Jack Evans Report: Metro’s New Safety Culture

March 24, 2016

Our Metro system took the unprecedented step of closing the entire rail network last Wednesday for immediate emergency inspections of the roughly 600 “jumper cables” along the electrified third rail. One of these jumper cables caused the fire and smoke incident at the L’Enfant station last January and another jumper cable caused the fire incident at the McPherson Square station this past Monday.

A full inspection was conducted after the L’Enfant incident by Metro and the National Transportation Safety Board, resulting in the replacement of 125 problem cables. Despite these efforts last year, Monday’s fire demonstrated that an immediate reinspection was necessary.

The decision to reinspect the jumper cables last week was made by new Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld. As the new chairman of the Metro board, I fully support his decision to take immediate, drastic action to ensure that the system is safe for riders. Once I was made aware of the similarity between Monday’s incident and the tragedy that took place last year, it was clear that the public needed to know this information; waiting even a few days for these inspections was not acceptable.

I’m glad we took immediate action. Metro staff and outside engineering and maintenance experts, brought in by Wiedefeld to assess Metro’s entire approach to its work, walked the entire rail system and found 26 defects. Three of the jumper cables were so deteriorated that Wiedefeld described them as “show-stoppers,” meaning defects that would have interrupted service if seen during normal operations.

It’s very troubling that we found these 26 defects a year after inspecting the cables, and before federal regulations would require their reinspection this summer. I’m pleased that the Federal Transit Administration, the federal agency charged with oversight of Metro, announced that it will begin additional inspections of the system this week.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done, and done urgently, to fix Metro, but the more important takeaway is that our GM, myself as board chair and the new leadership of the agency will shut the system down when necessary to ensure the safety of riders. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said during a Senate hearing last week that Metro lacks a strong safety culture. I agree. The system has been mismanaged and under-maintained for too long. That ends now.

Metro is too important to riders, businesses, governments, growth, development and the future success of the entire region to be allowed to fall any further. I left the board in 2000 with Metro as a shining example of regional cooperation and success. Over the past 15 years, that coordination and the system have fallen apart. I want to thank and apologize to all of the riders and businesses that had to deal with last week’s shutdown. It will take time, but we are going to work tirelessly, every day, to improve our Metro system and regain your trust.

*Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.*

Making Metro and the Streets Safer

March 16, 2016

I remain focused on tackling the increase in crime we’ve seen across our city and in our Metro system over the past year, and I’m pleased to share several recent actions taken by the District Council and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Last week, WMATA announced several changes that will boost police patrols in stations and on railcars and buses. These measures will result in sharp increases in the number of officers on patrol at selected times of day and better utilize officers working in “limited duty” status, providing additional “eyes and ears” at key locations.

Metro Transit Police have already implemented the following changes:

• Reassign 17 officers to Patrol Operations. By transfering responsibility for securing revenue to an outside firm, MTPD will immediately make available 11 officers and an additional 6 officers within 60 days.

• Implement “power hour” deployments. MTPD will strategically use overtime to overlap the department’s day-shift and evening-shift officers on selected days and at selected locations. By having the two shifts overlap, the number of officers on duty can nearly double during hours when patrol coverage is needed most (i.e., during late-afternoon and evening hours).

• Reassign officers on qualifying “limited duty” status. Officers who are not on full duty status but are cleared to work on a limited duty basis will be assigned to stations based on crime trends. These officers, who may be in high-visibility vests or in casual clothes, will be equipped with police radios to summon on-duty MTPD officers when needed.

Additionally, I continue to meet regularly with both WMATA leadership and senior D.C. officials to evaluate our public safety efforts. I say this very conservatively, but WMATA has been successful at apprehending individuals who commit crimes in the system. Thanks to increased patrols, coordination with jurisdictional police departments and the thousands — thousands — of cameras deployed across the system, it is becoming increasingly true that if you commit a crime on Metro, you will be caught.

However, we need to continue to work on preventing crime in the system, not just on apprehending offenders. I believe the changes announced last week will help to do just that, but we must continue to improve how we utilize our resources and increase the resources available.

In addition to these recent changes at WMATA, the Council this week passed the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Amendment Act of 2016, a bill introduced by Council member Kenyan McDuffie that provides mental health, substance abuse and community-engagement resources to tackle crime and violence in our city. While I continue to believe that the cornerstone of our strategy needs to be raising our dangerously low Metropolitan Police Department staffing levels, this bill creates additional resources to help address some of the root causes of crime in our city.

Making our city safer and stronger, through improved public safety, education and economic development, will continue to be my first priority on the Council. I will update you regularly as we work to build upon the success we have had over the past 20 years, and fight to prevent our city from taking a step backward. As always, please share with me your thoughts on how we can do this together.

*Jack Evans is the District Council member for
Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.*

Fiscal Health and Oversight

February 24, 2016

The Committee on Finance and Revenue, the District Council committee that I chair, held its initial performance oversight hearing last week. Because the purview of the committee is so broad, we hold hearings on three different days. Last week, we heard from the Office of Partnerships and Grant Services, DestinationDC, EventsDC, the Commission on the Arts and Humanities and WMATA.

These hearings give the Council an opportunity to question agency leaders on their performance with regard to their budgets over the past year — where they excelled and where they fell short.

The oversight process also signals the beginning of the budget season. Two weeks ago, the Council held a hearing on the Fiscal Year 2015 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, known as the CAFR. The report — our 19th consecutive “clean” audit opinion — reminds us that the District of Columbia has a lot to be proud of. Not only have we continued to maintain our strong bond ratings, and even secured an upgrade in the past year, but we have also managed to increase our fund balance to $2.17 billion. Additionally, not only were there no reported material weaknesses, there was no yellow book, which is commendable.

It is important to note, however, that there is still room for improvement. As I have said many times in the past, maintaining our fiscal health was no small accomplishment in the past several years, when so many governments have been struggling financially.

For the coming year, our goals must be to plan for our long-term needs, live within our means and not look to immediate fixes that have only a short-term impact. The findings of the CAFR, which was completed on time, resulted in a clean audit and reflect a balanced budget. In some ways, it is not the end of a process but the beginning of new work for us. We need to remain vigilant and continue to perform oversight on the identified areas of concern.

We now undertake the performance oversight process with the findings from the CAFR as a big-picture guide. Over the past few weeks, I sent a number of questions to the agencies under my committee’s purview to collect data on agency structure and recent spending. Once I review what has worked and what has not, I will be in a better position to make recommendations on adjustments to the agency budgets for next year.

The Committee on Finance and Revenue will hold its next performance oversight hearing, on the D.C. Lottery, on March 4. Then, on March 8, we will hear from the remaining agencies under the purview of the Committee: the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, the Real Property Tax Appeals Commission and the Office of the Inspector General. In addition to my committee, all of the Council committees are holding similar oversight hearings (a full listing can be found at dccouncil.us).

I will keep you apprised of what I learn from these hearings, but I also welcome your thoughts, questions or testimony regarding these agencies. Please let me know if you would like to attend either hearing.

Jack Evans is the District Council member for
Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.

Taking the Reins on the Metro Board

February 10, 2016

Our Metro transit system continues to suffer from serious issues. After a trying year in 2015, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority now has a new general manager and CEO. Paul Wiedefeld is focused on identifying the full slate of Metro’s technical and organizational problems and finding solutions to improve the system for riders and for the entire region.??

I’m excited to be taking on a larger role at WMATA to aid the GM in his turnaround efforts. At the most recent meeting of the board of directors, I was honored to be unanimously selected by my colleagues as chair for the upcoming year.

The board is responsible for setting policy, establishing the operating and capital budgets and representing riders and the jurisdictions in advocating to improve the system. I previously served as Metro board chair in 1994 and 1997, during what most people call the “golden age of Metro.” We were completing the original 101-mile system, ridership was increasing and the federal government and the three jurisdictions (D.C., Maryland and Virginia) had a more sensible funding agreement.??

That’s a far cry from the condition Metro finds itself in today. The Silver Line expansion is underway, but it came online without many of the necessary upgrades to infrastructure and assets for it to seamlessly integrate with the existing operation. Ridership is decreasing and has been for the past five years. Each year is a fight or a roll of the dice to see how much money the federal government and the three jurisdictions will contribute to the needed safety, maintenance, capital and operating costs.?Metro needs much greater oversight to ensure that things are actually getting better for riders — and that the entire organization is focused on making the system safer, cleaner, more reliable and more efficient.

One last point I want to make is that I am still very much the Ward 2 member on the D.C. Council. A few folks have sent me messages saying they’ll miss me (and, more to the point, my great Council staff). However, the Metro chairmanship is an unpaid position that is in addition to my Metro oversight role on the Council. I will continue to represent Ward 2 residents on all of the District’s pressing issues: schools, affordability, roads, economic development. Most important, my excellent staff will continue without interruption to assist me with the constituent services work that is such a major part of my Council position.

I’m excited to help make Metro once again a point of pride: a convenient and affordable transit system and a shining example of regional cooperation. As we did from the Control Board era to the present, we need to bring smart change management to improving Metro’s safety, service reliability and financial management.

This year is going to require a lot of hard work, and the agency will undergo quite a bit of change, but with our general manager Paul Wiedefeld, the board and staff, the riders and the region committed to improving Metro, we will get it done.

Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.

Coming Up: Public Hearings on D.C. Agencies

January 27, 2016

The role of the D.C. Council involves both crafting legislation and providing oversight to the various agencies in the District government. During January, February and March, that oversight comes front and center, as each of the Council’s committees undertakes a comprehensive and rigorous review of agency performance.

This performance oversight process includes the compilation of questions regarding issues that have arisen over the past year. The committees send these questions to the agencies in advance of public hearings, at which Council members listen to responses from agency leaders and further engage them about their respective agency’s accomplishments, shortcomings and plans for improvement.

As chair of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, I take the lead in overseeing and questioning nine agencies, including the Office of the Chief Financial Officer and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

My committee will hold two performance oversight hearings. On Feb. 18, leaders from WMATA, EventsDC, DestinationDC, the Office of Partnerships and Grant Services and the Commission on the Arts and Humanities will appear before the committee. Then, on March 2, the CFO, the DC Lottery, the Real Property Tax Appeals Commission and the Inspector General will testify.

These oversight hearings are an opportunity for Council members to dig deep into how your tax dollars can be better spent. They are also an ideal time for members of the public to speak about their positive and negative experiences with agencies throughout the year. Every year I hear at least one comment or suggestion from a public witness during these hearings that influences legislation or further oversight.

The full list of hearings and agencies, and information on how to sign up to testify, is available at dccouncil.us. Members of the public can arrange to testify about the Metropolitan Police Department (Feb. 23), DC Public Schools (Feb. 24), the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (Feb. 29), the Department of Transportation (Feb. 29) and other agencies by contacting the relevant committees and asking to be put on the witness list.

After the performance oversight hearings conclude, the mayor will submit her budget request to the Council around April 1. The Council will then undertake a second round of hearings to delve into agencies’ budget requests and plans for the upcoming fiscal year. These initial oversight hearings are critical to crafting and right-sizing the District’s budget. I encourage all residents to watch the hearings, review the answers from agencies and, if so inclined, sign up to testify.

Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.

Jack Evans Report: Make Metro Safer Immediately

January 15, 2016

Over the past few months, there have been several very concerning incidents in which people have been attacked and robbed on the Metro rail and bus systems by groups of juveniles. According to Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier, these incidents are part of a larger trend. Groups of this type are committing robberies across Washington, D.C.

While small in number, the incidents have been violent and brazen. These teenage groups have committed robberies in daylight in front of numerous witnesses and, often, surveillance cameras. This is completely unacceptable. Identifying and apprehending the individuals committing these crimes is an urgent matter. To do so, we need to enhance and speed up collaboration among our public safety agencies and the public.

This week, the District announced the formation of a task force to improve the process through which the Metropolitan Police Department, WMATA’s Metro Transit Police and District prosecutors interact. This task force will increase available resources, allow for information to be shared quickly and ensure that prosecutors have everything they need to punish people for these crimes and prevent them from continuing to commit them.

In October, WMATA’s board of directors approved the spending of $4.32 million for additional cameras throughout the Metro system. These have begun to be installed, with more to come. The video they capture needs to be shared quickly with MPD, other police agencies and the public to identify robbery suspects.

The collaboration between MPD and MTPD will add to the public safety resources present in and around the Metro system. But if it proves insufficient, the WMATA board will need to increase funding for transit police officers. Safety in the system is the highest priority.

I will continue to keep you informed on this issue as a member both of the WMATA board and of the District Council’s judiciary committee. We’ve worked too hard for the past two decades to make D.C. safer for residents and visitors — and more attractive for people and businesses to move here — to allow these recent violent robberies to become an ongoing concern. It is essential that we commit the resources necessary to stop them now.

Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.

Jack Evans Report: Year-end Assessment

December 21, 2015

December is always a great time to look back on the year and assess what went well and where can we redouble our efforts in the coming year. This December is particularly good for this type of reflection as it is not yet the end of a Council period, so legislation that I’ve introduced is still under Council review.

The biggest issue we faced in the District this year was the alarming increase in the number of murders. While this was part of a national trend, we have to continue to focus on public safety in 2016. I introduced a bill to require enough resources to keep 4,000 police officers on the force in the face of a coming retirement bubble. We have been successful in expanding patrols with our current force, increase rewards for notifications of illegal guns, targeting synthetic drug operations and authorizing the purchase of body-worn cameras for police officers.

While more police officers and aggressively tackling illegal drugs and guns on the street will help address crime, there are larger societal issues that I’m proud to have worked on this year.

On the jobs front, we agreed to an economic development plan with the Advisory Board Company to remain in the District and create 1,000 new well-paying jobs for D.C. residents. Additionally, the city will work with the Wizards to build a sports and entertainment complex in Southeast Washington that will create hundreds of jobs and bring vitality to residents and a part of the city that have not enjoyed all of the recent success we’ve seen in D.C.

I was also able to fight to maintain the second round of tax breaks that the council agreed to in 2014. On both the personal and business tax side, I’m proud to say I was successful in pushing the District to be a more affordable place to live and start a business.

I’m proud of bills that I introduced this year that have passed the council, including to help expand N Street Village, an organization that provides safe housing for vulnerable or at-risk women; to end the practice of suspending or expelling pre-K students; to provide for the testing of newborns for congenital heart defects; and to allow for the filling of 12 months of contraceptive medication at once.

There are several bills and issues that are high priorities for me as the calendar turns to 2016. We received funding for modernization of schools in Ward 2, but a couple are still short of their total expected funding levels. I introduced legislation to expand the homestead deduction, incentivize more wheelchair-accessible taxis, increase the number of police, fire and school employees who live in the city, among others that I will keep pushing to achieve. On the WMATA front, it seems like we will pass a budget without a fare increase, a critical action as we work to restore confidence in the system.

In closing, my family and I, as well as my staff, would like to wish you and yours a happy holiday season. This is always a wonderful time to spend with friends and family and to be thankful for all the blessings we enjoy. This is the last Georgetowner for the year. Happy New Year, and we will see you again in January.

Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.

Jack Evans Report: Every Day Is Small Business Day

December 8, 2015

I always enjoy this time of year. The holidays bring everyone together (something particularly important to the father of a college freshman). And even as the temperature drops, decorations, good cheer and holiday markets are popping up to keep the city vibrant.

I also enjoy the end of the year because it provides an opportunity for a little reflection. As I saw neighbors and visitors patronizing businesses in Georgetown and all across the city on Small Business Saturday, I couldn’t help but reflect on the changes the District has experienced over the past several decades.

A few weeks ago, I attended a celebration of the 20th anniversary of business improvement districts in D.C. The BIDs are associations of property owners who have joined together to revitalize, maintain and enhance neighborhood business areas.
When I introduced the legislation to create the BIDs 20 years ago, the role of these organizations was very much to revitalize our neighborhood business areas. The District government was nearly bankrupt, our communities were suffering and more businesses were closing their doors or leaving D.C. than looking to open.

What a difference time makes! Small Business Saturday was truly an opportunity to see how far we’ve come in revitalizing our local business climate. From Georgetown to 14th Street to historic Anacostia, small businesses are thriving in D.C. With the help of BIDs, committed residents and business owners, and a lot of hard work, we’ve built stronger communities and a broader tax base.

Readers who have heard me speak recently have probably heard me say that the District of Columbia is in a better financial position than any other city, county or state in the country. The substantial growth in the number of small businesses has certainly helped.

I have the firm belief, however, that we would be doing even better if we had a more straightforward business regulatory structure. We’ve made great strides in the past two years to lower the tax rates on nearly every resident and business in the city, but we have to keep working to roll back some of the administrative barriers and tax burdens facing those who want to start a business here.

As we work to make it easier to start a business in D.C., we must continue to support the businesses in our neighborhoods. This past Saturday was a great day to focus on small businesses, but every day should be a small business day. So, as you are enjoying the holiday season, remember to visit the wonderful holiday markets filled with local vendors and artisans and our great small and local businesses.

Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.

Jack Evans Report: Supporting the New Metro Manager

November 19, 2015

It has been a difficult year for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, but we will soon have a permanent leader to take the agency into the future.

At Thursday’s Board meeting, we are scheduled to formally appoint Paul Wiedefeld as Metro’s new general manager and chief executive officer.

Wiedefeld has twice served as the CEO of the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, overseeing the airport’s international service expansion and growth to become the largest in the Washington metropolitan region.
Prior to leading BWI, Wiedefeld’s career included service as administrator of the Maryland Transit Administration, where he managed day-to-day operations of the nation’s 13th largest transit system, including commuter rail (MARC), subway, light rail, buses, and paratransit services. He also spent a decade in the private sector with extensive experience in engineering project management. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Towson University and a Master’s degree in city and regional planning from Rutgers University.

Wiedefeld has a big job ahead of him to improve reliability, performance and public confidence in the system, but he is a talented leader who understands big transportation operations, working with regional and federal stakeholders, and how to get an entire organization laser focused on improving the customer experience.

The WMATA board and regional leaders need to join with Wiedefeld to accomplish these goals. The board has already retained McKinsey and Ernest & Young to undertake a deep dive into the efficiency of WMATA’s financial and IT project management, and is also planning to hire a restructuring expert to work with Wiedefeld to achieve our shared vision for a first class system.

Additionally, it’s critical that the board and other politicians allow Wiedefeld to assess WMATA and put together his team to lead the agency. He needs to get the trains to run on time again (among other operational issues), while we as a region need to assess what kind of system we want in five, 10, and 25 years and determine how to fund that vision.

Everyone talked about the Momentum plan five years ago, but when it became clear that the finances were a mess, everyone quietly just moved on.

I became chairman of the WMATA Finance Committee in May and am the first person to have asked for an estimate of how much our safety, state of good repair, and operational costs will cost over the next decade. Just those alone, without the expansion plans of Momentum, will cost $25 billion over the next 10 years.

Creating a safe and reliable system is about more than just instituting recommendations from the FTA. The supporting jurisdictions need to get serious about funding deferred maintenance, infrastructure upgrades and service improvements. Supporting Wiedefeld requires giving him the necessary resources through increased and dedicated regional funding. The vitality of Metro and our region depend on it.

Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.

Metro Needs a Pension Trust Plan, Too

November 5, 2015

Two weeks ago, the representatives from Maryland on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board of directors invoked a jurisdictional veto to prevent a proposal to create a trust to address WMATA’s $1.5 billion unfunded Other Post-Employment Benefits liability. This action, while claimed to be done in the name of safety, is an irresponsible risk for the future viability of the system.

As a bit of history, the board initially voted to establish a trust to fund this OPEB liability in 2010. However, after five and a half years, the trust still hasn’t been created. In March 2014, the board voted to allocate $4 million to a still-unestablished OPEB trust as part of the fiscal 2015 budget. Then, in May 2015 the board voted to allocate an additional $11 million to the unestablished trust.

I’ve read comments of support for Maryland’s veto that WMATA shouldn’t be funding pensions when the reliability issues are so great. While I agree that WMATA has significant work to do to improve the reliability of the system, this action doesn’t save any money by “sticking it to retirees” or something absurd like that.

WMATA is bound to continue to pay tens of millions of dollars a year out of fare revenue and jurisdictional subsidies towards these OPEB obligations. In fiscal 2014, WMATA paid $38 million in OPEB liabilities directly from operating funds. That pay-as-you-go number will continue to rise quickly, unless an irrevocable trust is established to dedicate and invest funds to meet future liabilities.

The reason for the safety and infrastructure issues that WMATA is facing, is a lack of required funding five and even 10 years ago, not the use of several million dollars this year to address the ticking time bomb of a future pension liability. The lack of funding from all of the jurisdictions, and the lack of responsible fiscal management from the board of directors over the past decade, has left us in the crippling position we are in today.

The solution is not to again delay the responsible management of future liabilities, as we have done for many years on the preventative maintenance side, as well as the pension liability side. Refusing to commit a small amount of money to a known future problem, is every bit as much a failure in leadership as not funding preventative maintenance at a station because we haven’t experienced any problems there this year.

Public transit is a critical component of our region’s future. As chairman of the Finance Committee, I have asked WMATA staff to present a budget proposal for the next 20 years that expresses future costs for unfunded pension liabilities, deferred maintenance, safety recommendations, and implementation of the Momentum plan. Funding the future OPEB liability is the issue at hand today, but preventative maintenance, infrastructure improvements, and system expansion are all similar actions that will require us to be responsible stewards of both current and future taxpayers’ and riders’ money.

Jack Evans is the District Council member for Ward 2, representing Georgetown and other neighborhoods since 1991.