D.C. Council member and Metro board chairman Jack Evans speaks to reporters after Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld presented a fiscal 2018 budget proposal to the board's finance committee at the agency's headquarters in northwest D.C. on Nov. 3. /Photo by William J. Ford
D.C. Council member and Metro board chairman Jack Evans speaks to reporters after Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld presented a fiscal 2018 budget proposal to the board's finance committee at the agency's headquarters in northwest D.C. on Nov. 3. /Photo by William J. Ford

D.C. Councilman and Metro board chairman Jack Evans said the city would contribute more money to the transit agency to help close a budget shortfall and avoid fare increases, layoffs and cuts in service.

Evans told reporters Thursday after the board’s Finance Committee session that Metro officials “will discuss the various elements in closing the $290 million gap. The solution we propose is that the jurisdictions pay for this. Most of us don’t ride public transportation, but we pay for it because it is a critical element in our region.”

Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld presented a proposed $1.8 billion budget requesting jurisdictions contribute more money — $47 million from D.C., $44 million from Maryland and $39 million from Virginia.

Board member Malcolm Augustine, who represents Prince George’s County, said after the session that officials in Maryland aren’t ready for such a burden.

“If the District of Columbia has enough money to shoulder their expense by themselves, that’s good for them,” he said. “Maryland is not prepared to do that. We are clearly looking at a more even approach where each of the different groups would have to be able to help in this process. That’s the responsible approach.”

Some of the proposed fare increases:

  • One-way bus fares from $1.75 to $2 and Express bus fares from $4 to $4.25;
  • Metrorail peak fares to board a train from $2.15 to $2.25 with the maximum fare at $6;
  • All parking fees would increase by 10 cents.

The board may approve next month to hold a public hearing with a public comment period from Jan. 14 to Feb. 6. The budget could be adopted in March.

“We all know what we are up against,” Wiedefeld said Thursday. “There has not been the ongoing inspection and maintenance of this system that needs to be done. We have not done been doing the preventive maintenance and not been following industry standards. I have to propose what I think it’ll take to get this thing safe.”

Jackie Jeter, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union of Forestville, criticized the budget proposal, which includes possibly trimming 300 bus and rail workers.

“I feel like we are being scapegoated for [Metro’s] lack of management,” she told reporters. “They have failed to manage the system the way it’s supposed to be and now they are saying the problem is labor cost.”

Jeter said the union will do “whatever’s necessary” to hold Metro accountable.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General issued an audit Nov. 2 regarding Metro, but focused on how a federal agency’s oversight could improve the beleaguered agency.

The inspector general’s 23-page document mentions how the Federal Transit Administration’s may face significant changes as it continues to oversee Metro safety procedures until the three jurisdictions form their own safety commission next year.

The FTA issued several safety directives for Metro to address a variety of problems such as training of employees, track inspections and improve its communication technology. According to the audit, inspectors suffered “burnout and stress” due to the workload.

“FTA has taken steps to begin developing policies and procedures to assume and relinquish direct safety oversight, but lacks firm milestones for completion,” the audit says. “Slow progress in implementing a data-driven, risk-based oversight system, limited safety performance criteria, and unenforceable safety standards further hinder the agency’s ability to provide proactive safety oversight.”

FTA officials said compiling more comprehensive data has been challenging, according to the audit. They attribute lack of functional requirements from the Transit Advisory Committee for Safety. In addition, the administration has only one safety data analyst to perform routine data and other work and hires a contractor for additional analysis.

Rail transit oversight nationwide has a maintenance backlog of $86 billion and growing up by $2.5 billion annually, the audit said.

The inspector general offers seven recommendations for the FTA to improve rail transit safety oversight that include communicating policies and procedures for assuming and relinquishing direct safety oversight to the rail transit industry.

According to a memo from the FTA acting administrator Carolyn Flowers, the administration agrees with the recommendations and plans to complete them in three stages by July 30, 2017.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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