Plau­dits, crit­i­cism greet new Metro res­cue ideas

Pro­pos­als for union con­ces­sions, ex­tra funds face daunt­ing ob­sta­cles

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY ROBERT MCCART­NEY, FAIZ SID­DIQUI AND MAR­TINE POW­ERS

Gen­eral Man­ager Paul J. Wiede­feld’s am­bi­tious res­cue plan for Metro drew a gen­er­ally pos­i­tive re­sponse Thurs­day, but a bit­ter dis­sent from the agency’s largest union was a sign of the for­mi­da­ble ob­sta­cles he faces.

Wiede­feld’s rec­om­men­da­tions are “bad for rid­ers, bad for work­ers and bad for the re­gion,” Amal­ga­mated Tran­sit Union Lo­cal 689 said in a state­ment. The union, which rep­re­sents about 9,200 Metro work­ers, said Wiede­feld’s plans to out­source ser­vices and pro­vide less-gen­er­ous pen­sions to fu­ture hires aim “to bal­ance the agency’s bud­get on the back of [Metro’s] hard-work­ing em­ploy­ees.”

Over­all, how­ever, elected of­fi­cials, tran­sit ad­vo­cates and busi­ness groups praised Wiede­feld for of­fer­ing what many called a “rea­son­able” plan that deals head-on with the tough chal­lenges fac­ing the tran­sit agency.

Al­though many dis­agreed with in­di­vid­ual details, and the re­gion’s top Repub­li­can of­fi­cials were dis­tinctly skep­ti­cal, most wel­comed Wiede­feld’s call for new taxes or other ded­i­cated sources of fund­ing to chan­nel an ad­di­tional $500 mil­lion a year to Metro. The money would go to buy new rail cars, buses and other equip­ment, and per­form the main­te­nance nec­es­sary to re­store ser­vice qual­ity af­ter decades of un­der­in­vest­ment.

“This pro­posal ap­pears to be a re­al­is­tic and re­spon­si­ble con­tri­bu­tion to the re­gional dis­cus­sion about how best to fix Metro,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said.

Wiede­feld’s plan “is the best we’ve seen to date,” said Ste­wart Schwartz, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the pro-tran­sit Coali­tion for Smarter Growth. “His state­ment is bluntly honest about the sit­u­a­tion, and we gen­er­ally en­dorse his pro­pos­als.”

De­spite the ap­plause, no one un­der­es­ti­mated the po­lit­i­cal dif­fi­culty of ex­tract­ing union con­ces­sions and win­ning sup­port for higher taxes from mul­ti­ple ju­ris­dic­tions in the Dis­trict, Vir­ginia and Mary­land. Many politi­cians and an­a­lysts said it will be nec­es­sary to go fur­ther than Wiede­feld’s pro­pos­als, by re­struc­tur­ing the Metro board of di­rec­tors and adopt­ing other re­forms in how the agency is gov­erned.

“I think you need some gov­er­nance changes to show that the peo­ple who will be spend­ing the money will be do­ing a good job,” said Mary­land state Del. Marc A. Kor­man (D-Mont­gomery), cochair­man of a work group of An­napo­lis leg­is­la­tors fo­cused on Metro is­sues.

Busi­ness groups such as the Greater Wash­ing­ton Board of Trade and the Fed­eral City Coun­cil and politi­cians have pro­posed to shrink the 16-mem­ber Metro board and ap­ply new mem­ber­ship re­quire­ments to stream­line the panel’s work.

“Gov­er­nance changes are nec­es­sary to en­able Paul [ Wiede­feld] to make the changes nec­es­sary to re­turn Metro to the world-class sys­tem it once was,” said Terry D. McAl­lis­ter, chair­man of the Greater Wash­ing­ton Board of Trade.

Wiede­feld said it wasn’t ap­pro­pri­ate for him to pro­pose re­form­ing the gov­er­nance struc­ture above him. But he also ex­pressed con­cern that such changes — which would re­quire amend­ing the Metro Com­pact, or gov­ern­ing doc­u­ment — could de­lay agree­ment on ur­gently needed fund­ing.

“If we get into a whole thrash­ing of some of those is­sues, I just think it could drag out for years. I don’t think we have years,” Wiede­feld said.

Thurs­day morn­ing, af­ter hav­ing spent the pre­vi­ous 24 hours brief­ing more than 50 gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and other re­gional lead­ers about his plan, Wiede­feld read­ily ac­knowl­edged the dif­fi­culty of his task.

“It’s go­ing to be an ex­tremely heavy lift,” he said at a news con­fer­ence.

But Wiede­feld said he was op­ti­mistic that the re­gion could over­come its dif­fer­ences on taxes, la­bor re­la­tions and gov­er­nance be­cause so many peo­ple see the need to save the tran­sit sys­tem.

“I think the agree­ment, if you step back, is that they all want to try to do some­thing to get this right. So that’s a good place to start,” Wiede­feld said.

Wiede­feld is about to launch meet­ings with Metro staffers, elected of­fi­cials and pri­vate groups around the re­gion to ex­plain his plan fur­ther and try to win sup­port.

De­scribed in a six-page “White Pa­per” and 27-page Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tion, the pro­posal ex­plains why Metro needs $15.5 bil­lion in in­vest­ment over the next 10 years — an av­er­age in­crease of nearly 30 per­cent from its pre­vi­ous plan — to keep the sys­tem safe and re­li­able.

To al­lay con­cern that Metro spend­ing is headed out of con­trol, Wiede­feld also pro­posed to cap the an­nual growth in ju­ris­dic­tions’ an­nual con­tri­bu­tions for op­er­a­tions and in­vest­ments at 3 per­cent. That’s sep­a­rate from the new $500 mil­lion cap­i­tal fund and a new $26 mil­lion “rainy day” fund Wiede­feld has pro­posed.

In a re­lated ef­fort to hold down costs, Wiede­feld pro­posed ma­jor con­ces­sions by Metro’s union­ized work­force. A key part of the plan is to amend a fed­eral ar­bi­tra­tion law to strengthen man­age­ment’s po­si­tion in con­tract dis­putes.

His pro­posal to out­source op­er­a­tions — a form of pri­va­ti­za­tion — drew par­tic­u­lar op­po­si­tion from unions. As an ex­am­ple, Wiede­feld sug­gested Metro’s unions might have to com­pete with pri­vate con­trac­tors for jobs on the sec­ond phase of the Sil­ver Line, which is sched­uled to open in 2020.

OPEIU Lo­cal 2, which rep­re­sents many of Metro’s IT staff, en­gi­neers and con­tract ad­mi­nis- tra­tors, doubted the plan would achieve sig­nif­i­cant sav­ings. It also ex­pressed con­cern that the qual­ity of work would de­cline.

“He [ Wiede­feld] thinks that con­tract­ing is a way to save money,” said Eric Starin, the union’s chief ste­ward at Metro. “There might be rare in­ci­dents where that is true, but there are also an aw­ful lot of in­ci­dents where it costs more money to con­tract work out.”

Wiede­feld’s pri­va­ti­za­tion plan mir­rors a sim­i­lar strat­egy em­ployed by the Mas­sachusetts Bay Trans­porta­tion Author­ity in Bos­ton. In the past year, the MBTA has out­sourced ware­house and money-room op­er­a­tions, ef­forts that are pro­jected to save an es­ti­mated $177 mil­lion over the next 10 years.

The agency also used threats of pri­va­ti­za­tion to reach a new, money-sav­ing con­tract deal with one of its big­gest unions. Brian Short­sleeve, MBTA chief ad­min­is­tra­tor and act­ing gen­eral man­ager, said he met with Wiede­feld this year to of­fer ad­vice on how to em­ploy the same strate­gies in Wash­ing­ton.

Repub­li­can law­mak­ers in Congress and the Vir­ginia Gen­eral As­sem­bly — and some Democrats in the re­gion — have said Metro must curb la­bor costs be­fore they would be will­ing to con­sider giv­ing the agency more money.

Wiede­feld needs con­gres­sional sup­port to ex­tend the pro­gram un­der which the fed­eral gov­ern­ment grants Metro $150 mil­lion a year — and the three lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions match it — for in­vest­ments.

But his plan got off to a rough start with a key House mem­ber, Rep. Bar­bara Com­stock (R-Va.), the only Repub­li­can in the lo­cal del­e­ga­tion in the GOP-con­trolled Congress. She com­plained Wed­nes­day that she didn’t re­ceive an ad­e­quate brief­ing about Wiede­feld’s plan, say­ing she heard only about the “huge price tag.”

Wiede­feld tried to patch things up Thurs­day, say­ing he al­ready planned to meet with Com­stock next week.

“I will work with her very closely to get her more com­fort­able with at least un­der­stand­ing what we’re try­ing to do,” Wiede­feld said.

Com­stock said Thurs­day she still lacked enough in­for­ma­tion to com­ment about the specifics of Wiede­feld’s plan. “I have asked for far more details on Metro’s op­er­at­ing and cap­i­tal costs and the jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for them than we have re­ceived to date,” Com­stock said in a state­ment.

Wiede­feld’s plan also drew a tepid re­sponse from Mary­land Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R). Ho­gan’s of­fice said it had not seen details of the plan but re­it­er­ated the gov­er­nor’s po­si­tion that it is up to lo­cal lead­ers in Prince Ge­orge’s and Mont­gomery coun­ties to pur­sue ded­i­cated fund­ing if they choose.

“A statewide tax is a non­starter,” said Amelia Chasse, a Ho­gan spokes­woman. “One ques­tion our ad­min­is­tra­tion does have is why this pro­posed plan does not call for an in­crease in fed­eral fund­ing, when ap­prox­i­mately 40 per­cent of Metro­rail rid­ers are fed­eral em­ploy­ees.”

Elected of­fi­cials will be press­ing for abun­dant details about Metro’s spend­ing be­fore sup­port­ing taxes or other ded­i­cated fund­ing.

“We need to know, for sure, what the cost is for what,” Fair­fax County Board of Su­per­vi­sors Chair Sharon Bulova (D) said. “We need to be as­sured that la­bor is­sues have been ad­dressed. We also need to know that gov­er­nance is­sues have been ad­dressed.”

Vir­ginia Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Aubrey Layne said such ques­tions would be con­sid­ered by a panel headed by former U.S. trans­porta­tion sec­re­tary Ray LaHood, which is to study Metro and make rec­om­men­da­tions in the fall.

Wiede­feld’s plan “gives us a very, very good ba­sis to make a po­lit­i­cal case along with the re­view that Sec­re­tary LaHood’s do­ing,” Layne said.

Metro Board Chair­man Jack Evans stressed that there will be a po­lit­i­cal cost for any­one who re­sists making con­ces­sions to make the plan work.

“No­body’s go­ing to look kindly on any party that says, ‘ I’m not com­pro­mis­ing,’ ” Evans said. “I think they’re go­ing to find them­selves left out in the woods.”

MARVIN JOSEPH/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Metro chief Paul J. Wiede­feld, seen in De­cem­ber, ac­knowl­edges a need to win over many stake­hold­ers for his pro­pos­als to go ahead.

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