Metro is on track to end the year in the black, with as much as $25 million more than expected in its coffers.
The transit agency likely will finish the fiscal year that ends on June 30 with a "positive position" of $20 million to $25 million, according to a report slated to be presented to its Board of Directors on Thursday. That money likely will go back to the taxpayers via the communities that subsidize the agency.
The surplus marks the second year in a row that the agency is doing better financially than expected. Last year, Metro ended the fiscal year with a $28 million surplus, whereas in 2010, the agency had to add an emergency 10-cent surcharge to every trip to make up for a budget shortfall in the final months of the year.
The new surplus will come because Metro has spent less money than expected to run its trains and buses, even though it has been losing out on fare revenue due to a decline in ridership. Metro has brought in $21.3 million less in revenue than it expected for the first nine months of the fiscal year, mostly due to a slump in ridership and parking revenue.
But Metro also didn't spend as much as it expected.
The agency said it has spent $18 million less on fuel and utility costs than budgeted for two reasons: The agency secured better rates for fuel but also used $6.2 million less fuel than expected.
Last year, the agency's chief financial officer had credited Metro's slower-running trains in manual service with helping the agency save on fuel. The trains are still running in manual mode, which means the system cannot run as fast consistently.
The agency also spent less than it expected on MetroAccess, the federally mandated service for people with disabilities. Every ride on Metro costs more money than fares cover, but the MetroAccess service has been the priciest, with rides costing an average of about $40 per trip to deliver. Fares, however, are capped at $7.
In recent years, Metro has taken several steps to reduce ridership on the shared-ride buses and taxis. It has raised fares, restricted where riders can travel, and encouraged disabled riders to take the bus and rail system instead. The changes have resulted in a drop in ridership.
Much of the previous surplus is going toward this upcoming budget, helping the agency avoid fare hikes on July 1. But this latest one will be paid back to the local communities that fund it. "At the end of June, we will do an audit with the jurisdictions and return the funding to the jurisdictions based on the formula allocation," Metro spokesman Philip Stewart said in an email.