Metro’s plan to save system tests regional politics

The latest effort to save the deteriorating Washington Metro system is the region’s “biggest test” in a long time, says Washington Post reporter Bob McCartney as the transit system’s general manager issued a wide-ranging rescue plan.

Last week, Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld made a proposal to provide dedicated funding of $500 million per year for Metro equipment and maintenance.

The Metro system has been riddled by fires and declining ridership as many in the region see the system as unreliable and unsafe. However, a large population in the region still relies on Metro to get to work and businesses depend on it to deliver customers.

“It’s the main artery. It’s like the aorta for the transportation system in the Washington region,” said McCartney.

Since the Metro operates in D.C. as well as Virginia and Maryland, it relies on funding from all three governments along with Congress. Navigating the politics of all four has proven difficult for Metro.

“It’s actually a four-way tug of war, because it’s not just the three jurisdictions, but also Congress. Congress has a lot to say about this,” McCartney said. “It’s going to be a huge challenge. But if it doesn’t get done, then Metro’s basically going to go back to… underinvesting, and gradually deteriorating, losing riders, raising safety concerns.”

The current difficulties have raised conversations on what it even means to have a public good.

“There’s a lot of disagreement about that,” McCartney said. Though many believe the Metro is a public good, many people “just see public transit as a huge boondoggle that requires a lot of subsidies [and] sucks up a lot of money,” McCartney told What’s Working in Washington.

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If this doesn’t work out, there are a few possibilities, but none of them are appealing to the region, McCartney said. Either the managing structure is replaced with a federal control board, the whole system deteriorates, or the whole system becomes privatized.

“I think it’s the biggest test for the region, certainly in my memory,” McCartney said.

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