Recent news about the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has been troubling. After poor audit reports, safety failures and incidents of violence, riders have grown weary of problems on the system. Metro is crucial to the region’s future, and it is critical that Maryland better engage as a stakeholder. It is not enough to write a check — and Maryland writes a large one annually — or appoint board members.
That is why we helped establish the WMATA-Metro Work Group in the General Assembly. We were joined by colleagues from throughout the state. We met weekly during the legislative session with Maryland and Metro officials and other stakeholders to begin tackling some of the system’s issues.
In the short run, we hope to provide another level of oversight for the system and help solve some problems, such as selecting new leadership, getting ahead of fiscal management and safety audit recommendations, improving service and expanding transit-oriented economic development around Metro stations. In the long run, our goal is to help create the conditions necessary for fundamental reform, including helping to create:
These reforms will not be easy. Metro has three modes (bus, train and MetroAccess) and is governed by a compact with Maryland, Virginia, the District and the federal government. This makes it easy to pass the buck.
Inevitably, the question is how we get from here to there. Fundamental reform of Metro governance and funding will likely require amending the Metro compact to update it from a document that helped build a 20th-century system to a pact designed to operate a 21st-century one. Most efforts to amend Metro’s compact have failed unless funding increases have been on the table. That conversation needs to begin in earnest.
But we cannot afford to wait.
We plan to use our perch on the WMATA-Metro Work Group to push for some of these necessary changes incrementally. Interested Maryland legislators will work with the Maryland Department of Transportation to increase our engagement and advocacy efforts with our state’s Metro board members and other Metro officials to continue to hammer home the point that the status quo is unacceptable. We hope the other jurisdictions will establish similar efforts so that Metro management and staff are held accountable by all sides. Fundamental reform is necessary at Metro through changes in the compact, but an improved culture, new leadership, an attentive board and funding discussions need not wait. We have the power to act today.
The future of our regional economy and transportation network is tied to Metro and its success. We know that each of the compact members, Metro’s leadership, its workforce and others want to improve the system. It’s time to get started.
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