The Board of Directors of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system just approved a truly progressive proposal to purchase 90% of the transit system's electricity from renewable sources by 2021. In addition to the win for air quality and the fight against global climate change, it should save BART $173 million dollars over its current energy costs. BART's ability to buy its energy directly from suppliers and choose those who offer renewably-sourced electricity was made possible by a new state law in California. BART is the transit system that serves San Francisco and the East Bay in California.
Why is this news for Montgomery County, Maryland? Because it isn't. To my knowledge, there is no plan in the works to source 90% of our very own METRO's electricity supply from renewable energy sources. Why not? According to various sources, METRO is looking to fill a budget gap of $500 million dollars. That's not chump change. If the example of BART holds, METRO could potentially save tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars by directly purchasing its electricity from providers of renewably-sourced electricity.
Punishing METRO Workers
Meanwhile, back in Virginia elected officials are not looking to renewable energy, wind and solar, as a potential way to address METRO's financial needs. No, typically, the proposal of Virginia Republicans to the need for a dedicated funding source for METRO is to take pay, benefits, and power away from METRO workers, the ones who are union members, of course. Virginia's House majority leader, Del. M. Kirkland Cox (R - Colonial Heights) has praised the proposal of House Rep. Barbara Comstock (R - Virginia) to weaken workers’ pension guarantees, cap overtime pay and freeze Metro’s personnel-related expenses for five years. Comstock's proposal includes a new governing board that would have the power to unilaterally revise union agreements and contracts with suppliers.
In exchange for this financial punishment of METRO workers, Virginia would provide $25 million a year for METRO, which is far less than the $150 million from the state that METRO has requested. METRO is looking for $500 million a year in dedicated funding from Virginia, DC, and Maryland in order to maintain safety and reliability. That $500 million figure represents METRO's estimate of the extent to which it has been underfunded in the past.
But What About Safety?
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe commissioned a study by Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood who, among other things, concluded that METRO's labor costs are about average for comparable systems nationwide. The main problem is that the infrastructure is aging and needs to be replaced and METRO doesn't have the funding it needs for that.
Why do I get the feeling that Republicans in Virginia simply are not serious about supporting safety and reliability at METRO? But they never miss an opportunity to take something away from working Americans. Who needs safe and reliable public transit anyways? We all know that the important people are driven around in their limousines. By the way, M. Kirkland Cox has been a member of the VA House of Delegates since 1990 and Barbara Comstock a member of the VA House of Delegates and Congress since 2010. They've been around long enough to have made a difference - how come they're never held responsible for the failings of METRO, a public agency? We need to start electing public officials who are genuinely committed to public transit and pursue truly progressive solutions to our public transit problems.