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PRTC submits proposed FY18 budget

From the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission:

The Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC) Board of Commissioners voted February 9 to submit the agency’s proposed FY18 budget to its six member jurisdictions for their consideration. The member jurisdictions are Prince William, Stafford and Spotsylvania Counties and the Cities of Manassas, Manassas Park and Fredericksburg.

PRTC provides commuter and local buses and ridesharing services in Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park. PRTC also operates the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) in partnership with the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC), serving all six member jurisdictions.

The proposed $60 million budget includes $24 million in capital expenses and $36 million in operating costs and was developed using management’s recommended guidelines that were adopted by the Board in October 2016. The budget includes a 5 percent fare increase, minor bus service efficiencies, and internal measures to reduce expenses in FY18, which starts on July 1, 2017. This spring, PRTC will host public hearings on the budget and fare increase, and the Commission is expected to vote on the budget in June.

Each PRTC member jurisdiction collects a 2.1 percent tax on motor fuels to pay for its share of public transportation costs. Unlike last year, Prince William County will not have a shortfall in is motor fuels tax revenues in FY18; however, the City of Manassas is facing a projected $250,000 deficit. The tax began generating dramatically less revenue when fuel prices plummeted in late 2014. Manassas uses its fuel tax revenues to pay for its share of PRTC and VRE services as well as debt service for its downtown parking garage and parking lease costs.

“Our budget guidelines recommended making no further service cuts in the coming year in order to provide a year of stability to customers; allow elected officials to methodically determine PRTC’s future via development of a strategic plan; and to provide an opportunity to continue pursuing funding relief, such as a motor fuels tax floor,” said PRTC Interim Executive Director Eric Marx.

“If the deficit issue can’t be solved, PRTC would need to further reduce OmniLink service in the Manassas area,” Marx said.

Manassas, Manassas Park and Prince William County all contribute toward the three OmniLink routes that could be affected. PRTC will hold public hearings if cuts of 25 percent or more are proposed for Manassas area local service.

PRTC has faced budget challenges in recent years due to declining motor fuels tax revenues and reduced federal funding. Going into last year’s budget season, PRTC faced an average annual funding deficit of $11.5 million. Through a combination of service cuts, fare increases, administrative reductions, and updated budget conditions, PRTC reduced the projected deficit by $4 million per year.

To balance the FY17 budget, Prince William and Manassas used some of their Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) funding to cover VRE expenses. Prince William chose to dedicate NVTA funds to VRE for its five-year budget period, while Manassas did so only for FY17.

Since 2009, PRTC has cut overall service by more than 20 percent and raised fares by more than 35 percent. In FY17, PRTC is carrying an average of 7,600 daily OmniRide passengers and another 2,750 passengers per day on OmniLink local buses. As with other DC-area transit providers, PRTC ridership has fallen in recent years due to fare increases, lower fuel prices, changing economic conditions and demographics, less frequent service, and an influx of new ridesharing options such as Uber and Lyft.”

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