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WMATA Budget Sparks Outcry; Bus Service Route & Fare Changes Called Discriminatory Low-Income & Poor

Accompanying images can be viewed starting on page 1 of the March 2020 issue pdf

By William G. Schulz

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) 2021 proposed budget has sounded alarm bells all over DC, including Northwest. In particular, changes to Metrobus routes in the city — especially elimination of some routes, as well as a fare surcharge for customers paying cash on the bus — have caused upset, notably among DC’s poor and working-class residents.

WMATA held just one public hearing in DC concerning its budget — on Wednesday, February 26, at 4 pm. Though an inconvenient day and hour for most working people, reports were that the hearing was nonetheless so crowded that an overflow room was needed.

What’s more, WMATA was forced to extend the deadline for online public comment from March 2nd to the 9th, such was the outcry over the lack of opportunity for the public to weigh in, including by Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) citywide.

The InTowner has not been able to confirm whether Dupont Circle ANC 2B has commented or otherwise weighed in on the proposed WMATA budget that includes many changes to not only bus service but also rail. Chair Daniel Warwick has not responded to our request for information. Moreover, ANC 2B no longer has a functioning transportation committee, and so work on such issues is not being considered by a smaller group of commissioners and residents.

WMATA has compiled a bullet point list of proposed service changes on Metrorail and Metrobus and it includes a link to the full WMATA budget document.

Of most concern in Northwest DC neighborhoods are the following proposed changes to bus service:

■ #54 14th Street.
#59 14th Street Limited.
 Add service to Route 59 and eliminate #54.
Change #59 to serve all stops between Colorado Avenue, NW and Takoma Metrorail Station previously served by Route 54.
Route 52 will not change.

■ #D2 Glover Park-Dupont Circle.
#G2 P Street-LeDroit Park.
Combine #D2 and #G2 to operate a single route between Glover Park and LeDroit Park via Dupont Circle.

■ #E6 Chevy Chase.
#M4 Nebraska Avenue.
Combine #E6 and #M4 to operate one route between Sibley Hospital and Chevy Chase/Knollwood.

“They should have given us the info [about service cuts] in December or January,” ANC 2E-01 Commissioner Kishan Putta told a DC Council/ WMATA oversight hearing. He said his constituents are particularly concerned about proposed changes to bus service, including elimination of the D2 bus line and a merger with the popular G2 line that would include route changes.

A representative of the Knollwood Military Retirement Community at 6200 Oregon Avenue., NW, told the oversight committee, chaired by At-Large member Charles C. White, Jr., that “the E6 bus has been a lifeline” for residents and staff. She said 60% of the community’s 90-person staff use the E6 bus, and that residents use the same bus for access to medical offices. “This bus is critical for residents and employees,” she said.

A representative from So Others Might Eat (SOME) told the Council hearing that changes such as the proposed surcharge on buses for customers who pay cash is discriminatory against the poor. She said a survey of the charity’s clients indicates that most of them use the bus to get around town because they cannot afford Metrorail. Also, the poor often do not have access to banking and so purchasing SmarTrip cards is neither convenient nor affordable. She called on WMATA to improve service on its bus lines by instituting free transfers and making buses cleaner and safer.

For its part, WMATA has promised transparency on comments received. In reply to our inquiry, a spokesperson responded as follows:

“The Metro Board will receive a report summarizing public comments prior to a final vote on the FY21 budget, likely in early April. That document will post on wmata.com prior to Board action. Metro held a forum open to all ANC commissioners at Metro headquarters on Feb. 11, prior to the public hearings. Metro also responded to individual inquiries from ANC members throughout the budget process, which began last fall.”

Meanwhile, as the WMATA budget process moves forward, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen has proposed an amendment to DC’s Department of Transportation Establishment Act of 2002 that would subsidize Metro for a broad swath of DC residents. The bill, signed by Chair Phil Mendelson and said to have the support of Mayor Muriel Bowser, would provide $100 SmarTrip cards free to most DC residents on a monthly basis.

Copyright © 2020 InTowner Publishing Corp. & William G. Schulz. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited, except as provided by 17 U.S.C. §§ 107 & 108 (“fair use”).