You wouldn’t be wrong to blame Transdev for crippling public transportation in Northern Virginia since October.
The multinational corporation all but guaranteed a strike by taking every dollar of profit it could out of its workers’ pockets. It was paying bus drivers $12 per hour less on average than the public sector drivers working the same routes. It forced many drivers to work 10+ hour shifts with no breaks and sent others to the hospital due to damaged buses.
Transdev’s greed was on full display when, in retaliation for the strike, it cut health benefits to diabetics and single parents. Apparently, its $177 million in profits last year wasn’t enough.
But the fault ultimately lies with the current leadership of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, known as WMATA.
They chose to privatize the Cinder Bed Road bus garage, discounting the decades of evidence that privatization of public goods often leads to poorer service for communities and lower wages for workers. They ignored history, forgetting that the District first took over bus service in 1973 because the private companies that ran it were gouging riders with expensive fares.
Instead of advocating for more money from the state, local, and federal government leaders who fund WMATA, they put the burden of a crumbling, underfunded public transit system on low-wage workers. And now they’re trying to skirt responsibility by refusing to settle the conflict.
The path forward is astonishingly simple.
WMATA should intervene by enforcing the terms of the contract and fining Transdev for cutting service. If Transdev won’t cooperate, they should bring the Cinder Bed Road garage back under public control where it belongs.
Local leaders in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland should explore progressive ways to raise the revenue needed to fix WMATA’s aging buses and metro system, all while paying workers a living wage. One common sense idea that’s worked other places in the country is to create special tax districts for areas that benefit from proximity to Metro stations.
Finally, WMATA should drop its plans to privatize other parts of the Metro system—because, clearly, privatization doesn’t work.