Out­sourc­ing and pri­va­tiz­ing Metro will not solve its prob­lems

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY JACKIE JETER The writer is pres­i­dent and busi­ness agent of Amal­ga­mated Tran­sit Union Lo­cal 689.

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.

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