For the second time in four months, Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld appeared Wednesday before a House Subcommittee on Government Operations on Capitol Hill to provide an update on the transit agency’s budget and SafeTrack maintenance program.
One major development during the hearing was the possibility of the agency receiving some federal support, especially since, as Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Virginia) pointed out, about one-third of the 19 million visitors to the District are federal workers.
“We need to make sure we get this right,” said subcommittee Chairman Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina), who ensured a bipartisan effort to back Metro. “If that means potentially spending political capital, in ways I wouldn’t normally would spend, in an effort to make sure this transit system serves the federal workforce and the greater metropolitan D.C. area in a way that it should.”
Even though Meadows, who also chairs the House Freedom Caucus of conservative members in the House of Representatives, praised Wiedefeld’s leadership, he also disapproved of one Metro budget item: a $400,000 promotional video for Metro’s “Back2Good” campaign.
“A $400,000 video was not well-timed,” he said. “When you look at a Back2Good video, you’re spending those kinds of dollars when we are not back to good. Maybe check with us on marketing before you do the good.”
During the hearing, Wiedefeld provided an update on the fiscal year 2018 budget, which was approved last week and will increase bus, rail and parking fares.
He said eliminating 800 positions via layoffs and unfilled vacancies will reduce the agency’s workforce by 6 percent. However, more layoffs are anticipated.
In Wiedefeld’s prepared remarks to committee members, he outlined how the first 12 surges of SafeTrack have been able to replace 28,000 crossties, 25,000 fasteners and 1,010 high voltage cables.
Mark Goldstein, director of physical infrastructure with the federal Government Accountability Office, said Metro rushed into the SafeTrack program outlined in a report (http://bit.ly/2nqqoEa) released earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Wiedefeld said he will present an outlook on the agency’s fiscal year 2019 deficit next month and how much money would be needed annually to make Metro function.
Rep. Jody Hice (R-Georgia), vice chairman of the subcommittee, questioned the agency’s $81 million in projected overtime costs.
“It is a good decision to pay overtime,” Wiedefeld said. “It is a standard within the industry to pay overtime. We are a labor-intensive business.”
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton briefly read from various Metro reports from as far back as nearly 40 years ago that resembled the agency today: in financial crisis and in need of help.
“Isn’t that the same thing as a death spiral?” Norton said.
Wiedefeld said what would help Metro is a sustainable source of revenue, such as a specific tax dedicated to funding the transit agency.
Wiedefeld said Metro officials been working with the union, a claim met with skepticism.
“I heard the same ol’ lies,” said Raymond Jackson, second vice president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, after the hearing. “Our members don’t have a problem coming to work. All we ask is [Metro] gives us a full day’s pay, for a full day’s work. That’s all we want.”
Union officials will present its own report Thursday on how to improve Metro.