Perhaps the most prominent backer of this idea is Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans. Evans, echoing an editorial in The Washington Post, said Wednesday that he believes the feds should run Metro because Metro can’t seem to run itself.
This seems like magical thinking, at best. Is there anything more dysfunctional at the moment than Congress and the federal government? Congress has been stalemated for years, especially over spending — and yet, somehow this august body is going to come together to rescue our region’s subway? The situation is so dire in this town that the Supreme Court may have to put ads on Craigslist to get a ninth justice. Besides, isn’t the federal government busy enough at the moment trying to work the kinks out of Obamacare?
And it’s not just about the money. Probably the most unintentionally self-destructive thing Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld has done is demonstrate that Metro’s problems have less to do with funding than we thought.
If anything, SafeTrack has only made people wonder what happened to the $5 billion that previous management sank into rebuilding the system during the Metro Forward program five years ago. Or the $150 million in annual capital funding that Congress has been chipping in since 2008. Even when parts of rail lines have been shut down for repairs under SafeTrack, the work hasn’t always been done properly — and it’s worth noting that this also has been happening despite federal safety oversight under Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and his Federal Transit Administration.
It’s interesting that this plea for a federal takeover should be sent heavenward right about the time that Wiedefeld released a budget proposal that he called a “reality check.” The proposal, which is intended to close a $290 million gap, raises fares, cuts service and seeks more money from the governments served by Metro, plus Congress.
Wiedefeld has been applauded for most of the dramatic efforts that he’s undertaken in the year he’s been on the job. But trying to make Metro focus on the fundamentals of safe and reliable service while also living more or less within its means — is this man crazy?
But if people really want to entertain radical ideas such as putting Metro under federal control, maybe we should put everything on the table — including seeing if the private company that runs Hong Kong’s highly regarded subway has any interest in running this one.
For now though, it’s a pretty extraordinary sentiment from the chairman of Metro’s board that it’s time to punt to Congress and the federal government. Maybe that will end up being the only way out in the end. But it seems as if instead of a giant Hail Mary, Metro should focus less on asking Uncle Sam for help and more on down-to-earth and likely approaches to fixing a messed-up system.