The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is facing a $176 million gap in its $1.7 billion fiscal 2010 budget that will likely force service cuts and the elimination of 891 jobs, but WMATA officials said they will not increase fares.

“The budget year ahead is as bleak as the national economy,” the agency’s general manager, John Catoe, said in a news release. “However, we are proposing to deliver a balanced spending plan that remains focused on safety and customer service without asking local governments or our riders to pay more.”

WMATA, also known as Metro, presented the budget proposal to its board of directors late last week. Under a $1.3 billion operating budget, the transit agency faces a $176 million gap. Budget analysts said expenses increased by $159 million from the previous year due to stock market losses in Metro’s pension fund, an increase in ridership, and rising energy and labor contract costs.

Despite the ridership growth, revenue dropped by $17 million due to unfilled parking lots and declining investment interest, less revenue from fiber optics, and lower property rental incomes, officials said. 

“To close this $176 million gap, we propose to cut our projected expenses by $103 million,” Catoe said. “Then, as a last resort, we are proposing $73 million in service cuts.”

The transit agency said it has not cut service in 13 years. Catoe cut pay raises and vacancies, froze hiring, and trimmed internal contract, travel, and other administrative costs last fall. Of the 891 jobs it will cut, Metro said half are vacant positions.

The cuts mark the second round of proposed layoffs in three years. In 2007, the agency cut 254 positions, nearly 20% of its administrative staff.

WMATA’s capital improvement budget is $478 million, and most of the funds are for repairs to stations, tracks, and trains, overhauling escalators, improving aging bus and rail facilities, and buying 100 hybrid-electric buses.

“At a time when we need capital funding more than ever, the fiscal 2010 capital budget has decreased by a third compared to the last fiscal year, and highlights the urgent need for more capital funding,” Metro board chairman Christopher Zimmerman said in a release. 

The board must approve a final budget in June, just before fiscal 2010 begins on July 1.

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