NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Nation's Worst-Managed Transit Agency

October 8, 2015

It appears that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is the worst managed transit agency in the country.

Its safety record is terrible: a recent derailment resulted from failure to fix a problem previously detected, in a separate incident, a fire broke out and badly damaged a station. Eighteen people have died in accidents mostly in the last six years.

Inefficiencies are also very common; the fleet of serviceable cars has run so low that it rarely operates the eight-car trains it should, and a new fare system that cost millions will have to be scrapped for lack of interest on the part of transit riders. In response:

  • Congress gave the Federal Transit Administration extra authority to oversee its operations.
  • But that didn't fix the problem so now the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) wants Congress to transfer oversight to the Federal Railroad Administration.

None of these arrangements, however, are likely to solve WMATA's critical situation because its major issue is that it isn't truly accountable, particularly not to the people who ride its buses and trains.

On the other hand, giving more money to this public service company won't solve the problem either. Indeed, the WMATA expects to receive more money the worse it performs.

The best way to influence its performance is to influence its budget. If instead of operating on public money, it had to rely completely on user fees, then, the better the system is managed, the more fees it would collect.

Source: Randal O'Toole, "The Nation's Worst-Managed Transit Agency," Cato Institute, October 1, 2015.

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