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Senators request info on WMATA shutdown impact

congressSens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD), wrote a letter to Paul J. Wiedefeld, General Manager and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), seeking information on the impact that the partial government shutdown has had on WMATA’s transit system, ridership, operational services, staffing, financial position, and infrastructure upgrades and maintenance.  

WMATA “serves a unique national security role, providing transportation for federal employees traveling to and from the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security and ensuring continuity of federal operations during an emergency,” wrote the Senators. “Thus, it is critical that WMATA systems and services continue to serve riders in the nation’s capital.” 

In recent years, Metro’s investments to reverse declining ridership numbers have highlighted the extent to which transit systems depend on robust ridership to succeed. Federal employees currently make up about 40 percent of WMATA’s peak hour ridership. However, a government shutdown can adversely affect the transit system’s ridership and overall financial stance.

“During the October 2013 shutdown, the Metro system experienced a 22 percent decrease in ridership, or a decline of 1.7 million trips.  According to a 2015 report, ridership during that shutdown dropped nearly 50% at stations near federal facilities.  The shutdown not only affected ridership, but also put the WMATA long-term operations at risk,”continued the Senators. “The 16-day shutdown, according to the agency, resulted in a loss of $5.5 million in revenue and funding was delayed as the federal appropriation process was halted.” 

To gauge the impact of the shutdown’s effects, the lawmakers requested data on changes in ridership and asked how a decline could affect the WMATA’s financial situation in the long-term and short-term. They also solicited information on any lapses in federal funding and possible contingency plans. Additionally, the lawmakers asked for the details of any halted infrastructure or capital improvement projects, as well as specifics on how the WMATA’s credit rating could be weakened if the shutdown continues. According to recent reports, large and mid-sized transit agencies across the country have already tapped into their lines of credit to make payment obligations to their vendors and Moody’s has warned that a prolonged shutdown could negatively impact the credit ratings of mass transit systems.

The four lawmakers reassured Wiedefeld that they are actively working to reopen the government. Earlier today, Sens. Warner and Kaine met in Alexandria with federal workers and families who have been hurt by the ongoing government shutdown. 

The full text of the letter is available here.