116 workers qualify for program
All Metro employees get free rides on the transit system, but 116 of them also get to drive agency-owned vehicles home each day.
Of those, 88 mid-level managers and superintendents in the bus, rail, track maintenance and engineering divisions drive the vehicles, according to information obtained through a public records request. The remaining 28 are assigned to Metro Transit Police.
Other workers can receive them for temporary use for special events or during snowstorms.
Many government agencies give some employees take-home vehicles. For a transit agency designed to reduce the use of cars, though, the idea of encouraging their own employees to drive to work may sound surprising.
The cars can only be used for job-related trips. They are given to essential workers who must be able to respond anywhere in the agency's 1,500 square-mile service area, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. The workers may need to travel before the system opens or to reach construction sites or tracks that don't have direct transit service.
To qualify for a take-home vehicle, he said, the workers must supervise multiple job sites beyond a 10 mile-radius from the agency's headquarters on Fifth Street in Northwest D.C., have oversight over multiple construction sites or work for the Metro Transit police as command staff or a K9 handler.
It is standard for police officers to receive take-home vehicles, especially when part of the top brass so they can get anywhere in the system at any time, Stessel said. "Those officers are expected to able to respond at any hour whether public transportation is running or not," he said.
About 1 percent of the work force have the vehicles, he said.
He noted that none of the executive leadership team gets them except for the police chief. Instead, managers such as General Manager Richard Sarles have access to a pool of vehicles if needed.
But such a pool wouldn't make sense for front-line managers, Stessel said. "It would not be feasible or efficient for these employees to be required to report to a [Metro] location to pick up their work vehicle when responding to a incident," he said.
It's not clear how much the agency is paying for the program. Metro told The Washington Examiner that it does not track the annual costs for take-home vehicles.
Metro owns some of the vehicles but pays an average of $500 per month each to lease of the rest, Stessel said. They also pay an average of about $545 per year to maintain each car. If all the take-home vehicles were leased, they would cost about $759,000 per year not including fuel.
"The primary consideration isn't cost -- it's ability to respond," Stessel wrote in an e-mail.
Those who get the vehicles do have some tax responsibility for the cars to meet IRS requirements. Each employee who uses the cars to and from home are credited as having received $1.50 per trip - less than the cost of a subway ride.