Free Metrobus service in D.C. confronts funding challenges
Due to the District’s deteriorating financial situation, the city’s proposal for free Metrobus service has been delayed.
Driving the news: Glen Lee, the District’s top financial officer, said in a quarterly report that the city did not have enough extra sales tax revenue to pay for the program.
Why it’s important When it approved the program last December, the nation’s capital sought to become the biggest city in the nation to provide free Metrobus service.
The program’s implementation this summer was dependent on the District earning more money than it needed. While D.C. has become accustomed to making tons of money over the past ten years, unoccupied office buildings in the city center have reduced tax collections.
The same dynamics that are weighing down the national economy are being felt in the District.The mystery: Yesterday, Council Chair Phil Mendelson and Council Member Charles Allen released a statement in which they expressed concern about Lee’s “pattern of vastly underestimating District revenues” and said they wanted the Council’s budget office and general counsel to examine the report in an effort to uncover additional projected revenue.
Danger level: Metro’s financial situation may suffer if the fare-free service is suspended.
The transportation company is dealing with budgetary issues that are primarily the result of declining ridership and is partially depending on ridership recovery for an increase in revenue. This fiscal year, Metro expects bus passenger revenue to bring in $68 million, up from the $59 million anticipated during the previous fiscal year.Metro did not provide comment and directed our request to the District Department of Transportation.
What we’re watching: The D.C. Council could still cut from other programs to find over $50 million needed annually for the free bus program, but that would still likely delay its launch to 2024 at the earliest.
Plus, lawmakers will have to contend with a tricky budget process where schools, public safety, and other programs all compete for funding.