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Metro Money Madness

When on July 10th we first read in the Washington Post that Metro, “strapped for cash,” was looking at a proposal to raise needed money by selling naming rights for stations, our immediate reaction was, “OMG!” — followed by dark thoughts of corporate interests looking for ways to offset the brakes being put on their desire to sully our streetscapes with electronic billboards.

The idea is that high usage stations could have their designations, one might say, enhanced by the sale of naming rights to some business enterprise that would be happy to pay upwards of $1 million annually — think Federal Triangle could now be shown on the maps, pylons and signage as Federal Triangle-Trump International Hotel (or just Trump for short). After all, why not get top dollar for the station exit that’s just across the street?

Why not? Well, forgetting that the inclusion of the name Trump on any DC signage is too gross to contemplate, the name of any private business enterprise should never be added to public buildings or taxpayer-owned facilities like a public transit system. Yes, it’s true that sports arenas that receive tax breaks or get partially financed through government bonds regularly bear the names of corporations that pay big bucks, like the Verizon Center. As of now, though, the station that feeds sports and concert-goers into that arena is still designated as Gallery Place-Chinatown — as it should be.

Adding an extra name to a station’s designation should only be done to help identify adjacent or nearby public places or neighborhoods like Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan — and not Woodley Park-Marriott Wardman Park Hotel just because the hotel is right there.

So, with all these thoughts about this cockamie idea running through our head, the day following the July 13th Metro board meeting we got hold of the Board’s chairman, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, and pointedly asked him if he supports the idea. His response was a succinct “No,” even though he did go along with authorizing Metro staff to go out into the community to ascertain whether there might be public acceptance for doing this and also to study what other transit systems may or may not have been doing in this regard, including to study what kind of revenue could realistically be anticipated and to come back with a comprehensive report that will clearly provide what will be needed to make an informed final determination.

And it will be important for all citizens, not just Metro riders, to weigh in with their views — which we urge will be as is ours. In that regard, we say to Metro’s management that it will be absolutely imperative that their outreach be far beyond just having people hanging out in the stations to get rider opinions; they need to schedule well-publicized public ward-based meetings.

Noting the stark reality that Metro needs an additional $500 million annually to keep the system going (and not to allow a repeat of its crumbling infrastructure), Evans told us, in effect, that no stone should be left unturned, and that when the financial situation might again require yet another fare increase there should be no way that anyone will be able to say that the powers that be didn’t look for every possible revenue source.

We agree. For example, among other Board actions was a decision to make changes in the way Metro will charge for access to its parking garages & lots. While this will only raise an additional $8 million a year in new revenue, a mere drop in that $500 million bucket, it does show that the Board is indeed intent on leaving no stone unturned.

But, as Evans told us, he and other members of the Board recognize the absolute need for an annual stream of dedicated funding and he, especially, has been pushing for a plan that would have all three jurisdictions enact an additional penny sales tax for the sole purpose of paying into keeping Metro viable and once again the lifeblood of the local economy.

While the District’s representatives support this plan, xEvans said that Maryland’s are still ambivalent and Virginia’s are opposed. And we surely have no expectation that our entreaties to those naysayers will sway their opposition, but we strongly urge that political leaders like Evans, along with the region’s several business and civic leaders, keep up the pressure — especially in Virginia where business seems to be king (which for this may be a good thing!).

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