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Today's read: Maryland stiffs Metro

Maryland won't pay its Metro share: Annapolis has blamed a strapped budget for its unilateral decision to shortchange Metro by $28 million in capital funds that it promised this year. But the District and Virginia are also struggling, and they're paying Metro in full and on time. (Robert McCartney)

"The bigger issue is better management of Metro, better oversight of Metro," Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) told McCartney on Wednesday.

Retroactively connecting the money and the management is weak. The Maryland governor has had plenty of time -- and power -- to move Metro in the right direction. He had two better arguments that he could have used.

Maryland is different. No other local jurisdiction that funds Metro has so many other transportation systems to worry about during an economic downturn. Marylanders -- most of whom do not use Metro or live close to Metro -- want money for their roads, the MARC trains, the commuter buses, the Baltimore subway and the city buses.

When the District or Arlington or Alexandria talk about their contributions to Metro, they are talking about services that crisscross the hearts of their communities. When their leaders are asked where the money is going, they can point out a window at a Metrobus stop. That doesn't work in Baltimore, Garrett County or the Eastern Shore.

Where did the money we gave go? Instead of Maryland sending a note to Metro saying that the state wasn't going to kick in its money, O'Malley could have announced to everyone that before the state gave more to the transit authority to buy new rail cars, it wanted a better accounting of how capital money has been spent over the past five years.

The current Metro Matters capital budget was the one that promised that if all the jurisdictions kicked in, then by 2010, half of the trains at rush hour would be eight cars long. Well, it's 2010, Metro got the money from the jurisdictions, but it hasn't come anywhere near meeting its promise about the eight-car trains.

Why should Maryland send more money when Metro hasn't delivered on its earlier promise?

Try that argument, and get an answer from Metro, rather than trying to retroactively create reasons for withholding the money.

By Robert Thomson  |  May 6, 2010; 10:20 AM ET
Categories:  Metro , Transportation Politics  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, MetroAccess service cuts fare increases, Metrobus, Metrorail  
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Ok, so I won't pay my Maryland taxes until there's better management of State funds.

Posted by: island1 | May 6, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Turn around all metro trains at the first switch/pocket track past the DC line.

Posted by: member8 | May 6, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Dr. Gridlock, you can make the same argument regarding Virginia as you do for Maryland -- the vast majority of the state is nowhere near Metro, it's just the northern suburbs that use Metro. I have no doubt that the VA downstaters would prefer that the money given to Metro be spent on their roads.

I think I just convinced myself that Virginia should also be shorting Metro.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | May 6, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I'm glad to hear that progressive Maryland is supporting transit, unlike those red-state rubes in Virginia...

Posted by: stuckman | May 6, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: WashingtonDame, I think the Virginia financing method is different from Maryland's. The Maryland state govt pays the Maryland money. In Virginia, a lot of the money comes from the local jurisdictions -- Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax and so on. So you have funding sources concentrated in the jurisdictions served by Metro.

A Maryland resident -- a Maryland voter, in O'Malley's eyes -- would be in a better position to ask: How come your taking money away from my Baltimore subway and sending it to Washington's subway?

Posted by: rtthomson1 | May 6, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Yes, but Maryland DOES give drivers licenses to illegals - it all works out, don't it?

Posted by: CubsFan | May 6, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

I agree with member8. Turn the Trains around after the last DC stop. I live in the District, Pay my District Taxes that go to Metro. Why should I be faced with future cuts and fare hikes and lack of capitol improvements because Maryland doesn't want to pay WHAT IT OWES. If Maryland doesn't want to pay for Metro, then Maryland can live without the Metro. That would cut some costs. I know it would cut some ridership as well, but I'll take those chances...

Posted by: shaunzy237 | May 6, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

So the MD State Highway Administration is a year late finishing the Silver Spring Transit Center, which I would use, and is two years late paving University Blvd. The money must not have been spent. I am sure Gov. O'Malley and Peter Franchot will have no problem when I deduct that amount from my state taxes this year, and pay it back when they get it finished, right?

Posted by: vtavgjoe | May 6, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

The solution to this is simple. Metro should simply triple the fares for anyone who boards or disembarks a train in Maryland.

Problem solved.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | May 6, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

I was going to say that Metro should thus no longer provide service to MD, but I like afsljafweljkjlfe's idea better: triple the fares for anyone who boards or disembarks a train in MD.

Posted by: tspack | May 6, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

[Dr. G] - "and get an answer from Metro" - that's the fatal flaw in your plan. This is the same organization where the head of the Escalator and Elevator Division refused to talk, and Metro Management said they had no power to make him. Well, if they don't, who does?

There is zero accountability at the trainwreck that is Metro.

Posted by: nocando | May 6, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: The financing things are really tough to untangle. For example, out of all the jurisdictions, Maryland is on track to pay the largest increase for Metro's operating budget ($14 million).

That's mostly for MetroAccess services, but it's also likely to stave off any Metrobus cuts in Maryland and ease the impact of some other potential cuts. Maryland's money also will be essential to operating the Metrorail extension out to Reston when that's done in 2013.

And Metro isn't exactly pure on this issue of preserving the capital budget. It's extremely likely that the board will vote to transfer some money from the capital budget to the operating budget to ease the impact of the proposed service cuts and fare increases.

(I don't mean that as a defense of O'Malley. I thought the governor's comments to McCartney were a bit weaselly. I'm just saying there's a lot of transportation politics and intertwined finances involved in this Metro budget dispute.)

Posted by: rtthomson1 | May 6, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

"Where did the money we gave go?

The current Metro Matters capital budget was the one that promised that if all the jurisdictions kicked in, then by 2010, half of the trains at rush hour would be eight cars long. Well, it's 2010, Metro got the money from the jurisdictions, but it hasn't come anywhere near meeting its promise about the eight-car trains."

Has WaPo asked WHY? And then asked hard follow-up questions when given a canned answer? WHERE are these new cars? WHEN are the 8-car trains going to be deployed? Everybody who pays taxes or fares that go to Metro has a right to know how this money is spent. Metro only seems to offer generalizations.

There seems to be an inability at the Post (not just relating to traffic/transit) to ask the obvious questions and not probing further when the answer doesn't make sense. It seems the Post has become content to report only the talking points handed out at the press conference. As this is a traffic/transit forum, I'll give a traffic/transit example.

A few weeks ago, VRE service was shut down on a Friday afternoon due to a police activity. Reports at the time indicated that the police did NOT request the shutdown (in fact, Metro was still running). OK, so WHO ordered VRE/CSX shut down? WHY? In fact, several readers commented that day asking those very questions. I still haven't seen an explanation.

I realize most of the posts here are intended to get info out to the public (and I appreciate) and some details may be known yet. But, posts are updated all the time and that seems to be info that should have been included in an update.

Anyway, back to my initial thought, what is Metro explanation for the lack of 8-car trains?

Posted by: ceebee2 | May 6, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Gridlock, thank you for explaining the differences in state funding between MD and VA. I wasn't aware of that, and it apparently does make a difference in the result that Metro receives. Interesting issue.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | May 6, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Whatever happened to the dedicated funding sources by DC, VA and MD to get matching federal funds? As I recall, DC and VA passed the rules in their legislatures and MD was holding it up.

Posted by: ssolomo | May 6, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

I fully support the earlier comments about turning around all trains at the DC/MD border, or increasing MD fares to compensate, even though that would make my Shady Grove to Union Station commute all kinds of worse. (I'd probably just drive to Baltimore instead of taking Metro to MARC like I do now.)
Maryland trying to stiff Metro is ridiculous, but perfectly expected, given O'Malley's obvious Baltimore bias towards everything that happens in the state.

Posted by: pikamander007 | May 6, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

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