WASHINGTON – Today Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD), Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), wrote a letter to Paul J. Wiedefeld, General Manager and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), seeking information on the impact that the partial government shutdown has had on WMATA’s transit system, ridership, operational services, staffing, financial position, and infrastructure upgrades and maintenance.
WMATA “serves a unique national security role, providing transportation for federal employees traveling to and from the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security and ensuring continuity of federal operations during an emergency,” wrote the Senators. “Thus, it is critical that WMATA systems and services continue to serve riders in the nation’s capital.”
In recent years, Metro’s investments to reverse declining ridership numbers have highlighted the extent to which transit systems depend on robust ridership to succeed. Federal employees currently make up about 40 percent of WMATA’s peak hour ridership. However, a government shutdown can adversely affect the transit system’s ridership and overall financial stance.
“During the October 2013 shutdown, the Metro system experienced a 22 percent decrease in ridership, or a decline of 1.7 million trips. According to a 2015 report, ridership during that shutdown dropped nearly 50% at stations near federal facilities. The shutdown not only affected ridership, but also put the WMATA long-term operations at risk,” continued the Senators. “The 16-day shutdown, according to the agency, resulted in a loss of $5.5 million in revenue and funding was delayed as the federal appropriation process was halted.”
To gauge the impact of the shutdown’s effects, the lawmakers requested data on changes in ridership and asked how a decline could affect the WMATA’s financial situation in the long-term and short-term. They also solicited information on any lapses in federal funding and possible contingency plans. Additionally, the lawmakers asked for the details of any halted infrastructure or capital improvement projects, as well as specifics on how the WMATA’s credit rating could be weakened if the shutdown continues. According to recent reports, large and mid-sized transit agencies across the country have already tapped into their lines of credit to make payment obligations to their vendors and Moody’s has warned that a prolonged shutdown could negatively impact the credit ratings of mass transit systems.
The four lawmakers reassured Wiedefeld that they are actively working to reopen the government. Earlier today, Sens. Warner and Kaine met in Alexandria with federal workers and families who have been hurt by the ongoing government shutdown.
The full text of the letter is available here and below.
January 11, 2019
Mr. Paul J. Wiedefeld
General Manager & CEO
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
600 5th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
Dear Mr. Wiedefeld,
We write seeking information about the effects the current partial government shutdown has had – and the effects a prolonged shutdown could have – on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) transit system, ridership, operational services, staffing, and infrastructure upgrades and maintenance.
In recent years, WMATA has undertaken actions to prioritize safety, often through substantial rehabilitative projects that have caused significant disruption to the system. Metro’s recent investments to reverse declining ridership underscore the extent to which a functional and sustainable transit system depends upon robust ridership to succeed.
We have also seen that events outside the control of WMATA, such as a federal government shutdown, can adversely impact ridership and a transit system’s overall financial outlook. During the October 2013 shutdown, the Metro system experienced a 22 percent decrease in ridership, or a decline of 1.7 million trips. According to a 2015 report, ridership during that shutdown dropped nearly 50% at stations near federal facilities. The shutdown not only affected ridership, but also put the WMATA long-term operations at risk. The 16-day shutdown, according to the agency, resulted in a loss of $5.5 million in revenue and funding was delayed as the federal appropriation process was halted.
Federal employees comprise approximately 40 percent of WMATA’s peak hour ridership, and during the current shutdown, many government employees continue to carry out their duties and rely on WMATA to do so. WMATA also serves a unique national security role, providing transportation for federal employees traveling to and from the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security and ensuring continuity of federal operations during an emergency. Thus, it is critical that WMATA systems and services continue to serve riders in the nation’s capital.
To understand how WMATA and its transit systems have been affected by the government shutdown and to prevent the negative impacts displayed during the 2013 shutdown, please provide us with the following information by January 15, 2019:
- Data on changes in ridership, both rail and bus operations, during the government shutdown. Has there been a decline in ridership from the same period in prior years, or from the period immediately preceding the shutdown?
- Assuming there has been a decline in ridership during the shutdown, can you provide information on how that decline will affect WMATA’s financial situation, both in the short-term and the long-term? For example, what is the current (or estimated) loss in revenue? What would be the estimated revenue losses if the shutdown lasts a full month, or if it lasts two months? What other financial, safety or operational impacts would result from a prolonged and substantial decline in ridership brought on by the government shutdown?
- Given that WMATA receives federal funding to help run its transportation network, can you detail any lapses in funding that have occurred due to the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration being shut down? Can you provide information on what funding may be at risk if the shutdown continues for a full month or even two? What contingency plans does WMATA have in place to address a lapse in expected funding?
- Please confirm if any planned infrastructure and capital improvement projects have been stalled or halted during the shutdown. What are the expected effects of the delay in starting and finishing these projects?
- It has recently been reported that Moody’s believes a prolonged shutdown could negatively impact the credit ratings of the nation’s public transit systems, noting that the shutdown has already “interrupted an important source of operating, capital and debt-service funding.” These interruptions, in turn, could lead to higher debt service costs and delays in numerous capital improvement projects. Can you provide information on how WMATA’s credit rating could be impacted if the government shutdown continues for a prolonged period of time? What effects would a credit downgrade have on WMATA’s overall financial position, capital construction plans and operational capacity?
Please trust that all four of us are doing everything we can to support the federal workforce, re-open the government, and get back to working towards improving the lives of all Americans. We ask for answers to the above questions as soon as possible so that we better understand the impacts of the shutdown on the vital transportation networks that serve our constituents, and so we can continue to highlight all of the numerous reasons that the federal government should be re-opened.