User:Sean Heron/Washington Transit Authority holds hearing

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{{stale}} Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Jackson Graham Building, where Metro headquarters is located.

Washington, D.C.– The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) held on Friday the last in a series of six public hearings regarding proposed budget cuts for fiscal year 2010. Fifty-three witnesses spoke at the hearing, of whom nearly all strongly opposed the cuts to bus service that were recommended by Metro staff. Chairing the hearing was D.C. Councilmember and Metro board chairman Jim Graham. Also present were multiple members of Amalgamated Transit Union local 689 who oppose the cuts.

According to John B. Catoe, Jr., the General Manager of Metro, these cuts are necessary to close a projected budgetary shortfall of $29 million. However, one of the speakers at the hearing testified that Metro expects a budget surplus for fiscal year 2009, and it was suggested that this surplus be applied towards the fiscal year 2010 budget in order to prevent cuts to bus service. (Ordinarily, the surplus is returned to the state and local governments.)

Several speakers objected to specific components of the proposal, such as plans to eliminate Metrobus route D5, which serves MacArthur Boulevard in Northwest D.C., connecting the Palisades neighborhood to the downtown area, and plans to shorten Metrobus routes P17, P18, P19, W13 and W14 which currently connect southern Prince George’s County, Maryland to downtown Washington and which Metro wishes to terminate at Southern Avenue Metro Station. Concerns were raised regarding the safety of pedestrians at night, as well as crime at Southern Avenue Metro Station. One speaker, the president of a homeowners’ association, noted that the hearing paperwork did not provide a reason for the proposed reduction in the P17, P18, P19, W13 and W14 routes; the chairman directed the general manager to review this proposal. A few speakers questioned the validity of the data gathered in support of the elimination of route D5; the chairman directed the general manager to review this as well.

A number of speakers, including a Metro employee in uniform (who received a standing ovation in response to his presentation), mentioned that bus service is the only means of transport available for some people to get to their jobs, and a few characterized this as a matter of life or death. Regarding the bus services that Metro proposes to eliminate, one speaker commented, “it’s not my bus, and it might not be your bus, but it’s somebodys bus.” Others mentioned that reduction of bus service would cause suburban professionals, who have a choice, to commute by car, resulting in pollution and contributing to climate change.

Other speakers questioned whether the Metro board, which comprises members appointed by the governments of Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, would listen to the concerns raised at the meeting at all. A speaker from the antiwar group ANSWER Coalition mentioned that even though $154 million (the original size of the budget shortfall before other cuts were made and a source of revenue was identified) seems like a large amount of money, the U.S. government spends half a billion tax dollars daily on the Iraq war; thus, the funds required for ten hours of war would be sufficient to satisfy the original $154 million budget shortfall.

One speaker suggested that money could be saved in the future by buying more compressed natural gas buses. Another speaker mentioned other possible cost savings such as elimination of rush-hour service on Martin Luther King’s birthday, President’s Day, Veterans’ Day and Columbus Day; the chairman directed the general manager to study this suggestion.

Early in the hearing, transit police attempted to stop a man from entering the room where the hearing was held; however, the man shouted that he merely wanted to display a sign, and appealed to the chairman to be allowed to stay. The chairman, Jim Graham, said that if the man wanted to display the sign, he should move to the front and center of the audience; otherwise, nobody would be able to see what the sign said. After this invitation for the protester to display the sign where the chairman and the general manager could see it, the audience erupted in applause. The chairman then said that he respects the police personnel and would clarify this issue later. The man who was displaying the protest sign eventually spoke at the hearing. Several other protesters carried smaller, pre-printed signs that said “NO SERVICE CUTS. NO FARE HIKES. NO LAYOFFS. JUSTICE FIRST”; these protesters were not involved in confrontations with the police. Before the hearing, protesters and members of the transit union demonstrated against the budget cuts in front of the headquarters building where the hearing was to be held.

Some speakers also objected to the elimination of 313 jobs from Metro. In reply to this Jim Graham, the chairman, remarked that 223 of these positions were vacant, so only 90 employees had actually been laid off.


Sources[edit]

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