Outsourcing and privatizing Metro will not solve its problems
Everyone in this region seems to agree that Metro is at a breaking point and must get better for riders, workers and the communities the system serves. The good news is that we can save Metro by taking a series of bold actions that have improved other public transit systems around the country. The bad news is that if we fail to take action, the system is headed toward collapse.
For all of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s 50 years, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, representing more than 9,200 active employees on Metro’s front lines, has been committed to serving and improving the system. That commitment is why we put out a specific plan this year on how to save, stabilize and improve Metro called “Fund It, Fix It, Make It Fair.” Our proposals include a $2 flat fare, free railto-bus transfers, expanded hours of service and a fair way to fully fund the system. We have offered solutions to the system’s safety challenges that require working with front-line employees who operate the trains and buses, fix the tracks and repair the vehicles — solutions that ought to improve safety and reliability and should not be met with hostility or discipline for speaking out.
The root of Metro’s maintenance problems is the lack of a dedicated funding source. With a dedicated funding source, the terrible issues that have resulted from years of deferred maintenance would occur much less frequently and would make Metro more reliable. Our ideas for securing dedicated funding sources include special tax districts for areas that benefit from proximity to Metro stations, nominal taxes on rental cars from Reagan National and Dulles International airports and legislation throughout the region that would require large employers to offer pretax or subsidized commuter benefits for use on Metro.
Many of the operational proposals we have put forth have already worked across the country, and some are even considered the national norm. When it comes to bus transfers, Metro has the highest transfer rate in the nation; the majority of other systems provide transfers for free. In addition to transfers, we know that the different regular- and peak-time fares are a headache to the riding public. They are a headache to our station managers and bus operators, too. Making fares flat and transfers free would help Metro gain back rider confidence, save riders money, decrease the potential for transit worker assaults and boost revenue for the system.
Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld released proposals for the agency. His plans pit riders against workers by blaming labor costs for Metro’s problems. His plans propose outsourcing to private companies as the answer to money problems. That is a proven plan for failure. Our region already has been hoodwinked by privatization with the D.C. Streetcar, D.C. Circulator and Metro’s paratransit service MetroAccess. Privatizing Metro can only make our troubled rail system worse.
The newly opened D.C. Streetcar, which is run by the French company RATP Group, has been riddled with cost overruns, broken commitments, blown deadlines and inept management decisions. An audit exposed major safety issues with D.C. Circulator buses last year. They still have chronic maintenance problems and trouble meeting the daily quota of buses.
With that track record, it is mind-boggling that Metro leadership would contemplate that outsourcing work to private contractors would make the system better when the opposite is the case.
Our union wants an outstanding transit system for this region because this is our community, too. We are your neighbors and church members. We shop at the same grocery stores and send our children to the same schools. Metro’s success is not only success for Metro’s workforce but also a win for the communities we live in together.
Ultimately, we get the transit system we pay for and invest in. If we continue to do the minimum, we will continue to get minimal results. It is time for Metro to get real, stop blaming the workers for poor management decisions and dismiss the loser mentality of thinking that getting back to good is good enough.