- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld wants the governments served by the transit system to pony up $500 million a year, without fare increases or any more service cuts.

On Wednesday, Mr. Wiedefeld told regional leaders that Metro needs $15.5 billion committee capital funding over the next 10 years to remain safe and reliable. The funds would pay for new and rebuilt railcars and buses, tracks, safety improvements and other items.

“If we don’t deal with this, the only place that we can is fares or to cut service, which means cutting employees, which I don’t want to do,” he told the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG).

Mr. Wiedefeld said Metro already has eliminated 800 jobs and more cuts would directly impact service.

The 40-year-old transit agency has been plagued by delays, safety issues and declining ridership as it has come under increased federal scrutiny and regional complaints. Its yearlong SafeTrack maintenance program, which ends this month, has cut service and inconvenienced customers as it replaced tracks and upgraded systems.

Mr. Wiedefeld’s proposal Wednesday included renewing federal funding via the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) to at least at the current level of $150 million per year and creating a capital trust fund via a $500 million-per-year regional revenue source.

Metro’s capital funding agreement and PRIIA both expire after the next fiscal year. Currently, the capital program is funded by $300 million in federal formula grants, $150 million from PRIIA, $150 million in matching regional PRIIA money and $210 million from the regional jurisdictions.

July 1 marks the start of fiscal 2018 for the transit agency.

Meanwhile, COG’s board of directors on Wednesday adopted a set of principles to guide its strategy group, which is focused on securing capital funding by the end of fiscal 2018. However, the principles lack any dollar goals.

The principles call for regional and federal governments to contribute, and more revenues from riders — not from increased fares but from an increase in ridership.

With SafeTrack ending, Metro already is reaping benefits, Mr. Wiedefeld said. He said delays caused by railcar problems are down 41 percent through the first five months of the year.

But his presentation stated that increased ridership alone would not solve the capital funding problem.

“Even if Metro were to regain tomorrow the 100,000 average daily riders lost over the last decade, its public subsidy need for day-to-day operations would still grow to $1.5 billion in 10 years,” he said.

Metro also suffers on the operating expenses side, where costs are rising at twice the rate of fares and commercial revenues, according to the presentation.

Mr. Wiedefeld said the revenue issues, especially on the capital side, will not be solved through “management magic.”

“Dedicated funding alone is not the answer,” COG member Marc Korman of Montgomery County told reporters. “Metro’s problem is not just money.”

Mr. Korman, a Maryland state delegate, called for reforms within the transit agency, such changing who appoints the Riders’ Advisory Council.

“You could reform the process for the Rider’s Advisory Council to give riders a real, active group at the table that can articulate their interests,” he said, adding that he opposes new taxes to fund Metro unless reforms are made.

“It’s not something we should be asking taxpayers to even do,” Mr. Korman said, adding that a regional consensus should be reached instead of pushing separate bills through Maryland, Virginia and the District.

Sharon Bulova, chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and head of the Metro strategy group, told reporters that people want to know the rail and bus system is looking at efficiencies.

“We need to be able to tell our voters, we need to be able to tell our taxpayers that we’re looking at efficiencies, that we’re looking at everything that needs to be dealt with, before returning to the taxpayers for increased funding,” Ms. Bulova said.

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