Dear WMATA Board of Directors,
We, the undersigned organizations, are deeply concerned that the Board of Directors of the Washington Metro have planned to subsidize trips on transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft for late night and early morning workers, instead of restoring hours of service during those times.
By subsidizing services like Uber and Lyft, WMATA is effectively subsidizing its competition and undermining its own long-term viability in exchange for short-term monetary savings, at the expense of low-income workers and the environment.
The plan calls for a subsidy of $3 per worker per trip. Even with this subsidy, it will be a financial burden on low-wage workers to use transportation network services instead of Metro.
As an hypothetical example, a worker who commutes from a job in the vicinity of Metro Center to their home near the New Carrolton stop on the Orange Line would pay an off-peak fare of $3.65 for late night Metro service. An Uber trip from the Metro Center to the New Carrolton stop would cost $14.70 per trip even with a pool option, as determined from Uber’s own fare estimation website. If this individual does not have any coworkers commuting in the same direction, they will have to pay $22.48 per ride. A $3 subsidy per ride – or even a $10 subsidy reportedly mentioned by some members of the WMATA Board – will be grossly inadequate for a low-wage worker.
This is of particular concern because of accelerating gentrification of the Washington, DC metro area, with lower-income households increasingly priced out of neighborhoods that are closer to the downtown area with better transportation access. It’s disproportionately lower-income riders who pay higher Metro fares to begin with, and for WMATA to further burden this population by not restoring late-night service when it is feasible and safe to do so would compound this inequity.
Shifting trips from transit to low-occupancy vehicles also locks in higher carbon emissions. Replacing fossil fuel burning vehicles with zero-emission electric vehicles is a key element of cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, which is the largest and fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Metrorail is already electrified, WMATA is looking at electrification of its own bus fleet, and its DC Circulator partnership with the District of Columbia government has launched a significant electric bus pilot program.
While Uber has committed to full electrification of its fleet in London, their pilot electrification program in the U.S. does not include the Washington, DC metro area. Likewise, Lyft has only recently announced a vague commitment to introduce “thousands” of electric vehicles on its platform and a very small geographical footprint for the rollout that also excludes the Washington, DC metro area. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded, we need “rapid and far-reaching transitions…with no documented historic precedent” in all of our social, economic, and technological systems. We need bold, concrete action today. Instead, WMATA subsidizing Uber and Lyft rides would be a step back.
The greenhouse gas emissions of the transportation network industry are exacerbated by the industry’s business model, which entails saturating markets with unlimited numbers of vehicles. TNC companies lobby hard against attempts by local governments to cap the number of vehicles the industry can have on the road at any given time. This has consequences for congestion, emissions, and traffic safety.
An academic study has shown that a conservative estimate of the share of miles driven by transportation network drivers without a passenger (known in the industry as deadhead miles) is more than 40 percent. Worst of all, the study found vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increased almost 84 percent because of the introduction of transportation network services.
The proliferation of these services has cannibalized the share of trips that would otherwise have used public transit, the one best way to reduce the environmental impact of transportation other than bicycling and walking. A recent University of Kentucky study found that the entry of transportation network companies into an urban market causes bus ridership to decrease 1.7 percent a year and rail transit ridership to decrease 1.3 percent a year — and the effect is cumulative.
One of the most disturbing impacts of the growth of the transportation network industry is that it appears to be a part of the explanation for the reversal since 2010 of the decades-long trend of decreasing traffic fatalities in the U.S., with a recent study estimating that the growth of the industry can explain a 2 to 4 percent increase in fatal accidents.
This shortsighted strategy will also have a harmful impact on workers’ rights. WMATA workers are members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and have family-supporting jobs with good benefits. But the transportation network industry, along with other parts of the so-called gig economy, routinely classify their employees as independent contractors, exempting themselves from following minimum wage and other labor laws, denying the workers healthcare and other benefits, and starving governments of payroll taxes. This is an abusive practice, and one that WMATA must not subsidize.
The industry also has a terrible record when it comes to providing access to people with disabilities, and most outrageously, Uber claims that it is exempt from having to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Finally, on many of these issues — workers’ rights, environmental impact, disability access, and traffic safety — Uber and Lyft have a shameful record of trying to resist regulation by aggressively lobbying state legislatures to overrule local governments’ efforts to rein them in, and even going to the extent of entering markets illegally and paying the resulting fines as a part of their cost of doing business. WMATA should not be subsidizing businesses with such utter disdain for regulations in the public interest.
For all of these reasons, we urge you to do the right thing by restoring late night Metro service instead of subsidizing an industry that undermines affordable public transit, harms the planet, exploits workers, disrespects people with disabilities, contributes to worsening traffic safety trends, and dismantles common sense regulation in the public interest.
Montgomery County Taxi Workers’ Alliance