It seems everyone has a plan to fix Metro. Up next, liberals and labor unions.
Reps. Anthony G. Brown and Jamie B. Raskin, both Maryland Democrats, unveiled legislation Tuesday that would redirect federal transit funds to allow Metro to avoid cutting service or raising fares.
The bill, drafted in coordination with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, would also require Metro to adopt a set of labor-backed initiatives such as a pilot program offering flat fares.
It urges a study that could lead to reversing privatization of the MetroAccess paratransit program. And it would create two safety task forces: one to review Metro’s on-track safety and the other to review bus safety. The task forces would be named for train and bus operators who were killed on the job in separate incidents.
The bill was made public at a news conference Tuesday morning at the New Carrollton Metro station with the two congressmen and ATU Local 689 President Jackie Jeter.
The legislation seems to have little chance of winning approval in Congress, given Republican control of both chambers. Instead, it appears designed primarily to call attention to proposals advanced by the union and grass-roots activists who want federal, state and local governments to pick up a bigger share of the cost of Metro and relieve the burden on riders.
Brown, who introduced the bill, represents a swath of Prince George’s County that is home to a large number of ATU members.
“I expect it will be quite a challenge” to pass the bill, he said. “It’s an uphill battle [in Congress] for a lot of progressive, meaningful legislation.”
The legislation would give Metro the ability to use some of the money it receives annually from the Transportation Department for operations instead of just capital improvements. “This would give Metro broader discretion and the ability to ‘flex’ its federal formula grant funds for operating costs with the goal of avoiding service cuts and fare increases,” according to a summary of the bill prepared by Brown’s office.
Metro would get such flexibility with one important condition: The District, Maryland and Virginia would have to create a dedicated funding source that covers more than half of Metro’s operating costs.
Metro is the only major transit system in the nation that does not obtain a significant share of its funding from a dedicated source.
Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, business leaders and others have urged dedicated funding to cover Metro’s capital needs, but no consensus has been reached within the region on whether or how to provide it.
Several of the proposals in the Brown bill are adopted from the union-backed “Fund It, Fix It, Make It Fair” plan released by ATU Local 689 in March.
The bill would establish a year-long pilot program offering $2.50 flat fares for trips originating from three Metro stations — one each in the District, Virginia and Maryland — to be selected by Metro. The union plan called for a $2 flat fare across the system. Flat fares “would be a great way to lure riders back to the system,” Raskin said.
The Brown bill proposes another rider-friendly initiative: free transfers between bus and rail. It would require Metro to establish a pilot program offering free transfers between the two modes at certain stations. The union plan proposed free transfers between bus and rail within a two-hour window.
Moreover, in its plan, the union called for a reduced-fare program for low-income riders that “takes into account passengers’ ability to pay.” The union notes that San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency offers a “Lifeline Pass” — discounting its regular monthly pass 50 percent for those whose incomes are less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Accordingly, Brown’s bill proposes a similar fare program.
One unusual feature of the legislation is that it would grant Congress’s consent to amend the Metro Compact to carry out many of its provisions — even though revising the Compact would not be necessary to do so.
Metro “could act on these if they wanted to [without changing the compact], but they haven’t,” Brown spokesman Matthew Verghese said. “We included it as a mandate in the legislation to show congressional support for common-sense ideas.”