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The Right Note: Time for the County Board to Step Up on Metro

by Mark Kelly January 18, 2018 at 3:45 pm 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Riders suffered through another train derailment on Metro this week. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

Metro was already receiving criticism for its “Back2Good” PR campaign and its expenditure on an ad that ran during the college football national championship game last week.

The ad is part of a larger $7 million marketing budget which many critics say should be spent to improve the system instead. Once escalators work and trains run safely and on time, riders will be more likely to come back, they argue.

Metro is also fighting a lawsuit brought by its union over the arbitrations proceedings for 16 track inspectors who were fired for falsifying safety reports. The falsified reports came to light after an investigation of a 2016 derailment.

According to union lawyers, the firings could not take place because they were not done fast enough. Terminations more than six months after the alleged actions took place is an apparent violation of the union contract with Metro. The lawsuit is a reminder that the union contract, and resulting labor costs, is another obstacle to reform.

Of course, the list could go on and on. The question is, at what point will everyone say enough is enough?

There have been many suggestions out there to change the trajectory of the transit agency. They range from essentially declaring bankruptcy and dissolving Metro altogether so we can start over to writing Metro a blank check for billions of dollars.

Northern Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock (R) introduced a bill in December that represents a middle ground. Metro would receive a 50 percent increase in federal funds to be matched by the other jurisdictions.

Under the proposal, there would be no federal funds available until D.C., Maryland and Virginia agreed to the creation of a new five-member reform board.

Other conditions include reducing the size of the permanent WMATA Board to nine and creating a direct line of accountability to the U.S. Department of Transportation. It also calls for long-term reforms of the union contract, including the employee retirement system for new hires.

Whether everyone agrees with the Comstock approach, or thinks they can improve upon it, it is time for specific action on reform. This is an opportunity for the County Board to show leadership on an issue where we have a clear financial stake.

The Board should adopt a formal position on what reforms they believe need to take place in exchange for ongoing funding of Metro and include that language as part of this year’s budget process.

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