Md. Leaders Sound Alarm on Proposed Transit Cuts

Photo via WTOP News.

Maryland leaders from both parties said Tuesday that proposed cuts to transit service in the capital region would cause devastating harm to its economy, workforce and environment.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority officials have proposed eliminating weekend subway service, closing 19 stations, cutting Metro’s sprawling bus system by more than half, trimming 2,400 jobs and axing salary increases.

The agency’s general manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said that unless Congress and the White House come together on an aid package to help state and local governments and transit systems, devastating cuts are the only way to offset huge drops in ridership and revenue.

But U.S. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said the proposed reductions “would irreparably harm communities throughout Maryland and the National Capital Region.”

“Eliminating positions, drastically cutting service, and closing Metro stations would cause distress and financial uncertainty for many families already struggling during this pandemic,” he added.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) raised the issue at a Banking Committee hearing Tuesday with Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin and Jerome H. Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

“Not only does WMATA help Maryland commuters and essential workers get where they need to go, it also employs thousands of Marylanders and drives economic activity throughout our region,” Van Hollen said in a statement.

“The financial challenges WMATA is facing underscore the need for immediate Congressional action to provide relief to American families and our economy,” he added.

The U.S. House and Senate have been deadlocked for months on whether to provide additional aid to cash-strapped localities, states and transit agencies.

At a news conference Tuesday, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) called it “really frustrating” and “discouraging” that congressional Democrats and Republicans have been locked in a nine-month impasse. He said he has spoken with President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President Mike Pence about the need for additional stimulus.

“My push is not for a specific amount or a specific bill,” he said. “I just want people to get together and figure out some kind of compromise.”

New York City’s transit system unveiled a list of deep cuts a week ago, leading to speculation that the two agencies were hoping to jolt Congress into taking action.

“These cuts would threaten the ability of many frontline healthcare workers, grocery clerks, and other employees to get to their jobs; put thousands of transit jobs on the line; impede economic recovery; and increase transportation pollution,” said Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland Sierra Club.

Stewart Schwartz, head of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said the reductions would be “devastating to our workers, our economy, [and] our transportation network.”

Montgomery County Councilmember Evan Glass (D) said a recent Council analysis of Ride-On, the county’s bus service, revealed that more than three-quarters of riders are people of color, 42% speak a language other than English at home and nearly half reported an annual household income under $30,000.

The report will be discussed at a Council Transportation & Environment Committee virtual hearing on Wednesday at 1:30 pm.

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