Over the next two years, Metro will receive $25 million for maintenance and $46 million to replace aging diesel buses with hybrids.
“It helps us from reducing service this year and prevents us from reducing jobs here at Metro,” general manager Kevin Desmond said Wednesday, at a briefing to elected officials in the county’s regional transit committee.
A steep plunge in consumer spending — sales taxes subsidize 71 percent of Metro’s operating budget — is creating a $326 million gap between Metro’s income and its plans for huge service expansions for 2008-11.
To stay afloat, Metro boosted fares by a quarter per trip last month and will raise them another quarter next year. The agency canceled some maintenance and capital projects last fall, but none that riders on the street would notice.
Those moves and the stimulus trimmed this year’s shortfall to a manageable $17 million, likely to be covered by cash reserves. The overall budget is around $600 million this year.
However, the real crisis for Metro is the revenue shortfall for next year. That budget was recently projected to have a $100 million dollar revenue gap, which would translate to a service reduction of 20%. We asked Metro what affect the stimulus would have on next year’s revenue gap, but we didn’t hear back from them in time for publication of this story.
Update: Metro got back to us. A spokesperson for the transit agency said, “In general, the stimulus money will help free up some revenue that can be applied to operating expenses in 2009 and 2010. But this revenue will not make up for the deep loss of sales tax revenues. As far as future transit service reductions, Metro will be developing options in the coming months for dealing with the budget shortfall. It’s too early to say how service would ultimately be effected.”