Posts about Jeff McKay
If you listened to the WMATA Board discuss station names this morning, you could be forgiven if you concluded the board is made up of representatives from local universities, hospitals, and sports teams, and that those institutions, rather than riders and residents, pay for Metro.
That's because where institutions want to be on Metro station names, most members from those jurisdictions argued for adding them on, even when such an addition would violate the policy the board just adopted a few months ago. Many also argued for adding more content to the primary names, rather than subtitles.
The phrase "what's best for riders," sadly, came out of the mouths of very few members. Most notably, federal members Mort Downey and Marcel Acosta, and Fairfax member Jeff McKay (who is most in danger of losing his seat when Bob McDonnell's appointee Jim Dyke joins the board), were the ones who did emphasize what's best for riders.
What riders want is shorter names. Assistant General Manager for Communications Barbara Richardson said, "Our customers want one name. They want one, common name. They want these to be short."
Few people refer to "West Falls Church Vee Tea You Vee Eh" or "Van Ness You Dee See." Instead, they say they're going to West Falls Church or Van Ness. With a few exceptions like "Franconia-Springfield" and "Stadium-Armory," which really are truly compound names, other station names have a main portion, like "U Street" or "Grosvenor," and then sometimes additional points of interest.
Metro staff got that from their focus groups, and our surveys backed it up. People told Metro that long station names was their biggest complaint about the map. It's annoying and confusing for riders.
Richardson presented the staff recommendations after playing an amusing song, "The Metro Song." It parodies Johnny Cash's "I've been everywhere" to name 46 of the stations in the Metro system:
The staff suggest:
- Navy Yard Ballpark
- New York Ave Florida Ave-Gallaudet U
- Smithsonian (no National Mall)
- Waterfront (no Arena Stage)
- Forest Glen (no Holy Cross Hospital, but with an H logo denoting a hospital)
- King Street Old Town
Montgomery County alternate member Kathy Porter defended the county's request to add Holy Cross Hospital, or at least "Holy Cross" along with an H symbol, to Forest Glen.
Porter lamented that the county hadn't pushed for the change earlier, since it would have qualified under the previous policy, and suggested the board let Montgomery "grandfather" in the name. However, Fairfax's Jeff McKay pointed out that the reason they're changing the policy is because there have been problems with overly long station names in the past.
Porter noted that the hospital runs a shuttle to the station and there is Ride On service to the station. But in WMATA's focus groups, many members expressed a feeling that anything attached to a station name ought to be within a short walk, not a bus or car ride away.
DC Councilmember Muriel Bowser also wanted to grandfather a non-subtitle, Georgia Ave-Petworth. On this one, there's some good argument either way. I've heard many people call this "Georgia Ave Petworth" or "Georgia Petworth." Several commenters recommended actually making it Petworth, since Georgia Avenue is very long and Forest Glen, Wheaton, and Glenmont are also on Georgia Avenue.
Or, perhaps it could follow the pattern WMATA recommends for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and make the station Georgia Ave Petworth?
Bowser also took the position held by Gallaudet management and students for keeping that university in the primary name instead of a subtitle, endorsing NoMa-Gallaudet U New York Avenue. She pointed out that no other DC university is slated to become part of a subtitle. We've advocated instead for actually putting all universities and other points of interest in subtitles, and 83% of you agreed.
There seemed to be some interest on the board for this option. Mary Hynes of Arlington noted that they have many universities around their Metro stations, and that perhaps it's not feasible to expect to put all universities in primary names or even station names in general. McKay recommended holding off on any change concerning Gallaudet until this broader question is resolved.
Artis Hampshire-Cowen, though, seemed to be wearing her hat as an executive for Howard University rather than necessarily representing riders of Prince George's County. She argued against moving universities into subtitles, using Howard as a specific example.
Bowser also asked for the ballpark to be part of a main station name, Navy Yard-Ballpark, instead of the staff-recommended Navy Yard Ballpark.
The curly W seems completely dead, though that may be a very recent change. Last week, I'd heard that the Nationals only wanted to pay if the station could be named Navy Yard-, not just for "Ballpark." Today, however, DDOT told WMATA that DC would pay for any change, and Bowser told the board that DC expects the Nationals would cover those costs.
Under WMATA's policy, the jurisdiction has to pay for the station name itself. Another entity can reimburse the jurisdiction, but it has to guarantee the funding to WMATA. WMATA won't enter into a side agreement with a separate organization to collect the funds directly.
McKay asked what would happen if the ballpark gets a corporate name at some point. Would they want to, and would Metro feel any pressure to, rename the station? Members agreed that the staff should further flesh out the no corporate naming policy.
Alexandria mayor Bill Euille pushed for King Street-Old Town, their original request, instead of King Street Old Town, the staff recommendation (and one you overwhelmingly supported).
Marcel Acosta stood up for holding to the policy that the board had just adopted. He noted that the shorter names make things easier for customers, and "we need to temper" the impulse to accommodate local organization requests.
Alvin Nichols, alternate for Prince George's, asked about a request by Mount Rainier to add their name to West Hyattsville. However, Maryland has not officially requested this change, so it's not on the table at this time.
The board adjourned their discussion until next Thursday, November 3, where they will hold a public comment session followed immediately by a full board meeting to vote on changes. It's clear that some members are not paying much heed to rider concerns, or at least the comments of those who participated in the focus groups or filled out our survey (while others very much are).
Maybe if riders come to the public comment session, it will help those members start thinking about the interests of the riders instead of the interests of their universities, hospitals and sports teams.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its long-awaited report on WMATA governance this morning. The report concludes that the board lacks clarity about where its role begins and ends, but rejects some of the drastic structural changes that have been proposed, instead arguing the board can and should fix problems itself.
An ambiguous definition of the board's role was a common theme in both the Riders' Advisory Council and Board of Trade reports. The board has been accused of micromanaging operations rather than focusing on policy and high-level issues.
The GAO report agreed, and recommends the board clarify its responsibilities as well as conduct regular self-assessments. Fortunately, the board is already doing much of that.
A governance committee, ably led by Mary Hynes of Arlington, has formulated bylaws and procedures for the board which better define its role. This year, after most members turned over and the reports came out criticizing past board actions, the board has indeed started focusing effectively on the high-level decisions that it needs to make to keep Metro running smoothly.
The GAO report says, "These draft bylaws represent a good first step toward addressing some of the concerns discussed in this report but will need to be adopted and then effectively implemented to achieve their desired effect." The report also criticizes past boards for doing a poor job of strategic planning, suggesting the board develop a better plan and then commit to implementing it.
The executives and DOTs of DC, Maryland, and Virginia were waiting to see the GAO report before moving ahead further on structural changes. The Board of Trade report last year suggested removing alternates, giving the governors one extra appointment of their own, creating an added "super-board" above the current board to supervise the board, and changing the jurisdictional veto.
The Riders' Advisory Council, on the other hand, argued that these changes were unnecessary and possibly counterproductive. Its report argued that the problems could be fixed by doing a better job appointing members and by the members developing better policies around these issues. (Disclosure: I was the principal author of the RAC report.)
The GAO took a similar stance to the RAC's report. They wrote:
Our analysis, however, indicates that most of the recommended changes have trade-offsThe GAO paid special attention to the federal government's involvement, which includes the General Services Administration appointing a set of federal members. The GAO says that GSA lacks clear procedures for selecting and appointing these members. The GSA replied that while it's true it doesn't have formal procedures, it doesn't think that's interfered with selecting qualified candidates.
— there are both benefits and drawbacks to them. We compared the various recommendations to leading governance practices, approaches taken by other transit agencies, and the views of board members and stakeholders. Board members and stakeholders indicated that proposed changes to the board's structure and processes — such as eliminating alternate board members, changing the size of the board, or eliminating the jurisdictional veto — have trade-offs, and we did not find consistent support among leading governance practices or other transit agencies that these changes would improve governance.
The [Board of Trade/COG] Governance Task Force recommended that the signatories and the appointing authorities form a WMATA Governance Commission to make improvements to the authority's governance structure and hold the board accountable for its performance. ... Such a commission was viewed by some stakeholders we spoke with as redundant because it would be comprised of most of the same membership that is responsible for appointing the board of directors.
Moving forward, this report confirms what's become increasingly clear: WMATA can be fixed without rearranging the organizational structure. Doing that could fix some problems but create others, and would ultimately be a distraction from the work of actually governing better.
Already, we've seen tremendous progress. The NTSB feels safety is improving. Communication has taken huge steps forward with WMATA now tweeting and generally using two-way communication. The board passed a budget that avoided service cuts and without any major acrimony. Local jurisdictions stepped up with needed funding.
Now, we should let the current board and management keep making the strides they have. The executives and DOTs should let this issue rest.
Governor McDonnell did succeed in using the frustration over Metro to let him take away some power from Northern Virginia, giving him a direct appointment to the board who will likely replace Mary Hynes entirely or move her to an alternate position and bump Jeff McKay. Either way, that will be a big loss for Virginian interests, since both have effectively represented their constituents. The legislature should reverse this hasty decision before the appointments are made or renewed at the end of the year.
Tempers got a little heated at yesterday's WMATA Board meeting, and jurisdictions are deadlocked. Part of the problem was the funding formula, but another part was the way staff presented options.
Two weeks ago, Interim GM Richard Sarles presented a budget that did a fairly nice job of sorting through the many fare and service proposals. It wasn't exactly what anyone wanted, but it was remarkably close.
It kept a few service cuts, mostly appropriate, a few not so much. It raised a lot of fares, mostly fairly, though not as targeted as it should be. It restored some MetroAccess service but kept significant cuts. It was mostly equitable between jurisdictions, if a little bit tilted against bus riders.
The Finance and Administration Committee discussed the budget on April 29 and members suggested possible changes, but they didn't officially endorse any. Then, yesterday, staff presented a new budget proposal. The presentation just listed all of the suggested ideas and their costs.
However, staff also took some, but not all, of the ideas that had been brought up on April 29th, and summed those ideas up into a new fare table entitled "reflecting committee direction" and which increased jurisdictional subsidy requests, including DC's from $12 million to $14.5 million.
The problem with this approach was that instead of letting jurisdictions horse trade for things they want, staff seemingly accepted some of the items but not necessarily the pieces that would be traded for those. And the new collective package was far more unfair to inner jurisdictions than outer jurisdictions.
Board members entered the April 27th meeting with a wish list of items they'd like to change. DC wanted to keep late night service going until 3 am and not charge a flat $4 fare after midnight. Fairfax wanted to get rid of parking increases.
DC's Jim Graham started out with a concrete proposal. He'd keep the late night service and charge a rush hour fare instead of a $4 fare. In exchange, he recommended increasing the peak-of-the-peak charge from 10¢ to 20¢. The late night service mostly benefits DC, Arlington, and Alexandria, though it also benefits suburban riders who ride to locations in DC, Arlington, and Alexandria.
The peak of the peak also hits DC, Arlington, and Alexandria riders a bit heavier than others, since being a flat fare, it's a greater percentage for those who ride short trips. The peak of the peak, as formulated, also will miss some riders from Shady Grove, Vienna, and other stations with long rides to the center, because many of those riders get on the train before 7:30 and are still on it when it's crowded downtown. But it's a reasonable tradeoff to make to pay for something that inner jurisdictions want.
Graham also suggested increasing the maximum fare, which does hit suburban riders. CFO Carol Kissall said that wasn't necessary to pay for his suggestions, so he didn't push the idea.
Next, Jeff McKay of Fairfax proposed cutting the parking fees. To pay for it, he suggested reducing the bus-rail transfer discount. Making transfers more expensive would have been a terrible idea, both for Fairfax and DC. It would discourage bus riding and push more Fairfax riders to drive to rail instead of taking bus to rail, even though riding the bus creates less congestion. And it would have harmed many inner jurisdiction residents who ride bus to rail and live nowhere near parking or don't even own cars.
Graham said he was happy to work with Fairfax to find a solution to the parking, but that the bus-rail transfer idea wasn't going to be the answer.
To summarize, now we have something Graham wants, the late-night changes, and something he's willing to do to pay for it that got general asset, the peak of the peak. And we have something McKay wants, the parking, and nothing specific to pay for it that's got broad support. When the meeting adjourned, it sounded like Graham was going to get late night changed and the higher peak of the peak, and McKay was going to need to find a funding source for his parking that wasn't unfair to DC, Arlington, and Alexandria.
Staff promised to research some of the ideas. They did so, and did a nice job of analysis. If they'd just presented a slide showing the costs of each change, the members could have resumed horse trading. But instead, they summed up only three items: the late night, the peak of the peak, and the parking, and ended up not surprisingly with a deficit. They then allocated that deficit to all of the jurisdictions, making DC and Arlington pay just as Fairfax and Maryland were.
This makes no sense. Inner jurisdictions get something and pay something, and outer jurisdictions get something, and everyone pays.
No wonder Jim Graham said that DC would veto the budget as is. To solve this, the Board needs to go back to the Sarles budget, and start horse trading again from there. The peak of the peak seems a fair way to cover the late night. Then, what would cover the parking? There's surely a deal to work out.
Next: Why is Fairfax so obsessed with parking?
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