Today, the DC Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment will meet at 3 p.m. to vote on Councilmember Charles Allen’s Metro for DC bill, which would allow all DC residents to sign up for a recurring monthly balance of $100 on their SmarTrip cards and dedicate at least $10 million annually to improving and expanding bus and transit service in the District.
The vote will be streamed on the DC Council’s website live here: https://dccouncil.gov/council-videos/
“For the essential worker who never stopped commuting and depends on the bus and train, this is going to be a much-needed boost to their family’s budget. And for residents who have more options, this will help bring more people back to the Metro,” said Ward 6 Councilmember Allen. “But I want to be clear: low-cost or free service isn’t worth much if the system doesn’t meet riders’ needs. That's why Metro for DC pairs this monthly transit subsidy with millions each year to improve bus and transit - especially in underserved neighborhoods - to improve service, reliability, frequency, and quality of the rides residents need."
Councilmember Allen continued, “We need to have a respected, world-class transit system, and that means D.C. must act aggressively to transform it. I want to thank Councilmember Cheh for her leadership to get the bill through Committee and sharing my vision for a stronger, rider-focused rail and bus system, and I'm looking forward to the full Council votes.”
The Committee on Transportation and the Environment is chaired by Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3). When the bill passes out of the Committee, it heads to the Committee of the Whole and then to the full Council for consideration.
In its final version of the bill, the Committee elected to make the benefit available to all DC residents immediately rather than go through an extensive process to set up means testing to make the program available only at certain income levels.
An analysis of the bill by the DC Council Budget Office found that 67 percent of D.C. residents who regularly use WMATA earn less than $90,000 and nearly 40% of likely beneficiaries earn less than $36,000 a year. It could have cost the District tens of millions of dollars to set up a system to temporarily limit the benefit by income level, which was roughly the same cost to provide the subsidy to everyone. The Committee felt it was better to spend those funds to immediately move to the full benefit, instead of building a system that would eventually become obsolete.
Here are some other key findings from the analysis by the budget office:
- D.C. residents who make less than $50,000 per year are far more likely to rely on public transit than residents with higher incomes.
- 78% of D.C. riders don’t have a workplace transit subsidy.
- White D.C. residents are more than twice as likely as Black D.C. residents to have a workplace transit subsidy
- The highest income riders are more than five times as likely as the lowest income riders to have a workplace transit subsidy.
- 92% of Metro riders spent less than $100 per month on transit before the pandemic.
“When I first introduced Metro For DC, it was right before the pandemic. It was an important idea then, but now as we recover, it’s now an imperative. Metro's success means the District’s success, and this bill can help bring riders back and close the system’s revenue gap. Ultimately, it means each rider will be deciding to invest in Metro’s future and the system they want to see,” said Councilmember Allen.
“But this is about more than riders’ wallets. I’ve heard from many small businesses excited about what more affordable transit will mean both for their employees and customers,” said Councilmember Allen. “Bold policies like this will add up to reasons why a business decides to open up shop in D.C. and why it flourishes.”
About the $10 Million Transit Equity Fund
The dedicated funding could be used by DDOT and WMATA for all enhancements related to bus or Streetcar service, with the bill prioritizing historically underserved areas, where residents are especially dependent on public transit. That funding could include paying for new bus, Circulator, or Streetcar lines within the District, funding increased service on existing lines, and creating bus and Streetcar infrastructure such as bus lanes, bus shelters, and more.
About the $100 Monthly SmarTrip Balance
All DC residents would be able to sign up to receive a recurring, monthly balance of $100 on a registered SmarTrip card. Each month everyone in the program would receive just enough to bring their total balance back to $100, without accumulating balances. This is a cost-control and consumer choice measure to ensure the District only subsidizes rides actually taken, another way the bill tries to ensure WMATA has an incentive to improve service to earn riders. The bill excludes any federal workers who currently receive a federal transit subsidy.
About Funding Metro For DC
The Committee maintained Councilmember Allen’s proposal to pay for the program by capturing unbudgeted increases to projected revenue that the District’s Chief Financial Officer identifies after the Council approves the annual budget. This is different from surplus revenue identified after the fiscal year is over, which is already dedicated to the Housing Production Trust Fund and debt management.
Of note, The Pew Charitable Trusts also completed a Health Note analysis of the Metro For DC bill, which is available here. While the health note does not take a stance on the bill, it examines what impacts the legislation could have on public health.