Starv­ing Md. tran­sit

Our view: Whether in Bal­ti­more or the D.C. sub­urbs, mal­nour­ished public trans­porta­tion needs all the help it can get

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND VOICES -

Cut­ting off funds to public tran­sit doesn’t get you bet­ter public tran­sit. One need only look at the ex­am­ple set by New Jer­sey Tran­sit where, as The New York Times re­cently de­tailed, the state sub­sidy for the com­muter rail­road fell by 90 per­cent un­der Gov. Chris Christie. That meant, among other things, ne­glected upkeep and no money to pay for needed safety up­grades. There­sult? Adeadly train crash at the Hobo­ken­ter­mi­nal on Sept. 29 that might have been pre­vented had of­fi­cials not de­lib­er­ately de­layed the in­stal­la­tion of Pos­i­tive Train Con­trol.

The les­son should not be lost on Maryland com­muters, par­tic­u­larly in the Washington sub­urbs where ne­glect of a 40-year-old sub­way sys­tem once re­garded as the state of the art has been just as hor­rific. A deadly fire, dan­ger­ous con­di­tions, track de­fects, de­rail­ments and shut­downs have forced tem­po­rary clos­ings of all or por­tions of the sys­tem to make emer­gency re­pairs. Cus­tomers have aban­doned the Washington Metro in droves as a re­sult.

That’s whyGov. Larry Ho­gan’s call last week­for the Washington Metropoli­tan Area Tran­sit Au­thor­ity to get its house in order be­fore Maryland can con­sider spend­ing more tax dol­lars on Metro is prob­lem­atic at best. He’s right that WMATAlead­er­ship has been want­ing, but he’s wrong to think that sup­port­ing Metro now amounts to throw­ing “good money af­ter bad.” Un­der WMATA Gen­eral Man­ager Paul J. Wiede­feld, a former chief of the Maryland Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Thur­good Mar­shall Bal­ti­more-Washington In­ter­na­tional Air­port, Metro is fi­nally con­fronting its main­te­nance prob­lems head-on, so the tim­ing seems pe­cu­liar.

What does deny­ing WMATA ad­e­quate fund­ing (the sys­tem faces a $275 mil­lion short­fall next year) ac­tu­ally ac­com­plish? It means trim­ming back ser­vices and rais­ing fares, a good way to en­sure that rid­ers who aban­doned Metro in re­cent years will stay away. That doesn’t pro­duce greater ef­fi­ciency, it only com­pounds the prob­lem by en­forc­ing a death spi­ral of re­duced ser­vice and cus­tomer dis­sat­is­fac­tion, forc­ing more cuts and fare in­creases in the fu­ture. And it means those rid­ers are likely headed to the roads, where con­ges­tion will worsen for all com­muters.

This is a se­ri­ous mat­ter, and we ap­pre­ci­ate the frus­tra­tion felt by elected lead­ers, in­clud­ing Vir­ginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who said he sim­i­larly wants to see im­prove­ments first be­fore send­ing WMATA­more­money. But does that re­flect a “tough love” at­ti­tude to­ward Metro or sim­ply a de­sire to avoid the po­lit­i­cal heat that comes from spend­ing money on a sub­way sys­tem that has failed so mis­er­ably? If ne­glect is the cen­tral prob­lem, fur­ther ne­glect is hardly go­ing to make things bet­ter.

We pose the ques­tion be­cause un­der Gover­nor Ho­gan, Maryland seems to be on a path to­ward min­i­miz­ing its com­mit­ments to public tran­sit when­ever pos­si­ble. His de­ci­sion to cut Bal­ti­more’s Red Line, a po­ten­tially trans­for­ma­tive eco­nomic The Washington Metropoli­tan Area Tran­sit Au­thor­ity faces a pro­jected $275 mil­lion bud­get short­fall next year. devel­op­ment boost for the city, with­out pro­vid­ing an ad­e­quate al­ter­na­tive be­yond re­jig­ger­ing bus routes is the most ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple. But he’s been stingy else­where, too: with­draw­ing $78 mil­lion in fi­nan­cial sup­port for Mont­gomery County’s Cor­ri­dor Cities Tran­sit­way, ef­fec­tively can­cel­ing the16-mile bus rapid tran­sit pro­ject in the traf­fic-clogged I-270 cor­ri­dor, as well as last year’s de­ci­sion to re­duce state fund­ing for the Pur­ple Line Bethesda-toNew Carrollton light rail pro­ject.

That’s quite a con­trast to the gover­nor’s af­fec­tion for high­way con­struc­tion, given how he’s ac­cel­er­ated ru­ral and ex­ur­ban paving projects across the state and re­duced tolls. Such pro-road poli­cies are des­tined to have the ef­fect, whether in­tended or not, of clog­ging Maryland’s roads. “If you build it, they will come,” is more than a movie catch-phrase, it’s the proven re­sult of widen­ing high­ways that en­cour­age sprawl and in­evitably lengthen com­mutes. No won­der a group of tran­sit ad­vo­cates last week un­veiled a new statewide coali­tion to push for projects like an ex­panded MARC sys­tem and the Red Line’s re­vival — it’s clear the state needs to unite against a com­mon threat.

Cer­tainly, Maryland needs to find a bet­ter way to fi­nance its tran­sit sys­tems. Are­gional sales tax is cer­tainly onepos­si­bil­ity, but it can’t be cre­ated merely to en­able Mr. Ho­gan to di­vert more of the ex­ist­ing rev­enue streams within the Trans­porta­tion Trust Fund (in­clud­ing the gas tax) to­ward road con­struc­tion. Given Maryland’s con­tin­u­ing air pol­lu­tion prob­lems, the threat posed by cli­mate change and its traf­fic woes (the D.C. area ranks sec­ond only to Los Angeles for worst con­ges­tion), it would be fool­ish to raid public tran­sit in order to spend sub­stan­tially more money on the most pol­lut­ing and waste­ful, least en­ergy ef­fi­cient and most dan­ger­ous way to trans­port peo­ple to jobs — alone in their au­to­mo­biles.


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