- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2016

Washington-area government and business leaders met Monday with transit officials from across North America to discuss the challenges and approaches to repairing Metrorail’s facilities and reputation.

“What is important is that the public can feel that they can invest in this system with confidence,” said Roger Berliner, chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG). “You create that through accountability, you create that by wins, by showing that the system is in fact getting better, which I think we can say today — it is getting better as a result of the management that is in place.”

Mr. Berliner said officials consider efforts to be on the right track due to Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld, who was appointed in November. Officials have commended Mr. Wiedefeld’s leadership choices, particularly his appointment of former interim chief Jack Requa to the newly created position of executive managing officer.

Metro has been plagued by service delays and technical failures since its unprecedented shutdown in March — when the subway was closed for 29 hours to examine and repair electric cables responsible for smoke-and-fire incidents on the tracks.

COG and the Greater Washington Board of Trade have partnered to repair the transit agency’s reputation and operations, and Monday’s summit was a key step in that effort.

The five other transit systems represented at the summit — Toronto, Chicago, Miami-Dade County, New York City and Metropolitan Atlanta — acknowledged inevitable “boom and bust cycles” in their own operations.

Keith Parker, general manager and CEO of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, said his system has recovered since facing bankruptcy five years ago. Since improving the public transportation system, MARTA has attracted new business investments to the area such as Mercedes Benz and Farmer’s Insurance.

“I believe that people don’t invest in losers. You have to show wins to be attractive as an investment group, otherwise money will not bother coming toward you,” said Mr. Parker.

Metro will see similar success if it takes steps to repair its image and operations, the experts said.

Officials identified three areas of financial insecurity for Metro — $300 million in additional funds needed for the fiscal 2018 budget, $18 billion needed over the next 10 years for infrastructure improvements and a $2.5 billion unfunded pension liability. The priority is to develop a new system of funding to address these areas of concern.

Shortfalls in Metro’s revenue from fares and advertising are covered by contributions from the jurisdictions it serves in the District and its suburbs in Maryland and Virginia. The federal government finances Metro’s capital construction projects at $150 million a year, but it does not provide any funds for operations.

Metro officials are exploring the acquisition of additional federal funding and dedicated funding from the jurisdictions, in addition to new business investments.

Veronique “Ronnie” Hakim, president of New York City Transit, said much of the funding for her city’s transit authority is largely provided by the federal government.

“Getting that funding requires us to be a responsible partner,” said Ms. Hakim.

Repairing its relationship with the federal government will require Metro to display a new system of oversight and metrics to measure success, officials said. The Federal Transit Administration has kept a watchful eye on the money it provides to Metro since a 2014 audit found that the transit agency could not account for millions of dollars it had spent.

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