Former U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood’s report on the future of Metro offers a new route forward in reforming the governance, funding and operational structures of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).
Commissioned by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the report echoes the reform approach outlined last year by the Federal City Council (FC2), which called for significant changes to put Metro on a sustainable path. The LaHood report was officially released Dec. 5.
“Secretary LaHood’s report is yet another step toward necessary reform for Metro, and we are hopeful that the implementation of the recommendations outlined in the report will set Metro on a sustainable path,” noted the broad-based regional business coalition the FC2 is leading. “We urge our regional leaders to respond to the recommendations outlined in the report by taking immediate action towards reform. The time to act is now.”
The coalition, which is comprised of 30 groups from the DC metropolitan region, has expressed its concern about the continued dysfunction of the Metro and has supported specific proposals to reform the system.
To address those concerns, the report recommends that Metro’s 16-member board be replaced with a five-member reform board made up of appointees from each funding jurisdiction and the federal government. The reform board, which would have a three-year charge, would make critical decisions about operations and long-term funding. The FC2 has favored a smaller and more agile reform board, as well.
“If these recommendations are followed, I am optimistic about the future. The Washington DC, region is vibrant and growing, in part because of its transit infrastructure,” noted LaHood in a letter in the report. “Riders may not come back immediately, but if we make the system safe, reliable and convenient, they will come back eventually. However, if these recommendations are not followed, I cannot be optimistic about the future.”
In terms of funding, the LaHood report determined that WMATA needed at least $500 million more every year in dedicated funding from the District, Maryland and Virginia. The report did not, however, endorse a dedicated source of funding, adding that “many different arrangements would work” for the jurisdictions.
There is no regional consensus about the best option, but the report suggests that each jurisdiction could provide additional revenues through its own mechanism. It also did call on the federal government to increase its subsidy of $150 million a year in capital funding.
“We think there’s a commitment on the part of every elected official we ever met with, whether they be governors or mayors or elected representatives or senators,” LaHood said at FC2’s 2017 Annual Meeting on Dec. 5. “These folks are committed to WMATA, which means there’s a commitment to trying to find the money to make WMATA no. 1 again, but it’s got to be a system that has credibility. It’s got to be a system that provides service. It’s got to be a system people believe in.”