Democracy Dies in Darkness


Metro’s board is not the problem

December 22, 2017 at 4:00 PM

Jack Evans, a Democrat who represents Ward 2 on the D.C. Council, is chairman of the board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

This is not your grandfather's Metro board. Almost every study or plan involving Metro in the past year (there are 12 and counting) recommends a five-member Metro board. The board has 16 members: four from each jurisdiction (the District, Maryland, Virginia and the federal government). Two of the four are alternates, so Metro actually has an eight-member voting board.

When I was on the board from 1993 through 1999, it was excellent. We oversaw the completion of the 103-mile system, which was finished on Jan. 13, 2001. But from 2001 to 2015, the board was not so good. There was a lack of leadership, constant meddling in operations and much infighting. But most of all, the board and the general managers allowed the rail system to deteriorate. Metro opened in 1976. By 2006, everything was 30 years old and at its replacement age.

As early as 2004, Richard A. White, then general manager, was warning that if Metro did not get much-needed funding, it would enter a "death spiral" in 10 years. He was right on the money (no pun intended).

I rejoined the board in 2015 and became chairman in January 2016. The board we have today is one of the best in Metro's history. Its 16 dedicated individuals have made all the right decisions.

First, we hired Paul J. Wiedefeld as general manager. Wiedefeld is widely respected and acknowledged for his leadership. The board has supported his every decision.

Wiedefeld, with the board's approval, put forth a plan to fix Metro. The board supported closing the system when needed, scaling back late-night hours, implementing SafeTrack and replacing senior management.

When I arrived in January 2015, Metro had not had an on-time audit in several years. We have since had two on-time, clean audits. The board hired a new inspector general and gave him blanket authority to investigate waste, fraud and abuse.

The board made the very difficult decision to cut service and raise fares.

And, for the first time in years, the finances of Metro are transparent and stable.

To replace this board, with its broad expertise and experience, with something else would be foolhardy. Given that the two governors, the D.C. mayor and the secretary of transportation already recommended and appointed six of the eight voting members, it is unclear to me who the "new" members would be. If the appointers are unhappy with the appointees, they should make new appointments.

This board has done all the heavy lifting to put Metro in a position to regain its stature. All Metro needs now is a dedicated, long-term and bondable funding source.

The only focus for the elected officials from the three jurisdictions and the federal government should be that funding. They should stop using the board as a reason not to address the central issue of funding.

If this does not happen, the general manager will have no choice but to further cut services, continuing the "death spiral" White predicted.

Read more about this issue:

The Post's View: A blueprint for saving Metro — at last

The Post's View: Metro needs $500 million a year, and it needs it now

The Post's View: The real cause of Metro's troubles

The Post's View: Fix Metro now. Or face the consequences.

The Post's View: Metro gets a surprise lifeline from an unlikely source

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