The Washington Nationals, Major League Baseball and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority seem to be at a rather regrettable impasse in their negotiations to ensure public transportation is available following playoff games in Washington this autumn.
As a means of gaining an all-important prime time spotlight for invested networks, MLB’s post season schedule typically dictates a later start time for its games than it does during the regular season. While this will be suitable for those of us consuming National League playoff baseball contests on television, it offers an uninviting conundrum to fans in Washington who plan on attending games at Nationals Park where the nearest public transit shuts down around midnight.
There is a costly solution to this problem, and the Nationals, as other local sports franchises have done, seemed willing to pay WMATA the requisite $30,000 per additional hour to keep their trains moving – especially after they rather disastrously failed to do so for a game that ran late in August against the Atlanta Braves. However, MLB, fearful of what type of precedent such a payment might set for other franchises, has since stepped in to play an integral role in negotiations.
According to MLB spokesperson Matt Bourne, citing a league-wide policy that prohibits teams from regularly picking up the tab to fund late night service from its local transit:
No other MLB team has had to pay for service. We’ve never had to face this issue.
Whether you side with the team, the league or WMATA, it’s important to note the unique funding woes that the public transit infrastructure faces in the Washington area: There is no committed source of funding from local jurisdictions. Every year, WMATA must seek individual contributions from eight different districts, counties and cities. While their funding situation is different from most, Washington’s public transit’s problems are all too familiar.
Michael Perkins of the Greater Greater Washington blog describes the situation facing WMATA and pretty much every other transit authority in North America.
Nearly every year, labor and benefits costs increase based on WMATA’s labor agreements, determined by arbitration, and some other costs like fuel and energy have also often increased. Meanwhile, fares don’t automatically increase, and area jurisdictions don’t automatically promise to put in more money each year to cover rising costs.
Adding to WMATA’s unwillingness to provide free late night transportation for the Nationals and Major League Baseball, something for which it’s compensated without difficulty by the Capitals, Redskins or Wizards, is the fact that the majority of the $611 million cost of building Nationals Park for the 2008 season was paid for by the District of Columbia, the transit system’s largest funds provider. The construction of the stadium coincided with the financial crisis, which impacted Washington Metro rather heavily in terms of its debtors demanding immediate repayment of loans. Unsurprisingly, additional funding from the district level, which cover the cost of the majority of the system’s debts, wasn’t available to help finance these requests.
So, four years later, we might understand why WMATA would be hesitant to provide a free service to a profitable enterprise whose local peers have had no problems funding. Perhaps the strangest part of all this is that the problem appeared to be on it’s way to being settled before MLB stepped in, worried about a potential precedent that’s difficult to accept as legitimate, given the uniqueness of the situation in Washington.
If MLB was hoping to strong arm WMATA into providing the service for free through public perception, the move has resolutely failed in this writer’s mind where baseball has emerged as the villain in essentially stopping fans from having a legitimate source of public transportation from playoff games in Washington.
For more on the issue:
Will Nationals fans be able to get home following post season games? [FanGraphs]
The Nats, Metro and extra innings. [D.C. Sports Bog]
D.C. Council Member says Nationals won’t pay for late night Metro service because MLB won’t let them. [Deadspin]
And The Rest
The Baltimore Orioles are once again tied for first place in the American League East with the New York Yankees. [Camden Chat]
The New York Yankees are once again tied for first place in the American League East with the Baltimore Orioles. [River Avenue Blues]
The Boston Red Sox are happy to play the role of spoiler. [Over The Monster]
No matter how you slice it, the Tampa Bay Rays are favored over the Baltimore Orioles. [Baseball Nation]
For Philadelphia Phillies fans, being hopeful and realistic don’t have to be mutually exclusive. [Crashburn Alley]
Spending a little bit more money on payroll than the bottom-tier teams is correlated with a large jump in wins, but spending a significant amount of more money does not. [Fangraphs]
How the Los Angeles Dodgers are wasting A.J. Ellis. [Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness]
Not a typo: In praise of Brandon Crawford. [McCovey Chronicles]
The New York Yankees team bus hit a gate at Fenway Park. [NESN.com]
Eleven candidates for the best comeback player. [Baseball Prospectus]
The Baltimore Orioles have designated Kevin Gregg for assignment. [MLB Trade Rumors]
Consider the umpire. [The Classical]