Maryland and Virginia senators concerned about how shutdown will impact WMATA

Jan. 15, 2019
Federal employees make up close to 40 percent of peak hour ridership on Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's system.

Democratic senators from Maryland and Virginia sent a letter to Paul Wiedefeld, general manager and CEO of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), on Jan. 11 requesting information on the impact of the partial government shutdown. Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin of Maryland and Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia asked Wiedefeld to respond by Jan. 15 on what effect the shutdown has had on WMATA's system, ridership, operational services, staffing, financial position and infrastructure upgrades and maintenance. 

The senators noted that it is critical WMATA continut to provide service due to the agency fulfilling 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.”

According to the senators, WMATA experienced a 22-percent decrease in ridership during the 16-day October 2013 shutdown, a 1.7 million trip decline. The senators pointed to a 2015 report that found ridership near federal facilities dropped nearly 50 percent during the 2013 shutdown. WMATA also estimates the agency lost $5.5 million in revenue, along with delayed funding due to the halted federal appropriation process. 

The senators said federal employees currently make up about 40 percent of WMATA’s peak hour ridership and note that a government shutdown can adversely affect the transit system’s ridership and overall financial stance.

To gauge the impact of the shutdown’s effects, the lawmakers requested data on changes in ridership and asked how a decline could affect 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.

WMATA was also negatively impacted by a late week snowstorm, which required suspension of bus service on Jan. 13. Metrorail service continued to run during the storm and bus service returned to normal on Jan. 14. 

Update added:

WMATA responded to the senators request and estimated that the shutdown is costing the transit agency an average of $400,000 per weekday. 

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.