Category Archives: Transportation

Looks like a Taking, Feels like a Taking

Bike valet parking outside the Northside Richmond bike lane briefing.

The parallel struck me early in the meeting – this is like the pipeline process.  The people who want this bike lane are not deterred by what it does to the people and businesses directly on the route and disregard all concerns as unfounded.

Of course, the property owners along Richmond’s Brook Road do not actually own any of the pavement which would be converted from multi-vehicle use and dedicated to bicycles only. This may not qualify as a taking. But as they try to maneuver out of their driveways through the bike lane, see the one remaining travel lane occasionally blocked by emergency or service vehicles, and wonder if anybody will ever buy their house in the future, they will feel like they lost something.

Some of them came out to a community meeting Tuesday night to say so but found themselves up against the same kind of organizational techniques so effectively used in favor of the pipelines. The proponents had turned out their crowd and had people there to park their bikes and hand out shirt stickers.  When the moderator asked for questions, proponents instead made statements of strong support. It was a while before an opposing view was heard.

Joe Citizen just walking into a neighborhood meeting these days without planning and preparation and inclined to politely follow the rules is going to a gun fight with a pen knife.

The Experts were all for it, of course – city engineers and planners.  They’ve done their studies, thank you very much, and don’t need any more.  The “road diet” concept is Settled Science.  There is a consensus among 92.3 percent of traffic engineers (I made that number up) that adding bike lanes by eliminating car lanes stops speeding and saves lives (I didn’t make that up, that got said several times.)

It was just eerie how easily you could have substituted the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for the Brook Road bike lanes and little else said would have changed.  The bike lanes have federal agency blessing!  There is even federal funding!  Anybody who doesn’t fall in line is just not rational and need not be taken seriously (which explains the rude behavior poured on the Doubting Thomases who did speak).

The Richmond Times-Dispatch story on the meeting was abysmal, just rotten reporting. I don’t know the reporter, but he missed half the story. He implied all 250 people came to speak up in favor of the bike lanes, but plenty in the crowd did not join in the applause for statements of support and several made excellent point in opposition.

My bet is the reporter didn’t even know one of the speakers with concerns was former Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer, and not quoting any of the many others raising questions was just shameful bias. On the other hand, the paper’s photo essay included several shots of skeptics, including Homer. But that didn’t tell the reader what was being said.

The pedestrian, bicycle and trails coordinator for the city staff, Jakob Helmbolt, made some telling statements. Most of the opposition flows from concerns the lanes will disappear just as surge of growth is expected. But when somebody asked about the huge open tract at the north end of the route near Azalea Avenue, ripe for commercial development and traffic growth, Helmbolt said he would consider that “at the time of development – that’s when the traffic impact study occurs.”

This 301-unit complex going up on Brook Road has proper zoning to expand.

Of course, once Brook is on its “diet” any developer may go elsewhere. Proponents even claimed that cutting down the road to a single lane each way will stop future apartment development. If they made that official with zoning changes, some of the opposition would melt.  But tell me again why that would not be a taking?

Somebody asked about turning right across the bike lines and Helmbolt dismissed that with: “The signalized intersections will have dedicated right turn lanes which will be shared,” he said. But there are scores of intersections without signals and all those private driveways. That’s the problem.

Big property owners on the route who were represented in the room but said nothing included Virginia Union University, a rapidly-growing private school, the Virginia Commonwealth University Children’s Hospital and CSX, which has a major gated crossing at the southern end of the bike lane route. A woman representing the industrial properties near those tracks, who will see their freight trucks restricted to that single lane and forced to turn across the bike lane, expressed strong opposition.

The meeting was all sparked by a proposed ordinance seeking to block the bike lanes, reversing earlier votes of support from City Council with less attention paid. Just when that ordinance might be taken up for a vote, or when the bike lanes will be created if it fails, never came up. I’m sure many are hoping that once the work is done and gas starts flowing, oops, I mean the bikes start using their protected lanes, things will quickly be forgotten.

Metro’s Other Funding Crisis

Washingtonians are finally showing top-of-mind awareness of the looming pension crisis at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The Metro’s nearly $3 billion in unfunded retirement and health care costs “threaten its future operating position, potentially hampering its ability to provide service,” reports the Washington Post, citing a Government Accountability Organization report.

Coverage of the Metro’s financial condition to date has focused mainly on the political drama associated with finding funding to meet the bus and heavy-rail system’s long-term capital spending needs. Far less attention has been given to the reckless underfunding of the employees’ retirement benefits.

Metro’s annual pension costs grew by an average of nearly 19 percent from 2006 to 2017, the federal report said, making pensions the agency’s fastest-growing workforce cost as its total labor costs grew about 3 percent a year.

With the scale of the obligations, the report posits that in the event of an unfavorable financial market, Metro could be backed into a corner to cover its obligations. The scale of the pension liabilities means that a drop of less than one percentage point in Metro’s investment return on its pension fund could squeeze its operating budget to the point that the agency would need to reduce service or ask the jurisdictions that fund it to cover the shortfall.

“Due to their relative size, proportion of retirees compared to active members, and investment decisions, these pension plans pose significant risk to [the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s] financial operations, yet WMATA has not fully assessed the risks,” the GAO concluded. … WMATA may not be prepared for economic scenarios that could increase its required contributions to an extent that might jeopardize its ability to provide some transit service.”

One of the easiest ways ever invented to buy labor peace is to pump up retirement benefits, incurring future liabilities, in exchange for wage moderation today. Metro’s current management does deserve credit for at least trying to address the issue. Leadership tried to engineer a shift from a defined benefit plan to a less expensive defined contribution plan, but an arbitration panel rejected the agency’s proposal last month.

“I’ve been telling you guys this since I became chairman 2½ years ago,” Metro chairman Evans Jack Evans said. “In five to 10 years, the amount of money that we have to pay out of the operating budget to fund the pension will be so high that we won’t be able to run the system.”

Bacon’s bottom line: It is all but pre-ordained that Metro will be back in a few years begging for another bail-out, this time to cover its retirement obligations. Virginians, prepare to open up your pocketbooks yet again for the mass transit system that never stops taking.

By the way, if you think Metro is uniquely irresponsible in its pension policies, think again. Pension underfunding is widespread in governmental and quasi-governmental agencies across Virginia. Virginia Retirement System liabilities of about $20 billion may be the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne, a voice of fiscal probity, could assign one of his minions to compile a list of all public pension funds in the Commonwealth and tote up their unfunded liabilities.

Bacon Bits: A.P. Hill R.I.P., Tax Cuts, Bike Lanes

General Hill holds his ground and blocks driver’s views at Laburnum and Hermitage. Source: WTVR Richmond

This statue does have to go

The tomb of Confederate General A.P. Hill in Northside Richmond is the latest to be vandalized by red paint or some similar substance, but in this case the argument to move the statute and the grave beneath it should focus on its status as a major traffic hazard.

The vehicles in the intersection at Laburnum Avenue and Hermitage Road look very different than when the body was interred in 1891, and the plants around the base are seldom properly trimmed.  Richmond loves traffic circles and intersections with monuments but Richmond drivers simply cannot seem to negotiate them, even with clear visibility (which this location lacks.)

This apparently is the only such statute in a public location that doubles as the honoree’s tomb. Hill’s remains belong in Hollywood Cemetery, with so many other of victims of that tragic war, and the statute can go there or to Fort A.P. Hill (although how much longer active military bases will be named for dead Confederates is also an open question.)  Sadly, a debate over safety once started will take on a whole different tenor very quickly.

The Showstopper? Northam Administration’s own data demonstrates federal tax benefits

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act impact on federal taxes paid by Virginia individuals. Source: Chainbridge Software LLC, Virginia Secretary of Finance

Defenders of the recent federal tax changes, a kept campaign promise by President Donald Trump and the GOP Congress that remains controversial, need look no farther than a chart distributed on August 17 by Democratic Governor Ralph Northam.  It should be particularly useful against Democratic complaints about the tax bill, given the source.

Chainbridge Software LLC, the financial consulting firm selected by the administration to evaluate the impact of the federal tax cuts on Virginia, seems to work mostly in states where Democrats are in control, and the tone of its report is about “revenue lost” or “revenue gained” – in other words, the point of view of the tax collector and not the taxpayer.

Yet its chart shows 1) federal tax reductions across the board starting with the lowest-income workers, 2) double-digit tax cuts on average for taxpayers with $150,000 in taxable income or less (certainly middle class in many parts of Virginia, and 3) tax cuts averaging less than 5 percent for the richest taxpayers.

At the individual level the situation is complicated and uneven, and Chainbridge also concludes (correctly) many people will not see much if any tax cut and some will pay more.  But in general, it concludes Virginia residents’ federal bite goes down almost $4 billion, or 9 percent, and in some income brackets drops 17 percent.  Can a White House tweet be far behind?

Back to Richmond traffic:  The Brook Road bike lanes

Richmond City Council President Chris Hilbert and Councilor Kimberly Gray have assembled a four-page list of questions (Brook Road Bike Lane Concerns)for the city’s Department of Public Works and are asking they be answered in time for a September 11 community meeting on a proposed dedicated bicycle lane along Brook Road.   They are also demanding an updated formal traffic study, arguing new development coming in the area has made the one used in the earlier bike lane decision obsolete.

The plan – previously approved by City Council – remains to take Brook Road down to one lane for motor vehicles in both directions with an entire lane for bikes on both sides. The questions focus on how that will work for homeowners who have delivery trucks coming to their houses, driveways where they back out, or need their trash picked up. They ask what the impact will be on days of heavy activity around Virginia Union University.  When the city cuts grass in the median now it temporarily blocks one lane for safety, but that won’t be possible if there is only one lane.

Hilbert and Gray are taking a huge amount of heat from the bike enthusiasts, and the debate started by posts on Bacon’s Rebellion is raging.  Whatever the outcome now it won’t be a decision made without some visibility (although the Richmond Times-Dispatch remains oblivious.)

Richmond Squats on Scooters

Shared bicycle services OK in Richmond. (Photo credit Style Weekly).

Bird Rides, Inc., a California startup, tried introducing electric scooters to Richmond’s transportation mix, scattering the two-wheelers around Virginia Commonwealth University and the downtown area. Anyone downloading an app could ride them at a cost of $1 to unlock and 20 cents per minute to ride. Workers with the city’s Department of Public Works began rounding up the scooters Thursday, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Shared scooter services, not OK in Richmond. (Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch)

The reason? Bird Rides didn’t ask for permission first.

“The City of Richmond was not engaged in any way, as required, with respect to deployment of the scooters,” said city spokesman Tom Byrnes. “As such, Bird is being advised we will be removing them, effective immediately.”

Richmond isn’t the only city to butt heads with Bird Rides, which has pursued an act-first-ask-for-permission-later approach. San Francisco and Denver have shut down the scooter service for not having a permit.

It’s not clear from the Times-Dispatch article, however, that Bird Rides needs a permit in Richmond. Byrnes did not say precisely how the company was “required” to engage with the city. I find the vagueness of his comment troubling. Does the city code require scooters — which have never seen widespread use in the city before — to be registered or licensed? How are the electric-powered, two-wheeled scooters different from bicycles in that regard? Are electric-powered bicycles subject to the same restrictions?

Here is one city policy regarding bicycling that I could find online: “The City of Richmond does not have a local ordinance prohibiting bicycling on sidewalks. BUT, if riding on a sidewalk you must yield to pedestrians, and should ride slowly. Colliding with motorists at intersections is a leading cause of crashes because motorists aren’t expecting a bike entering the crosswalk at high speed, especially when travelling against traffic.”

If it’s legal to ride a bicycle on city sidewalks, surely it would be legal to ride a scooter on sidewalks.

Which raises another question: Is it illegal to ride scooters on city streets? Of course it isn’t. City policy promotes bicycle riding. If bicycles are legal on streets, why wouldn’t scooters be, too?

Yet another question: Do bicycle ride-sharing companies require city licenses to operate? If so, I suppose a case could be made by analogy that a scooter-sharing service would, too. Needless to say, Bird Rides attorneys will be reviewing the code to see if the shutdown is legally supported.

From a pure public policy perspective, the city’s impoundment of the scooters looks unjustified — a bureaucratic assertion of power. The city should be encouraging a wide range of transportation alternatives — not just bicycles, but electric bikes, Segways, scooters, and whatever else human ingenuity can deny. True, there may be public safety issues involved with the use of scooters on streets and sidewalks, so some kind of public oversight may be justified. But I’d like to see evidence of a problem and a full and open hearing of the issues before city officials arbitrarily shut down a promising transportation alternative.

Tasty Bacon Morsels of the Day…

Lots of updates to stories we have been following here on Bacon’s Rebellion:

How to lose in a landslide. The media was all over the story about racist posts by a Corey Stewart campaign consultant. Here’s the lead from the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Republican Senate candidate Corey Stewart has paid more than $100,000 to a campaign consultant who has called the NAACP a “more violent” version of the KKK and said only a “fool” would start a business in a black neighborhood.”

John Whitbeck, the immediate past chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, had the following reaction: “The Democrats’ only message against us right now is we’re racists, because they don’t have any agenda and they don’t have any message. If you make despicable tweets like that, all you’re doing is feeding the narrative that the Democrats are trying to use against us.”

From every sign I see, Stewart is going down in political career-ending flames. The only interesting question at this point is whether he will drag down the Republican Party with him. Meanwhile, Libertarian Party candidate Matt Waters, where are you? There are thousands of homeless Republicans right now who might want to vote for you — if only they knew you were out there.

Cheaters never prosper. A state investigation has found that a five-teacher cheating ring at Richmond’s Carver Elementary School gave pupils “inappropriate” assistance during Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. Some teachers helped students if they raised their hand or indicated whether items were correct or incorrect, reports the Times-Dispatch. The school had garnered recognition for the high achievements of its poor, inner-city pupil population.

School principal Kiwana Yates, who had received the R.E.B. Award for Distinguished Educational Leadership, has been replaced, but remains in the employ of the Richmond school system.

Will they strike or won’t they? In continued negotiations with its labor unions, Washington Metro management has agreed to raise wages for office employees and to stop outsourcing 31 of 271 janitorial jobs. In exchange, AFL-CIO Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 2 agreed to let Metro raise the health care insurance contributions of its members, creating a savings for the money-losing mass transit organization of $2.3 million. Said General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld: “We didn’t get everything we hoped for and neither did Local 2; however, this agreement fairly compensates employees while reducing Metro’s costs.”

Standing up for intolerance. Two historians have resigned from the University of Virginia’s Miller Center to protest the appointment of Marc Short, former legislative affairs director for the Trump administration. Melvyn P. Leffler and William I. Hitchcock said the appointment runs “counter to the Center’s fundamental values of nonpartisanship, transparency, openness, a passion for truth and objectivity, and civility.”

“Democracy today in the United States is in peril,” they wrote, according to the Washington Post. “… We must not normalize or rationalize hateful, cruel and demeaning behavior. When we see things to be wrong, we must speak out and take a stand.”

So, the solution to Trump’s partisanship is to trump it with ever greater partisanship? The response to Trump’s intolerance is to demonstrate even greater intolerance to those associated with him?

Will the New Mobility Revolution Make Congestion Worse?

As ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft have steadily gained market share, urbanists have been asking themselves, is this a good thing or bad thing? Will the increasing patronage of ride-hailing companies induce people to sell their cars? Siphon riders away from mass transit? Increase or reduce vehicle miles traveled? Make traffic congestion better or worse?

A new study by Bruce Shaller, a former New York City traffic planner, purports to have answers — and the outlook is not encouraging. In “The New Automobility: Lyft, Uber and the Future of American Cities, ” Shaller concludes that Transportation Network Companies (or TNCs):

  • Have added 5.7 million miles driven in nine of America’s largest metropolitan areas (including Washington, D.C.).
  • Compete mainly with public transportation, walking and biking, accounting for much of the loss in mass transit ridership. About 60% of TNC riders in large, dense cities would have walked, biked, or taken public transportation were it not for the availability of TNCs.
  • Do not compete with private automobile ownership except in two main instances: to avoid drinking and driving, and when parking is expensive or a hassle.

Even shared-ride services such as UberPOOL, Uber Express POOL and Lyft Shared Rides add mileage to city streets, putting 2.8 new TNC vehicle miles on the road for each mile of personal driving removed, the report says. The trend toward autonomous cars, argues Shaller, will make matters only worse.

Summing up the implications, he says:

The new mobility has much to offer cities: convenience, flexibility, on-demand technology and a nimbleness to search for the fit between new services and inadequately served markets. But development of ride services must take place within a public policy framework that harnesses their potential to serve the goals of mobility, safety, equity and environmental sustainability. Without public policy intervention, big American cities are likely to be overwhelmed with more automobility, more traffic and less transit and drained of the density and diversity which are indispensable to their economic and social well being.

Lyft disputed Shaller’s conclusions in comments to the Washington Post.

“We strongly disagree with Schaller’s claims regarding shared rides,” Lyft spokeswoman Campbell Matthews said. “Since Lyft’s founding, we’ve been focused on increasing car occupancy and eliminating the need for car ownership. That focus has paid off.

“Just last year, over 250,000 Lyft passengers gave up their personal cars because of the availability of rideshare,” Matthews said. “We are continuing to focus on our goals by redesigning the Lyft App to integrate with public transit and introducing bike and scooter sharing to the Lyft platform. We are committed to ensuring passengers have access to a spectrum of transportation options that serve our cities best.”

Uber said in a statement that it supports several of the policies Schaller proposes, including the expansion of dedicated bus and bike lanes and congestion pricing. The company argued that contrary to Schaller’s conclusions, Uber saved more than 315 million global vehicle miles in 2017 by shifting riders to its pool service.

Bacon’s bottom line: Shaller’s should be taken seriously — but not accepted as the final word on the matter. By necessity, he makes a number of assumptions and extrapolations, which may or may not be justified. Also, his data samples are stronger for large metros than smaller metros.

But, with those cautions in mind, let us accept his conclusions as an accurate reflection of reality. What should be done? One option that Shaller discusses is to discourage personal vehicle use in congested areas by imposing trip fees or congestion pricing. Another is to restrict the number of fleet-operated vehicles to streets’ free-flow capacity. A third is to invest in more frequent bus and rail service.

Here’s my concern with Shaller’s proposals. We are still in the early stages of the new mobility revolution. Even if it’s true that TNCs are aggravating congestion now, increased market penetration and shared-ridership innovation could have non-linear effects, changing traffic dynamics in the future. Uber and Lyft are in the very early stages of developing their shared-ridership programs. One strategy they have articulated is to integrate with mass transit, using ride-sharing as a last-mile solution. If organized and promoted properly, this approach eventually could increase bus and transit ridership. Has the hold-up in forging these partnerships been the fault of Uber and Lyft — or of the lumbering bureaucracies of the mass transit companies?

What seems evident to me is that publicly owned mass transit behemoths are in desperate need of a shake-up. TNC competition can push them into innovating and adapting. Conversely, restricting TNCs will guarantee that big-metro transportation remains in a state of stasis — at tremendous ongoing expense to taxpayers in the form of mass-transit subsidies. While it’s worthwhile paying close attention to the issues Shaller raises, it is way to early to begin acting on his proposals.

An Unfortunate Turn in Bike Lane Debate

This sign is perfectly clear, right?

As almost always seems to happen in Richmond — and it’s disappointing — a neighborhood debate in Northside over a planned dedicated bicycle lane may turn into something else.

“Given the economic environment, the needs of people, anything that limits access to more affordable transportation options does everyone a disservice, but particularly people of color,” said Najeema Davis Washington, who co-founded Black Women Bike in 2011.

I wrote about the proposal at the start of this month, taking a skeptical stance.  This column in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch by Michael Paul Williams included that quote at the top to set the tone. He has one basic hammer, and everything is a nail. In this case I think he might be hitting his thumb.

A proposed Richmond City Council ordinance would stop the plan to take two lanes of Brook and dedicate them (with barriers) for bikes 24/7. It was set for the July 23 agenda but delayed, perhaps to gather more information on impact or to reconsider alternatives. I sometimes see the patron, Council President Chris Hilbert, around the condo building where we both live and haven’t pressed him for details on the delay.

My primary purpose in writing the first column was to raise the issue, because I think most homeowners in the area were unaware. I also had seen the problems on Franklin Street, and admittedly people are getting used to the new configuration (but they do not like it). Williams’s column in today’s paper is the first mention of Brook Road in that medium, and the more people who know, the better. (One Richmond TV station has also covered it.)

I also brought it up because transportation is probably the issue that addicted me to this blog, as Bacon and I wrangled over highway taxes, etc. Apparently, there are federal funds available to encourage localities to take perfectly good highway lanes out of service – who knew? I’ve learned the phrase road diet!

The people who have the biggest stake in this issue are the property owners along the route, and most of the properties are single or multifamily residential. Many more apartments are coming. Many homeowners park on Brook, lacking driveways or alleys. The proposed bike lanes run from the Gilpin Court housing project up to Henrico County, past Virginia Union University and Union Seminary and a hospital. It is a very diverse neighborhood, which is one reason I like it. I’m sure people of color are on all sides of this discussion, and some homeowners will welcome this because it will divert traffic somewhere else.

Just yesterday I drove up Brook and a tractor-trailer was waiting to turn left at a light at a big intersection. It had its butt end sticking out in the traffic lane. It’s a long wait for that turn light and if that had been the only lane for cars, a multi-cycle backup would have resulted. Maneuvering around it reminded me of my concerns. My opinion matters less than those of people directly on Brook or the closest side streets. As a city taxpayer, however, it might matter a bit more than an advocate from DeeCee.

As Metro Union Articulates Demands, Virginia Needs to Prepare for Strike

The Washington Metro’s largest union has sent letters to political leaders in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. outlining the contract issues behind the union’s veiled threats to conduct an illegal strike. The demands, according to the Washington Post:

  • Roll back a policy reassigning hundreds of custodians to Metro stations and outsourcing some of the work;
  • Reverse rules requiring a 72-hour notice for sick leave;
  • Curb Metro’s shift toward private contracting of certain services;
  • Drop threat to issue three-day suspensions to workers who participated in a July 12 “late-out” that delayed bus service in parts of the region.

“Our demand is simple: get [General Manager Paul] Wiedefeld to follow the law, abide by the collective bargaining agreement, and bargain in good faith on all matters under his obligation,” the union wrote in its letter.

Seventy-two hour notification for sick leave? That sounds strange. I don’t usually know 72 hours ahead of time that I’m going to be sick, and I don’t expect most union members do either. Otherwise, management seems to be making entirely reasonable demands. The number one priority of the union, of course, is to preserve union jobs and maintain union dues revenue — priorities to which, as a taxpayer and occasional passenger, I am utterly indifferent. But the particulars of the contract are not the issue — the prospect of a strike is what should concern us all.

As Metro management and the union play chicken, Del. Tim Hugo, R-Centreville, has urged in a television interview that Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring to prepare for a possible strike and the transportation anarchy that will inevitably follow in Northern Virginia:

We’ve called on the Governor to make sure he says something, make sure he jumps into this fight. They should move to challenge it in federal court to uphold the compact, the Governor and the Attorney General, because we have to protect the thousands, literally tens of thousands of people in Northern Virginia who rely on Metro to get to get to work everyday.

The instant a strike is called, the guv and AG need to be ready to file suits, seek injunctions and pursue other remedies to keep the trains and buses rolling. Moreover, they need to let the union know they are ready and willing to act forcefully. Politically speaking, the stakes are much bigger than looking out for the tens of thousands of Virginia Metro riders. Turn those passengers loose on the roads and highways of Northern Virginia, and the entire transportation grid will freeze up. Everyone will be affected. An illegal strike must be shut down as quickly as possible.

Playing with Fire

Wow, I wouldn’t have expected this from the Washington Post editorial board, but an editorial today lacerated the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 for threatening to conduct an illegal strike.

One might think the union was driven to the edge of such a drastic move, which would be the first such labor action to hit Metro in 40 years, by an assault on employee rights — an unauthorized pay cut, unjustified firings or blatant disregard for worker safety.

To the contrary.

The “offense” by Metro management that so incensed the union’s leadership that it might incapacitate the region — and risk the wrath of federal courts, which almost certainly would rule a strike illegal — involves shifting a few dozen janitors from one workplace to another and replacing them with contractors. …

The union, whose leaders stoke grievances by tossing hyperbolic grenades at management, is playing with fire. Even as an arbitration panel prepares to rule on long-standing contractual disputes involving wages, pensions and other benefits, the union has encouraged two work actions this month, including a late arrival by some 500 workers last week that played havoc with schedules and inconvenienced thousands of riders.

As the editorial  observes, any annual increase beyond 3 percent in Metro’s operating subsidy from its jurisdictional stakeholders will automatically trigger massive cuts from Virginia and Maryland to operating and capital expenses amounting to more than $200 million this year.

Bacon’s bottom line: Metro management deserves the full support of Virginia taxpayers and elected officials for its dogged efforts to boost productivity and squeeze costs out of the mass transit system. Management must not bend. And if the union strikes, it must not yield.

Fill Up Your Gas Tanks, Boys, You Might Be Driving to Work

Ninety-four percent of the Washington Metro’s largest labor union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 voted to authorize labor leaders to call a transit strike. Metro workers are forbidden from striking under the mass transit system’s governing authority, and a judge could order strikers back to work. But even a one-day walkout could cause massive disruption to Northern Virginia’s overloaded transportation system.

“We understand the ramifications of what we’re asking our members, we understand what a strike would mean,” said Jackie L. Jeter, president of the union, which includes about 8,000 of Metro’s 12,500 active workers.

“We will decide the when and where and how,” Jeter said at a news conference, as reported by the Washington Post. “We have to call a meeting of the executive board after this vote, and then we’ll decide on what we’re going to do.”

The vote follows “late-out” demonstrations on July 4 and Thursday, in which some employees arrived after the start of their scheduled shifts, delaying some bus service. The actions were meant to send a message to Metro management about stalled contract negotiations, job cuts, privatization, duty reassignments and other issues. Local 689 has been without a contract since July 2016.

Metro management under General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld made serious efforts to boost efficiency and productivity at the money-losing organization that has fallen billions of dollars behind in maintenance expenditures, has experienced chronic safety and reliability issues, and has suffered ridership declines.

The union has not gone out on strike since a wildcat walkout 1978. But after all the safety incidents and with all the trouble keeping trains on schedule, Metro riders don’t want to hear about potential labor disruptions. The union action is only a threat at this point, but riders who are skeptical that Metro offers a viable transportation option will not be reassured.