REVIEW AND OVERSIGHT OF THE PRESIDENT'S FISCAL YEAR 2011 BUDGET REQUEST FOR THE WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY (METRO)
Thank you Chairman Murray and Ranking Member Bond for holding this hearing, and thank you Sen. Mikulski for inviting me to address the subcommittee about the federal government's increased commitment to invest in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
Last year, the Greater Washington Congressional Delegation fought hard for the much needed transportation appropriation we secured for WMATA. In working with the members of this subcommittee and the full committee we were able to get it done and for that I am grateful. I appreciate that the Appropriators recognize the important role Metro plays in the function of the federal government, including Congress.
In December, I led a letter to President Obama urging him to include Metro in his budget. I ask for unanimous consent that a copy of this letter signed by Senators Mikulski, Webb, Warner and me be submitted for the record. I applaud and support the Administration's request of $150 million in FY11 for Metro.
This demonstrates the President's commitment to smart growth, his recognition that it is in the federal government's interest to alleviate and not contribute to terrible traffic congestion in the Greater Washington Area - ranked the 2 nd worst in the U.S. only behind Los Angeles, how integral a part of the region's transportation network Metro is and more broadly how transit fits into the nation's transportation goals for the future. His budget request for Metro is in keeping with the October 9, 2009 Executive Order (#13514) on Federal Sustainability and the Administration's efforts to reduce the federal government's carbon footprint, including its workforce.
It also shows the Administration's recognition of how important Metro and "America's Subway" system is to the function of the government. We learned from this February's snowstorms that the federal government in fact cannot function without Metro. The Office of Personnel Management based its decision to shutdown the federal government on WMATA's inability to operate above-ground rail lines during the storms. This not only points out the federal government's reliance on Metro, but also highlights Metro's lack of resources to operate in weather conditions that other city transit systems like Chicago, New York or Boston could work through.
Every work day, Metro provides tens of thousands of federal employees rides to work. During peak ridership, more than 40% of riders on Metro are federal employees and 10% of the overall ridership serves Congress and the Pentagon alone. Metrorail's alignment was designed to serve the federal government, with more than half of the system's stations located at or near federal buildings. GSA has also established guidance that requires all new federal facilities in the Greater Washington Area be Metro Proximate".
I believe that the federal government has a clear financial interest in the operation of Metro. Likewise, I believe the federal government must play a greater role in ensuring the safety of Metro for its riders and employees.
Safe and reliable operation of the Metro System is a top priority for me and the Greater Washington Area delegation.
Revelations from the March NTSB hearing into the ongoing investigation of the June 22, 2009 fatal accident on the Red Line near Fort Totten, as well as discoveries made by the FTA through its Safety Audit of WMATA provided overwhelming evidence that Metro needs to look inward and make serious efforts to revise its approach to operating the system safely.
Metro needs to work hard to establish a culture of safety that starts from the General Manager office and the Board of Directors on down through the various leaders of departments within WMATA and throughout the system's operators.
We have heard directly from interim General Manager, Richard Sarles, and Board Chairman Peter Benjamin about the changes being made at Metro to improve safety. However, during our meeting last week in Sen. Mikulski's office, on the afternoon of May 5 th, there was an emergency braking situation on the Red Line in Wheaton. The incident was not reported to the Tri-State Oversight Commission within two hours of the incident, as per WMATA's protocol, nor was the Board or General Manager immediately informed of the incident.
I appreciate how forthcoming WMATA is with information surrounding this incident after the fact. I am pleased to know that even though the train operator may not have needed to take the actions he did, that he is not being punished for being cautious and causing the disruption. That said, this incident reveals that lapses in protocol are still an issue at WMATA.
I am committed to working with my congressional colleagues, the Federal Transit Administration and the leadership at the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority to make safety an operational priority at Metro and restore public confidence in the system. I want more than just verbal commitments to improve safety from WMATA and I want to see measurable results.
If the Federal Government increases its investment in the system, it should also increase its oversight of operations and capital projects, so as to ensure that tax dollars are being well spent. I am confident that we will find a way forward through:
- Increased federal regulatory authority and oversight, as called for by the FTA, and
- Increased openness and transparency at WMATA.
The FTA is prohibited by law from establishing national safety standards, requiring Federal inspections, or dictating operating practices. However, Senators Dodd, Menendez, Mikulski, and I introduced The Public Transportation Safety Program Act that will require the Transportation Secretary to establish and implement a comprehensive Public Transportation Safety program.
This legislation will give the FTA the ability to take decisive actions such as
This legislation establishes the type of safety enforcement authority for the FTA that already exists within the Federal Railroad Administration's authority over safety rules for commuter rail systems or the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's ability to establish enforceable safety guidance for commercial truck drivers.
It makes sense for public transit systems that receive federal funding to meet federal safety requirements set by the FTA. It makes even more sense to grant FTA a degree of federal authority to establish safety guidance, particularly when it come to WMATA, given Metro's unique relationship to the federal government.
In July 2009, FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff, in testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee made special note of the fact that WMATA does not have a dedicated revenue stream, rather it relies heavily on Congressional
Appropriations which may fluctuate from year to year.
While the President's request for $150 million for Metro is an example of such special appropriations, it sends an important signal that the federal government recognizes the need to invest in Metro.
Fortunately, Congress has taken an important step forward to remedy this situation. The Senate recently passed a new Metro Compact further advancing the final step in authorizing a ten year $1.5 billion authorization providing Metro with a dedicated funding stream to ensure the safe and efficient operation of the system.
For years, while Metro was a relatively new transit system, Metro was the epitome of safe, reliable and modern public transit. After 34 years of operation, the results of placing disproportionate resources towards growing the system rather than attending to the growing backlog of repairs and maintenance needs of the existing infrastructure, Metro's age is taking its toll on the safe operation and function of the system.
Metro must reevaluate its operational priorities. It is one thing to develop detailed plans to improve safety, and yet another to do what FTA Administrator Rogoff noted in the FTA's Safety audit, and that is to change the business culture at Metro to take safety seriously and execute these new safety measures. Metro provides a vital service to the government and th region and I stand ready to help improve the system.
I thank the chair and Sen. Mikulski for inviting me here today. I urge the subcommittee to include the President's FY11 budget request for Metro in the FY THUD Appropriations Bill.
Sue Walitsky: 202-224-4524