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Letter to Council of Governments on WMATA Governance Task Force

June 11, 2010

The Hon. Kwame Brown
Chairman, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments
777 North Capitol Street NE, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20002

Dear Chairman Brown and members of the COG Board of Directors:

We are disappointed by your decision to not include transit rider advocates on the WMATA Governance Commission, initiated by the Greater Washington Board of Trade (BOT) and co-sponsored by the Council of Governments (COG).

During the June 9th COG meeting, opposition to making the Commission inclusive of rider advocates was based on the false notion that no representatives of any advocacy group had yet been appointed to the task force. The BOT has a network of dedicated, thoughtful people. However, as a letter from the BOT's president and chair published on its website makes clear, "regional advocacy" is part of the organization's mission. The BOT primarily represents large businesses with heavy financial resources and influence and also provides the most significant, recognized endorsements of major candidates including Governors, Mayors and County Executives and Chairs.

There is cause for concern that the Board of Trade has specific intentions from the outset: to give the elected chief executives of Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia the sole authority to appoint members of the WMATA Board of Directors. It is important that the Commission give thorough, objective consideration to different options to improve governance.

By stripping the authority from local elected officials in our region to govern WMATA, the WMATA Board would become less accountable to the public, much like the situation with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Historically, WMATA Board members from Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia consistently have been more accessible and responsive to the public than those appointed by the State of Maryland. Case in point: the varying responses to public input during the recent funding crisis. There is something to be said for elected officials who are closer to the people being accustomed to the responsibility of being accessible to the public.

COG failed to include advocates who have been dedicated on behalf of Metro riders to secure more funding, improve service, and yes, increase Metro accountability. Governance at WMATA is a legitimate issue to examine, though the urgent need is to secure stable and sufficient funding to provide safe, reliable and efficient service for riders. For a panel that purportedly will focus on how to improve governance and accountability at WMATA, the process by which this task force has been set up does not help promote public confidence in COG's openness or inclusiveness.

We also wish to record another concern about the process: our letter, and a similar one from at least one other group, were not included in the packet of information provided to the COG Board of Directors, even while an unrelated letter from business groups about the I-95/395 HOT lanes was included. Therefore, our original letter - dated May 25, 2010 - was not available for your consideration in the official record.

Going forward, we hope for robust, inclusive and meaningful public participation throughout the process.


Ben Ross, Action Committee for Transit
Stewart Schwartz, Coalition for Smarter Growth
David Alpert, Greater Greater Washington
Roger Diedrich, Virginia Chapter, Sierra Club