The long-awaited report on Metro by former U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood urges the region’s three jurisdictions and the federal government to provide the agency with permanent, dedicated funding, but it sidesteps the politically charged question of what kind of tax or other mechanism should be adopted for that purpose.
The study also calls for replacing Metro’s entire, 16-member board with a five-member “reform board” for three years. LaHood has aired the proposal previously, but the report says explicitly a new board is needed to make “tough decisions” such as cutting pension benefits and reducing bus service.
The 24-page report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post in advance of its release later this month, was commissioned in March by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). The study provides a foundation for the next phase of an intense debate in the region over how to restructure Metro’s governance and meet its funding needs.
The study is the most comprehensive independent analysis of Metro’s structure and finances in years. It finds that Metro suffers financial pressures partly because it provides about 20 percent more service per rider than other large transit agencies.
It urges raising bus fares from a base level of $2 to $2.10, which is closer to the average of $2.16 among peer agencies. It also calls for a major overhaul of bus routes to “offer service that matches actual demand.” The combined savings could be $38 million a year.
Comparable reductions in rail service could be necessary as well, the study says, if rail ridership fails to rebound as Metro hopes.
The report finds Metro’s overall labor costs are average compared with similar transit systems — with the exception of some pension benefits that are too generous and should be trimmed. For example, hourly workers who contribute about 3 percent of their paychecks to pensions should be required to raise that closer to the national average of 7 percent. That would reduce the need for subsidies by $25 million per year.
The report endorses the leadership of Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld, who is about to complete his second year in the position.
You can read the full article as well as the Lahood report at The Washington Post