Metro union wants ded­i­cated fund­ing to fix tran­sit sys­tem.

Flat-fare method pro­posed in­stead of dis­tance-based costs

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY SARAH NEL­SON

The la­bor union that rep­re­sents most Metro work­ers on Mon­day called for a ded­i­ca­tion fund­ing source for the trou­bled tran­sit sys­tem to cor­rect its long­stand­ing prob­lems.

About 100 mem­bers of Amal­ga­mated Tran­sit Union Lo­cal 689 ral­lied Mon­day out­side a meet­ing of the Prince Ge­orge County Coun­cil in Up­per Marl­boro.

The union pre­sented its plan, called “Fund It Fix It and Make It Fair,” which in­cludes mea­sures for ded­i­cated fund­ing and flat fares for rid­ers.

Metro is the only ma­jor tran­sit sys­tem in the na­tion with­out a ded­i­cated source for fund­ing, such as a tran­sit tax. It re­lies mostly on sub­si­dies from ju­ris­dic­tions in Mary­land, Vir­ginia and the Dis­trict, as well as the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

“That’s why we’re here, to lock down that ded­i­cated fund­ing,” said union spokesman David Stephen.

Union of­fi­cials said the sub­way has be­come too ex­pen­sive for a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of res­i­dents, and sug­gested a flat fare sys­tem in­stead, sim­i­lar to that in New York and other ju­ris­dic­tions.

“If we have just a $2 fare to ride the train, I don’t care if you get on at six in the morn­ing or 11 in the morn­ing, $2 will get you from Bethesda to Branch Ave.,” said union mem­ber Leon Hunt­ley Jr. “It gets more peo­ple on the trains, more peo­ple on the buses, and with less traf­fic.”

Mr. Stephen said a flat fare is a “com­mon-sense ap­proach [that] gets ev­ery­one ex­cited about the sys­tem and in­creases rid­er­ship.”

Metro­rail rid­er­ship has de­clined steadily since 2010, and the tran­sit agency has long reg­is­tered com­plaints about late trains, bro­ken es­ca­la­tors and safety con­cerns. The 40-year-old sub­way sys­tem saw a 12 per­cent de­cline in cus­tomers from July to De­cem­ber amid its SafeTrack main­te­nance pro­gram, which ends this month.

“Rid­ers and work­ers have a lot in com­mon,” said Jackie Jeter, pres­i­dent of the Metro union, which has about 9,000 ac­tive mem­bers. “We all want re­li­able ser­vice.”

Metro Gen­eral Man­ager Paul Wei­de­feld, who last week called for $500 mil­lion a year in ded­i­cated tran­sit fund­ing, at­tended Mon­day’s county coun­cil meet­ing.

Also on Mon­day, a group of Mary­land law­mak­ers pro­posed re­struc­tur­ing Metro’s Board of Di­rec­tors to pro­vide it with the ded­i­cated fund­ing it needs.

Their pro­posal also would leave it to Mary­land, Vir­ginia and the Dis­trict to de­cide how to come up with the ded­i­cated fund­ing that Mr. Wei­de­feld has called for.

“There’s a need for fund­ing, but it cer­tainly will not come with­out cred­i­ble gov­er­nance and over­sight re­form,” said Del­e­gate Erek L. Bar­ron, Prince Ge­orge’s County Demo­crat. “This pro­posal gets us there, and we’re cer­tainly open to other ideas.”

Un­der the plan, which would take ef­fect only if ap­proved by law­mak­ers in the city and both states and rat­i­fied by Congress, Metro’s board would shrink from 16 mem­bers to three: the sec­re­taries of trans­porta­tion for Mary­land and Vir­ginia and Wash­ing­ton’s trans­porta­tion di­rec­tor.

Metro’s cur­rent board, which in­cludes ap­pointees from each ju­ris­dic­tion and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, has often been de­scribed as un­wieldy, and any ju­ris­dic­tion can block ma­jor changes from tak­ing ef­fect.

Giv­ing each ju­ris­dic­tion the power to come up with a fund­ing for­mula is an ac­knowl­edg­ment of the po­lit­i­cal reality that elected of­fi­cials are un­likely to agree on a sin­gle re­gional tax, such as a sales tax, to fund the sys­tem. The pro­posal also would al­low Metro to is­sue bonds to pay for cap­i­tal im­prove­ments.

SARAH NEL­SON / THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Amal­ga­mated Tran­sit Union Lo­cal 689 mem­bers gather at the Prince Ge­orge County Coun­cil meet­ing be­fore pre­sent­ing a “Fund It, Fix It and Make It Fair” Metro pro­posal.

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