Budget Shortfall Shows Need for Region-wide Dedicated Funding Source for Metro

Written Testimony
Mike Litt, Sierra Club District of Columbia Chapter
For the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Performance Oversight Hearing 
Before the Council of the District of Columbia’s
Committee on Transportation and the Environment 
16 February 2024

Chair Allen, thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony for the performance oversight hearing on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). My name is Mike Litt. I am a car-free renter in Ward 6 and Chair of the Sierra Club DC Chapter’s Sustainable Transportation Committee. Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. Here in DC, we have about 3,000 dues-paying members and many thousands of supporters. 

According to the District of Columbia’s Multimodal Long-Range Transportation Plan, also known as moveDC, transportation is the District’s second highest source of carbon emissions, accounting for 21% of such emissions. WMATA, which operates public transit facilities that help move around 700,000 people in the DC metro area every day, therefore plays a critical role in meeting the District’s goals for a 60% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2045, as required by the legally binding DC Climate Commitment Amendment Act. Meeting our national and local carbon reduction goals and improving air quality and health will require both shifting more trips away from vehicles and making sure that vehicle trips—including those on transit vehicles—are powered by clean energy. 

Budget shortfall

Metro is the lifeblood of DC’s economy and an essential service for DC residents and workers, suburban commuters, and the Federal government. It is a part of what makes the DMV area a special place to live and is critical to having a sustainable transportation system, where people can get around the District as sustainably as possible. It should be treated as such and fully funded as the priority it should be. The unrevised proposed FY25 budget would, instead, gut our transit system. As you have said, “failure is not an option.” 

We thank you, Mayor Bowser and Chairman Mendelson, for making sure DC steps up and sets an example for the region by contributing more than its fair share to fill the $750 million operations budget shortfall, which would unacceptably lead to slashing Metrobus lines in half, decreasing frequency on all Metrorail lines to every 15 minutes on weekdays and 20 minutes on weekends, closing 10 Metrorail stations, eliminating 1900 staff positions, and increasing fares by 25% across the board. However, even with DC’s extra $200 million contribution, there would still be some service cuts and a $164 million preventive maintenance transfer from the operations budget to the capital budget in FY25 and a forecasted $174 million transfer in FY26. Such annual transfers would cut into capital budget funding for critical infrastructure projects to ensure Metro’s safety, reliability, and sustainability. 

We urge you to work with other regional leaders to shift funding away from highway expansion in order to fully fund the remaining gap in Metro’s budget. According to Metro’s proposed FY25 Proposed Budget Book, annual transfers could mean Metro reaches its debt limit in FY28, two years before the end of its Six-Year Capital Improvement Program (CIP). A capital budget shortfall would jeopardize projects to rehabilitate facilities, infrastructure and systems, electrify bus garages, and deploy zero-emission buses. The $11 billion in capital funding for FY2015-FY2030 was already $6 billion short of identified funding needs to begin with. The CIP must not be allowed to be left unfunded. Furthermore, capital funds will need to be identified for the 10-year capital plan and beyond to ensure a long-term state of good repair of the system and full, on-time deployment of Metro’s zero-emission bus program. As Metro alarmingly notes, “Long-term increases in the state of good repair backlog will cause Metro to move away from a proactive asset replacement strategy and risk increases in reliability and safety incidents.”

Ultimately, Metro needs dedicated funding like other transit authorities. Sierra Club is part of the Fund Metro! coalition, which has called for standardizing reporting from WMATA to provide more transparency and solving the lack of adequate long-term dedicated funding once and for all by the end of the year. We look forward to working with you to identify all viable options for stable, dedicated funding to finally put an end to the continuous cycle of budget shortfalls and looming transit death spirals. 

While we appreciate the need to look for cost savings everywhere possible, we ask that WMATA reconsider its proposal to replace cloth seats with vinyl seats, as vinyl interiors have been reported to release elevated levels of vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen.

Service improvements

We applaud WMATA and its staff for tremendous service improvements in the past year, including:

It’s no wonder Metro ridership increased more than 30% in 2023. To increase ridership even more, we support expanded weekend Metrorail hours and also encourage this Committee to ask WMATA to work toward high-frequency service across the system, defined by moveDC as a five minute or lower wait for rail and 10 minutes or lower for buses.

WMATA should continually prioritize those areas of highest need in order to improve the District as a whole. According to moveDC, the areas in the District with the greatest transportation needs are defined by factors such as residents’ proximity to frequent transit service and their commute times. People of color, low-income residents, and people with disabilities make up a larger percentage of the population in areas with greater transportation needs than in other neighborhoods in the District. 

We also support the Bicycle and Pedestrian Facility Rehabilitation CIP in the proposed capital budget, which would improve pedestrian access and replace bicycle facilities at Metrorail stations.

The Council’s emergency legislation to impose $100 fines to finally enforce the joint District Department of Transportation (DDOT)/Metro Clear Lanes Project has been a welcome and much-needed relief to improve bus travel times and bus stop safety. As we mentioned in our testimony in the DDOT Performance Oversight Hearing, we ask DDOT to publish data on changes in illegal and obstructive activity in bus lanes and bus travel times as Clear Lanes enforcement goes into full effect this year. 


Despite great strides made over the last year, we are concerned that Metro only met 12 of its 27 Service Excellence Measures on its performance scorecard for Q1 FY24. We are particularly concerned that customer assaults more than doubled compared to the same period in FY23, and that bus customer injuries spiked in September, double the normal occurrence in a month. 

We appreciate the information in the proposed budget that shows how some capital projects are expected to improve safety, as measured by employee and customer injury rate performance targets. The final budget should also note all operations and capital projects that are expected to help meet targets for other safety metrics, including crime, assaults, rail collisions, derailments, fire incidents, and red signal overruns. 


We applaud WMATA’s remarkable progress, since last year’s performance oversight hearing, toward transitioning to a zero-emission bus fleet, including the following notable achievements:

  • Releasing its Zero-Emission Bus Transition Plan, which moved up WMATA’s target date for reaching a 100 percent zero-emission fleet from 2045 to 2042 and stopping the purchase of fossil fuel buses from 2030 to 2027.
  • Receiving a $104 million Low or No Emission Vehicle grant, the largest awarded by the Federal Transit Administration last year. Sierra Club is proud to have supported WMATA’s successful grant application with a letter of support and would be happy to help again with applications for additional available funding.
  • Rolling out its first two electric buses to hit the street. We were proud to have unveiled one of those buses with WMATA at last fall’s National Drive Electric Week event in DC.

It is essential that WMATA move more rapidly to electrify its bus fleet, in order to comply with the DC Climate Commitment Amendment Act, meet WMATA’s own sustainability goals, and improve air quality for District residents. Placing two electric buses on the road is a starting point; the pace of zero-emission bus adoption must increase going forward.

Mayor Bowser, Chair Mendelson, and you, Chair Allen, have called on WMATA to freeze new capital projects that do not contribute to a state of good repair. However, WMATA must not delay its electrification projects and zero-emission transition. We appreciate that WMATA has committed to continuing modernization of the Bladensburg, Cinder Bed, and Northern bus garages, including opening the Northern bus garage as Metro’s first all-electric bus facility. The proposed FY25 budget’s spending on the Bladensburg and Northern bus garage projects are largely paid for by federal grants, and FY25 spending on the Cinder Bed project is entirely paid for by federal grants. We also urge WMATA to stick to its plan of acquiring 25 40-foot Battery Electric Buses (BEB) in FY25, in addition to its expected delivery of 10 remaining BEBs from its pilot program. As a reminder, as a Sierra Club report on WMATA's bus fleet shows, there would be a savings of at least $350 million over a 15-year time period if 50% of WMATA’s fleet were electric.

We would also like to see a timeline for Metro’s transition of its service and maintenance vehicles to zero-emission vehicles, as mentioned in the description of the Service Vehicle Acquisition Program (CIP0009) of the proposed capital budget.

Sustainability targets

The Sustainability/Resiliency Program (CIP0212) description of the proposed capital budget says Metro is developing a Sustainability Action Plan and completing a decarbonization strategy as part of the Energy Action Plan. We would like to know the timeline for the release of each, especially since the targets in the Energy Action Plan, introduced in 2019, were expected to be achieved by 2025. 

Metro’s Strategic Transformation Plan, released last February, includes metrics and targets for GHG per revenue mile, water use per revenue mile, percent of renewable (carbon-free) electricity, percent of fleet that is zero-emission, and number of facilities with green certifications. We would like to see progress on achieving the goals for these metrics. 

In relation to its metric on GHG emissions—this data and documentation should be readily accessible to and viewable by the public. For calculating GHG emissions, we recommend that WMATA use Argonne National Laboratory's Alternative Fuel Life-Cycle Environmental and Economic Transportation (AFLEET) tool. It is also important that this data be refreshed on a periodic basis and the latest refresh date be displayed. WMATA may want to look into using data visualization software like Qlik Sense or Tableau, which can be set to automatically refresh and can be embedded in a web page.

WMATA is a part of what makes the DMV area a special place to live. We make these recommendations with enormous gratitude to WMATA’s entire workforce for keeping Metro running despite significant challenges over the past few years. We look forward to working with this Committee and WMATA so that Metro can keep serving as the arteries of the Washington metropolitan area, with sustainable public transportation, including zero-emission buses, in the District taking on a greater share of the trips that people make every day. We can be reached at clean.transportation@dc.sierraclub.org. Thank you for taking the time to consider these comments.