Budget Includes Tying ATE Fines to Street Safety, Funding for Metro for DC, Vision Zero, BEPS, E-Bikes, Clean Energy for Businesses and Residents, and More
Tomorrow, the Committee on Transportation and the Environment will hold a committee meeting to vote on changes to the agencies under its oversight, which collectively have budgets of $1.9 billion in operating costs for the coming year.
“We’re heading into this vote needing to meet several urgent challenges: too many deaths and serious crashes on our roads demand safer streets and a transit network fit for the 21st century. We need to build clean energy infrastructure, with progress measured in months and years rather than decades. And we need to do all of this while reimagining the District and downtown, as remote work has changed its present and future irrevocably,” said Councilmember Allen, who chairs the Committee on Transportation and the Environment.
“From where I sit, these aren’t challenges in competition with each other, but together represent a “can’t miss” opportunity to ensure our recovery is one of the strongest in the country. The recommendations we’ll pass tomorrow show we can be bold and responsible in tackling the serious issues before us.”
Below is a summary of key items from the Committee’s budget recommendations. The full budget report is attached to this release.
Fare-Free Buses Advances, as First Part of “Metro for DC” Moves Forward
The Committee identified $153 million over the next four years toward the cost of eliminating fares for all WMATA buses operating in the District, part of Councilmember Allen’s signature legislation, “Metro for DC”. That law also creates twelve 24/7 bus lines and a $10 million annual bus improvement fund. In the future, the law will fund a $100 monthly SmarTrip balance for DC residents, but the Committee is not yet dedicating funding toward that policy in this budget.
Paying to operate Metrobuses in the District is a faster way to ensure this investment equitably benefits residents in neighborhoods that depend on transit and have experienced historic disinvestments in transit. In addition to the funds that the Committee dedicated to fare-free busses, the Committee also accepted a total of $41 million from Councilmember Nadeau’s Committee on Public Works and Operations. The $153 million sum included in the Committee’s budget report covers approximately 3/4 of the total cost that WMATA identified when the Council originally approved the program in December 2022.
The funding for fare-free buses was identified by pausing the proposed K Street Transitway, a capital project designed pre-pandemic that does not fit with the current and future needs of downtown, which has changed dramatically since the advent of widespread remote work. Given the project’s substantial cost, its limited applicability to only 10 blocks, and the need for a more comprehensive and forward-thinking transformation of downtown, the District should not advance the project at this time. Councilmember Allen and the Committee are eager to continue the work of transforming downtown and believe making buses more affordable and reliable is a more immediate and focused investment, given as many as 25 WMATA bus lines operate in or through downtown.
“The K Street Transitway can and should be a transformational project – but it was designed for a downtown that no longer exists, and it only covers a few blocks,” said Councilmember Allen. “By reinvesting this funding, DC is poised to be a national leader by making our WMATA buses fare-free for riders, a move that will save District residents money, help WMATA recoup more of its operating costs, bring more people to all of downtown, and improve service across the city – in one fell swoop.”
Reconnecting Traffic Camera Fines to Street Safety
As part of the Budget Support Act (BSA), the Committee recommends reinstating the law that dedicates revenue from traffic cameras into street safety investments, which had been undone in the Mayor’s proposed budget with the revenue placed across the entire District’s budget. However, the Committee was not in a position to cut its agencies’ budgets by the more than $580 million needed to replace the anticipated traffic violation revenue that the Mayor diverted. These dedicated funds would have been used, by law, to fund legislation and projects to advance Vision Zero and for safe street investments, including safe streets capital projects, multi-modal lanes, traffic enforcement, and to implement key provisions in laws that make streets safer, including Councilmember Allen’s Vision Zero Enhancement Omnibus law, Councilmember Lewis George’s Safe Routes to School legislation, Councilmember Christina Henderson’s Safe Passage to School Expansion Act, and former Councilmember Mary Cheh’s Safer Streets Act.
“This was a missed opportunity to make significant progress in transforming our most dangerous roads,” said Councilmember Allen. “I fought to move the ATE program to DDOT specifically so the program’s data about where people were driving dangerously could help us prioritize our street safety projects. The next step was to tie speeding fines to making those safety improvements. Separating the fines from safety sends a message that these cameras are a cash grab, not to save lives on our roads.”
According to DDOT’s Crash Data Dashboard, last year, there were 337 major crashes and 35 fatalities, more than half of which were of pedestrians. In 2021, there were 409 major crashes and 40 fatalities, nearly half of which were of pedestrians. In 2019, there were 446 major crashes and 27 fatalities.
Advancing Electrification and Energy Efficiency in Commercial and Residential Buildings, for Low- and Moderate-Income Residents
One of the more significant investments proposed by the Committee is an infusion of new revenue into the Sustainable Energy Trust Fund (SETF), the Department of Energy and the Environment’s main source of funding for clean energy and energy efficiency programming and the District’s best tool for a cleaner energy future.
The climate-friendly, business-friendly, and resident-friendly projects supported by the SETF include, or are expanded by the Committee to include:
- Technical and financial support for large commercial building owners making the conversion to residential, including those in the District’s downtown, who need to meet Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS);
- Funding the Affordable Housing Retrofit Accelerator, which helps existing affordable apartment buildings pay for energy efficiency upgrades to meet BEPS standards;
- DC Green Bank-financed projects, including energy-saving improvements at affordable housing apartments, new solar and construction costs for small businesses, large purchases for energy efficient appliances and lighting, and Solar For All projects that currently benefit more than 600 residents in Wards 4, 7, 6, and 8;
- Residential electrification, notably significant funding for low- and middle-income households to replace gas heat and stoves with electric, including through a pilot program of up to $2 million next year for residents of the Ward 7 communities of River Terrace and Deanwood neighborhoods, and the Healthy Homes and Residential Amendment Act, which is currently before the Committee; and
- Funding job training for emerging fields in the green and clean energy economy, including specialized training for CBEs to remain competitive in the job market.
The SETF is underfunded and unable to fully meet its commitments, as funding lags the ambition of District residents and businesses to take advantage of its many programs. To get this all done, the Committee proposes a small increase in the monthly SETF fee collected on residential and commercial ratepayers; the average residential electric ratepayer will see a monthly increase of 85 cents per month, and natural gas just $1.77. More than 20,000 low-income households are currently exempt from SETF fees, and many more are likely eligible to apply for low-income utility subsidies. The Committee’s proposal is projected to generate $132 million over the next four years for SETF projects.
“This change will create immense benefits for long-time homeowners, small businesses, commercial property owners, owners of affordable housing buildings, and workers in the green economy – and those are all people we need to be successful to have a strong and equitable recovery,” said Councilmember Allen. “We’re out of time to kick the can down the road on climate change. We have to be bold with investments that both make the District a more attractive and sustainable place to live and do business and are also focused on communities most impacted by climate change. Some of that must be recognizing our fees should be targeting high energy users and investing that money right back into reducing excessive consumption, and thus reducing the fees.”
The Committee’s SETF changes also makes significant investments to help particularly lower- and middle-income residents convert existing home heating and cooking systems away from fossil fuels to cleaner burning electric systems and stoves. While some of this work can be done using federal funding, there is a cap on how much federal money can be dedicated to a single household’s expenses, and the federal funding that will be coming will run out before impacting all low-income households who need these conversions. During its testimony at the Committee’s budget hearing, the District’s Department of Energy and the Environment estimated that to do all of the work needed to really slash lower-income households’ energy bills, more funding is necessary. The Committee’s investments will mean that in addition to changing a resident’s heating system, DOEE will be able to do energy efficiency and weatherization work, ensuing that drafty windows don’t reduce the impact of major renovations. The Committee has dedicated significant portions of the new revenue toward the forthcoming Healthy Homes and Residential Electrification Amendment Act for this purpose.
Reversing the Delay in Building Energy Performance Standards
The District is a national leader in curbing fossil fuel use and carbon emissions from its buildings, which are the single largest sources of emissions within the District (nearly 75% of annual emissions). Driving that effort is the Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) program. In her budget, the Mayor proposed a delay in implementing BEPS, a proposal Councilmember Allen and the Committee explored thoroughly during oversight hearings. BEPS creates a series of three-year cycles in which different building sizes must submit plans to reduce their energy usage to a certain threshold. The first cycle is already two years into a three-year cycle. Nearly 80% of eligible buildings have selected a compliance pathway already and have spent money and time in reliance on the current deadlines. Additionally, any delay would mean a reset of the baseline used to set targets for energy use reduction. Given many of these large buildings are far less occupied than they were during the first measurement, it would set an even more expensive challenge to reduce energy use from an even lower starting baseline. Ultimately, the Committee decided that, though targeted tweaks to implementation may be necessary, a blanket delay would potentially harm building owners and compound the problem it sets out to solve.
To pair with reversing the delay, the Committee expanded DOEE’s authority to use SETF funds to help fund BEPS compliance efforts, recognizing the competing needs to bring down energy consumption while supporting commercial property owners. Under the proposal, funding for costs like technical assistance will now be available to businesses and projects enrolled in the Mayor’s proposed tax abatement program for commercial-to-residential conversions in the downtown.
An E-Bike Rebate is Coming, with a Focus on Helping Low-Income Residents Ride
Earlier this year, the Committee held a public hearing to consider two bills from Councilmembers Allen and Pinto to create an e-bike rebate program. E-bikes offer solutions to multiple transportation challenges and open biking as a transportation option to far more residents. While the final bill has yet to be finalized, the Committee is setting aside funding now to allow DDOT to stand up the program next year. The Committee identified funding for DDOT’s administrative costs, in addition to identifying $500,000 available for rebates next year.
“E-bikes unlock the city for many, many more residents,” said Councilmember Allen. “Aside from all of the compelling testimony we heard from families, people with long commutes East of the River, and small bike shops, I can see the impact of e-bikes nearly every morning when my colleagues bike in to the Wilson Building,” said Councilmember Allen. “We should absolutely be encouraging as many DC residents as possible to take advantage of this mode of transportation, especially those lower-income residents under my bill who couldn’t afford one otherwise.”