Don’t Tax Hampton Roads to Pay for Metro

Published July 14, 2016

Three cheers to the 11 Virginia General Assembly delegates who appropriately articulated to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority that the newly created “Metro Safety Commission should not be used as a vehicle to propose or recommend a new dedicated funding stream or tax increase to support Metro.”

The lawmakers should be applauded for acknowledging the poor management and incompetency that plagues WMATA, the mass transit rail system serving areas of Maryland, Virginia and Washington. The delegates say the most logical solution to the transit system’s financial woes is for WMATA to “get [its] labor and operations costs under control.”

As simple as that solution may sound, the reality is WMATA is a complete mess, and radical reforms are needed to turn this situation around. The Washington Post reported in April on just some of WMATA’s failures over the past year, which included passengers getting sick, including one who died; smoke-filled tunnels; fires; and a derailment. Then, on March 16, “the entire subway was shut down for 24 hours for urgent safety repairs.”

As available statistics show, riders have taken notice of WMATA’s failures, and they have chosen to look elsewhere to fulfill their transportation needs. According to the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, Metro ridership “is down by 5 percent since 2010 and continues to fall, even as the region’s population grows.” While the agency has largely deflected blame for the lag in numbers, in October, Metro did take note of the “frequency of severe delays” that affected its ridership volume.

The 11 delegates are absolutely correct to refuse to provide additional funding to this ineffectual transit system at the expense of Virginia’s taxpayers, especially when the few benefits WMATA offers applies only to a very limited segment of the commonwealth’s population.

In fiscal year 2016, the transportation budget allocated more than $314 million to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority Fund, while Hampton Roads received approximately $168 million. Hampton Roads’ highways are so bad that in 2013, the Virginia Department of Transportation had to pay motorists for damage to their vehicles caused by potholes that suddenly appeared after a February storm.

Hampton Roads will need additional funds in the future to address other serious regional transportation issues, as more than one-fifth of its bridges are 50 years old or older. The Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization reported in 2012 that “the region would need $8 billion over the next 25 years to keep up existing bridges.”

Metro already is receiving more than its fair share of state funding. As the 11 delegates opposing additional funding explained, the state already committed in 2007 to provide $50 million a year in capital funding for 10 years to help pay for much-needed Metro improvements, and in 2013, the General Assembly agreed to provide $300 million in state funds to help pay for the construction of Metro’s Silver Line. According to the letter penned by the 11 delegates, the commonwealth also “provides an annual operating subsidy to WMATA of about $100 million,” and it receives even more funding from Maryland and Washington taxpayers.

After scores of issues, underperformance and ineffective management, the General Assembly should not provide additional tax dollars to clean up Metro’s mess. Throwing more tax dollars at WMATA’s problems would only be putting a Band-Aid on the system; it wouldn’t fix the underlying issues that keep the agency from performing at an effective level.

WMATA and regional leaders should look at ways Metro can earn additional revenue for itself, rather than rely on handouts funded by many taxpayers who will never use the service they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars propping up.

[Originally published at Pilot Media]