>A commenter from a previous post writes:
“This means that I should stop trying to advocate for lower fares and start advocating for improved service, such as including schedule information in Google Transit, or improving the function of Smartrip cards.”
Or, you should try to get local taxes (property and/or sales) raised to pay for the services!
That’s a great idea. There are a number of reasons why that hasn’t worked up to this date. The members that form WMATA face a collective action problem, one member is controlled by a faction that is rabidly anti-tax, and the way WMATA board members are selected is a bias against local tax funding of the system.
1. WMATA is formed by a compact among a combination of a commonwealth, a state, a federally controlled district, three independent cities, and at least six counties. None of them wants to raise taxes until the others do likewise, and nobody is willing to make the first move.
2. Virginia is a “Dillon Rule” commonwealth, which means that the local jurisdictions only have the powers expressly granted by the sovereign, in this case the Virginia General Assembly. Believe me, if Arlington County wanted to raise a tax for WMATA, it would have a long time ago. Currently, every lawmaking branch of the Virginia government except the House of Delegates is in favor of raising some form of taxes to pay for transportation, including funding for WMATA. The House of Delegates is split 53-45-2 R-D-I, with the two independent votes caucusing with the Republicans. Virginia Republicans are vehemently anti-tax, and the state’s districts are gerrymandered heavily in favor of Republicans, meaning they’re safe in elections. Electing just six more Democrats to the House in 2009 will destroy this Gerrymander.*
3. WMATA has no obligation other than their loyalties to their member jurisdictions to keep fares low. The WMATA board members are selected by the member jurisdictions’ governments, not by riders or residents. WMATA’s operations and decisions on fare policy basically work like this. Staff proposes the budget for the fiscal year sometime around May/June, including ridership projections and fare revenue projections. The member jurisdictions are expected to split the remaining costs of running the system using a formula that’s way too complicated to explain here except to state that it’s related to the number of people using the system and how much service is provided.
*The Republicans are typically reelected 58%/42% or better, which is a pretty big lead as far as single-member districts go. A lot of the time, they’re unopposed because to run against them would be a futile waste of campaign dollars. As evidence of the Gerrymander’s effect, the state has a Democratic Governor and Senator (soon to be two, knock on wood), but it’s represented by 8 Republicans and 3 Democrats in the House. If you look at the map of congressional districts, it’s classic “packing and cracking”, where your opponents are placed in districts that have 80% or higher support (the 8th is a good example), and you give yourself a lot of districts that are 55%/45% with the hopes that things don’t get too bad and you lose in a landslide.