Category Archives: Transportation

An Elected Board for WMATA

This is a letter that I sent to D.C. Councilmembers Mary Cheh (Ward 3) and Tommy Wells (Ward 6) about electing D.C. representatives to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) board.

At past WMATA hearings on proposed service cuts and fare increases, I have demanded an elected board that consists of riders who are elected by riders.

Dear Ms. Cheh:

Everyday, five Metro stations and least twelve Metrobus routes are used to take Ward 3 residents to their work or leisure destinations. I am sure that you are aware of the safety and budget problems that WMATA has had over the last few years. Considering the people who have sat on the board, I am not surprised that these problems persist.

The WMATA board has failed to formulate a dedicated funding plan and solve other long-standing problems because its members do not have to live with the consequences of their failures. They do not know what it’s like to take two buses to work, often waiting 20-30 minutes for the second bus, or how it feels to walk up a long escalator that is not running. Furthermore, I doubt that any of the board members is feeling the impact of the recent fare increases as much as the working poor are.

Before the recent turnover on the board, only one of the four board members from the District of Columbia rode Metrobus or Metrorail, according to a February 22, 2009, article in The Washington Post. The other three–Jim Graham, Michael Brown, and Neil Albert–refused to use the transit system. Brown also regularly missed meetings, according to the Washington Examiner. Graham, Albert, and Brown have left the board, but their replacements were selected in the same manner–by appointment.

Recently, D.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown abused the appointment privilege by removing Tommy Wells, a dedicated user of public transportation, from the board.

The failure of the WMATA board to solve long-standing problems and its vulnerability to political abuses illustrate why its members should be elected rather than appointed. Bus and subway riders, not SUV drivers, should decide who sits on the board, and it should consist of riders who are elected by riders. District residents, preferably Metro riders exclusively, should have the opportunity elect their representatives to the WMATA board.