Washington Metro Faces Budget Deficit, Safety Issues

The capital’s public transit system, the country’s third-largest, has been plagued by a series of problems ranging from a looming fiscal deficit to train crashes and track fires.

2 minute read

July 5, 2022, 5:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Washington DC Metro

Mark Fischer / Flickr

An article by Jake Blumgart in Governing outlines the Washington Mentropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) fiscal crisis, the worst in its recent history. “Washington, D.C.’s mass transit offerings could get substantially worse next summer if something doesn’t radically change. WMATA’s most recent public forecast shows a $356 million deficit in the fiscal year 2024 budget, because only 53 percent of the trips taken pre-pandemic have returned.”

The system has also faced a series of crises. “In October, one of Metro’s newest 7000 series trains derailed in Arlington, Va.” Earlier this year, “Metro admitted that half its rail operators have not kept up on their driver certifications. Many were pulled from duty, resulting in further delays. A separate and unrelated report found that the agency’s personnel recklessly disregard worker safety.”

With a new general manager on the way, Metro has an opportunity for another reset. But in interviews and at hearings, outside stakeholders say they do not hear current board members and high-level staffers providing adequate strategies for WMATA’s existential challenges. The gamble seems to be that the system is too big to fail.

Blumgart details the agency’s history of questionable authority and accountability, its confusing and diffuse leadership structure, and the disturbing claim that the agency operates under a culture of noncompliance. The article also describes several options for governance structures that could place more accountability on the agency and find problems before they become full-blown crises. Blumgart doesn’t predict which outcome is most likely to be effective, but asks, “Why not put all options on the table at this moment of extreme uncertainty, and show policymakers from Congress to the legislature and city hall to the C-suites that change can come to Metro?”

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