- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 2, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Hear ye! Hear ye! Job cuts at the region’s Metro system are coming.

Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld’s court is scheduled to be in session on Wednesday, and the audience will mostly be managers and senior-level employees. The czar is holding a meeting Wednesday with managers and others now that we’re a month into the new fiscal year.

Mr. Wiedefeld’s goal is to make the beleaguered transit system “fiscally accountable” by restructuring management and downsizing the workforce — and he’s right.

Metro faces an $18 billion capital budget deficit, a $2.5 billion unfunded pension liability and a $300 million shortfall in its final 2018 budget. So when I say the Metro system is beleaguered, it surely is.

Metro also is on the hook to improve safety and reliability, and that it is in the throes of a “SafeTrack” plan to address known and unknown rail safety issues is a huge plus. Still, “putting our financial house in order” — as Mr. Wiedefeld himself characterized the fiscal issue — is key before fiscal 2018 starts knocking at the door.


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Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans already has taken on Congress, telling House money leaders that the transit agency needs an infusion of at least $300 million in federal funds at the starting line. Congress, of course, is reticent, since its members, staff and visitors are Metro riders. Yet that is part of the problem.

While the fiscally irresponsible folks who ran Metro recklessly spent money, they simultaneously neglected to maintain and sustain growing rail and bus systems, and grew a workforce that led to reports earlier this summer that as many as 600 Metro workers would be pink-slipped.

Now, let’s be real: Metro cannot afford to let 600 worker go in one swoop. While the quasi-government agency employs 10,000 people more or less, some of this jobs are already vacant and there are some plans already on the deliberations table.

For example, Mr. Wiedefeld wants to stop all rail service at midnight and leave some of those suburban folks clubbing and drinking and concert-going in the city to, well, drive themselves. And if the Verizon Center, FedEx Field or our sports teams have really late games, the team owners should pay to play.

Likewise, while Mr. Wiedefeld likely will not mention a rise in fares, he should at least make the point very soon that increases are necessary. He could easily cite to the costs of the monthslong SafeTrack maintenance project, including shuttle bus service. Cite those costs and the costs of any ongoing and future projects that suck up operating expenses. Show the public, and the public will handle Congress.

Mr. Wiedefeld between a rock and a very hard (political and public) place. He has not, however, let us down.

He studied and pointed out the many problems Metro is facing, he put plans in place and he now is moving into a third phase — and he’s trying to lay it out before the new school year begins and before everyone falls into their autumn rhythms.

So far, so good.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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