By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
Facing a nearly $500 million deficit due to the pandemic, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority proposed a sweeping set of budget cuts on Monday that would eliminate two of Alexandria’s Metro stops.
The proposed FY2022 budget cuts would close Metro service after 9 p.m., end weekend service, reduce the number of trains and close 19 stations, including the Eisenhower Avenue and Van Dorn Street stations, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said during a Monday press conference.
WMATA also proposed salary freezes, layoffs and deferring wage increases for its employees as part of its FY2022 budget.
If approved, these changes would take effect in July 2021.
WMATA’s Metro woes were present prior to the pandemic, when decreasing ridership and levels of service were already a challenge for the agency. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in about a 90% decrease in ridership, according to the DCist, exacerbated the situation.
In response, WMATA restricted the hours of operation for Metro trains to between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. on weekdays. In May, WMATA also received $876 million in federal funding as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to help it balance its budget and prepare to scale up its operations during reopening.
Ridership has since returned to about 20% to 25% of pre-pandemic levels, Wiedefeld said on Monday.
On top of ridership falling sharply, Metro’s expenses increased during the pandemic, as it invested $10 million in testing, personal protective equipment and cleaning, according to WTOP.
The budget cuts are “by no means a doomsday scenario,” Wiedefeld said, but local politicians beg to disagree.
In a press release, Rep. Don Beyer called the cuts “apocalyptic” and that they would “devastate [Metro’s] workforce.”
“This catastrophe must not be allowed to happen, and Congress can prevent it by passing a new aid package,” Beyer said. “WMATA is not alone in its massive funding shortfall, which is a direct result of the pandemic. Cuts like this will hit across the country without robust aid for state and local governments and specific targeted funding for transit.”
Mayor Justin Wilson took to social media on Tuesday, criticizing WMATA’s proposed budget cuts and the impact they would have on the city and region.
“This is what the worst case scenario looks like and should not happen,” Wilson tweeted on Tuesday. “This will irreparably harm our region, our economy and those that live here.”