Governor signs bill designed to make Metro a safer place for riders
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed a bill to create a new Metro Safety Commission last week, bringing Maryland, D.C. and Virginia closer to their goal of creating a state-level safety oversight body for Metro.
Del. Kumar Barve (D-17), Maryland House Transportation and Environment Committee chairperson, said one of the hardest parts of passing the legislation, which was signed March 30, was for the three jurisdictions to work together.
“Having three cooks in the kitchen is daunting even when the three of them agree,” Barve said.
Chuck Bean, executive director of Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said the new commission, if the Federal Transit Administration approves the bill, would have more power than the previous safety oversight group, the Tri-State Oversight Commission.
“The creation of the Metro Safety Commission is important because it will have regulatory oversight of safety matters for Metro, meaning it will have teeth and the power to impose fines or suspend service, and that’s something we’ve not had before,” Bean said Friday.
The commission would have the power to direct Metro to shut down part of a line if it determined it was necessary due to a safety risk, according to the bill. It would also be able to recommend to Metro to suspend front-line, safety-related workers if commission members believed an individual posed a safety risk in performing job duties.
Hogan said he was grateful for the teamwork among the three jurisdictions, in particular for Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.
“Collaboration between Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., is crucial to ensure the safety and security of WMATA,” Hogan said. “I would like to thank Governor McAuliffe and Mayor Bowser for their partnership in an oversight commission that will help make sure that millions of Metro riders have access to a world-class public transportation system.”
The FTA assumed the role of the state-level safety oversight agency for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in October 2015. Then-acting FTA Administrator Therese McMillan said that the organization would remain in the safety oversight position until the three jurisdictions created a federally compliant replacement.
The bill lays out the structure for such a commission and how it would run.
The commission would comprise six members, two appointed by each governor and two appointed by the mayor of D.C.
Members would not be able to hold elected office elsewhere while they worked as safety commission members.
The commission will have some abilities the TOC did not have.
For example, the commission could conduct inspections, investigations and examinations, according to the bill. The commission could sue or be sued, according to the bill. The commission members would vote to appoint a CEO.
It would then make reports from its investigations publicly available, according to the bill.
FTA spokesperson Steven Kulm said the three jurisdictions called for congressional approval of the bill, so no action can be taken until Congress passes the legislation.
Barve said he believed the federal government needed to continue to be involved in safety oversight of WMATA and in particular to bring the three jurisdictions together so they could work as a unified commission.
“The federal government has to show leadership because you know when you have (three jurisdictions) only the federal government can be the unifying factor,” Barve said.
One driving force behind passing the legislation this year was a letter from Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to all parties involved on February 10.
The letter stated that, as the jurisdictions hadn’t yet formed a commission by February 9, the deadline set by former Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, all three jurisdictions face losing some transportation funding from the Department of Transportation.