Metro Must Change or Die

Anybody who has ridden the Washington Metro knows it’s an absolute disaster. This isn’t news. I wrote in 2007: “The Washington Metro may be one of the least efficient, least effective, bass ackwards organizations ever to be stood up in the history of the planet, and continued incidents like these just goes to further perpetuate that image.” Little has changed since that.

That’s why it’s so promising to know that Governor Larry Hogan is not interested in bailing them out:

Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday that Washington‘s Metrorail system must dramatically improve before Maryland will consider providing it with additional tax dollars.

“This is unfortunately a system that appears to have been broken for a long time, with nobody really in charge,” said Hogan, noting that Maryland already pays “nearly half a billion dollars” to subsidize the Metro lines that extend into Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

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He said the sum — 11 percent of the state’s annual transportation construction budget — is drastically out of proportion with the number of Maryland residents who ride Metro.

“At this point, that’s about as much as we’d like to spend until we can see some things improve,” Hogan said.

That 11-percent of the state’s transportation budget is spent on a system that primarily benefits District of Columbia and Virginia residents would be appalling under normal circumstances. In circumstances where Maryland is having to play catch-up on highway transportation projects due to eight years of neglect under Martin O’Malley makes that funding level disturbing. That so much money is spent on a Metrorail system that is both inefficient and dangerous is not spending taxpayer dollars prudently.

While Maryland partisans will not doubt attack Governor Hogan’s decision, it’s a bipartisan one too. Virginia’s Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe has no interest in committing additional funds from Virginia’s budget until there are improvements to the system.

Governor Hogan was absolutely right in saying that “We can’t throw good money after bad.”

Unfortunately it seems that the groundwork is being laid for tax increases to pay for Metrorail. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed a “dedicated stream of money” in order to pay for Metro upkeep and pay for repairs. In the private sector, such a dedicated stream of money would be known as “user fees.” But since the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is a quasi-governmental transit monopoly, the real dedicated stream that Bowser and other Democrats will be looking for is tax increases, either across the board or dedicated tax hikes to Montgomery and Prince George’s County Residents. While Governor Hogan won’t tolerate that, future Democratic leaders will.

The facts are pretty simple; Metrorail is a deteriorating, dilapidated, outdated  transit system that needs a systemic overhaul of its management and its organizational style. At the very least, there needs to be a change at the top: Paul Wiedefeld was a disaster as head of the Maryland Transit Administration, and has proven to be no better running a much larger and more complex system.

But realistically, you and I both know that the solution to Metrorail’s issues are to sell or lease the system to a private operator. This would allow the private operator to bear the cost of updating and expanding the Metrorail system and allow them the opportunity to recover their costs throw fares and efficiencies. Don’t forget that, as I noted two years ago, that  that the completely privately operated  MTR transit system in Hong Kong has a Farebox Recovery Rate of 186% which would allow a private operator to recoup their costs reasonably quickly without either fare increases on users or tax increases on innocent taxpayers.

Governor Hogan is right; not a single more penny for Metro until they get their act together. If Metro cannot adapt to the 21st century, they must either be sold to a private company or else it will die.

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