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Thoughts on Metro

A major problem facing 43rd district residents is the declining use of Metrorail and the consequent increase in single passenger cars on the road. For all those who depend on Metro for their daily commute, and for those like myself who use Metro several times a week, we have a lot at stake in turning WMATA around.

Metro is the backbone of the DMV transit system and was once the envy of cities across the country. Under the leadership of Paul Wiedefeld for the last year, WMATA is making progress. For example, SafeTrack condensed three years of long-overdue repairs into one, and WMATA announced the expedited retirement of all 1000- and 4000- series railcars.  Nearly two-thirds of current delays are caused by railcar malfunctions.

WMATA, however, must give riders more compelling reasons to return. With ridesharing companies offering competitive rates and arguably more reliable service, management, state and local elected officials, and rank-and-file employees must work together to draw commuters back.

The system needs dedicated funding sources from all participating jurisdictions, but that won’t happen without changes too numerous to mention here. Creative solutions are needed. Recently, D.C. adopted legislation that requires employers to offer “pre-tax or subsidized commuter benefits” in order to cut employee commuting costs and incentivizing public transit usage.  This saves employers up to nine percent on payroll taxes. We should explore similar win-win solutions here in Virginia.

Our fare system is also complicated. For example, time-based ticket pricing is used by only six percent of transit systems and most major systems use a flat fare. When the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) added free transfers to their flat fare system, ridership increased by 15 percent. Flat fare systems make it easier for transit-dependent riders to budget are more transparent.  Add in the high cost of parking, WMATA is helping ridesharing companies and not helping to get more cars off the road.

These are only a few of the potential solutions to help increase ridership. If you have any suggestions please reach out to my office at DelMSickles@house.virginia.gov.