Quote of the Day:
Increasing taxes on consumers to fund the bloated Metro system is "very exciting," Council member Jack Evans told WAMU, a local radio station.
–Eric Boehm in Reason online
What would be exciting to me would be if I could depend on the Metro system as I once did in the past.
Apparently, a lot of other riders are fed up, too. Ridership has fallen by 12 percent. So, naturally, Metro needs the city government to make a cash grab on its behalf.
And the City Council is responding with an an ingenious plan to, as Eric Boehm reports in Reason, squeeze people who don't use the Metro system to funnel more money into Metro.
Specifically, people who have fled the Metro system for more reliable forms of transportation, such as Uber or Lyft. The City Council has given preliminary approval to a nw tax on ride-sharing apps. It will also put new taxes on alcohol and raise the city's sales tax.
There is currently a penny per dollar tax for ride sharing currently; this would increase 500 percent. Alcohol would increase from ten percent to 10.25 percent, while the city's sales tax would go from 5.75 to 6 percent.
Mayor Muriel Bowser has signed a bill for $178 million in "dedicated funding" for the Metro system, and these taxes will help in that endeavor. And why is Councilman Jack Evans so happy about the news taxes? Boehm explains:
Besides sitting on the City Council, he's also the chairman of the WMATA's board of directors—so his support for the new taxes is literally a vote in favor of giving himself more money to spend. He was a champion for the "dedicated funding" plan too, no surprise. After it's passage, he told WAMU that the vote was "a historic occasion."
"I would say this is the most important thing that's happened at Metro in the last 40 years since Metro started," he proclaimed.
That sentiment gives you an idea about the WMATA's priorities. Obtaining a stream of tax revenue that's not dependent on actually serving customers is "the most important thing," not the opening of new lines, or the adoption of new technology, or the maintaining of a perfect safety record.
Forcing people who don't use the Metro to pay for it is unlikely to solve any of the transit agency's fiscal problems.
And what are some of those problems:
[They are] problems like the bloated mess of bad contracts, or the fact that more than 1,000 of WMATA's 12,500 employees make salaries in excess of six figures. Personnel costs (those salaries and the pensions for retired Metro workers) account for a whopping 74 percent of the agency's operating costs. Unfunded pension and health care liabilities come to nearly $3 billion. Efforts to rein in those costs—say, by shifting workers into 401(k)-style pension plans—have predictably been opposed by unions and Democratic politicians.
Why not ask WMATA to clean up its act before throwing more money at it?
For me the most maddening thing is this: When you are forced to go around the world to reach your station, because portions of the track are closed, Metro says these inconveniences are caused by its policy of "safe-tracking."
But the inconveniences are really caused because because Metro did not do repairs gradually and when they were needed.
Metro will have no incentive to improve if it is given a transfusion of cash.