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Cheh Proposes Sweeping Overhaul Of D.C. Transportation Agencies

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Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) chairs the D.C. Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment.
Jared Angle/WAMU
Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) chairs the D.C. Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment.

A changing transportation landscape demands a new way of doing things in D.C. government, according District Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3).

In Washington, where 40 percent of households are car-free and transportation options are multiplying, driven by technological innovation placing commuting choices on the screen on your smartphone, Cheh is proposing a major overhaul of government’s role in transportation policy, planning, and regulation.

Shuffling D.C. transportation agencies

In legislation that will be introduced today, Cheh is seeking to abolish the D.C. Taxicab Commission, strip the District Department of Transportation of all public transit and bicycle responsibilities, including the coming H Street streetcar, and create a new agency to enforce and adjudicate all parking tickets, dismantling the current setup now juggled by three different agencies.

“We've decided to restructure the agencies so that they make sense,” said Cheh, the chair of the council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment.

Cheh’s plan is designed to take the existing five bureaucracies that deal with all aspects of transportation and parking (the Departments of Public Works, Motor Vehicles, Transportation, Environment, and the Taxicab Commission) and make them six by dropping one (Taxicab Commission) and creating two: a Department of Parking Management and District Transit Authority.

DDOT is overwhelmed by too many responsibilities, resulting in delayed projects, Cheh said. Moreover, there are simply many more modes of transportation to manage now than a decade ago when DDOT was established: the D.C. Circulator, Capital Bikeshare, and, expected later this year, the first streetcar line in half a century.

“What DDOT lacks now is the ability to look at all of these new forms of transportation that we have and make sense out of them, have a coherent set of policies, and run them well,” Cheh said. “The streetcar is a primary example: all the years we've been waiting for streetcar, the way we went about it. We ordered the cars first and then they sat out in the rain for five years. It’s been a mish-mosh because DDOT has not been geared up to deal with that properly.”

DDOT would be left to build and maintain roads and bridges under Cheh’s proposal. The new District Transit Authority would manage multi-modal planning, bike share, and public transit services.

“We need a government operation that conforms to the way real people live. We haven't had the benefit of an agency looking comprehensively and coherently at all of these different modes of transit and now we will separate that out and do that,” Cheh said.

The current functions of the D.C. Taxicab Commission would be divided between two agencies: the licensing and registration of taxis would become the responsibility of the Department of Motor Vehicles. The regulation of taxicabs would go to the District Transit Authority.

The commission is the target of criticism from all angles. Cab drivers complain about the burden of regulations; innovative tech startups like Uber have battled regulators over their role in the evolving personal transportation market. While Cheh believes the commission has lagged behind the technological curve, she credits its chairman Ron Linton with adapting to the changes that provide residents a bounty of options in the vehicle-for-hire industry.

Cheh’s plan for a Department of Parking Management would end the confusing and aggravating system where Public Works writes most tickets, DDOT sets the parking rules, and the DMV adjudicates motorists’ claims.

Some early approval

AAA Mid-Atlantic, a vocal critic of D.C.’s parking morass, applauded Cheh’s plan.

“This proposed measure will bring major and much-needed changes to the parking ticketing process in the District, which is nightmarish and horrendous. District drivers and non-resident motorists say they have had enough of the draconian ticketing, for which the city is notorious,” said AAA spokesman John Townsend.

If Cheh’s ambitious overhaul of transportation agencies is approved by the end of the year, she expects it will take another year for full implementation.

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