Most transit systems have two budgets: capital, to pay for things like trains and rails, and operating, for running the equipment they already have. And most rely on a few different sources for the money, including fares, advertising, and local government subsidies. Here’s where Metro’s subsidy funding comes from:

Images from the Urban Institute.

Another way most systems pay for capital and operations is through dedicated funding sources, like specific taxes or property assessment. Metro doesn’t have that.

Instead, Metro relies on a patchwork of annual subsidies from local governments. In effect, Metro competes yearly against myriad other public spending priorities, its operating budget consistently facing some level of appropriations risk.

Here’s how Metro’s funding compares to MBTA’s in Boston and MTA’s in New York:

Relying on risky and unreliable funding makes it more difficult to plan and allocate funding for multi-year safety and performance improvements. And while securing dedicated funding wouldn’t fix all of Metro’s woes, a more stable and reliable operating budget funding would bring Metro’s budget in line with other systems and help provide a stronger platform for keeping the entire system in a state of good repair.

As DC Metro riders know all too well, the March 16 shutdown of the entire Metrorail system is only the latest in a series of frequent safety and performance issues. Would a dedicated funding source help Metro solidify its financial planning and cut the number and frequency of unplanned system disruptions?

Matt Eldridge is a DC area native (born in the District and raised in Montgomery County, MD) and currently resides in Shaw. He is a Research Manager at the Urban Institute focusing on how innovative public financing can help yield improved social outcomes. His other interests include public transportation, land use planning, and urban design.

Rayanne Hawkins is a senior manager at the Urban Institute and VP of Finance for DC Net Impact. Her research interests include US technology policy, Pay for Success, and other alternative financing for public services and infrastructure. She resides in Kalorama with her two cats where she experiments with how to brew the perfect iced coffee.