Metro. The transit agency says there is no immediate financial risk.

The jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia have paid their share, which should buy some time until the shutdown ends and D.C. can come up with the money.

The bottom line is Metro needs the government to get back to business, so it can too.

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