WASHINGTON – Metro needs “dramatic changes” to its governance in order to address persistent problems of funding, safety and management, a review task force concluded in recommendations released Wednesday.
One of the central proposals is to include the governors of Maryland and Virginia, and the District of Columbia mayor, on a new governing commission that would oversee the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board of directors.
“Confidence in Metro has been seriously shaken,” said Kwame Brown, chairman-elect of the D.C. Council and co-chair of the task force. “We must … earn back the trust of people who ride Metro every day.”
Doing so will require a blend of immediate actions and changes to the Interstate Compact that governs WMATA, said Jim Dyke, the chairman of the Greater Washington Board of Trade and co-chair of the task force.
Immediately, the compact signatories — Maryland, Virginia, and the District — and the four bodies that appoint members to the WMATA board should form a governance commission that meets at least twice per year.
While Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley agrees changes must be made to Metro’s governance, spokesman Shaun Adamec wouldn’t say whether the governor wants to sit on the proposed commission.
“(O’Malley) has talked to the Virginia governor and the outgoing D.C. mayor about each principle having better defined authority in the governing of Metro,” Adamec said.
The new commission would use its authority not only to define the roles and responsibilities of the board, but also to strengthen the role of the board chairman and lengthen his term to four years, the task force suggested. All board members should be term-limited to two four-year terms, giving the board “consistency, not eternity,” Dyke said.
In the long-term, the compact should be amended to eliminate alternate board members and instead increase the number of members named by each of the four appointing authorities from two to three, making for a 12-member board.
The board itself should give more authority to the system’s general manager, redefining the role as that of a chief executive officer who is not micromanaged by the board, said David Robertson, the executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
The task force also recommended that the board restrict the use of its veto power to issues concerning the budget and system expansions. The veto is “divisive and doesn’t pull people together around regional interests,” Robertson said.
The task force, composed of 18 current and former elected officials, and government and business leaders, met 16 times since June and examined transit systems in the region, across the country and worldwide to identify best practices. The task force also studied Metro’s own practices, said Jim Dinegar, the president and CEO of the Board of Trade, adding that Metro has “more of an ear now to safety.”
Metro has been plagued with safety concerns since the June 2009 accident that killed nine people riding on a Red Line train. Escalator malfunctions at Metro stations have caused several injuries, most recently at the L’Enfant Plaza station last month.
The current WMATA board and the interim general manager were briefed on the recommendations Wednesday morning, Brown said, and they — along with regional elected officials — were open to the ideas presented.