The problem with Metro
Regarding the Feb. 22 Metro article “Ridership losses add to Metro’s fiscal pain”:
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority officials say they have looked at every source of supplemental funding to keep the agency afloat, and the situation appears to be nearing a crisis. Ridership has not responded to perceived SafeTrack reliability improvements to date, and the prospects of a dedicated Metro tax are uncertain. Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans says that, without the new tax revenue, the only option is to “cut back on service enormously.”
It appears that the expected post-SafeTrack ridership surge either won’t happen or will be too far into the future to solve the immediate problem. The article stated that ridership is down across all days of the week, all hours of the day and all stations. If ridership is expected to rebound rapidly, one would have expected increases after SafeTrack work was completed on each segment, which apparently is not happening. This indicates that it is not only safety and reliability that are important but also long-term demographic, employment and technology issues.
Severe service cutbacks or fare hikes would cause more losses in ridership. Moderate service reductions and significant labor and contractor concessions could avoid a financial and operational collapse in the next few years. Do taxpayers have the information they need on cost issues and how costs compare with those of other systems so that informed decisions on new taxes can be made?
Bob Hugman, Woodbridge
I was surprised at the failure of the Feb. 22 editorial “Without funding, reforms won’t fix Metro” to associate declining ridership with the rise of cheap point-to-point transportation alternatives such as Uber. Uber’s promotions in several cities, including one that I have studied closely (Boston), have brought its fares into direct competition with the cost of public transportation. Uber’s pricing does not, however, pass along the costs of externalities such as increased traffic congestion and pollution.
In Boston, for example, these concerns were the reason for limiting the number of taxicabs through curbing the medallions available (the number was linked to population). Policymakers need to take Uber and similar services into account in conversations about whether and how to regulate new transportation technologies as they compete with alternatives that city planners want to encourage because of the lesser impact on congestion and pollution, such as public transportation and bicycling. H.C. Robinson, Cambridge, Mass.
Sounding a lot like those who argue that Germany and other relatively solvent European Union countries should again forgive and restructure the massive debt of fecklessly union-heavy and stubbornly reform-resistant Greece, the editorial board wants to put the financing cart before the reform horse when it comes to Metro.
The editorial board regularly pays lip service to reining in unions, but it is plain to see that union intransigence on work rules, pay scales and protection of incompetent and even corrupt workers is the predominant cause of Metro’s steady service declines these past two decades.
Privatization is the best way to attract the kind of investment Metro needs to get back on track toward excellence. All discussions of Metro’s future financing and operations that don’t begin and end with this obvious truth are ultimately going nowhere.
Darren McKinney, Washington