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To fix Metro, group recommends redoing WMATA

FILE -- Metro carries passengers in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

WASHINGTON — Federal City Council, a D.C. civic advocacy group that includes former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, said the way to fix Metro’s woes is to fix the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority itself.

In a Washington Post op-ed, the council suggested that the WMATA Compact, the agreement that establishes and sets out the rules for the transit agency, was fundamentally flawed and needed to be redone from scratch.

The core of the proposal is to eliminate the current Metro board and replace it with a smaller board with members chosen for their expertise and experience in transit, not for the jurisdictions they represent.

Currently, the District, Virginia, Maryland and the federal government select representatives to serve on the Metro board. Many of these members are public officials who serve other public duties and are not paid by Metro to serve on the board.

“It is hard to fix Metro when its member jurisdictions can veto productive changes or well-conceived management plans are not effectively executed in the field,” the op-ed said. “It is hard to persuade stakeholders — passengers and jurisdictions alike — to continue to invest in Metro given concerns about runaway operating and capital costs, coupled with weak controls on spending and quality. Without making extreme changes, we will perpetuate the degradation of the system, its safety and its benefit to the region.”

Other recommendations that would be included in this new compact would include the formal establishment of a federally compliant Metro Safety Commission, remove the current arbitration process of union contract negotiations designed to prevent strikes, and establish a dedicated funding source for WMATA.

Metro board chairman Jack Evans, who is also a District councilman, said he liked the idea.

“The devil is always in the details, like how you do that and what would come out of that. But, yes, the concept I think makes a lot of sense,” Evans told WTOP. “The ability to kick the can down the road by the local governments, by the local business community, by the residents, by everybody has led Metro into a situation that is very, very serious.”

The councilman said he liked the idea of a smaller board that could act more efficiently without jurisdictional vetoes. He suggests five local people to serve on this board without any commitments to their home jurisdictions.

“Look, I am on the board and pulled both ways,” Evans said. “The argument could be made that ending late night hours is what’s best for Metro and yet my jurisdiction doesn’t want to do that.”

Evans said that no matter what happens, his biggest concerns were money and funding — concerns he said would still be around if an idea like the one proposed by the Federal City Council moved forward.

The organization said in its editorial that the region has been investing good money into a bad system.

“I think it’s an excellent point,” Evans said. “Money has been put into Metro in the past and it has been wasted.”

The councilman said the system was better today and the current board had been working hard to be transparent and efficient.

He said that transit infrastructure funding was an issue that affects every major subway system in the country. He pointed out that they are all funded by a dedicated sales tax, but noted that Metro also had a heavy federal influence.

“[The federal government] paid for two-thirds of the cost of constructing it, 42 percent of the entire federal workforce everyday rides Metro,” Evans said, noting that WMATA is the only transit agency that has federal representation on its board.

“We are America’s subway,” he said. “Remember, 25 million people come to Washington every year as tourist and rides on Metro. The entire country has a stake in Washington Metro. The nation’s capital should have the finest subway in the world and it shouldn’t be a laughingstock which it has evolved into.”

Whether the stakeholders, the District, Maryland and Virginia, along with the help of Congress, will agree to re-do the WMATA Compact is still unclear, though support for it is growing.

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