Washington Metro Cuts 1,400 Employees Starting on Christmas


The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is expected to lay off over a thousand employees over a period starting on Christmas, according to layoff notices filed in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland. The cuts are the result of low ridership in the current 2021 fiscal year, which ends in June. A Metro official, who was not authorized to talk to the media, said that approximately 1,400 layoffs were expected soon, with an additional 2,400 needed to cover shortfalls in fiscal year 2022.

On its website, WMATA lists cost saving measures for fiscal year 2021. “We’re preparing to resume fare collection on Metrobus and cut costs by limiting the use of contractors, furloughing employees, and deferring some capital program expenses. But the budget shortfall is so large, service cuts and layoffs will also be needed beginning in December.”

Looking ahead to fiscal year 2022, WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld signaled a need for another federal bailout like the CARES Act funds the metro received in Spring 2020.

“Without additional federal funding, constrained jurisdiction subsidies and ridership projected at 34% of pre-pandemic levels, operating gap will be almost half a billion dollars,” states the GM’s fiscal proposal. According to The Washington Business Journal, Wiedefeld said that unless that funding materializes, the second round of 2,400 layoffs will be necessary.

In a Friday meeting with the WMATA board, Wiedefeld said that vaccine availability wouldn’t instantly drive WMATA ridership back to normal levels. Not only is WMATA lacking business commuters, it’s also struggling with decreased tourism to Washington.

“As you know, we don’t just move people to work. This summer, if the museums aren’t open and people aren’t coming back for that tourism, we lose a lot of riders,” Wiedefeld said. “We already know for instance, the Cherry Blossom Festival has been canceled.”

WMATA is mainly funded by governments, including Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C., and localities including Arlington and Fairfax. According to the current fiscal year 2021 budget, $2.4 billion is expected from state and local funding and $489.6 million in federal funding, with an additional $546.3 million allocated from federal CARES act funds. Due to COVID-19, only $385.9 million is expected to be earned through fares and parking revenue.

However, government funding of WMATA is normal. In 2010, a Congressional Resource Service (CRS) report said the transportation authority is structured more like a publicly-owned utility than a corporation. In pre-pandemic fiscal year 2019, WMATA budgeted for $736 million in fares and parking revenue, while federal, state, and local governments contributed $2.25 billion dollars to the transportation authority. In 2016, Wiedefeld announced 500 layoffs as the metro adopted a more austere budget, according to The Washington Post. The General Manager was hired in 2015, according to his bio.

WMATA’s financial woes go back even farther. The 2010 CRS report said, “Funding is a perennial problem for WMATA, as it is for most public transit agencies, because it is heavily reliant on government support to cover both capital and operating costs.”

However, WMATA and its funding governments may still be able to prevent the second wave of layoffs.

“The 2022 fiscal year budget won’t be finalized until March 2021,” Weidefeld said according to The Washington Business Journal. “That gives some time to stave off the second round of layoffs. If the congressional funds come in the near term, between now and the next few months, we can turn relatively quickly. This doesn’t kick in until July. We can pull back.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “The metro” by WMATA.





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