The prob­lem with Metro

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - let­ters@wash­post.com

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

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