Washington D.C. Metro: An example of things to come?

COST Commentary: The articles below were published in the New York Times, as noted. They are a three part series. They tell a very sad and depressing story of Washington D.C. Metro, one of our nation’s largest transit agencies. The Washington D.C. Metro urban area has the third highest transit market share (of transit and motor vehicles) of 4.5% behind San Francisco at 5% and New York at 11%. The remainder of the nation averages much less.

These articles tell a story of the Washington D.C. Metro Transit agency and the level of decay which the agency has reached by spending, primarily taxpayers’ dollars, with no real accountability, leading to self-gratification and indulgence, which has all but erased any consideration of the mission of public transit to effectively serve its riders and to cost-effectively spend taxpayer funds which highly subsidize every rider. All public transit is significantly subsidized.

As D.C. Metro is finding, their path is not sustainable. Taxpayers and transit riders are the major losers as the D.C. system continues to degrade in performance and reliability while fares increase and bus service is reduced to fund the high cost of rail. The D. C. Metro train system opened in the 1970s and is at the normal end of its expected performance period. Its maintenance issues are increasing rapidly and it experienced a major train accident in 2009, killing and injuring several passengers. In addition, a number of employees have been killed in accidents.

COST is not aware of any other transit agency which has reached this appalling level of performance. However, many of the traits, which have seemed to play a role in Metro’s decline, exist in most transit agencies, including Austin’s Capital Metro. There is often little accountability as transit agencies’ boards of directors are often populated with inexperienced people and people which are influenced by political and self-serving conflicts.

Several large transit agency top executives have been replaced in recent years as problems have developed. Even though numerous transit agencies have spent billions of dollars to implement rail transit, it has not performed as promised and has not proven to be cost-effective. With anemic ridership, rapidly increasing operating costs and increasing debt burdens, many transit agencies are struggling. As in the situation at D.C. Metro, a number of the early urban rail systems will be reaching their operating age limit during the next few years and none of them have a source of funds, many billions of dollars, to replace aging systems. The outlook for these agencies is bleak.

Many of the indicators and trends leading to bleak transit outlooks exist in Austin. Cap Metro is “technically” bankrupt by huge, overrun, spending on its Red Line Commuter. Cap Metro’s ridership has been down over the past 12 years and its costs have increased much faster than inflation. The Red Line has proven to be a disaster for cost-effectiveness as taxpayers subsidize each, daily, two-way rider more than $20,000 per year. While Cap Metro continues to spend money to promote the Red Line and the city of Austin is paying Cap Metro $5.7 million in tax funds to operate Friday and Saturday evening service over 34 months, there is little hope this line can ever achieve acceptable, cost-effective performance.

It would be much more responsible, considering taxpayers’ needs and the needs of the total transit ridership, if Cap Metro stopped the Red Line and stopped the Red Ink. There are so many more important and constructive ways to spend these limited transportation dollars to improve citizens’ mobility. The Red Line actually increases congestion in the region.

The city of Austin is now pursuing the “impossible dream” of another urban rail transit system. It will cost more than ten times Cap Metro’s wasteful spending on the Red Line and it will not relieve congestion. It will likely increase congestion and safety hazards in downtown Austin. It is remarkable that we are surrounded with urban rail failures in many cities, yet, Austin continues to spend millions of tax dollars to study and plan for urban rail. After more than 2 years of urban rail study and cost estimate increases of more than 5 times early estimates, the city has not answered many major questions such as: “How will it be paid for, both implementation and annual operations? The only possible answer is with major, long-term tax increases for all to subsidize a few. There have been zero discussions of cost-effectiveness and very preliminary, early ridership estimates are not credible. Austin should stop this ill-advised spending, regroup and direct transportation funds to projects which will relieve congestion for the most citizens.

For many unanswered questions, see: Austin’s Urban Rail has Many Unanswered Questions,

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Metro derailed by culture of complacence, incompetence, lack of diversity

‘Inept get promoted, … capable get buried’

By Luke Rosiak, The Washington Times, Monday, March 26, 2012

First of three parts
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Even with big salaries, Metro can’t fill its jobs

Silver Line to pose major test for hiring

By Luke Rosiak The Washington Times, Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Second of three parts
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Metro transit police: Not quite the region’s finest

In unique jurisdiction, outcomes of enforcement sometimes fall short

By Luke Rosiak, The Washington Times, Sunday, April 1, 2012

Third of three parts

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