“The reforms will improve transparency, accountability and fairness of all parties,” said board Chairman Paul C. Smedberg, who replaced Evans. “I know that I and several of the board members among us really do look forward to turn the page in these efforts.”
Evans (D), a D.C. Council member, had served as Metro board chairman for more than three years when he resigned in June. An investigation by the board’s ethics committee found that Evans had failed to disclose a conflict of interest arising from his private consulting work for Colonial Parking, the District’s largest parking company, which was paying Evans’s consulting firm $50,000 a year.
Board member Corbett Price, an ally of Evans who came under fire for his attempts to conceal Evans’s violation, also resigned.
The changes approved Thursday include expanding and clarifying disclosure requirements, making the transit agency’s inspector general the primary investigator of probes and allowing the public access to written reports of findings and rulings. Board discussions about complaints or subsequent investigations will also be open to the public.
The four-member ethics committee had kept its investigation into Evans private. After pressure from the governors of Maryland and Virginia and other Metro board members, as well as a Washington Post story detailing results of the probe conducted by an outside law firm, a summary of the findings was made public.
During Thursday’s discussion, board member Michael Goldman said the policy should include more specificity as to what constituted actual ethical lapses. An appendix to the 18-page ethics code included seven frequently asked questions and scenarios of possible conflicts. Goldman, who represents Maryland, said he would like to see even more examples.
“This should be transparent and upfront, and not something you have to dig out,” he said.
General Counsel Patricia Y. Lee said it was difficult to know how much specificity should be included because it’s impossible to anticipate all apparent conflicts that could come up.
Board member Christian Dorsey, who represents Virginia, said the ambiguity should be embraced because it forces board members to seek guidance, which could save them from unwittingly committing a violation.
“One of the benefits of limiting the frequently asked questions,” Dorsey said, “is that it invites all of us board members to be in the mind-set that if there is a question — ask.”
In other business, Metro leadership indicated it could consider a fare increase for the first time in three years. General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said “it was too early” to talk about proposals and that the transit agency needed to review its finances first as it begins its annual budget planning process later this year.
Preemptively, Andrew Kierig, co-chair of the Riders Advisory Council, told board members that the council would not endorse an across-the-board fare increase, citing a disparity between the level of service provided and what riders pay for it. He also said many who rely on buses already struggle to pay fares.
The board also approved an agreement that facilitated the release of millions in funding the state of Maryland had been withholding until several financial questions over usage and audits had been resolved and a dedicated funding agreement was finalized between the state and Metro.
Metro will make monthly and quarterly detailed project financial reports, develop a debt policy, and agree to increased auditing. In return, Maryland released $83.5 million in dedicated capital funds to the transit agency.
“As the largest financial contributors to Metro, Maryland will continue to hold WMATA’s feet to the fire, and take whatever action is necessary to ensure that they comply with these new standards of accountability,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said in a statement.
Wiedefeld said the transit agency welcomed increased scrutiny and disclosure of its finances.
“Metro is committed to ensuring that these dollars are invested wisely, and to meeting the accountability standards expected by our funding jurisdictions,” the general manager said in a statement.
With one jurisdiction’s concerns resolved, the transit authority’s attention was shifted to the District’s request for more hours.
Late Wednesday, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson renewed their call for Metro to restore late-night service, which was cut in 2016. The city leaders said the lost hours are hurting service industry workers. They noted that subways in other major cities have longer hours.
Metro leaders responded Thursday, saying they also want the hours back — but not at the expense of safety. The extra time is needed for preventive maintenance work when trains aren’t running, they said.
“Service seems to trump safety from what we are hearing from the District,” Dorsey said. He said it was not reasonable to compare Metro to other cities’ transit systems, adding that “keeping up with the Joneses” should not be Metro’s first priority.
“We want to provide transit service as many hours as we possibly can,” Wiedefeld said, “but not at the expense of keeping the system reliable and keeping up with maintenance.”