- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2017

The labor union that represents most Metro workers on Monday called for a dedication funding source for the troubled transit system to correct its longstanding problems.

About 100 members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 rallied Monday outside a meeting of the Prince George County Council in Upper Marlboro.

The union presented its plan, called “Fund It Fix It and Make It Fair,” which includes measures for dedicated funding and flat fares for riders.

Metro is the only major transit system in the nation without a dedicated source for funding, such as a transit tax. It relies mostly on subsidies from jurisdictions in Maryland, Virginia and the District, as well as the federal government.

“That’s why we’re here, to lock down that dedicated funding,” said union spokesman David Stephen.

Union officials said the subway has become too expensive for a significant number of residents, and suggested a flat fare system instead, similar to that in New York and other jurisdictions.

“If we have just a $2 fare to ride the train, I don’t care if you get on at six in the morning or 11 in the morning, $2 will get you from Bethesda to Branch Ave.,” said union member Leon Huntley Jr. “It gets more people on the trains, more people on the buses, and with less traffic.”

Mr. Stephen said a flat fare is a “common-sense approach [that] gets everyone excited about the system and increases ridership.”

Metrorail ridership has declined steadily since 2010, and the transit agency has long registered complaints about late trains, broken escalators and safety concerns. The 40-year-old subway system saw a 12 percent decline in customers from July to December amid its SafeTrack maintenance program, which ends this month.

“Riders and workers have a lot in common,” said Jackie Jeter, president of the Metro union, which has about 9,000 active members. “We all want reliable service.”

Metro General Manager Paul Weidefeld, who last week called for $500 million a year in dedicated transit funding, attended Monday’s county council meeting.

Also on Monday, a group of Maryland lawmakers proposed restructuring Metro’s Board of Directors to provide it with the dedicated funding it needs.

Their proposal also would leave it to Maryland, Virginia and the District to decide how to come up with the dedicated funding that Mr. Weidefeld has called for.

“There’s a need for funding, but it certainly will not come without credible governance and oversight reform,” said Delegate Erek L. Barron, Prince George’s County Democrat. “This proposal gets us there, and we’re certainly open to other ideas.”

Under the plan, which would take effect only if approved by lawmakers in the city and both states and ratified by Congress, Metro’s board would shrink from 16 members to three: the secretaries of transportation for Maryland and Virginia and Washington’s transportation director.

Metro’s current board, which includes appointees from each jurisdiction and the federal government, has often been described as unwieldy, and any jurisdiction can block major changes from taking effect.

Giving each jurisdiction the power to come up with a funding formula is an acknowledgment of the political reality that elected officials are unlikely to agree on a single regional tax, such as a sales tax, to fund the system. The proposal also would allow Metro to issue bonds to pay for capital improvements.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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