Two major studies, reflecting concern that transportation policy in the Washington area is hampered by political infighting and poor coordination, have called for creation of a regional agency to oversee the area's subway, buses and virtually all other forms of travel.
The super-agency, proposed in separate reports by the Greater Washington Board of Trade and consultants hired by the Greater Washington Research Center, would be modeled after bodies in such other cities as Chicago and New York.
The Research Center's report, concentrating on Metro's financial problems, said that with federal grants tapering off, the transit authority should face reality and concentrate on building a 60-mile rail system for the present rather than the master plan's 101 miles. (Thirty-nine miles are now in operation).
It also backed raising fares to offset rising operating deficits, while giving special breaks to low-income riders, and called for creation of more local bus lines like Montgomery County's Ride-On.
The Research Center report's recommendations for the new body grow largely from concern that the Metro board is becoming paralyzed by bickering as each jurisdiction tries to decrease its own subsidy bills at the expense of others. Those bills will rise 19 percent to $182 million next fiscal year.
There is also concern that because the board's authority is limited to the buses and rail, there is poor coordination with other agencies administering complementary transportation programs such as highway development, commuter trains and car-pooling.
The study proposed limiting the Metro board's function to running the bus and rail system, guided by the new body, which would include representatives from all area and state governments. The super-agency would work out areawide transportation planning and collect and dole out subsidy payments.
Metro General Manager Richard Page declined formal comment on the proposals yesterday. But board member Joseph Alexander of Virginia expressed doubt that agreement could be reached on such a plan, noting recent efforts to establish a regional tax dedicated to transit had failed.
The center's study also suggested that Metro reverse a longstanding policy of collecting construction funds from area governments in proportion to how much track they would have if the full 101 miles of subway are built. With construction years behind schedule, some jurisdictions have been overcharged in relation to what they already have.
Focusing on a 60-mile system, for instance, would mean D.C. and Fairfax would get money back from the other jurisdictions. If and when the system grew beyond 60 miles, their shares of construction costs would increase as they got more track.
To date, Metro has refused to entertain suggestions of anything under 101 miles, out of fear it would damage its negotiating stance with the federal government, which covers 80 percent of construction costs and wants to reduce grants.
The study also said that raising fares is a preferable to cutting service as a means of reducing subsidies. Long-distance trips should be charged at a proportionately higher rate than short ones, it said. Low-income riders could be cushioned from the new fares through "targeted subsidies," special programs to give them tickets at discount rates.
The study, researched over a four-month period by the Urban Institute, was prepared for a 29-member task force headed by former World Bank president Robert S. McNamera. The group is looking into long-range aspects of such urban issues as transportation, housing and water and will issue recommendations after the November elections.
The Board of Trade study, conducted by an internal 15-member group and adopted by the full board yesterday, "concluded that there were shortcomings in the overall decision-making" in transportation, study director Martin Rubenstein said.
In addition to a regional agency, it called for construction of new highways such as the Springfield bypass in Virginia and the intercounty connector in Maryland, improvement of Metro's bus and rail service, balanced service distribution between areas airports, better maintenance of roads and bridges, and improved taxi service.