Mass Transit:

Many Management Successes at WMATA, but Capital Planning Could Be Enhanced

GAO-01-744: Published: Jul 3, 2001. Publicly Released: Aug 2, 2001.

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In recent years, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's (WMATA) public transit system has experienced problems with the safety and reliability of its transit services, including equipment breakdowns, delays in scheduled service, unprecedented crowding on trains, and some accidents and tunnel fires. At the same time, WMATA's ridership is at an all time high and WMATA managers expect the number of passengers to double during the next 25 years. This report reviews (1) the challenges WMATA faces in operating and maintaining its Metrorail system; (2) efforts WMATA has made to establish and monitor safety and security within its transit system; and (3) the extent to which WMATA follows established best practices in planning, selecting, and budgeting for its capital investments. GAO found that WMATA is addressing significant challenges brought about by the agency's aging equipment and infrastructure and its ever-increasing ridership. WMATA has established programs to identify, evaluate, and minimize safety and security risks throughout its rail and bus systems. WMATA has also adopted several best capital practices used by leading public and private sector organizations, but it could benefit by establishing a more formal, disciplined framework for its capital decision-making process. GAO summarized this report in testimony before Congress; see Mass Transit: WMATA Is Addressing Many Challenges, but Capital Planning Could Be Improved, by JayEtta Z. Hecker, Director of Physical Infrastructure Issues, before the Subcommittee on the District of Columbia, House Committee on Government Reform. GAO-01-1161T, Sept. 21 (17 pages).

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve the agency's strategic planning and capital investment practices, the General Manager of WMATA should formalize its capital decision-making process for the consolidated Capital Improvement Program by establishing and documenting an internal review and approval framework and standard procedures and decision packages for analyzing and deciding on projects.

    Agency Affected: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: WMATA created the Office of Capital Program Oversight which developed an internal review and approval framework for the agency's capital projects. This framework, known as the Capital Program Prioritization (CPP) Process, is designed to provide WMATA with an investment approach to managing all of its capital assets. Under this process, WMATA will rate all proposed capital projects according to criteria that are linked to WMATA's strategic goals and objectives. WMATA has prepared a template and policy instructions for the CPP process. The ranking results will be incorporated in WMATA's capital budget process.

    Recommendation: To improve the agency's strategic planning and capital investment practices, the General Manager of WMATA should develop a long-term capital plan that covers all three programs of its newly formed consolidated Capital Improvement Program (Infrastructure Renewal Program, System Expansion Program, and System Access and Capacity Program). This plan should be updated annually or biennially.

    Agency Affected: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: WMATA developed a 10-year capital plan that covers all three of its major capital programs, and publicly released it in September 2002. WMATA plans to update its capital plan annually as part of the budget process.

    Recommendation: To improve the agency's strategic planning and capital investment practices, the General Manager of WMATA should develop a long-term capital plan that covers all three programs of its newly formed consolidated Capital Improvement Program (Infrastructure Renewal Program, System Expansion Program, and System Access and Capacity Program). This plan should include alternate funding strategies and project outcomes, depending on the availability of funding from federal and local sources.

    Agency Affected: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: WMATA developed a 10-year capital plan that covers all three of its major capital programs, and publicly released it in September 2002. WMATA disagreed with this portion of the recommendation, citing its concern that developing contingency plans for addressing anticipated budgetary shortfalls would encourage its funding agencies to reduce the level of resources provided to WMATA. GAO continues to believe that prudent management requires WMATA to plan for its shortfalls, but WMATA has indicated that it will not publish alternate funding strategies or contingency plans.

    Recommendation: To improve the agency's strategic planning and capital investment practices, the General Manager of WMATA should develop a long-term capital plan that covers all three programs of its newly formed consolidated Capital Improvement Program (Infrastructure Renewal Program, System Expansion Program, and System Access and Capacity Program). This plan should define each project's justification and its baseline lifecycle costs, schedule, performance requirements, benefits, and risks.

    Agency Affected: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: WMATA developed a 10-year capital plan that covers all three of its major capital programs, and publicly released it in September 2002. The plan contains project descriptions, justifications, lifecycle costs, and benefits, and it discusses risks such as funding challenges.

    Recommendation: To improve the agency's strategic planning and capital investment practices, the General Manager of WMATA should develop a long-term capital plan that covers all three programs of its newly formed consolidated Capital Improvement Program (Infrastructure Renewal Program, System Expansion Program, and System Access and Capacity Program). This plan should document WMATA's capital decision-making strategy and link it to the agency's overall goals and objectives.

    Agency Affected: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: WMATA developed a 10-year capital plan that covers all three of its major capital programs, and publicly released it in September 2002. The plan documents WMATA's capital decision-making strategy, and is linked to its strategic vision, goals, and objectives.

    Recommendation: To improve the agency's strategic planning and capital investment practices, the General Manager of WMATA should develop a long-term strategic plan and annual performance plans that clearly define the agency's multi-year goals and objectives and its specific plans for achieving those goals and objectives.

    Agency Affected: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: WMATA created a top-level organization dedicated to strategic planning, and developed a strategic plan that was publicly released in September 2002. WMATA created a Department of Planning and Strategic Programs in December 2001, headed by a newly-hired Assistant General Manager. The Department has three offices, responsible for capital programming and oversight, business planning and project development, and information technology and services. WMATA's strategic plan defines goals and objectives, is integrated with its business planning process, and contains performance measures that will be monitored every 6 months. The plan is being reviewed by the Board of Directors and area jurisdictions.

    Recommendation: To improve the agency's strategic planning and capital investment practices, the General Manager of WMATA should develop a process and procedures--in consultation with the Transportation Planning Board and the state and local jurisdictions served by WMATA--for taking a more active role in (1) identifying, analyzing, and evaluating alternatives for expanding WMATA's transit system and (2) proposing the most efficient and cost-effective projects for expanding the system.

    Agency Affected: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: WMATA revised and improved its capital project development process by (1) restructuring the process to include more input from planners, (2) allocating $3 million annually to conduct its own feasibility studies to develop and evaluate project development alternatives, and (3) completing alternatives analyses on four regional corridors. It also issued a 10-year capital plan that outlined its capital spending priorities and alternatives for expanding the transit system in the most cost-efficient and effective manner. The plan called for less capital intensive alternatives, such as trolleys and rapid bus lines--a departure from WMATA's past reliance on heavy rail subways to meet its capital expansion requirements.

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