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Union Calls for Public Oversight of D.C. Circulator

District officials should oversee and manage its public transit system, or it will continue fail just like its Circulator bus program and the city streetcar system, a prominent labor union said Wednesday.

The Amalgamated Transit Union International released a report that explicitly gives examples of how such privatization negatively affects the city.

For instance, the report — titled “Fool D.C. Twice” — notes that Circulator buses remained in service while in need of repairs. The streetcar service along H Street in Northeast doesn’t connect to the city’s major job centers and stops short of Union Station.

“Public transit is something to provide access for everyone to improve their own lives,” Michael McCall-Delgado, a strategic researcher for ATU and author of the report, said in a teleconference call Wednesday. “The District needs to take responsibility for these services. It should stop hiding behind the public contractor and provide the services [residents] deserve.”

The Circulator bus was established in 2005 with the District Department of Transportation, which owns the Circulator buses and manages the city’s streetcar.

Terry Owens, spokesman for DDOT, said the agency hasn’t seen the ATU report and will review it becomes available.

“However, providing safe, efficient and reliable transit services for the District of Columbia is an essential part of our mission at DDOT,” he said. “We continuously evaluate our transit services to determine where improvements can be made.”

A private sector company, Cincinnati-based First Transit, operates the Circulator’s six routes that include the more tourist-driven and affluent areas of the District, such as the National Mall, Woodley Park and Georgetown. First Transit also provides training to the 200 Circulator employees.

Jay Brock, spokesman for First Transit, said the majority of the buses currently in stock are about 13 years old. He said additional maintenance workers and a consultant have been recently hired to not only improve the fleet, but also analyze on-time performance.

“The parts that are needed for that particular fleet [has] limited suppliers, so it takes us a little bit of time to get the pieces for repair and maintenance,” he said. “When we identify a bus that’s unsafe to be on the road, we pull it off the road.”

That didn’t satisfy the union.

The report notes the farebox recovery ratio in the Circulator ($1 per ride) decreased from 24 percent in 2011 to 19 percent in 2014. In comparison around the same time frame, Metrobus ($1.75 per ride) remained slightly steady at 26 percent to 25 percent.

“The end result is that costs are shifted away from the Circulator’s riders and toward District taxpayers as a whole, most of whom derive no direct or indirect benefit from the service,” the union report said. “The general public is subsidizing a service designed to serve the District’s whiter, wealthier residents and tourists.”

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William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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