The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or WMATA, is an organization created by interstate compact. It runs the DC Metrorail system (America’s second-largest subway) in the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Maryland, and is governed by the compact between those jurisdictions and the US Government.
It’s broken, and it’s constantly being found to be broken in new and disappointing ways. It’s time for meaningful fixes to the system.
Fixing WMATA is an issue that easily is able to cut across party and philosophical lines. While conservatives might have opposed building the system, it’s there now, and we can easily fight waste, corruption, and government killing people through negligence while hiding behind sovereign immunity. And I often see committed Democrats raging against the system, the government, the Democrat-run administrations in the area and nationally, as well as the union. Nobody likes this, except the powers that be refusing to fix it.
For those who don’t live in the area (#BeltwayProblems), here’s a sampling of the problems:
- WMATA is killing people through negligence. This is a recurring problem.
- Money is being mismanaged to the point that watchdogs are having to call them out.
- WMATA is cutting service on lines built with hard-earned taxpayer dollars, putting the burden on veterans and Virginians in order to try to help federal employees have a smoother commute. This even as WMATA is asking for more money.
- WMATA is even slow to act on NTSB recommendations, this while talking about a culture of safety.
How do we fix this? Oversight is the key. Right now the WMATA board is controlled by many different groups. DC’s four seats are split between Mayoral and City Council appointments. Maryland’s four seats come from the Washington Suburban Transit Commission. Virginia’s four seats come from the Northern Virginia Transit Commission. The two federal seats are appointed by the President from GSA. This system has failed, as the board has become out of touch.
The board has become a patronage operation in DC, and in all jurisdictions the members are dual-hatted, meaning they have day jobs that are their priorities. WMATA oversight is a distraction, and is not job one for any of them.
We need to fix this by amending the compact to change the composition of the WMATA board. Replace the Federal slots with at-large elected members from the tri-jurisdiction area. Let DC, Maryland, and Virginia divide into WMATA districts, and elect members. With four different governments using WMATA as a patronage operation, we’ll never get change. Elected members will force change to happen, because people will be elected not because they’re looking to become the next mayor or county board member. They’ll be elected to fix things, and will be held accountable by the voters for it.
Note that we absolutely must eliminate the dead-weight federal slots. The Federal Government wants to run WMATA as a federal employees transit system, and when they get one fourth of the voting slots (each state and DC has four members, but two are non-voting alternates). That’s not fair to the states, nor is it fair to the residents of DC who are stuck with this.
WMATA is everything that goes wrong with government. It’s corrupt, it’s unsafe, it’s handing out taxpayer dollars to buy buy-in from unions. And the structure is designed to inhibit reform. So we must fix this.
It’s time the Senators and House members from Maryland and Virginia, as well as Governors Larry Hogan and Terry McAuliffe, started agitating to demand change today.