Tag Archives: mass transit

Shocker: Positive Signs from Washington Metro

I have relentlessly criticized the Washington Metro system for years, but I have to give credit to management under General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld for trying to steer the dysfunctional mass transit system in a fiscally sustainable direction. Today’s media reports highlight two straws in the wind.

First, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (MWATA) is trying to revive a plan to redevelop portions of the Huntington Metro campus in Fairfax County, according to the Washington Business Journal. An effort to redevelop a 1.15-acre parcel failed four years ago. But Metro has expanded the project scope to 12 acres.

The selected developer for this larger project would not only design the 12-acre site but also help WMATA determine the need for replacement transit facilities — the three parking garages at Huntington Metro Station had a combined usage rate of 61 percent for fiscal year 2018. WMATA recently closed an 885-space garage on 6 acres located on the south side of the station, where it sees an opportunity for redevelopment if parking demand doesn’t merit replacing.

Heavy-rail transit stations significantly increase the value of adjacent properties. Mass transit systems in other countries employ “value capture” strategies to extract some of that increased value to defray the cost of building and operating their stations. For the most part, Washington’s Metro system has failed to do that. Rather, property owners reaped windfall gains from the public’s massive investment. (A partial exception is taxation of property owners in Tysons to pay for a modest portion of the cost of building the Silver Line extension.) However, Metro frequently did build parking structures around its stations, some of which may be severely under-utilized. The potential exists to redevelop that property in light of market conditions that favor dense, mixed-use development around Metro stations.

Although the WBJ doesn’t frame the story this way, it appears that Wiedefeld is trying to extract maximum value from the limited property Metro does own around the Huntington station. If this redevelopment project is successful, it might be a template for extracting value from other Metro parking lots and garages.

Second, Metro is looking at the potential for privatizing operations of the Silver Line extension encompassing six new stations in the high-tech corridor between Tysons and Dulles International Airport, and beyond. Reports the Washington Post:

On Tuesday, the transit agency issued a request for proposals from private companies willing to perform maintenance and operations on the line extension, which is under construction by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. …

Metro has hinted for the past two years that its intention was to outsource the Silver Line service, suggesting that such a decision could save taxpayers millions of dollars in the long run. In January, the agency issued a “request for information” from potential contractors interested in the job.

Now, Metro says that hiring a private company to fill new Silver Line jobs, rather than adding to the ranks of unionized employees, will help control operating and maintenance costs, “including future pension costs, which have grown to unsustainable levels.”

Paul J. Wiedefeld

Wiedefeld said the effort is intended to help the transit agency start “living within our means.” “Competitive contracting is one tool to hold down pension cost growth, while providing quality service for customers.” Laughably, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 responded that outsourcing services would result in poor service for riders and subpar maintenance of infrastructure. Worse than the service and maintenance provided by the union workforce? That would be something!

Virginia has boosted its financial commitment to Metro to reduce a massive capital spending shortfall on the understanding that the mass transit authority would undertake meaningful reforms. Wiedefeld is making an honest effort to deliver on that promise, pursuing strategies that were never part of Metro’s past playbook. Whether he succeeds or not is a different question — that depends in large measure upon market conditions and cooperation from Metro’s labor unions. But he’s giving it his best shot.

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.

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.

Uberizing Van Pools: A Useful Experiment

Northern Virginia transportation officials will try an interesting experiment to help cope with traffic disruptions during construction of the $2.3 billion Interstate 66 widening project — they will allow commuters to sign up and pay for van-pool services through a smartphone app. Reports the Washington Post:

“This is not just new technology for the area, it is also new technology and service in an area that has been a bit of a desert for transit options,” said Chuck Steigerwald, director of strategic planning at the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC), which oversees a regional van-pool service and runs commuter buses from Prince William to Washington.

The apps will be critical, he said, to encouraging people to use transit and van-pool services during peak construction on the I-66 expansion, a project that also aims to change the way people move along the corridor.

The PRTC is planning to launch a free, on-demand ­microtransit service from the Gainesville and Haymarket neighborhoods to OmniRide commuter lots starting next summer. PRTC officials say the agency will develop an app to connect riders to rides. The $1.1. million project will provide transportation from residential areas to bus stops for commuters who don’t take the bus because of the challenges of using park-and-ride lots, which are already at capacity, officials said.

The funding will cover the cost of a software interface that will allow vehicle operators to respond to commuter requests with dynamic, real-time routing. It also will pay for vehicles, onboard vehicle hardware, transit operations and advertising of the services.

In another high-tech effort, the PRTC is creating a platform for a flexible van-pool program that will connect riders with van pools and facilitate payment of fares. The $317,600 project will enable the use of the technology to potentially transform the way van pools operate in Northern Virginia, said Robert Schneider, executive director of the PRTC.

Bacon’s bottom line: It’s good to see Northern Virginia transportation officials experiment with new technology. Persuading more commuters to use vans and buses is potentially the most cost-effective way to squeeze more capacity out of the region’s overloaded transportation arteries.

There’s more to a successful ride-hailing service like Uber and Lyft, though, than just connecting people with rides via smart phone. Ride-hailing companies have sophisticated algorithms to predict when and where ridership demand will materialize and where to pre-position vehicles to serve that demand. As demand waxes and wanes and moves around, these companies respond nimbly. Will PRTC be able to go with the (traffic) flow? We’ll see.

Another question is whether riders will avail themselves of van pools for the convenience of reaching park-and-ride lots. Might they not prefer to ride a van directly to their destination (or very close to it) rather than to a park-and-ride lot where they then shift to another transportation mode? Will they see enough of a value-add proposition to make it worth their while?

Finally, I wonder if PRTC ever considered the option of contracting directly with Uber, Lyft or another third-party company to come up with creative solutions. The Washington Post article doesn’t tell us.

Still, I don’t see how this initiative can hurt. The worst case scenario is that commuters don’t respond. In the context of a $2.3 billion construction project, the cost is peanuts. On the positive side, things just might work out as hoped. If we’re ever going to improve our transportation system, we need to make lots of small, inexpensive experiments, discard the losers, and scale up the winners. You don’t know if something will work until you try it. There is nothing wrong with failure — as long as government acknowledges the failures, shuts them down quickly, and moves on.

Pulse Is Pumped about Early Ridership

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney cuts the ribbon to launch the Pulse service last weekend.

The Pulse, Richmond’s new bus rapid transit system, is off to a good start. On Monday, the first weekday of service, GRTC Pulse counted 8,669 riders, far exceeding the daily weekday goal of 3,500, reports the transit company.

First-week performance at mass-transit roll-outs benefit from media attention and, in the case of the GRTC, free rides. The trick is to maintain the  momentum when the hooplah dies down and the novelty wears off.

The other measure of success is the level of re-development along the Broad Street corridor. A top goal for Pulse is to stimulate construction of mixed-use projects that generate higher property and sales tax revenues while encouraging ridership on the bus line. City Council has put the right zoning in place, and there seems to be no limit to the appetite of homeowners, businesses and retailers for walkable neighborhoods with access to mass transit. Here’s hoping that Richmond’s $65 million gamble pays off! 

Washington Metro Downsizes Board

Succumbing to political pressure from Virginia, the Washington Metro board has voted to reduce the participation of so-called “alternate” board members. The move, which will enhance the power of the eight “principal” board members, was necessary to comply with the Commonwealth’s demand for board restructuring as a condition for receiving $500 million a year in dedicated funding.

The measure passed Thursday, reports the Washington Post, bars alternates from participating in board or committee proceedings. The change, proponents say, will streamline discussions, reduce parochialism, and increase the level of expertise among board members.

“Over the long term, the jurisdictions will compensate for the supposed loss of access to expertise by putting forward, as members of the board, individuals who possess levels of expertise and experience of complex organizations that few, if any, members of the board today possess,”  said David Horner, a federal representative on the board. “At the end of the day, that is a better model for governance of a complex transit property.”

But not everyone was happy with the change. “I strenuously object to the changes in the bylaws that you are considering, which will basically circumvent the compact that governs this body,” said ­alternate board member Malcolm Augustine, who represents Prince George’s County. “Virginia is holding all of us hostage, and it will disenfranchise Prince George’s County.”

Bacon’s bottom line: I haven’t attended Metro board meetings, so I haven’t seen the board in action, and I don’t have an informed opinion on whether a streamlined board will improve the quality of its decisions. But I am dubious that much will change. Metro’s structural problems run too deep.

First, Metro has set its fares too low, thus depriving the mass transit organization of desperately needed funds. The board is worried about two things: that increasing fares will depress ridership, and that higher fares will punish lower-income riders. Sidelining the alternate board members doesn’t change that calculus.

Second, fundamental reform is subject to a union veto. An unwillingness over the years to confront the Amalgamated Transit Union, which has the power to shut down the Metro and throw the Washington economy into a tailspin, has resulted in excessive pay, featherbedding, favoritism, and unproductive work rules that make the bus and commuter rail systems far more costly than necessary. But clawing back  concessions will be extremely difficult, no matter how many members the board has.

Virginia should have used its financial leverage — no reform, no $500 million — to stiffen the backbone of management and the board to make the tough decisions. The Northam administration settled for governance reform. We’ll find out if eight board members show more courage than sixteen. I’m not counting on it.

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.

Hey, Uber, Over Here! Over Here!

Dara Khosrowshahi. Photo credit: Fortune

So, Uber decides to use Washington, D.C., as a test bed for its vision for urban mobility. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi visited Washington Wednesday to publicize company plans to expand its ride-hailing app so customers can access and pay for bike share, car rentals from private car owners, and eventually mass transit.

And what does Washington do? Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has proposed increasing the gross receipt tax on ride-hailing companies from 1% to 4.75%. The tax revenue would pay for about 10% of Washington’s $178.5 million share of increased funding for Washington Metro. (Virginia and Maryland and providing the balance — without taxing Uber.)

Interesting economic development strategy Bowser has there: Tax businesses in the growing innovation economy to subsidize enterprises in the stagnant, money-losing old economy.

Uber’s idea is potentially so transformative that slapping $18 million added tax on the ride-hailing industry may not prove debilitating. (Not for Uber anyway. I’m less sanguine about its weaker competitors.) But one thing we can say for sure: The tax will not accelerate Washington’s evolution toward the transportation future.

“What we want to make sure is that you’re not taxing one form of shared transportation for another form of shared transportation,” Khowrowshahi said in a public meeting with Bowser, reports the Washington Post. “We’re in this to promote shared transportation in general. We want to make sure that proposals like this are not unconstructive to that goal.”

City officials, notes the Post, say the ride-hailing services have benefited from Metro’s problems so it’s only fair that they be part of the solution.

 

 

Bacon’s bottom line: Hey, Uber, come look at Virginia — we won’t tax you!

Your one-stop-transportation-shopping app sounds like a fantastic idea. I can hardly wait until you develop AI that allows people to map multimodal trips integrating everything from walking and biking to gypsy vans and buses to hour-long car rentals. I’m eagerly waiting for a full range of transportation services at varying levels of convenience, comfort and price. If you put a few money-losing public mass-transit enterprises out of business, I won’t have a problem with that. I’d love to put an end to the drain on taxpayers. Likewise, if you force public enterprises to adapt by cutting costs and becoming more responsive to customers, I’m totally cool with that, too!

I regard Bowser’s logic — Uber is part of Metro’s problem, therefore you should be taxed to help fix it — as wildly illogical. You should be allowed to compete on a level playing field with all other transportation business models. I hope you understand, however, that does include paying your fair share of the cost of maintaining and building the road and highway infrastructure that you rely upon. Who knows, you might end up paying more in taxes that way. But at least you wouldn’t be subsidizing the competition.

One more thing, Virginia has localities that would love to cooperate with you. Take Virginia Beach. The resort city has plans for development of its waterfront that include a drop-off zone for ride-hailing services. How cool is that? If cities can provide drop-off zones for buses — typically referred to as bus stops — why not drop-off zones for ride-hailing services? That’s something that municipalities can do at next-to-no cost.

Here in Virginia, we want to accelerate the development of a 21st century model for transportation, not tax it. Use us as a test bed. Please!

Pony Up, D.C. Or Else!

Uh, oh, the Metro funding deal isn’t sealed yet. The Washington, D.C., city council could be the spoiler. While Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has asked council to back a $178.5 million annual increase in funding for the commuter rail system to go along with $154 million from Virginia and $150 from Maryland, a council faction by Chairman Phil Mendelson is balking.

Reports the Washington Post:

Mendelson (D) and five other council members sent Bowser a letter late Wednesday saying the city should give Metro only $167 million a year. The letter also says the District should contribute no more than Virginia and Maryland, contrary to the Virginia plan that stipulates each jurisdiction make a proportional contribution based on a funding formula that takes into account things such as ridership, population and number of Metro stations. …

Repeating arguments made by city officials in the past, Mendelson and the council members said that formula is unfair to the city, partly because the District has a smaller population than the Virginia and Maryland suburbs served by Metro.

But, as the Post points out, the District has 40 Metro stations, compared to 26 in Maryland and 25 in Virginia.

Furthermore, I’d add, the reason Metro finances are a wreck is that D.C. representatives on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) board have insisted on not increasing fares and have been supportive of labor agreements that have run up operating costs and built up massive unfunded retirement liabilities. Virginia needs to stick to its guns, and D.C. needs to pony up $178.5 million.

Approving Metro’s Bare-Bones Capital Budget

Over the weekend the General Assembly agreed to give the Washington Metro $154 million a year in permanent new funding on the condition that Maryland and Washington, D.C., make up the balance of $500 million in new funding, reports the Washington Post. Maryland has passed its own $150 million funding bill, and the District will likely approve at least $150 million more.

Let’s assume for a moment that all the details are worked out, that all three jurisdictions come up with $450 million to $500 million a year for Metro, and that Congress adds $150 million a year to what the federal government has been contributing. Does this latest injection of money get the troubled bus and commuter-rail system out of the woods?

Metro has identified $25 billion in capital “needs” over the next 10 years. The bulk of these needs entail SGR (state of good repair) investments of $15.5 billion to maintain existing capital assets necessary for system preservation. The $25 billion figure also includes $7 billion in “new” needs which “address remediation of hazards or crowding on the rail system in core areas,” plus “unallocated” needs that include regular repairs and maintenance and services.

The added $600 million a year from Uncle Sam, the District, and the states will suffice to cover the critical state-of-good-repair needs and nothing else. Here’s what taxpayers will get for their money:

  • Replacing the 1000-series rail cars, installing a new radio system and cellular infrastructure, and replacing track circuits and power cabling where necessary.
  • Replacing power cable insulators on deep tunnels of the Red Line and other lines particularly where water intrusion occurs, which can disrupt service or cause the need for more frequent and costly repairs.
  • Replacing worn components of track and tunnels on all lines, necessary for safety and service delivery.
  • Upgrading the signaling system, which controls the movement and speed of trains, necessary for safe operations and on-time service delivery.

Nothing fancy here. Hopefully, these investments will reverse the deteriorating quality of service that has caused so many riders to desert Metro. But many desired investments will not be made. I have seen no analysis of what that portends for the quality of service.

The proposed FY 2019 budget for Metro includes no fare increases or service reductions. The operating budget assumes that management can limit spending growth to $12 million, or less than one percent “despite cost growth for legacy commitments, mandates and inflation.”

General Manager Paul Wiedefeld acknowledges that there are “substantial and ongoing risks” in the proposed 2019 budget. Foremost among these are ridership uncertainties in response to telework, gas prices, alternative transportation modes; collective bargaining; and unfunded pension and retiree healthcare liabilities.

Bacon’s bottom line: I continue to believe that the emerging Uber-like Mobility-as-a-Service transportation model poses an enormous threat to all existing transportation modes — both the own-it-yourself automobile model and fixed-route mass transit model. In an affluent society, there will always be some people who want to own their own automobiles allowing them to travel when they wish and with whom they wish, so privately owned automobiles will always be with us. But I’m not confident that there will always be people who prefer to ride in fixed-route, fixed-schedule buses and trains instead of flexible-route and flexible-schedule buses, vans, and cars.

I’m pretty sure that Metro, no matter how competently managed, will continue to loser riders, and that it will be coming back to taxpayers with tin cup in hand in another 10 years. If declining ridership doesn’t do the trick, unfunded retirement liabilities will.