A group of Maryland lawmakers has proposed an overhaul of the Washington-area subway system that would give the struggling rail network the dedicated funding its leaders say it needs.
The lawmakers are calling for a radical restructuring of the Metro system’s board of directors. Their proposal, released Monday, would also leave it up to the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia to decide how to come up with the $500 million in annual dedicated funding that Metro’s general manager has called for.
Metro is the nation’s only major subway system without a tax that provides direct funding. It relies on annual subsidies from the three jurisdictions and the federal government.
The lawmakers proposing the overhaul are all Democrats from the Washington suburbs.
“There’s a need for funding, but it certainly will not come without credible governance and oversight reform,” said Del. Erek Barron, a Prince George’s County Democrat. “This proposal gets us there and we’re certainly open to other ideas.”
Under the plan, which would take effect only if approved by lawmakers in the city and both states and ratified by Congress, Metro’s board would shrink from 16 members to three: the secretaries of transportation for Maryland and Virginia and Washington’s transportation director. Metro’s current board, which includes appointees from each jurisdiction and the federal government, has often been described as unwieldy, and any jurisdiction can block major changes from taking effect.
Giving each jurisdiction the power to come up with a funding formula is an acknowledgment of the political reality that elected officials are unlikely to agree on a single, regional tax, such as a sales tax, to fund the system. The proposal would also allow Metro to issue bonds to pay for capital improvements.
Metro has suffered declines in ridership amid concerns about safety and reliability. This year, the system cut back its operating hours and laid off hundreds of workers to balance its budget.