Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

A closer look at WMATA's study about regional Metro benefits

January 17, 2012 - 10:30 AM
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(Photo: Jay Westcott)

Last fall, Metro announced a new report: "Making the Case for Transit: WMATA Regional Benefits of Transit," the abstract of which was then available online. You may remember this as the "imagine there's no Metro" report. Or perhaps you were fixated on the cost, reported at $200,000 at the time. Sixteen cents per rider. Some critics of WMATA still point to that report as a ridiculous sign of Metro waste. Others suggested it was a foolish exercise for WMATA to go around envisioning scenarios in which it didn't exist.

I defended the report in mid-December. Quantitative analysis like this does cost money and enumerating the capital benefits of transit is a sure way for WMATA to acquire more money from the different local and federal governments, among other stakeholders. To break down these benefits is a sign that WMATA is, as people have long requested, committed to a better understanding of their system and a strategic understanding as well as undertaking.

Now in January, I've begun to look over a copy of the full WMATA report on regional benefits, 67 pages that break down the regional benefits rather than the few pages of the abstract we saw before.

One thing that stands out to me now is how many partners WMATA brought in to help conduct and review this study, "a group of outside experts and stakeholders" that "held three meetings over the course of the study to suggest benefits metrics and methodologies, define and select benefits metrics, review and provide feedback to the study, and disseminate the results." The steering committee reinforces the credibility of this report, I'll suggest, and points to something deeper and much more serious than back-patting PR. These WMATA partner organizations included:

• Federal Transit Administration (U.S. Department of Transportation)

• Greater Washington Board of Trade

• Maryland Department of Transportation 

• Northern Virginia Transportation Commission

•  District of Columbia Office of Planning 

• Center for Clean Air Policy

• Brookings Institution 

• Urban Land Institute

• Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District

• D.C. Business Improvement District Council 

• Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington

Does the coordination of these steering committee members as well as the report's significant quantitative analysis, conducted by AECOM and the WMATA Office of Long Range Planning, help explain the $200,000 price tag yet? They should.

The market surrounding development and real estate is becoming increasingly robust in the greater Washington, D.C. metro region, and the report helps give context and numbers to sentiments people already feel. CBRE revealed recently that the D.C. metro region experienced $4.7 billion in multi-family sales last year and the economic benefits of transit. "People are paying a premium to be within a one-block radius of a Metro station, and properties within walking distance of Metro stations continue to be a strong lure for investors," the CBRE head of the D.C. multi-housing property investment team told CityBizList. "The closer to the Metro station, the higher the value of the property."

Now Metro has numbers to back that and many other transit benefit assertions up. According to the report, Metro adds "6.8% more value to residential, 9.4% to multi-family, and 8.9% to commercial office properties within a half-mile of a rail station" and "the demand for locations near Metrorail stations produces approximately $133M (1⁄4 mile) to $224M (1⁄2 mile) in additional revenues from property taxes due to the premium associated with properties located near rail stations." Of all land within WMATA's "compact area" in the greater metro region (with a total of $800 billion in property value), 28% of land falls within a half mile of a Metro station and close to 15% is located within a quarter mile. 

The report details how WMATA works as a recruitment tool, how transit saves room when considering the number of cars it displaces, saves time when considering the 148,000 hours that would be lost to traffic congestion (although what of the time lost to Metro delays?), and so on. Consider the money saved from fewer car accidents — it's $224.7 million annually, according to this analysis. Emissions savings is another couple million. WMATA needs to know and own these numbers to get the proper funding to ensure it is safe and reliable and a boon to the D.C. metro region in the years ahead. The agency should absolutely tout the benefits of fuel savings, of clean air, of economic virtue. A Boston Globe Jan. 12 editorial praised WMATA's effort and suggested the T would benefit from something similar: "[The D.C. Metro report] is a long way of showing that a well-functioning transit system has implications not just for seasoned strap-hangers, but for employers, developers, and automobile commuters."

Or would you rather pay even higher fares as Metro attempts to rustle up funds? To sell transit, you have to know its benefits.

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