Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood will lead an independent review of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) in an attempt to find solutions to numerous operations, governance and financial issues that increasingly have compromised service on the 118-mile Metrorail system.
The review, announced on March 23 by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), will benchmark WMATA’s condition and performance relative to peer systems across the U.S. The review will identify potential internal reforms that could improve the agency, as well as recommendations for executive and legislative actions.
Among areas to be addressed are WMATA’s governance, labor policies and long-term financial stability, an area that has drawn increased scrutiny in light of the agency’s current year-long SafeTrack maintenance blitz, designed to restore Metro infrastructure to a state of good repair following several high-profile service disruptions blamed on lax inspection and maintenance practices.
With estimates for SafeTrack ranging from $60 million to more than $118 million and ridership revenue dropping, in part, due to Metro’s safety and reliability concerns, WMATA is attempting to balance its books with a proposed FY 2018 budget that calls for fare increases and service reductions. Unlike most metropolitan transit systems that have dedicated funding sources, WMATA relies on annual contributions from the jurisdictions it serves to augment farebox revenue. An annual $150-million matching federal contribution, authorized under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, is set to expire in 2019.
Funded by the Commonwealth of Virginia, the review will be coordinated with the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Although no other panel members have been formally announced, the review is to be conducted over the coming months, with a final report due later this year.