Federal control board suggested for Metro

WASHINGTON — As Metro tries to rebuild the basics, a D.C. business group hopes that some ideas for larger reforms, including the establishment of a federal control board, could spark broader changes.

A hard deadline for a revised compact governing Metro, as well as a short-term control board with authority to look at broad changes to how Metro is run, could inspire regional confidence to approve new dedicated funding, said Emeka Moneme, the Federal City Council’s deputy executive director.

“Most people don’t think that there’s a solution. People just are kind of waiting for it to fix itself somehow magically,” Moneme told reporters Tuesday. “I think if nothing else, what we offer is, there’s a path — treacherous, dangerous, full of risks — but there is a path here.”

Moneme points to the long process to get agreement among the jurisdictions on the Metro Safety Commission, after years of delays, as one reason the Federal City Council suggests a control board as a possible extreme measure that members of Congress could point to.

“Given what we’ve experienced with the Metro Safety Commission, the control board makes a lot of sense as an immediate step given how the system is failing,” Moneme said.

“It stabilizes operations. It attacks and addresses some of the most sticky wickets associated with the authority. … It creates a better platform for the governors and the mayor to come to a long-term compact agreement.”

He does not expect that agreement to happen anytime soon, despite Metro fueling billions of dollars’ worth of development and limiting the number of cars on the road.

“Is it a regional system or not? Right now … people want a confederation of transit services, so I can pay for what I want and not pay for what I don’t want. It doesn’t work. We lose great economies of scale,” Moneme said.

In the meantime, the Metro Board is set to agree later this month on fare hikes and service cuts that could accelerate recent ridership declines.

“Metro is effectively in the midst of a death spiral. Ridership is going down as people lose confidence in the system, which further exacerbates its structural operating gap,” Moneme said, echoing the position of Metro’s largest union.

Metro is finally spending all of its capital budget for maintenance efforts — thanks in large part to long-delayed projects like new railcars finally coming in — after years of leaving millions of dollars on the table.

“Over the last couple years, we kept on getting these, like, signals, the canary in the coal mine that there were problems,” Moneme said.

“Now they’re amplifying, and they’re not going to go away. They’re just going to increase in frequency until we rebuild the system.”

He acknowledged that the group’s suggestions are evolving, but added “the status quo is unsustainable.”

As other groups have said, the broad suggestions include:

  • Governance reforms aimed at reducing jurisdictional squabbles
  • Operations changes to address service and safety challenges that could include more contracting
  • Changes to labor deals
  • Improved management or more flexibility for Metro leadership
  • An eventual agreement on dedicated funding for the system

“There is no way that we move Metro forward without all of those levers being pulled in the solution,” Moneme said.

He hopes Congress does something based on the ideas the group is putting out, which potentially still include pulling federal support for the Metro Compact or using federal funding as a carrot and stick to move the region in the right direction.

“It doesn’t make sense to put dollars into a system and an organization that does not deliver what you expect that money to deliver,” Moneme said.

Virginia is increasing its focus on changes for the Metro Compact after direction to study potential revisions was included in approved legislation establishing the Metro Safety Commission.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation plan to start working on proposals — and later agreement with Maryland, D.C. and the federal government — on issues that include the following:

  • The size and expertise of the Metro Board
  • Labor costs and labor relations
  • What must be done to deal with Metro’s unfunded pension and other post-employment benefit liabilities
  • How to improve safety
  • Financial and operational improvements

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe plans to officially sign the safety commission bill after Maryland’s version of the legislation is signed, briefing documents for the NVTC say. That allows McAuliffe to propose an amendment if Maryland makes any changes.

Last month, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the bill that the three jurisdictions agreed on.

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