Mayor Bowser Ready for Metro Reform— But on Terms Good for DC

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser told Federal City Council (FC2) trustees that the recently released LaHood report has set a path forward for Metro’s reform, but there is still work to be done to build consensus among leaders in DC, Maryland and Virginia on how to get there and how to pay for it.

“I’m not antagonistic to the thrust of the recommendations,” said Bowser at the FC2’s 2017 Annual Board Meeting on Dec. 5. “In other words, that means I can support a reform board with the proper conditions. Like I said, we would all fail in our leadership if we told you that a reform board would fix Metro. We need to stay focused on how the Authority gets the funding that it needs.”

Just minutes before, former Secretary of Transportation Raymond LaHood urged trustees at the luncheon at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center to help support the recommendations included in his report examining the future of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).

Commissioned by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the report recommends that Metro’s 16-member board be replaced with a five-member reform board made up of appointees from Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia and the federal government. The reform board, which would have a three-year charge, would make critical decisions about operations and long-term funding.

“We need some temporary governance, a smaller board of people who will get up every day and think every day about what will make WMATA No. 1 again and not about their own jurisdiction,” said LaHood. “The other thing our report says is that WMATA needs more money. There’s no doubt about that. They need a long-term stream of money.”

For Bowser, however, the sticking point with the LaHood report is its failure to endorse a single funding stream or mechanism that provides dedicated, bondable funding for the system. The report estimates that Metro needs $500 million in new, earmarked annual capital funding.

“I don’t think any jurisdiction can make up those new investments without new funding sources,” says Bowser, who favors a regional sales tax to fund Metro. “I can’t speak for Maryland or Virginia, but I can say for the District, we cannot. For us we need additional capital funding needs for Metro. We need an additional revenue source. We will not support anything that will put our jurisdiction at a competitive disadvantage with the others.”

Bowser said a powerful reform board, which many liken to DC’s renowned control board that revived the city’s fortunes, is an interesting notion, but it must be combined with adequate funding to avoid further WMATA service cuts.

“There is a lot of discussion about pensions and staffing and labor rules. And I don’t have a problem with having any of those discussions,” said Bowser of areas the reform board would be empowered to change. “But it is not true that if you make Metro so lean that people will come back.”

FC2 CEO and Executive Director Anthony Williams urged trustees to support the regional business coalition that has formed around Metro reform.

“I’m calling on all of you to join our effort to create a coalition, a coalition of the willing, to put the onus and the advocacy of all our members behind the Metro reform effort and the effort to fully fund Metro,” Williams said.