The answer is: Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations
Is this the best you got?
In the discussions about WMATA, most people are focusing on WMATA, which runs two types of transit service at the metropolitan scale of Washington, DC.
This is illustrated in what will be a three-part series on GGW, by Dan Tangherlini, former director of DC Dept. of Transportation and General Manager of WMATA, where he writes that "we should double down on WMATA."
-- "What do we want WMATA to do?," February 22, 2017
-- "This is how you fix Metro’s funding problems," March 1, 2017
But we need to think beyond WMATA and consider transit more comprehensively.
Sure, we need to be doubling down on our investment in transit, but maybe that doesn't necessarily mean "WMATA."
We need to get away from a focus that is mode- and operator- specific and centric.
Metropolitan area: an area with a center city and suburbs (Washington DC is a metropolitan area comprising Washington DC and parts of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia; Baltimore is a metropolitan area comprising Baltimore City and adjoining Maryland counties as well as York County, Pennsylvania)
Region: two or more metropolitan areas (such as Baltimore and Washington or Baltimore, Washington, and Richmond)
In the 2009 piece "The meta-regional transit network" I lay out a way of thinking about transit services at the metropolitan and regional scales, as a set of interconnected metropolitan, city, and suburban transit sub-networks.
In the DC area WMATA transit services are complemented by city and suburban bus services, and streetcar service in Washington, DC. Regional railroad and bus commuter services connect outer Maryland and Virginia areas to the DC metropolitan area.
In Baltimore, most local transit services--subway, light rail, local and regional bus--are provided by Maryland Mass Transit Administration (which also funds Maryland's share of WMATA), except for certain intra-city Circulator services provided by the City of Baltimore. Baltimore is served by regional railroad services within Maryland, and by commuter bus services from Maryland and Pennsylvania.
A lot of this is discussed in the 2015 entry, "One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example."
The short answer to that question is:
Integrate transit service provision, separating planning from operations, providing a seamless network of multiple modes that is efficient, cost-effective, and understandable.From the standpoint of planning, management, and operations, the longer answer is:
Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations authority comparable to how transit is managed within Germany regions, such as Hamburg. (Although Transport for London and RATP serving the Paris region operate similarly.)Hamburg/German Transportation Associations are the best model for repositioning transit service in the DMV. Hamburg is a city-state of 292 square miles, but the Hamburg region "leaks out" into the adjoining States of Schleswig-Holstein and Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony), serving an area of almost 3,500 square miles. (The DC metropolitan area is 1,400 sq. miles at the core and about 5,500 square miles total, including exurban sections.)
This maps shows all the rail services across the Hamburg region, regardless of who provides what service.
In 1960, transportation planners in Hamburg realized that transit riders didn't care who provided what service, whether it was a bus, subway, train, or ferry in the core of the city or in the suburbs, that riders wanted an efficient and inter-connected set of transit services that was logically and comparatively easy to use.
At the time they started--and it took five years to get the organizations to agree to work together--it took as many as seven different providers and fares to get from one end of the region to the other.
-- HVV, Hamburg Transport Association
-- "HVV Celebrated 50 Year Anniversary, City of Hamburg
The city planners organized the transit providers into a single association and began the process of integrating services, schedules, and fares, and creating a separate planning and coordination system. Who offered what service was determined by who could do it best--in any case, transit planning was separated from transit operations.
Two agencies, Hamburg Hochbahn (subway and bus) and Deutsche Bahn/S-Bahn (commuter railroads) provide the bulk of the service, and a third, HADAG, ferry services. But 30+ operators provide services within the system, mostly bus, but also exurban rail services.
HVV does the transit planning for Hamburg as well as the states of Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony, even though the HVV organization provides actual transit service to only portions of the latter two states.
Not unlike how starting in the 1920s many U.S. cities ended up acquiring suburban transit services in order to maintain an integrated transit system, the City-State of Hamburg often ends up owning a portion of suburban and exurban transit services. But the complicated ownership structures aren't reflected in how the system of comprehensive and integrated services is used by riders.
Over time, the "Transport Association" model in Hamburg, called Verkehrsverbund, was adopted throughout Germany.
Creating the DMV Transport Association. Here it would be as if transit planning were integrated for much of the area between Richmond and the Maryland-Delaware line within one master organization. Or that in Greater New York City, rather than MTA (bus, subway, railroad), New Jersey Transit, NYC transit services, PATH, and various suburban bus systems all being run separately, they integrated services and planning under one umbrella.
Note that some areas in the US provide a form of transit coordination that is much more integrated than it is in the DMV, although even in those places (e.g., Puget Sound, San Francisco Bay, San Diego County) the transit system still lacks the level of coordination and integration typical of German cities.
1. Have the DC-area MPO take on the responsibility for comprehensive and integrated transit planning for the DC area.
2. Create a regional transit funding system. Consider the creation of a transit withholding tax, including the participation of Federal, State, and Local Governments ("Metrolinx Toronto: 25 potential tools to fund transit-transportation infrastructure").
3. Fix WMATA. It could get ugly.
4. The regional/multi-state DMV Transport Association (DMVTA) should vest transit planning responsibilities into the DC and Baltimore MPOs and related organizations, such as the Northern Virginia Transportation Authorities, separated from transit operators.
5. The DMVTA management body should contract for transit services from transit operators, that can be either public or private sector entities. Presuming sound and efficient operations, transit operators should never be put into the position of having to cut service to deal with budget deficits.
6. Get rail transit services--WMATA, VRE, MARC, and MTA/Purple Line--to commit to the scheme.
7. Develop a common branding and service structure for bus services, comparable to the GoTransit system in Raleigh-Durham (see "Will buses ever be cool? Boston versus the Raleigh-Durham's GoTransit Model")
8. Integrate fare systems, including railroad passenger services ("One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example"). Note that by this, I just don't mean fare collection, which is already done, except for railroad passenger services, but integrating fares so that riders don't pay multiple fares per linked trip (e.g., separate fares for bus and rail).
9. Still allow for separate Circulator bus services within jurisdictions as needed (such as the R-Line in Raleigh)
10. Over time, ideally, merge MARC and VRE into one system, and expand it to include service to Pennsylvania and Delaware ("Maryland trains to Newark inch closer," Wilmington News Journal).
11. Add other transit services to the DMVTA as they are developed (water taxi, ferry, aerial tram/gondola, etc.)
And we can start by producing an integrated map of rail services at the Metropolitan scale, and complement that with an integrated map of regional bus services (commuter, regular, and BRT).
Integrated rail transit map for the Washington DC Metropolitan area produced by Paul J. Meissner.