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Should Congress Take Over D.C.’s Failing Metro System?

by Countable | 11.2.16

Washington D.C.’s 40-year-old Metro transit system is kind of falling apart. It faces a potentially dangerous need for upgrades, a nearly-$3 billion unfunded pension liability and an estimated $290 million deficit in the next fiscal year, the Washington Post reports.

That’s why on Wednesday, Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans proposed a radical new solution: Have the federal government take it over.

How is this our problem?

Evans argued in the Post that D.C. can’t afford to fix Metro’s myriad problems and political fights on the board have prevented them from being able to fire employees and fix the transit system’s budget so that they can afford needed repairs.

The D.C. Metro is the second-busiest transit system in the country, after the subway in New York City, according to a 2008 study. And hundreds of thousands of federal employees and contractors use the D.C. metro system every day, according to the Post, not to mention tourists visiting the nation’s capital.

D.C. Metro, which is currently run by the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA), has already spent much of this year operating on what it calls a "SafeTrack" schedule, which has meant early closings and major delays for travelers, in order to make the crumbling transit system operate more safety. But, according to the Post, “the District’s chief financial officer, Jeffrey S. DeWitt, estimates that Metro needs between $12 billion and $18 billion of additional capital funds over the next 10 years to pay for the system’s maintenance and upgrades.”

Evans wants the federal government to pay for some of that, help cover WMATA’s deficits and also to take over "Metro’s unfunded pension [promised pensions for workers that the District no longer has the funds to pay for] liability of $2.8 billion," according to the Post.

Additionally, Evans pointed out that a whopping 70 percent of WMATA’s current budget goes to personnel. He believes that if the federal government took over, they could more easily fire some of Metro’s 13,000 employees and help to lower personnel costs, including benefits.

How would this work?

Evans is proposing that Congress approve a federal control board to take over the Metro rail system, which would consist of five presidential appointees. The Washington Post’s editorial board initially floated this idea in a controversial editorial this morning.

Congress could do that in a few different ways, the Post’s editorial board wrote. "It cited Congress’s constitutional authority over the District, its power to regulate interstate commerce and its responsibility for homeland security." Congress could also follow the path they took back in 1995 to help D.C. recover from mounds of debt, when it created a similar five-member federal control board, which had supreme power over the District’s budget.

It may not be such a popular idea…

It’s unlikely that Congress will want to take over the metro,"especially if it cost U.S. taxpayers’ money,” according to the Post. But if it’s the only way to fix the system that gets federal employees to work and to cut costs, perhaps they could be convinced. Congress could also use the takeover to "eliminate the existing system of binding arbitration of labor contracts, which effectively means that pay and benefits rise with each round of negotiations. That could be a selling point for Republican lawmakers, who have objected to binding arbitration at Metro.”

Asked who supports the idea, besides him and The Post’s editorial page, [Evans] said: "Probably nobody. The region is resistant to change of any kind. Nobody wants to change anything, even as the house is burning down."

— Sarah Mimms
Photo by Elvert Barnes/Flickr

Countable

Written by Countable

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(14)
  • Stephone
    11/03/2016
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    Washington D.C. is federal jurisdiction.

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  • Michael
    11/03/2016
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    Enough of my tax money already goes to the government. Not my problem. Let the people who work and live in DC pay for their own transportation system. That's what local state revenue is for.

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  • Richard
    11/02/2016
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    Again the taxpayer is being tapped for promises made by a state, county or city. Tough, let them tax the hell out of the local citizens and maybe they'll start to understand socialism.

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  • Thomas
    11/03/2016
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    So, the D.C. Metro is failing? Who's fault is that? Could it be the politicians that set it up? Could it be the politicians that have covered its failures over the years? It needs upgrades because management hasn't been keeping up with the real world but if we give it money for upgrades it will take twenty years or more for any upgrades to be implemented. First the upgrades will have to be studied the the study's of the upgrades will have to be studied and then the committee will have to discuss it for years. "A nearly-$3 billion unfunded pension liability"! I have to ask just why in the name of all that is intelligent is this pension unfunded? Who are the idiots that decided to do this? This is not my problem, I didn't decide not to fund the pension so I shouldn't have to pay for it! Let those that caused the problem pay for the problem! "That’s why on Wednesday, Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans proposed a radical new solution: Have the federal government take it over." So now the head idiot wants to give it to a bunch of other idiots so they can screw it up even more! "Evans argued in the Post that D.C. can’t afford to fix Metro’s myriad problems and political fights on the board have prevented them from being able to fire employees and fix the transit system’s budget so that they can afford needed repairs." Let it go out of business and the problem will fix its self. "The D.C. Metro is the second-busiest transit system in the country, after the subway in New York City, according to a 2008 study. And hundreds of thousands of federal employees and contractors use the D.C. metro system every day,". Yeah, so what? If those hundreds of thousands of federal employees didn't show up for work I doubt we would notice much as they don't do much worthwhile anyway. It's long passed time to trim the fat and a good portion of the rotten meat from the federal government. Anyone that lives or works in D.C. and wants to save the Metro are free to donate as much of their money as they want but stop trying to take it from me!

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  • Mary
    11/03/2016
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    I am so sick of paying for the ineptitude of congress. Obamacare is An abject failure, the post office continues loosing money, the IRS is corrupt. Everything the government touches turns disastrous, let DC handle their messes, don't make it our problem. It's called enabling.

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  • Pancake
    11/14/2016
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    No, why is this on the priority list?

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  • Gregory
    12/02/2016
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    I didn't know it was "failing". A highlight of mine is the train when I visit DC. Clean, quick and WiFi.

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  • Tomv
    11/23/2016
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    It's time the Federal Govmnt starts to focus on its primary purpose. Defending this country- not bailing out mismanaged and corrupt cities and corporations

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  • Jeffrey
    12/30/2016
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    Clearly there's a funding issue in the jurisdiction as well as a liquidity issue if there's no cash for upgrades and an unfounded $3B pension liability. The WMTA head is saying 70% of the budget is spent on labor and infighting causes issues renegotiating contracts and trimming employees to cut costs, why wouldn't the WMTA file for bankruptcy? It would allow the WMTA to renegotiate those labor contracts and hopefully significantly lower the pension liability. I know that's not an ideal situation because ultimately it means large layoffs, but the federal government by its nature can't do anything efficiently or in a cost effective way. The only way a Fed takeover helps is because they have the ability to print money.

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  • Duane
    01/18/2017
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    No to D.C. Metro. You have too much to do now. Haven't done job.

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  • Patrick mike
    11/06/2016
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    D.C. is not a State precisely for this reason. The corrupt DC City officials certainly can't be entrusted to do it.

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  • Gary
    11/03/2016
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    The only people that might Don's worse job then DC is the Feds.

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  • Gary
    11/03/2016
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    The only people that might Don's worse job then DC is the Feds.

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  • Gary
    11/03/2016
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    The only people that might Don's worse job then DC is the Feds.

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