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Arlington ‘Disappointed’ By Loss of Vote on Metro Board

by ARLnow.com — January 17, 2012 at 11:30 am 2,029 55 Comments

Arlington lost its long-held vote on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Board this month, as an appointed representative of the state government was granted voting power on the Board in place of Arlington’s representative.

Now the Arlington representative, County Board Chair Mary Hynes, is limited to “alternate” status on the Metro Board. In response, Hynes released a statement expressing disappointment but also noting that the county “does still have a voice at Metro.”

For the first time since Metro was formed in the 1960s, Arlington does not have a principal voting seat on the Board of Directors for the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA). The seat that was previously Arlington’s is now filled by a Commonwealth of Virginia representative.

Of course we’re disappointed.

Arlington does still have a voice at Metro. As an alternate WMATA Board member, I continue to serve as a voting member of all Metro committees, where, under WMATA Board rules, all of the Board’s important work is performed. While the exact composition of the committees — Governance, Finance & Administration, Customer Service and Operations, Safety and Security , Planning, and Audits — has yet to be determined, the WMATA Board has agreed that all Board members will continue to be welcome at all Committee meetings. I pledge to you that I will continue to vigorously represent Arlington’s interests and ensure that our viewpoints are heard.

It’s also fair to say that we’re concerned about the role the Commonwealth will play in continuing strong support for WMATA‘s – and our region’s – future.

The eight principal voting members of the Board of Directors hold our region’s future in their hands. It is a funding and governance responsibility Arlington has taken very seriously for more than 35 years. No one in the region disputes that Arlington has nurtured a spirit of regionalism in its approach to critical challenges, even as we’ve been a leader in fully utilizing the tremendous opportunities that regional transit investment provides to local communities. It’s also fair to say that, to date, the Commonwealth of Virginia has had a far less keen interest in supporting vital transit services than have the founding Virginia WMATA jurisdictions – Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax.

This month, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission – the body which appoints WMATA Board members — unanimously passed a resolution PDF file I co-authored that calls on WMATA Board members to actively work together for the good of the agency, our local jurisdictions and our region. I am heartened by this agreement. The resolution also called on the Commonwealth to “provide sustainable and dedicated revenues to support WMATA, in order to ensure the safety and reliability of the Metro system and the economic sustainability of our region.”

Clearly, Metro is an invaluable asset in the region. And Arlington will continue to invest in Metro. Our Metro system is the largest urban transit system in the United States without dedicated funding. We will continue to advocate for long-term, dedicated funding for the system, which is essential to ensure the long-term sustainability of WMATA. It is our hope that, as the Commonwealth assumes 50% of Virginia’s voting power on WMATA, the Governor and General Assembly will rise to meet the enormous, unavoidable challenge of vigorously supporting transit so that Northern Virginia can remain one of the Commonwealth’s strong economic engines – a role it has played for many decades.

While Arlington is losing some influence on the Metro Board, it is gaining some influence on another regional transportation body. County Board member Jay Fisette was just elected chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.

“NVTC plays a vital role in coordinating and managing transit in Northern Virginia,” Fisette said in a statement. “I look forward to working with my colleagues from throughout the region to protect and improve the existing transit systems, and to ensure that we are meeting the growing demands of this region.”

  • Sam

    I’m confused – you have to “co-author” a resolution that states you all have to act like adults and work together in a respectful manner? Didn’t your kindegarten teachers teach you all that many years ago?

  • TGEoA

    Mary has only one person to blame. Zimmerman.

    • Lou

      Very true. And he abandoned ship a year ago when he saw the writing on the wall. He said it was to focus more on Arlington as Board Chairman (the results of that decision on his latest tenure are certainly debatable). Now he’s not Chairman in Arlington and off Metro.

      “We are a transit system that is digging ourselves out of a deep hole of underinvestment,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.

      Thanks Metro leaders. You guys are swell.

  • GT

    Can someone explain to me what a “dedicated funding source” really is? I hear that brought up all the time with WMATA budgets. Can someone give an example of a dedicated funding source that other systems use?

    • Joey

      Example 1: $0.005 sales tax dedicated to the transit system (such as the one funding MARTA in Atlanta).

      Example 2: $0.0069 employer-side payroll tax dedicated to the transit system (such as the one funding Tri-Met in Portland).

      I remember seeing a statistic that WMATA was pretty unusual for a system its size, in that it has to keep going back to each of the jurisdictions every year to ask for cash — that nothing’s dedicated.

      • GT

        Well then what is stopping that from happening? I guess I just do not understand who they are pleading to when they ask for a dedicated funding source. Why can they not make it happen?

        • Sam

          Richmond does not want to dedicate funding to Metro.

          • Andrew

            Do Maryland and DC dedicate funding in this manner?

          • Z

            Funny, as they are very happy to take tax money from NoVa at every turn.

    • North A-Town Snob

      I don’t understand why Metro can’t be self-sufficient without any state or Federal funding. A quick search shows that for Fiscal 2011 WMATA head a total budget of $2.1B ($1.4B operating and $700M capital improvements). Revenues for just rail and bus fares were $832M, so not including the tax dollars kicked in by the states and Fed. So you are selling a service that has expenses that are 2.5 times more expensive than the sales price. Like most government “businesses” it’s a failed model. Increase the fares 2.5 times over the current fares and it’s self-funded. Heck, double the fares and the taxpayer burden is greatly reduced and it is still cheaper than driving costs and parking at most places. Find funding to “subsidize” fares for the poorest of folks and let the rest of us DC area people that earn more than the rest of the country pay $6-8 per day to take the Metro.

      • Jason S.

        I was with you all the way up until you wanted to subsidize fares for poorer people, which is really just a way to push labor costs down for businesses. I’m not interested in helping businesses “succeed” by allowing them to pay less the market is willing to bear for labor. Let them pay the proper rate that will attract employees and pass those costs on to their customers. If that doesn’t work, their business is broken and should be dissolved.

        • North A-Town Snob

          Believe me, my first instinct is to agree with you and not subsidize the costs…let it sink or swim on it’s own merits. But unfortunately no matter how practical a plan would be that would bring the fare costs to “market value”, or at least a self-sustaining business model, one could never get anything implemented that didn’t take into consideration the cost impact to the poor and make accomodations to address the impact on them. And while poor could mean anyone from any race, it would inevitably lead to cries of “racism” as well…see 395 hot lanes debate. Though if anything it would make the cost higher and perhaps discourage the thugs, criminals and bums that ride the Metro to the Clarendon/Ballston/East FC corridor and cause problems.

          • OX4

            Except that as a public transportation system, it is not necessary for Metro to turn a profit. Metro’s purpose is to provide alternative means of transportation in and around the region, particularly for commuting workers. If it makes money in the process, that’s great. But Metro was not created to make a profit.

          • North A-Town Snob

            Nobody is saying earn a profit, but how about just be self sustaining and break even. Not rely on more funding from the public tax coffers than it takes in from fares by the public who uses it. And no worries, the way it is funded and structured now there is no way that it could ever turn a profit…it currently runs $1.3B a year in the red based on its fare structure.

          • Bill Clinton

            Stop. Using. Facts. and Logic. You are only confusing the “educated” – besides, the true name is “public dole” transportation.

          • dk

            An interesting article on this topic:

            http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2011/09/should-public-pay-unprofitable-transit-routes/215/

            Why do we feel that a government-funded transit system should be self-sustaining, but we don’t require the same of other government-funded agencies? Why should the bus system be self-sustaining but not the Department of Transportation (which maintains roads & highways). What makes public transit different from, say, libraries?

          • dk

            Let’s not forget that businesses benefit from public transit as well, and thus have an interest in keeping the cost of transit affordable. If the price of public transit is high enough to discourage thugs, criminals, and bums, it will also be high enough to affect hard-working people who rely on public transit to get to their jobs downtown cleaning office buildings, staffing parking garages, and making $10 sandwiches.

      • Nick

        Are you willing to roughly double the gas taxes, in order to make roads self-sufficient? Right now they require around half of their funding to come from general revenue funds.

        • Keith

          careful what you wish for. If the gas tax doubled across the board the economy that supports you would go straight down the crapper.

        • North A-Town Snob

          The roads serve exponentially more people than Metro does and with the exception of designated toll roads, do not operate on a fare structure to charge the users. For roads that are designated as toll roads, then yes, I do think the tolls should be priced appropriately to cover their maintenance costs.

      • http://theliffeyswell.blogspot.com Foggy Dew

        Exactly. We should also make all of Arlington’s roads toll roads, since none of them are bringing a dime into the county’s coffers that I can see (we’d make an especially good profit from all the people transiting the county to get to work in the District). Another way to generate revenue and make government services pay-as-you-go is to convert 911 a 900 number charging $49.95 a minute for police response, and we can put credit card readers in all of the fire trucks’ water pumping mechanisms.

        Public transportation benefits the entire region by taking about 500k commuters off the roads every day. The county’s gains from the public transportation system far, far outweigh the subsidies.

  • JimPB

    Metro Priority #1 — EVERY budget line up, not just subsidies and fares and other charges, on the table for possible revision.

    Metro Priority #2 — Escalator service done right, on schedule, and repair work done 24/7 with competency.

    Metro Priority #3 — Board members and executives use Metro, especially busses, for their transportation in the DC Metro region.
    Yea who govern and administer, know the system’s operations from personal experience.

    Metro Priority #4 — accountability with transparency.

    • Bluemontsince1961

      Bingo, JimPB.

  • Hank Hill

    As an Arlington resident, I am glad Arlington lost a seat on the Metro Board. Building the homeless shelter in Courthouse, spending $$$ on a trolly system, pandering to illegal ailens are just some examples why Arlington dosen’t deserve a seat.

    • Plunkitt of Clarendon Blvd

      Unfortunately, until we once again have a viable two party system functioning in Arlington we will be at odds with the state and can expect this sort of treatment for the foreseeable future.
      Childish behavior on both sides and only the public suffers.

      • Bluemontsince1961

        Very true.

        • SoMuchForSubtlety

          Wow, those are some real scorched Earth opinions. As a long time Arlington resident who takes the Metro everyday to work (i.e., I actusally have a stake in the game), I defienitley want Arlington to have a vote. Otherwise, I don’t think Arlington should have to contribute. No vote = no money. Let whichever other jursidiction picked up our vote pay our part.

          • TGEoA

            Fine. Let’s shutter all the stations in Arlington, dimwit.

          • GT

            LOL. No money, no service.

          • SoMuchForSubtlety

            Gee, thanks for the personal attack TGEoA. It really supprts your position nicely. And a nice day to you too!

    • FedUp

      Hank – blah blah blah. If you’re looking for a conservative county move to Loudon.

      • truth be told

        Ha ha. FedUp’s M.O. is the reason Arlington is in this boat.

        • SoMuchForSubtlety

          Which boat would that be exactly? The boat where we have one of the highest standards of living in the country? Low unemployemnt? Zero homicides last year? Stable housing prices? Easy commutes to the city? Lots of walkable shops, restarants and businesses? A disproportionately large number of businesses both large and small considering our size and population? Yes please. Put me in that boat!!

          • Jason S.

            The boat caused by being right next to the nation’s capital when it’s willing to overspend by more than $1,000,000,000,000 dollars per year.

          • Sherley

            exactly. Arlington’s economy is helped by the federal deficit.

    • brif

      i don’t understand what the examples you cite have to do with WMATA board representation.

    • http://nelsm4527@mac.com 11th Street Resident

      Agree that the Arlington Board has miscalculated the adverse impact of the homeless shelter. I’ve voted Democrat every year for the last 21 years in Arlington. Won’t do this again. We need to remove these people from office, they no longer represent our interest.

      Disappointed Arlington resident.

      • SoMuchForSubtlety

        DIsappointed Arlington resident or NIMBY?

        • http://nelsm4517@mac.com 11th Street Resident

          Not a NIMBY, live in Ballston. But think the residents of Woodbury Heights have a very real problem that the Arlington Board created.

          • SoMuchForSubtlety

            Really. Do you also think that all of the half way houses around Lyon Village have been causing mayhem? No? Hadn’t noticed them?

    • OX4

      Sooo…why do you live in Arlington then? Sounds like you disagree with every major commitment and mission put forth by the county.

      • Patrick

        Location. The reason many of us live in Arlington even though we strongly disagree with our local governments actions.

        • OX4

          There’s a whole lotta land called Maryland that also surrounds DC.

          • Sherley

            Taxes are higher in MD

          • Keith

            We can thank Ricmond for that. If they did not keep their thumb on Arlington we would be paying higher sales and consumption taxes on all kinds of things to pay for dog park trolley stops and other such nonsense.

  • Not suprising

    As Arlington residents we can never get a seat on the Metro. It’s always full from Falls Church

  • Roquer

    Yep, it’s tough for the Arlington big spenders to be schooled by the Governor in thrifty budget manuvers. Maybe Zimmerman might learn something here? Like how Gov. McDonnell managed to save 5 Billion after a mere 1 yr in office after Democrat Kaine. Probly not, the Zimm would far rather screw the taxpayers on the back end than save money on the front. Great job Gov. McDonnell!!!

  • http://nelsm4517@mac.com 11th Street Resident

    I suggest we get rid of the democrats on the board in Arlington.

    • Bluemontsince1961

      Good luck with that happening. I’m not disagreeing at all with you, I just don’t see that happening, given the voting/election patterns in local Arlington elections for the past 15-20 years. I would welcome new blood on the Board – regardless of party (though something besides the endless five Democrats would be a change back to years ago, when there were some Independents and even a Republican or two, just for balance).

  • stop changing the subject

    some of the folks filing gratuitous partisan comments should explain why it’s a good thing for Arlington residents that the county no longer has a seat on the board — even though it has a bunch of stops and is heavily transit oriented — and the seat it had is taken by a state representative whose interest in a well-functioning Metro system will be diluted by downstate interests who are unaffected by the quality of the system. Will a state rep result in more state dedicated funding for Metro? If that’s the case, great. I don’t think I’ve heard anything like that from McDonnell’s people though.

    • GT

      The state is already contributing more than double per year to Metro what Arlington is. How much more money do you want from them????

  • South Awwwlington

    Don’t f*** with Richmond or DC. Electing leaders who get into pissing contests with state and federal politicians surely doesn’t benefit Arlington.

  • Hank Hill

    Perhaps it is not a good idea to keep filing lawsuits against the State.

    • Lou

      Heh. It is probably noteworthy that one of the defendants to that suit who was sued as an individual was a consultant to the COG report on Metro that set this whole ball in motion.

  • jim

    Great news! Any time the warped views of Arlington politicians are shot down, it is a plus for the populace………………

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