While most of us are enjoying the beginning of a beautiful fall, for Metrorail, in the words of Jon Snow from “Game of Thrones”: “Winter is here.”
In less than a year, there will be insufficient funds to continue repairs to make our transit system safe and more reliable. The region has reached a critical juncture: we must choose either to support a regional funding plan or to leave Metro riders out in the cold.
Metro needs dedicated funding now.
To make all necessary repairs, improve service and, most important, ensure that the system is safe for every rider, $15 billion is needed over the next 10 years. As chair of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board, I supported raising fares and cutting service in order to reach our repair goals this year and to focus on safety. I was hesitant to take this course, but unfortunately it was necessary in an effort to leave no stone unturned to find additional funds. I will not support future fare increases or service cuts in the District.
Time has run out and Metro has run out of rocks to turn over. A solution to our fiscal woes is the implementation of a regional one-cent sales tax. District officials support this plan. If regional leaders join the District, it will generate $650 million a year and enable Metro to borrow the money needed to finally fix the system.
However, many state and federal leaders have chosen to focus on organizational fixes instead of fiscal ones. Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has recommended shrinking the Metro board from 16 members to five.
I actually agree with that assessment. I recommended a similar action months ago, with the intent of streamlining the board’s decision-making process. At this point, however, implementing a dedicated funding source for Metro is far more important than fixing its governance.
The Maryland and Virginia general assemblies will reconvene in January. My sense is that neither state will come to a consensus on how to raise additional funds. That is why I’m looking to regional leaders to come to the table and commit to a regional sales tax, spreading the responsibility across the three jurisdictions. It is my hope that the metropolitan region will support this plan before it’s too late.
It’s an inconvenient reality for the region — and a bleak future for the nation’s second busiest transit system — if funding doesn’t come soon.