Rep. Rob Wittman takes a blue line train to the Capitol South Metro Station on Friday.
The man to your left on the Metro this morning, the one reading a spy novel?
That could’ve been Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), who rides the red and blue or orange lines every morning that Congress is in session.
The man balancing against the car doors, his Express opened to the sports page?
That might’ve been Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.), taking the orange line from his home in Eastern Market.
And you may have seen Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) on his way in from a meeting in his district, answering emails on his BlackBerry.
These three Members of Congress aren’t the only lawmakers who ride the Metro frequently, but they’re part of a fairly small caucus. Although Congress is in charge of allocating funds to D.C.’s Metro system, few Members hop on the blue or orange lines at Capitol South Metro Station at the end of the day, opting instead to drive — sometimes hundreds of miles — home.
Those who do ride are loyal to the system, despite its many service hiccups and never-ending track maintenance.
“I’ve been here for 20 years, and I’ve been riding the Metro for 20 years,” Pastor said. He’ll often explore the city on the Metro if Congress gets out early, taking the train to restaurants in Adams Morgan and Bethesda, Md. Pastor also takes the Circulator, when it’s available, and he tends to hop on a bus or train if he’s home and a vote is called at the Capitol. Pastor said he’d recommend the Metro to visitors to the District and Members of Congress alike.
“It’s very safe accommodations,” he said. “If you want to know what the city is really like, ride the Metro or a public bus.”
Larsen said there’s no question for him about whether to Metro or drive from his home each morning. His wife usually needs the family car, but even if he had access to a car, he’d still ride the red line.
“Being honked at, screamed at, yelled at while driving in D.C. is not something I miss,” he said.
But Metro, and public transportation systems nationwide, often experiences a disconnect between the funding that it needs and the funding offered by the federal government. Federal funding for public transit has steadily increased since the mid-1980s, when a portion of the Highway Trust Fund was set aside for transit nationwide.
But as ridership increases and old systems decay, more funding than ever before will be required in upcoming years to support public transit.
“All the trends we see in the future point to a large growth in demand for public transportation,” explained Paul Dean, director of government relations for the American Public Transportation Association. Population growth in urban areas and rising gas prices, he said, coupled with an increasing national interest in greener forms of transportation, are likely to increase the burden on public transit in the upcoming decades.
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