Metro Rot Runs Deeper than Anyone Imagined

Washington Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld has earned plaudits for his forthright management style and the improvements he has instituted since taking over the troubled commuter bus and rail system in 2015. But the latest news raises questions whether he, or anyone, has the grit to take on a deeply corrupt organizational culture.

Reports the Washington Post based upon a newly issued Office of the Inspector General report:

Metro crews copied and pasted language from prior years’ structural inspection reports for the Rhode Island Avenue station and in other instances skipped hard-to-reach areas, culminating in a steel beam and concrete chunks falling from the ceiling in 2016, the agency’s inspector general concluded in a report released Thursday.

No one was injured, but the Rhode Island Avenue and Brookland stations will be shut down for 45 days starting July 21 to permanently address the structural failures that came to light when debris tumbled from the station’s ceiling Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, 2016. …

The audit found 49 times over three years in which the annual inspection reports for Rhode Island Avenue contained identical wording to prior years, the IG concluded in its year-long review. In 29 of those cases, the inspector general could not determine what Metro crews had inspected, while in 20 other cases, inspectors simply said nothing had changed since the prior year’s inspection, according to the report.

The findings, reflected in three annual reports examining a single station, suggest broader problems within Metro’s structural inspection department.

The organizational rot runs deep in Metro. According to the WaPo, Metro fired a third of its track inspection department for widespread record fabrication contributing to a 2016 train derailment. At least there was a modicum of accountability in that case. But the track derailment represented incompetence so extreme that management had no choice but to respond forcefully.

It’s not clear what Wiedefeld intends to do about the latest revelations when nothing so visibly alarming as a train derailment occurred. His first instinct, it appears, is to minimize the significance of the abuses. Writes the Post: “Wiedefeld defended the agency’s inspection practices, saying that the situation differed from the problems within the track inspection department. But he declined to elaborate, pending an official response to the IG it plans to submit by June 1.”

Bacon’s bottom line: The private sector is a messy, messy place where corruption and incompetence can occur, just like in government and quasi-governmental agencies. The difference is that the private sector is a self-correcting system. If a corporation gets as corrupt, incompetent and inefficient as the Metro, it eventually goes out of business. It goes into bankruptcy, its assets are reallocated, and its failed organizational structure is extinguished forever. Not so with the Metro. Because commuter transportation is deemed “essential” to the functioning of the Washington metropolitan area, including of course Northern Virginia, the system simply extracts more wealth from taxpayers to paper over the corruption.

My sense from afar is that Wiedefeld is a good man doing the best possible job under the circumstances. But I fear that decay so permeates the organization that it is unreformable.

The question, as always, is what Virginia should do about it. The Northam administration has agreed to hand over more money with a few conditions requiring governance reforms and burden sharing from Maryland and D.C. Whether the governance reforms are forthcoming remains to be seen. Likewise, whether the contemplated governance reforms will give Wiedefeld the power he needs to carve out the rot also is an open question. Meanwhile, Metro continues to hemorrhage riders and revenue.

What alternatives are there to a corrupt Metro? One is to build more road and highways. But fiscally speaking, that is not a remote possibility. The cost of adding more lanes of highway in a dense urban environment would be astronomical. Another is to ration scarce roadway capacity through pricing mechanisms like time-of-day tolls. That’s an elegant solution from an economist’s perspective, but it’s a non-starter politically. Yet another option is to encourage higher density development in walkable communities in the hope of getting more people to abandon their cars and, New York style, get around by walking, biking and mass transit. But overcoming NIMBY opposition and transforming land use patterns is an incremental, slow-motion process that takes decades to accomplish; land use reform is necessary but it is not a near-term or even intermediate-term solution.

That leaves the Uber revolution. Within a decade or so, self-driving cars will cut the cost of riding-hailing services by half. Passengers will have the option to ride solo or share rides with others, trading some time and convenience for even lower prices. Companies will be offering integrated services providing access to taxi-like services, van services, commuter bus services, car rentals, bicycles (both of the peddle and the electrified varieties), and other variants no one has thought of yet. I don’t know how it’s all going to shake out, but for a metro like Washington, I see no other hope.

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19 responses to “Metro Rot Runs Deeper than Anyone Imagined”

  1. CrazyJD Avatar

    >>Yet another option is to encourage higher density development in walkable communities in the hope of getting more people to abandon their cars and, New York style, get around by walking, biking and mass transit. But overcoming NIMBY opposition and transforming land use patterns is an incremental, slow-motion process that takes decades to accomplish;>>

    Or maybe not. See today’s WSJ “Mansion” section, pg 1, for evidence that the private sector can solve this problem, not through building more transportation “stuff”, but through people deciding that living in Fairfax County may not be all it’s cracked up to be. “In L.A., Buyers Take a Walk” .

    “Things are changing in L.A.,” says Cory Weiss, president of western region development marketing for Douglas Elliman real estate. “People are flocking to new developments in areas where they can walk” [out for a beer or coffee or to meet friends in the dog park].

    Jim, surprised at you for the bleak assessment of the “free market” approach. See fracking as a free market solution to our supposedly intractable energy deficit. Notice how the media are now issuing dire warnings about recent rising oil prices and OPEC’s restriction of supply. Notice how there is little mention, if any, of what the frackers will do in response to the OPEC move. Remember that most frackers were able to at least break even or make a buck at prices well below $50/barrel. Now it’s $70? And they won’t respond? How did prices fall to $40 in the first place in the past couple years? Was it because of the extra supply brought forth by frackers…without any government help at all? Was it because of …wait for it… the free market?

    Jim, you may be right about the time it takes. The WSJ article is unclear about the time it has taken to turn this around. But governments have a way of screwing this stuff up. They try to force solutions of their liking on other people. These problems will be readily solved when “the people” want something, like the ability to walk locally to get a beer and meet friends.

    Netflix is streaming a PBS offering called The Race Underground, about the building of the first subways in Boston. The media ran stories about all the opposition to its construction. They did it anyway. They said, nobody would ride the thing because they were afraid of being underground. Yet the very first day of operation saw 250,000 riders, 50 million in the first year of operation. By contrast, average ridership on the same line in 2015 was 215,000.
    Why did the people take to the subway? They were tired of the frightful congestion on city streets caused by …wait for it…another form of public transportation, all the horse drawn carriages that made city streets a nightmare. Someone figured this out and offered a solution.

    Is it possible that the free market will provide a solution to the Metro problem? Not only possible, but very likely, unless the government stands in the way and insists on its own solutions.

    1. Crazy, Point well taken about the power of a free market to devise new solutions. But here are the operative words: “Unless the government stands in the way.”

      As with education and health care, government is inextricable from transportation. In Washington, D.C., the mayor wants to tax Uber and other ride-hailing companies in order to subsidize Metro. As Ronald Reagan famously said: “If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        re: ” “Unless the government stands in the way.”

        Look around the world… look around the US… there are quite a few urban areas without transit – public or private. Is it really true that the private sector would respond to that “market” if the govt does not – i.e. – to provide a service at a price point that there is sufficient demand for it that it , at least, breaks even?

        come on guys… apples to apples …. please

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    I’m shocked, SHOCKED that Jim B is basing his commentary on that contemptible, lying, leftist rag of a newspaper. GAWD! Talk about “cherry-picking” content! GAWD!

    By the way ..interesting commentary from Crazy. Thank you.

    Here’s the deal. Is Transit – as a function – fundamentally flawed and just not sustainable as a govt or a private sector venture?

    Or is it that METRO is a badly run operation of something that is vitally needed as an integral component of that urban region?

    Sometimes, I can’t seem to tell if critics are asserting the former or the latter…

  3. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    FDR was right when he said the there is no room in the public sector for labor unions. Fix the excessive compensation for WMATA employees and start firing managers when they don’t do their jobs. And impose additional taxes on landowners near rail stations that get density enabled by proximity to rail. The Tysons and Reston landowners are paying higher taxes. It’s time for the rest of the stations to be taxed.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Union apprenticeships are what train workers. Unions make sure that workers get pension and health care benefits.

      If you want to go after sloth – try the Federal Govt. Many of the positions in the Washington area are folks doing low level work at outrageous salaries that you’d never find in the private sector.

      If we held VDOT to the same standard we hold METRO – VDOT would look even worse!

      I mean.. they spend billions of dollars and we STILL have congestion, auto accidents, deficient bridges ,etc…

      What we have is car-centric folks who hate transit – focusing on the ills of transit … while their own road-world has Davis-Beacon evils!

  4. Acbar Avatar

    Washington’s entire subway venture seems to be an exercise in responding to political pressures, rather than prioritizing long term decisions and systemic cures. Careening from crisis to crisis, as the system ages it is disintegrating before our eyes.

    I am talking about Metro employees: their training, their job culture, their commitment — not their equipment. Today’s Metro system was built in the 1970s based on the featherbedding and the nepotism and the politics of the times. It needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. First, the deadwood has to be removed, and the jurisdictions have to cooperate in doing so. I fear we are just beginning a painful decade or two.

    But Metro’s equipment is also a problem. Metro has a bunch of old rolling stock, and an irremediable lack of third tracks (needed to allow one track to be shut down for maintenance while two others remain in operation), and a costly bottleneck at its tunnels from Rosslyn to the City, and a huge backlog of deferred maintenance. And Metro is not alone in having problems. Consider this from NYC: “There has been no lack of New York transit news in 2018 so far. . . . [T]he daily stories of the system’s dysfunction – of subway service disruptions and buses moving slower than pedestrians – continue unabated.” (2/19/18)

    The Washington region cannot afford not to save Metro. But this task will still be keeping my grandchildren busy.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Acbar – I agree that we need to save Metrorail. A big step has been taken in that direction when the Virginia and Maryland passed bills that would provide WMATA dedicated annual funding for capital needs. D.C. is expected to do the same.

      But saving Metrorail also means making tough decisions that will negatively affect a number of WMATA employees. First and foremost, managers must be responsible for their decisions and performance. They need to bring the system to a state of good repair and safety. They need to do this while controlling costs and eliminating waste and inefficiency. If the incumbents cannot do the job, they need to be fired. Likewise their compensation needs to be brought in line with reality.

      Second, labor compensation and pensions need to be brought into line with what other employers pay. And poor performing employees need to improve or lose their jobs.

      Metrorail is still losing passengers, largely because of unreliability and better options, including telecommuting. In the private sector, this means holding the line on price increases and driving out waste and inefficiencies. Even the unionized workers at the airlines took financial hits when the airlines were in or near bankruptcy.

      If the WMATA board and elected officials are committed to bring back Metrorail to a state of excellence, they will make the tough decisions. I seriously doubt that they will unless and until WMATA becomes totally insolvent and then a private contractor or the federal government will take over WMATA.

    2. Acbar Avatar

      TMT, we agree completely — even though I wish the grim prognosis in the last sentence did not sound so right.

      The dedicated funding currently on the table is a good step forward, but nobody seems to think it is near enough. Is there any plausible scenario for accountability and compensation reform driven by conditions imposed by the four jurisdictions on additional funding? Or is the current Compact for shared governance unsalvageable and this is doomed to play out only when we reach some form of unitary, start-from-scratch governance imposed by a bankruptcy court or federal administrator?

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” The Washington region cannot afford not to save Metro. ”

    that’s the problem. If you consistently short-fund METRO then bad stuff happens and their is no shortage of problems to point to – but what do the critics REALLY want to do – if that takes more money to do it? All they really want is LESS money spent on it… i.e. “get rid of unions and administrators”, etc.

    I want to point out again – that all the airlines are unionized as well as UPS and FEDX and most of the trucking industry.

    Auto manufacturers LIKE the unions because they train workers as apprentices… who then progress as they become skilled.

    I look at the Washington MSA – and listen to people. Most folks are not complaining about METRO – only the Conservatives with agendas… Most people complain about the auto congestion and now TOLLS… METRO isn’t even on the radar of most folks! They’re blaming VDOT!

  6. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    “I look at the Washington MSA – and listen to people. Most folks are not complaining about METRO.” With all due respect, that statement is laughable.

    Last week I attended two transportation-related meetings on transportation. One was sponsored by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board and held at Supervisor Linda Smyth’s (D) office in Vienna and by Democratic office holders Supervisor John Foust, Senator Barbara Favola and Delegate Kathleen Murphy, with presentations from VDOT and FC DOT. At both meetings, several audience members made significant criticisms of WMATA, most especially Metrorail. While many cheered the Commonwealth’s new financial support for WMATA, suggesting to me that they may be on the left-center side of the spectrum versus the right-center side, they also had strong criticism of the poor management, lack of reliability and safety and failure to control costs.

    And quite a few of my Democratic friends have over the years been extremely critical that elected officials have failed to substitute a defined contribution or hybrid pension plan for Metro’s excessively expensive defined benefit plan. As Acbar stated “day’s Metro system was built in the 1970s based on the featherbedding and the nepotism and the politics of the times.”

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      You are right on target. Consider that Metro wanted $450 Million to build a single metro stop outside Dulles Airport, all underground of course. Why? To pay union workers was the real reason. Finally the FBI stepped in, along with two honest Virginia politicians, what a rarely today. No one went to jail but should have, the FBI report was devastating , yet only skimmed to surface.

      That of course was followed by the #1 million dollar bus stop that was to be $22 million for 19 bus stops. That was a MWTA money laundering scheme in Arlington County, yet another political cover-up of gross corruption and diversion of public monies for private benefit. This is China town DC style and Arlington Style.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Before anyone claims these allegations of corruption and malfeasance are driven by hidden agendas – identity bias, bias against mass transit, bias labor unions, or government bureaucrats – please note that original sin is woven deep into the DNA of human nature that afflicts and drives of us.

        Take for example the gross corruption by crony capitalists that played out in plain sight to ruin Dulles airport beginning in the late 1990s. This effort was intended to massively enrich a very few business big wigs and their political friends at public expense, most particularly the workaday moms and dads who live and work in the DC region and who decades later are still paying the huge costs that have been foisted on them by their corrupt leaders who enrich themselves by soaking everyone else in their community.

        The scam started in earnest in the latter half of the 1990s. This is when the wealthy and influential pirates first got control after a long fight of the prime levers of power over Dulles Airport – specifically its board of directors, and then proceeded to milk that airport while sending it on a grossly irresponsible fools errand designed to milk the entire region for the benefit of the same few leaders. And swing into action those pirates did.

        Thus, for example:

        By 1998 Dulles had roughly 7,000 parking spaces build up over nearly 40 years that served quite adequately the airport’s roughly 20, 000,000 passengers annually. Suddenly, the new board began building another 20,000 parking spaces for the airport, intent on bringing that total to 27,000, 000.

        Why? Why this amazing explosion of parking spaces at the airport?

        Well there short term tactics to gain private benefits, and their were mid-term tactics to gain even more private benefits and means for conquest, and they were long term strategies to gain control of an entire region at play here. One does not have to dig deep to see the short term tactics of parking spaces to benefit for a few already rich special interests. Nor does one have to dig deep to see why the followed up takeover of the Dulles Toll road so as to grab cash tolls and control traffic flows to fund the grand over arching strategy, a future wish list per a strategic plan to bust open an entire region for private gain, a bonanza of the local business elite . That long term strategy was equally hidden. It is discussed below.

        Meanwhile, back in the late 1990s, there was an abrupt termination of long term contractual obligations per prudent plans of expansion then underway (the termination triggered massive and costly litigation), with the result that those prudent plans were replaced by totally irresponsible and immediate doubling of the capacity of the airport by the most expensive and risky means imaginable. The hubris here was off the charts. That is how great the de facto private control of a huge public asset, the Dulles International Airport, had become by the year 2000.

        And the take had just started.

        It would soon wreak havoc everywhere on everyone. Collateral damage would expand out into ever expanding circles of traffic sepsis throughout Northern Virginia and around the Capital Beltway, all of it turbo charged by the combination of the Tyson’s Corner Debacle on the east end of the Dulles Toll Road and the Dulles Airport Debacle on the Toll Road’s west end. And this monster traffic generating traffic was only the beginning, including all along the Toll Road.

        Incredibly too, this corrupt and ill gotten plan that was concocted in the 1990s and first implemented in the late 1990s was still being pushed hard as late as 2013 despite all the long term damage it done by then over the past 15 years. Greed and hubris knows no bounds, nor logic, nor reason.

        Hence we wrote here on this Website in 2013:

        “In October 2005, the Washington Airports Task Force (WATF) got a wake-up call. Its transportation consultant reported that traffic heading east and west past Washington Dulles International Airport had begun to strangle both the airport and its neighborhood. Travel around the airport was already impaired, and gridlock soon would be overwhelming. Jobs, prosperity, education, leisure, shopping and normal daily activities were all at risk. Stated the report: “If prompt remedial action is not taken, gridlock will lead to economic decline in 10 to 15 years.”

        So, despite dire warnings that airport officials received throughout the 1990s by ousted members of the Board, and despite recessions, and bankruptcies of key players at the airport, and despite a litany of other crisis warnings within the airport and outside of it, airport officials and their puppet masters who held a public trust had embarked upon and refused to alter plans to triple the airport’s daily passenger traffic, to triple daily truck volume in and around the airport and its region, and to vastly expand the number of employees commuting into the airport. Indeed, the airports strategic and development plans were driven by the intention of private business and political interests to build what amounts to an entire new city in and around the airport property. And to open a whole new gateway into the Nation’s Capital, across historic lands of the Virginia Piedmont, an inreplacable legacy precious to the entire nation.

        As stated late in the game nearly 20 years after it was first dreamed up in the mid 1990s and 15 years after it first went into action, we wrote here:

        “Airport officials, along with their allies in Loudoun County and Virginia state government, see Dulles as the nucleus for a massive logistical complex growing out of the airport’s air cargo business, as well as massive commercial development with no direct aviation tie-in. MWAA plans six million square feet of development in just the first phase of development on airport property, encompassing 430 acres among the 3,000 acres available — equivalent to two downtown Restons. Much of that anticipated development will feed off proximity to Dulles’ passenger service and development advantages such as the lower cost to develop and hold land exempt from various state and local taxes and land-use regulations.

        Essential to the success of Dulles’ massive commercial venture is improved road access for thousands of new workers and visitors, not to mention the long- and short-haul tractor-trailer cargo trucks that will load and unload at a vastly expanded air cargo facility. The truck traffic will drive up the proposed North-South Corridor from I-95, I-66, U.S. 29 and I-8I. A critical link in that “corridor of statewide significance” is the proposed Bi-County Parkway through the Manassas Battlefield Park that has roiled so much controversy in Prince William County. The North South Corridor also is deemed critical to handle all the new auto commuters that a development boom would create.

        In addition to the six million square feet of building on Dulles property, Loudoun County plans call for massive development on privately held land nearby. As reported by the Loudoun Times, Robyn Bailey, manager of business infrastructure with Loudoun County’s Department of Economic Development, said in April that land along the Rt. 606 corridor on Dulles’ western edge has the potential for 14 million square feet of high-end industrial space, while land north of the airport served by METRO and the Dulles Greenway has building potential for 23.5 million square feet of commercial and office space. Land slated for commercial and industrial development on nearby Routes 7, 28, 25 and 50 could accommodate another 38 million square feet.

        Enjoying a unique central location for long- and short-haul trucks, Dulles airport officials aspire to be the major growth gateway for international air cargo into the eastern United States. Fifty-six percent of the nation’s population resides within 1,000 miles of the airport, a catchment area extending from Jacksonville, Fla., to southeastern Canada, to Chicago, Ill., Nashville, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala. Boosters envision Dulles as the entrepot between international airlines and the trucks delivering cargo across most of the eastern United States. That’s the plan. And that’s why Dulles Airport and its friends all want this North South Corridor built.

        Remarkably, this flood of traffic is being proposed for Northern Virginia despite the fact that Dulles, from an air cargo perspective, is located at the end of a cul de sac. There will be no way for trucks to exit the Dulles neighborhood except by the way they came — heading south down the North South Corridor before jumping on to Interstate 66, Interstate 95 or U.S. 29 on the way to destinations north or west — or venturing onto congested local roads.

        What happens if the main routes are gridlocked, like I-66 at Manassas, one of the most congested intersections in all of Virginia? What happens if truckers or airport workers decide to go directly north to Point of Rocks and cross the river to Maryland, or head west on Route 50 to Winchester and I-81, or go east on the Dulles Toll Road into D.C. or Maryland? Will they swell the traffic load on Northern Virginia’s already overloaded roads?

        How did airport officials go from a 2005 expert’s warning of an impending traffic disaster around Dulles to instituting plans that would only accelerate the automotive Armageddon? How do airport authorities propose to make all of this work? How do they expect to get away with it? How will their schemes affect the citizens of Virginia?” End of Quote.

        Now we know they terrible price imposed on future generations by these horrible failures of leadership by a few leaders in northern Virginia.

        Now we can see the horrible results of the horrible decisions by public officials who have escaped scott free, if not deeply enriched, while the public, including the entire Washington DC region are left to pay the huge price that will haunt the region, and northern Virginia, for generations.

        And some leaders still wonder why their citizens no longer trust them! And don’t respect them. Or believe anything that they say. Amazing.

        For more details article published here on July 5, 2013 found at:

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    People who actually ride METRO have a better balance of criticism than those who do not, prefer cars, and in general do not support transit as a concept.

    For instance, many, non-Metro-rider critics don’t really care if it functions as it could or not; they’re opposed to any more money spent on it; they don’t care how much is needed to run it “right” – any money is too much for them. Then they go on to talk about Unions and “bad management” when VDOT also uses Unions on their projects and has it’s share of management issues also – like the Snow Plow scandal which I’ve never heard the METRO critics also point out as “bad” management.

    The same critics never seem to talk about how much money VDOT is spending and why they still have thousands deficient bridges and terrible regional congestion – yet we never hear from the same critics saying that too much money is already being spent on roads and problems not fixed – and the solution is to not give them any more money until they “fix it”.

    If I saw some fair and reasonable comparison of METRO with VDOT or even other transit systems .. from the critics, I’d be a lot more convinced of how “bad” it is.

    Failing that – we’re basically listening to critics who don’t think transit is “worth it” anyhow and that is totally opposite from this sentiment: ” The Washington region cannot afford not to save Metro”

    So the real point is – if you believe that METRO and transit are vitally-needed services,how do you fix it – not dissimilar to how one might critique VDOT on how it spends so much money and still has “problems”.

    With all of our institutions that are vital – it’s not about starving them of funds because we’re not satisfied… that’s not a reasonable approach to the issues.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    What we don’t seem to know is how much SHOULD METRO cost?

    We don’t know that number so how can we argue it’s too much or not enough much less that it would be “enough” if they didn’t have unions and bad management – which again – we don’t have any comparative benchmarks.

    Does METRO have more union than other transit? Does it have any more or less “bad management” that other transit?

    Compare METRO to VDOT. Do we know how much VDOT – SHOULD be spending? Do we think it is “too much” or “not enough” based on what?

    So we make the case against METRO on things we don’t even really know just a subjective view that they have “unions” and “bad management”… and further irony that critics of METRO also are critics of the Washington Post – reporting.

    So the “reporting” of WaPo is corrupt and lying for other issues but it’s totally correct and on target for METRO?

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Larry, we know Metro needs to cost less than it does. It’s cost increases regularly exceed the increases in cost for other governmental functions. It’s labor costs rise at unsustainable rates. Yet maintenance, safety, reliability and cleanliness are at levels most people across the economic and political spectrum find unacceptable. Talk to a Fairfax County elected official you know. They will candidly say problems run deep and that WMATA’s inability to control costs while delivering improvements are risking the County’s ability to fund other programs.

      And riders are voting with their feet. Ridership continues to decline. At some point, voters are going to say “Stop spending so much money on something so few people, percentage wise, ride.” I hope we can get Metro fixed before that point comes.

      Absent major improvements in performance and cost controls within five years, I’d like to see WMATA go into bankruptcy or be taken over by the Corps of Engineers.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        TMT – I don’t really see any benchmarks upon which to make objective judgements.

        Do we really KNOW how much METRO – SHOULD COST?

        if we just set arbitrary numbers what have we accomplished?

        You could make the same statement about Education or Public Safety or auto transportation.

        How much SHOULD it cost – AND what level of service should you get for that?

        How does METRO compare in terms of costs with other urban area rail transit?

        What happens – is people who are not transit users themselves – basically think ANY amount of money is too much and that it’s unacceptable to give more money – and they don’t care at all if the problem is that they ARE underfunded.

        Short-funding ANY agency leads to all kinds of problems…. because they’re spending a lot of time in crisis mode robbing Peter to pay Paul.

        Take VDOT… how much money SHOULD they be funded and how do we judge their performance?

        I think people that are predisposed to the idea that they already pay too much in taxes – are really not that interested in whether those agencies are “right funded ” or not. All they are looking for is reports of “problems” that more or less “prove” that they are unworthy of more funding.

        So, here’s a challenge for you.

        How would you judge VDOT in terms of money spent and performance delivered? Do you think they have waste and abuse in their agency ? Do you think they have “bad management” and hire contractors with “union” workers?

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” At some point, voters are going to say “Stop spending so much money on something so few people, percentage wise, ride.” I hope we can get Metro fixed before that point comes.”

    That seems to be the conventional wisdom and it’s certainly possible that at some point – urban mobility will evolve away from rail. To this point, however, looking around the world – is rail transit on the decline and on the way out or is it still considered an essential, but expensive, service with no real alternatives?

    The debate over Metro is not dissimilar to debates in NYC about their system or LA about their system; it seems to be a continuing issue.

    But I again point out that, first of all, that many critics of rail transit are not themselves users AND that many folks who uses automobiles don’t have the same complaints about VDOT spending “too much money” and not successfully resolving congestion and continuing to have thousands of deficient bridges, roads in disrepair, older roads not brought up to modern standards, etc… including a recent scandal over contractor snow plowing.

    Why do we have such a divergent viewpoint about METRO vs VDOT or for that matter ever have a discussion about whether other govt infrastructure and services compared to METRO?

    For instance, Alexandria and Arlington have a gigantic storm water problem as does much of Fairfax and yet we don’t have a similar discussion that it costs too much and there is bad management, etc.

    And some of it goes back to this: What SHOULD Metro cost and what SHOULD the road costs for NoVa be with VDOT?

    Do we really know – for either case – before we say “it’s too much”? I’m NOT arguing for unlimited spending.. I’m asking if we really know how much it SHOULD cost. If it costs $10 per person per trip -how do we know that costs “too much”? How do we know what it SHOULD cost? What VALUE do we put on mobility in an urban region?

    We COULD have NOT built METRO to Dulles but at some point – leaders felt it was – imperative – but my bet is if you totaled up the cost of extending METRO to Dulles and divided it by the number of passengers.. that the cost per passenger will be pretty expensive. No?

    Finally – the ultimate irony that many critics talk about how biased and misleading WaPo is when it reports on some things but on METRO -it’s reports are received as if they are the truth on high… Personally I take WaPo with a grain of salt on ALL issues AND read other publications to compare and contrast reporting…

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      One of the steps taken was WMATA’s agreement with D.C, MD and VA to cap annual jurisdictional operating contribution growth at 3%. That clearly indicates WMATA management agrees that Metro costs too much, at least in real terms. WMATA is accepting the challenge to produce more with lesser funding increases, when a separate, fixed capital contribution is also provided by the member jurisdictions.

      Is the creation of a cap the best approach? No but when an entity simply refuses year after year to become responsible managers of tax dollars, an arbitrary solution may well be needed. How many parents have not impose an arbitrary limit on their teenagers when nothing else seems to work?

      I don’t think VDOT skates by. VDOT’s efficiencies and priorities were soundly criticized by a number of people at last week’s community meeting in McLean. Over the last 15 plus years I’ve been active in community affairs, I’ve heard more criticism of VDOT than WMATA.

      Rail to Dulles has been contemplated for years. But it was not the current plan. The original plan, which many organizations supported, kept the Silver Line in the median of the Dulles Toll/Access Road, with one or two stops at Tysons.

      But as we all know, Dulles Rail was hijacked by Tysons landowners desiring density paid largely by other people. The line was rerouted through Tysons and paid for chiefly by Dulles Toll Road users. One of the biggest transfers of wealth from the middle class to wealthy developers in history. Despite its label of being Virginia’s economic engine and substantial growth through the construction of high-quality mixed use development, Tysons has done nothing to ease the real estate tax burden on residents of Fairfax County. With changes in assessments and tax rate increases, the average real estate tax bill for a county resident is up about 25% over the last five years.

      Fairfax County is all about crony capitalism. Thank goodness for the Dillon Rule.

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