Metro is facing a significant budget gap of $750 million, which could result in layoffs, a hiring freeze, and severe service cuts. The transit agency may have to issue notices to employees this winter regarding potential layoffs and staff reductions. Factors such as the coronavirus pandemic, record inflation, and a decline in ridership have contributed to Metro’s financial difficulties. Furthermore, Metro claims that millions of dollars in federal credits that were provided to local jurisdictions during the pandemic have not been returned. Without increased funding from local jurisdictions, Metro will be forced to make difficult decisions, including potentially cutting services by 67 percent.
The timing of the budget cycle and the legislative cycle does not align, creating a conflicting situation for Metro. In the best-case scenario, the transit agency would still require hundreds of millions of dollars from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia to close the budget gap for the next fiscal year. Metro leaders will receive an initial briefing on the budget challenges, but the situation appears dire. According to a board presentation, closing the deficit would require drastic measures such as cutting service by 67 percent, resulting in shorter trains, longer wait times, and reduced bus lines. These cuts could jeopardize the recovery of ridership that Metro has been experiencing. Metro officials are raising concerns now in hopes of reaching a compromise before these drastic cuts become necessary.
It remains to be seen how the situation will be resolved, but there is optimism that a solution can be found. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Board of Directors Chair emphasized the importance of a reliable and sustainable Metro system for the region’s economy and quality of life. State, local, and federal leaders will need to prioritize finding a long-term funding solution to avoid the looming fiscal cliff facing Metro. This warning about the budget gap is not the first; Metro initially alerted riders to the issue in June.