‘Metro for DC’ proposal to donate $100 a month for transit advances
The bill was introduced in early March 2020 by Councilman Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), days before the region began facing pandemic-related restrictions.
“It was an important idea at the time, but now that we’re facing our economic recovery, it’s absolutely imperative,” Allen said Monday. “The success of the metro is so closely tied to the success of the district and, frankly, the success of the region.
DC Council resurrects proposal to give residents $100 a month on public transit
The bill, co-introduced by eight of the 13 council members, would give DC adults and pre-K children $100 in monthly SmarTrip credits to use on the subway as well as regional bus systems that use SmartTrip. Federal employees who receive public transit subsidies would not be eligible. Students enrolled in DC schools already receive unlimited ride fare through the city’s Kids Ride Free program.
About 185,000, or 44%, of people in DC who use Metro would be eligible for the credits, the DC Council Budget Office said in a report. Council members initially discussed limiting the program to low-income adults, but Allen said the cost of verifying eligibility was too high.
Credits would not accumulate, with balances resetting each month to $100. The bill would also spend at least $10 million annually on improving the bus system in mostly underserved areas.
Metrorail ridership is up about 10% since Labor Day, but is less than half of pre-pandemic levels. The transit system faces a budget shortfall amid growing telecommuting during the pandemic.
Budget officials this month projected a nearly $185 million funding shortfall next year as Metro runs out of federal coronavirus aid.
Annual funding shortfalls are expected to reach $527 million the following year, rising each year unless there are significant increases in revenue or funding, Metro officials said last week. The “DC for Metro” bill, meanwhile, would cost the city between $54 million and $163 million in transit credits, depending on beneficiary usage.
“Metro appreciates legislative initiatives that provide funding and improve service,” Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said in a statement. “We welcome all initiatives that encourage customers to choose Metro.
After proving its worth during the pandemic, momentum is building for free or discounted public transit
Proponents of the proposal said the pandemic has highlighted just how much low-income residents rely on public transit. The report from the district budget office found that 40% of those who would qualify for the credits earn less than $36,000 a year. The office of DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) did not respond to a request for comment on the proposal.
Across the country, initiatives to make public transit free have gained momentum during the pandemic, with Alexandria among the communities that have removed fares.
The money to pay for the DC program would come from tax revenues that exceed city projections, a result of growth and rising property values. Allen estimated the program would require up to $163 million in its first year and an additional $10 million for bus system improvements, such as bus lanes and shelters.
The city received $311 million more last year than expected, council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said.
Council member Christina Henderson (I-At Large) said improving bus service would help attract more passengers to the system.
“We need to figure out how to get people back on public transit in the numbers we at least saw before the pandemic,” Henderson said. “For some people, it’s expensive as a barrier. But for many people, it’s around reliability.
Cheh, who chairs the transportation committee, said the program was expensive but DC would recoup its investment.
“We need to help our transit system. He has a lot of problems,” Cheh said. “It will increase ridership and increase the use of public transit, with all the benefits that come with that for the district.”