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Metro approves budget with no fare increase

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metro logoWASHINGTON, D.C. — The Metro Board of Directors unanimously voted to not increase fares when it approved its operating and capital budgets for Fiscal Year 2019, providing at least one year of fare relief after an increase to fares last year.

Finance committee chairman Michael Goldman, who represents Montgomery County, said a highlight in the approved operating budget was the absence of service cuts and fare increases.

“[Maintaining fares and service levels], that reduced the amount of controversy and it also sticks to the general manager’s commitment to keep the subsidy [request] increase to the jurisdictions to 3 percent from the prior year,” Goldman said Thursday.

WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld in his proposed FY ’19 budget said he planned to put a 3 percent cap, or limit, on the semi-annual increase in operating budget requests to the funding jurisdictions. A year ago, Metro’s Board of Directors approved and adopted the Fiscal Year 2018 budget, which included fare increases to both bus and rail. The Metro Board raised fares for FY ’18 by 25 cents per bus trip and about 10 cents per mile on Metrorail. Spokesperson Dan Stessel said at the time it was the first fare increase in three years, and that normally the board of directors follows a model of increasing fares every other year.

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No “Gotcha!”

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Metro managers say Grosvenor turnbacks will continue through the end of the year

metro logoWASHINGTON — Maryland’s representatives on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board questioned a decision by the system’s chief operating officer to present three options for eliminating some of the Red Line’s rush hour trains that terminate at Grosvenor-Strathmore Station.

On March 8, Chief Operating Officer Joseph Leader briefed the board’s Safety and Service Delivery Committee on WMATA management plans to eliminate what officials call the Grosvenor turnback, as well as options to partially eliminate train turnbacks or to do nothing and leave the system as it is. He added that the Grosvenor turnback will continue until December because WMATA still needs to hire and train additional train operators solicit public feedback and complete a study required by Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to determine whether any change would have a discriminatory impact, though he noted the change will not require a public hearing.

The three options Leader described include completely eliminating the turnback so that all 15 Red Line trains per hour traveling outbound from Silver Spring or Glenmont will go all the way to Shady Grove, partially eliminating it so that 12 trains in that direction per hour would service Shady Grove, and doing nothing, leaving the status quo of seven or eight trips per hour.

But Prince George’s County’s WMATA board member, Malcolm Augustine, said he was not happy that Leader presented three options.

“The board resolution stipulated that the turnback would be discontinued,” Augustine said. “That’s it.”

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Spare Part Woes

Broken Promises - Bad Dreams, A Metro Investigation (Third in a series)

FTA concerned with the latest in Metrorail’s budget problems

Metro entranceA problem with spare parts finds The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority once again in trouble with the Federal Transportation Administration.

Metro is now accused of dodging FTA procurement regulations.

According to the proposed FY2018 budget, WMATA charged $23 million in railcars to the operating budget because Metro managers were having difficulty complying with FTA requirements. Those funds apparently should have been charged to the capital budget.

According to the Approval of FY2018-2023 Capital Improvement Program and CFA extension that $23 million was spent on parts “necessary for railcar safety and reliability.”

According to that same report, the money was moved not only because some parts were not procured in compliance with federal regulations but also “a lack of available non-federal capital funding.”

Tom Bulger, a member of the Metro board of directors, said he wasn’t aware of this specific move of money, but he was aware of alterations to the procurement process to ensure that Metro had parts to repair things.

“I’m aware of the fact that we were running out of spare parts at a fast clip since 2016 and they {Metro} needed to get more supplies in order to keep up with maintenance and the procurement process was accelerated,” he said.

When asked why Metro was running out of parts, Bulger assigned blame to the suppliers.

“Supply. Logistics. The suppliers were behind. We weren’t able to obtain the parts on a schedule that would meet Metro’s requirements.”

Those alterations to the procurement process are part of The Parts Bridging Program, a program started by WMATA to “temporarily purchase parts using non-Federal funds and procurement rules until December 2017,” according to the Approval of OneYear Extension of Parts Bridging Program (PMP) and Update on Parts Procurement Program. Last October, the enrollment deadline was extended until December 31 of this year and the initial contract end date was extended until June 30, 2023. According to that report, the program was started after a board resolution imposed “heightened standards on parts procurement.”

However, according to that same report, Metro was also running out of parts. The report states that “In the 2015 Annual Vital Signs Report, the Office of Performance (CPO) noted its findings that the high non availability rates of revenue service vehicles were attributable in part to inventory part shortages throughout the warehouse system. This shortage of inventory parts was having an adverse effect on safety and on time service within the transit system.”

According to that report, “the existing procurement methods used by Metro could not correct this deficiency.”

According to the documents, a goal of the program is to - after the fact - request waivers for contracts that didn’t follow FTA regulations or be eligible for reimbursements from the FTA from any given part in the program.

According to FTA spokesman Steven Taubenkibel, the use of local funds is a local decision.

WMATA has been accused of breaking FTA regulations before.

In 2014, a damning FTA audit revealed WMATA’s misuse of grant money, which included WMATA incurring unallowable expenditures and underreporting $42 million in federal expenditures. According to the report, WMATA also offered a contract without soliciting the three bids necessary to make that contract competitive. According to the 2014 audit, Metro didn’t have the internal controls to properly manage their grant money, although the final report of the audit included documents that acknowledged Metro’s progress on improving its internal controls.

Carol Kissal, the CFO of the Metro at the time and the person to whom some of the problem departments reported too departed.

“It’s all been cleaned up as far as I know,” said Bulger. “It better be.”

“When the changeover came there was a different way for accounting for hours spent and parts and personnel that seems to be working better,” he said about the changes to Metro’s operations after the audit. And we brought in a new CFO from Chicago.”

FTA today still requires Metro to carry out corrective actions for safety and they oversee how WMATA uses federal grant money. According to the FY2017 budget, WMATA’s operating personnel budget decreased by $21.6 million, primarily because WMATA moved expenses for the required safety actions to the Capital Improvement Program. In that same year, that decrease was offset by increases for FTA required safety actions.

Earlier, FTA diverted a large sum of money into safety spending

According to FTA correspondence with WMATA, FTA diverted $20 million of non-safety spending into safety spending, $10 million away from pressure washing and cosmetic maintenance of the stations and $10 million away from open bankcard and automatic fare collection systems. They then put that money into SafeTrack.

FTA management is also apparently unhappy with the local governments and their failure to provide for adequate safety oversight for local transit. According to FTA correspondence with local governments in early 2017, FTA withheld federal grant money from local transit companies, including Metro, until a new safety oversight program could be certified and it is unclear if that has even happened yet.

“The U.S. Department of Transportation advised the Governors and Mayor that their respective jurisdictions may be subject to the withholding of up to five percent of their FY 2017 Urbanized Area formula funds if they did not collectively establish a State Safety Oversight Program (SSOP) for the rail operations of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metrorail), certified by FTA, by February 9, 2017,” reads the correspondence. “They have not met that deadline.”

@CKomatsoulis

 

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Metro finally retiring oldest cars

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NTSB first warned subway system about danger following 2004 incident

metro logoWASHINGTON – The National Transportation Safety Board says Metro’s 1000 series cars have to go and a Metro spokesman claims they will be gone in a few weeks.

But the problem goes back more than a decade, to 2006 when the NTSB first told Metro managers they might need to replace the aging cars following an investigation into a 2004 acciddent.

Meanwhile Metro continues to operate 34 of its original rail cars to transport passengers, despite the National Transportation Safety Board’s 2010 recommendation to remove them.

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Metro finance committee approves GM’s proposed operating budget

  • Published in Local

WASHINGTON – The Metro Board of Directors Finance Committee approved the general manager’s proposed operating budget that includes service cuts and fare increases at a committee meeting Thursday, bringing it one step closer to board approval.

Board member Malcolm Augustine, who represents Prince George’s County, voted against the budget. He opposed the fare increases and called them “a bad business move” given that customer satisfaction fell in 2016 and continues to fall.

Metro last raised fares three years ago, in fiscal year 2015, Metro spokesperson Dan Stessel said.

Board member Tom Bulger, who represents the District, said Metro needs to increase fares for the next year unless it can find another funding source.

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Metro GM running out of “tools in the toolbox” to fix budget shortfall

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Metro’s general manager told the Metro Board of Directors’ finance committee that budget shortfalls may lead the public transit system back to the jurisdictions to ask for more money.

Board Chairman and D.C. Council member Jack Evans as well as Board member Michael Goldman have said they believe Metro will have to raise fares and reduce service, as Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld had proposed, for the FY 2018 budget because Metro needs the money.

Wiedefeld said Metro hopes to close the FY 2017 budget gap but that it might not be enough.

"The reality is, we are very close to (debt),” Wiedefeld said.

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'How many more people have to die?'

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Congress grills Metro managers on ills

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WASHINGTON – Members of Congress pointed fingers at witnesses called to testify about Metro’s SafeTrack program Friday, including a federal safety official, Metro’s board chairman and a Metro union representative.

"How many more people have to die before we get you to act?" Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) asked Federal Transit Administration Executive Director Matthew Welbes.

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House joint committee grills Metro Board, union and FTA

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WASHINGTON – Members of a joint House committee pointed fingers at witnesses called to testify, including a federal safety official, Metro’s board chairman and a Metro union representative, during a hearing for Metro SafeTrack Friday. 

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and subcommittees on Transportation & Public Assets and Government Relation hosted the hearing.

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Metro Board chairman says federal government will not take over Metro

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WASHINGTON – The federal government will not take over the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the chairman of the Metro Board of Directors said Friday.

“I think the chances of it happening are absolutely zero,” said Metro Board Chairman and D.C. Council member (D-2) Jack Evans.

Metro Board member Robert Lauby, who represents the federal government, said in his four months as a board member he believes the Metro Board is fine the way it is.

“I don’t see any problems with the Board; I think the Board is trying to do the right thing,” Lauby said Thursday.

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Metro investigates death on Green Line and more problems

  • Published in Local

 

 

 

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As the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority battles its continuing safety problems, Metro Transit Police Wednesday investigated the death of a person on the tracks near Suitland Metro Station on the Green Line in Prince George’s County Wednesday. 

Metro Transit Police said the unidentified man, who died between the Naylor Road and Suitland stations, may have intended to take his own life.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority spokesperson Dan Stessel said Metro likely will not release the man’s identity if the death is confirmed to be a suicide.

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