RD825 - 2021 Report on the Performance and Condition of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority – December 2021
In its 2021 Report on the Performance and Condition of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) recommends 18 strategies for WMATA to reduce the growth in operating costs and to improve the efficiency of operations. Each of these strategies are framed through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic, with an understanding that altered travel patterns will likely linger in the years ahead. The report also presents annual performance, safety, reliability and financial performance data for fiscal year 2021 and calendar year 2020, both of which were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
NVTC’s Strategies for WMATA to Reduce Costs and Become More Efficient
NVTC’s 2021 Annual Report includes 18 recommended strategies for WMATA to become more financially sustainable and a more effective transit system and mobility provider, the most important of which is to rebuild ridership.
Highlights of NVTC’s 2021 recommendations to WMATA:
• Leverage federal coronavirus relief aid to prevent layoffs, sustain and improve service levels throughout a multi-year recovery period and position WMATA for a sustainable long-term ridership and revenue recovery.
• Communicate and encourage a safe return to transit by highlighting and promoting enhanced safety efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic and developing a long-term, post-pandemic marketing and communications strategy to rebuild ridership.
• Implement fare and parking policy changes that improve revenue and ridership, remove barriers to access and retain newly returning riders.
• Adapt rail service to anticipate demand during the COVID19 pandemic and the region’s subsequent recovery period while maintaining an equitable, baseline level of service across all Metrorail lines.
• Continue focus on ongoing initiatives to reduce the growth in operating costs and improve operational efficiencies using NVTC’s previously recommended strategies in past annual reports on the performance and condition of WMATA.
Major Capital Accomplishments
WMATA’s FY 2021 Capital program was the largest in WMATA history. Dedicated capital funding has allowed WMATA to continue its aggressive ramp up and delivery of capital projects to address long overdue state of good repair needs.
• Platform rehabilitation program nearly complete. The four-year project to rebuild 20 outdoor Metrorail station platforms is nearly complete. Major construction work at Arlington Cemetery and Addison Road stations concluded in the summer with 17 stations completed in total by the fall of 2021.
• Metrorail and Metrobus fleet reliability were at an all-time high. Prior to the October 2021 Blue Line derailment, Metrorail and Metrobus saw their highest fleet reliability performance in FY 2021 mainly due to the state of good repair program.
• Mobile App and new fare technology introduced across the system. WMATA expanded its mobile app to include Android and began installing new faregates at rail stations in FY 2021.
• Cellular data service available in all Metrorail tunnels. By installing fiber and upgrading radio communications throughout the rail system, WMATA made cellular and data service available for riders in all 100 miles of Metrorail tunnel track.
• Track rehabilitation work yields dividends. Using planned shutdowns and other forms of track availability, WMATA rehabilitated and maintained track structural components, replaced third-rail insulators and cleaned track beds, resulting in a steep reduction in the number of fires.
An uncertain post-pandemic recovery will exhaust federal aid
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, WMATA implemented several of NVTC’s past recommendations and had seen promising signs that improvements in system reliability were rebuilding customer confidence and that rail and bus ridership were not just stable but growing. Changing travel patterns and increased telework suggest that WMATA’s ridership recovery from the pandemic will be gradual over the years.
While federal aid is expected to sustain operations through FY 2023, it will be exhausted by FY 2024. With only a partial ridership recovery predicted at that time, WMATA anticipates an operating budget gap of over $500 million in the FY 2024 budget year. NVTC will continue to work with our local, Commonwealth and federal partners to support WMATA as it evolves to meet the Northern Virginia transit needs of a post-pandemic transit world.