Metro gets serious about outsourcing Silver Line service

Source: Martine Powers, Washington Post, January 9, 2018
A proposal to outsource operations of the Silver Line took a significant step Monday, when Metro officials issued a formal “request for information” from potential contractors who might be interested in the job. …. Metro’s opportunities for privatization are limited, because of its existing union contracts. But the agency is allowed to seek help from outside contractors when considering how to manage operations on new segments of the system. Officials have already met with potential contractors to outsource bus operations and maintenance at the newly-constructed Cinder Bed Road bus garage in Newington, Va…..


D.C. May Seek To End Private Contracts For Public Transit
Source: Martin Di Caro, WAMU, November 30, 2017

A coalition of organized labor and social justice groups are calling on D.C. lawmakers to stop the District from contracting out public transit services, saying the private firms that operate the Circulator bus system and D.C. Streetcar fail to provide reliable service to riders and treat their employees poorly.  “We are concerned about privatization of good public-sector jobs,” said Barbara Kraft of the Washington Interfaith Network, which is teaming with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and individual bus and streetcar operators to lobby the D.C. Council to bring all District transit operations in-house. …

Union: Look to Circulator and D.C. Streetcar for evidence of why Metro shouldn’t be privatized
Source: Faiz Siddiqui, Washington Post, May 16, 2017
Reliability problems with the D.C. Circulator and planning and construction shortfalls of the city’s streetcar system are examples of why the District and Metro should be wary of privatizing more services, the transit agency’s union said Tuesday.  Although the District Department of Transportation owns the Circulator buses and oversees the D.C. streetcar, Amalgamated Transit Union International says there’s an implicit warning for Metro.  “Fix the service you have; take responsibility for the quality of service you have,” said Michael McCall-Delgado, a strategic researcher at ATU International and author of a new report, “Fool D.C. Twice.” … The union report holds the District partially responsible for the decline of the region’s transit system, saying that instead of investing in Metro, local leaders pushed seemingly “hip” and “premium ridership” projects to attract millennials to the city. …

… ATU, which represents more than 9,000 Metro employees through its Local 689 chapter, has rejected Wiedefeld’s shift toward privatization, including a proposal that would use private contractors to fill station manager or track inspection jobs on the second phase of the Silver Line. Contractors could also be used to operate such facilities as new bus garages. Separately, Metro has nearly doubled its spending on private contractors over the past two years. In its report, however, the union takes D.C. officials to task for failing to hold contractors accountable for construction, planning and service failures. The report highlights how the Circulator, operated by Cincinnati-based First Transit, has been beset by maintenance problems for years “while avoiding government oversight,” according to the union. Circulator buses have a notoriously poor reliability record, with the 2016 audit finding an average of 22 defects per bus. Many of the defects — nearly three per bus — were tied to safety equipment and should have been caught during routine inspections, the audit said. And the problems have persisted: A report this week from WAMU said reliability issues have left the Circulator up to 10 buses short of its quota when buses depart its lots each day. …

Privatize Metro? Wiedefeld’s Outsourcing Plan Provokes Union Wrath And May Not Save Money
Source: Martin Di Caro, WAMU, May 1, 2017
In his long-term financial proposal to get Metro back on track and back on budget released April 19, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld included a few vague sentences that could open the door to a partial privatization of the system.  The sentences, while far from a proposal for a large-scale privatization, have raised alarm among members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which represents 9,200 frontline employees. “They’re attacking us anyway they can,” Union president Jackie Jeter said to reporters, just moments after the transit workers turned their backs on WMATA’s leaders and staged a walkout during a board meeting last week. …

Transit Union Turns Back on Metro Leadership, Stages Walkout Source: Martin Di Caro, WAMU, April 27, 2017

Dozens of members of the D.C. region’s largest transit union turned their backs on Metro’s leaders during a tense board meeting on Thursday, then raised their fists to the air and marched out of WMATA headquarters in downtown Washington, defiantly chanting “We move this city.”  The labor action was to protest Metro general manager Paul Wiedefeld’s new proposals to reduce costs at the nation’s second-busiest mass transit system, and the union’s president took the unusual step of divulging confidential details of ongoing contract negotiations. …

Congressman says union criticism of his Metro overhaul bill was ‘wildly inappropriate’
Source: Faiz Siddiqui, Washington Post, April 25, 2017

A Maryland congressman says he was insulted by a letter from a transit union president Monday calling his bill to overhaul Metro “heartless” and “cruel.” Rep. John Delaney (D) decried the letter as “wildly inappropriate” in a response Tuesday and said he was surprised by the tone struck by Amalgamated Transit Union International President Lawrence J. Hanley. Hanley denounced Delaney’s bill, the WMATA Improvement Act of 2017, which would overhaul Metro’s board and labor practices in exchange for $750 million in federal matching funds over 10 years. Hanley said the bill targeted wages and benefits to union employees and represents a push toward privatization. …

Transit union calls bill to reform Metro ‘heartless’ and ‘cruel’
Source: Faiz Siddiqui, Washington Post, April 24, 2017

Metro’s largest union denounced a Maryland congressman’s proposed legislation to overhaul the agency’s governance and labor practices Monday, saying it is “among the most outrageous proposals ever put forth by a Democratic member of Congress in recent memory.” Amalgamated Transit Union International, issued a scathing letter Monday to Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), who in February introduced the Improvement Act of 2017. The bill would award Metro $750 million over 10 years in exchange for broad reforms to the agency’s labor and governance, and includes a provision that would give Metro management greater power to reassign workers or rely on outside contractors. …

Virginia Gov. McAuliffe taps Ray LaHood to head panel to study Metro
Source: Robert McCartney and Faiz Siddiqui, The Washington Post, March 23, 2017

The Washington region took a step toward building a consensus on how to fix Metro on Thursday as Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) tapped former U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood to head an independent panel to study the system’s governance and long-term financial needs. The LaHood initiative and Wiedefeld’s comments signal an acceleration in efforts to deal with Metro’s structural problems, now that the difficult battle over the 2018 budget is over. Metro is at a critical point in its 40-year history, with declining ridership and growing uncertainty over its financial future. The LaHood panel will tackle the governance and funding difficulties that have hampered Metro for decades. It will consider proposals from past and present to make the Metro board more efficient, adjust labor agreements to reduce costs, privatize some operations and to find one or more new, reliable sources of funding. …

Use of private contractors at Metro grows amid union concerns
Source: Martine Powers, The Washington Post, February 4, 2017

As Metro struggles to respond to federal safety mandates, keep up with systemwide repairs and overhaul its entire track inspection department, it has dramatically increased its reliance on private contractors to perform core functions for which it lacks qualified workers. It’s a trend that concerns union officials and employees who say they fear the move is part of a push toward privatization. The operations funding the agency has spent on private contractors has nearly doubled in the past two years, from $24.8 million in fiscal 2015 to $47.4 million in fiscal 2017, according to financial documents. General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld’s proposed fiscal 2018 operating budget ups that amount to nearly $65 million. … But in other cases, the distinction between the jobs performed by private contractors and longtime Metro staff members has become more blurred. Union leaders say the increased dependence on outside labor is especially galling in light of Wiedefeld’s plans to eliminate 500 staff positions in fiscal 2018 in addition to 500 job cuts he announced this past spring. … Metro spokesman Richard L. Jordan said that the exact percentage of SafeTrack work performed by contract labor is “difficult to assess” but that officials think it is “about half.” … Metro has already made formal moves toward permanently privatizing some of its major responsibilities. Last year, the agency put out a request for proposals for a company to manage parking services. The agency also plans to pilot a program that would allow ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft to provide some paratransit services to people with limited mobility. … Still, the increased spending on contract labor is part of a larger national trend, as transit agencies around the country seek to cut costs by privatizing work than can be done more cheaply by outside contractors. …

D.C. Metro ‘finances worse than operations,’ privatization on the table
Source: Ryan McDermott, The Washington Times, May 11, 2016

Metro faces an $18 billion capital deficit over the next 10 years, news that shook regional lawmakers and prompted one to suggest privatizing the long-troubled transit agency. In addition, the Federal Transit Administration ordered Metro to make immediate repairs to prevent fires on the subway system’s tracks, just days after issuing a safety directive with a threat of defunding and closures. … At Wednesday’s meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans told lawmakers about the $18 billion deficit the transit agency anticipates in its capital budget over the next decade. He pleaded with them to pressure the federal government to step up its contribution to the rail system’s operating costs, adding that little else can be done to improve Metro’s financial situation. … COG Vice Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau suggested privatizing the system as a major step to fix Metro’s financial mess. … Mr. Evans, a Democrat who represents Ward 2 on the D.C. Council, said that privatizing some parts of the regional subway system could happen but that it isn’t likely.