At a summit on the future of Metrorail, about 100 government, business, and civic leaders discussed how they can work together to help the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) restore the transit system’s “world-class” reputation.
The March 30 summit, Metrorail at 40: Restoring a World-Class System, sponsored by the Greater Washington Board of Trade (BOT) and Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) and took place during the week of the 40th anniversary of Metrorail’s opening. Participants discussed a variety of topics, including funding, safety, development around Metro stations, and governance.
“We must work together to restore Metro to the world-class stature it once proudly possessed,” said COG Board Chairman Roger Berliner during opening remarks. “It cannot fail. We, as regional leaders, cannot let it fail.”
BOT Chairman Daniel Waetjen added, “I hope that moving forward from today our collective partnership will reinforce how important Metrorail is to the economic vitality of this region.”
The heads of the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia transportation departments discussed immediate issues on safety and reliability, including establishing a tri-state Metro Safety Commission and cultivating a collaborative relationship with federal officials on safety.
WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld and WMATA Board Chairman Jack Evans briefed participants on Metro’s focus on the system’s maintenance needs, its financial outlook, and the urgent need to secure additional funding from area governments as well as the federal government. Evans added that maintenance and repairs could require Metro to close entire lines for several months at a time. He indicated that any decisions related to any need for closures would be made by the General Manager based on further assessment and analysis.
In addition, transportation expert Robert Puentes incoming president of the Eno Center for Transportation and Brookings gave a presentation on how changes in technology and travel behavior could impact Metro. He also noted Metro’s key role in accommodating the region’s forecasted growth over the next several decades.
The summit concluded with an interactive session for participants to identify Metro’s top attributes, challenges, and areas of opportunity. The participants highlighted Metro’s value in connecting the region across many jurisdictions, incorporating many modes of transit, and helping communities around its stations thrive. Among the challenges, they noted the decline in ridership, unsustainable finances, and a loss of credibility. Participants offered a range of ideas for improving the system from transparency to smart land use around Metro stations. Several participants said throughout the summit that Metro must demonstrate safe and reliable operations to attain additional funding.
Berliner reminded participants that the summit was the first step in a new regional effort. He asked all in attendance to “join with us in the months ahead as we delve deeper into the overarching issues that impact Metro.”
As one of the first action items following the summit, COG and BOT is looking into convening a task force to address the top issues identified at the forum, including funding and development. In addition, COG and BOT are planning to convene an event with the leadership of other world-class metro systems through the Community of Metros, an organization known as CoMET. The group provides a forum for their members—top-tier metro systems such as those found in Toronto, Paris, and Beijing—to identify best practices and learn from one another.