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Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill Providing for a Commission To Regulate Public Transportation of Passengers in the Washington Area.

September 03, 1954

I HAVE WITHHELD my approval from H.R. 2236, entitled "An Act to provide for a Commission to regulate the public transportation of passengers by motor vehicle and street railroad within the metropolitan area of Washington, District of Columbia, and for the establishment of a Metropolitan Washington Commission."

Title I of this enactment would establish a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Commission to regulate public transportation by bus, streetcar and taxicab in the District of Columbia and the counties of Montgomery and Prince Georges in the State of Maryland. The bill would grant to the proposed new Commission, in strengthened form, most of the powers now separately exercised in this regard by the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Public Utilities Commissions of the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Title II of the bill would create a temporary Metropolitan Washington Commission to study, investigate, and make recommendations with regard to certain aspects of the Washington metropolitan area transportation problem.

The regulation of public transportation in the greater Washington area must contend with the growth of an integral economic community spreading far beyond the boundaries of the District of Columbia to include Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties in Maryland and Arlington and Fairfax Counties and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church in Virginia. Within this community, the daily travel of persons back and forth across State lines has reached dimensions with which present facilities cannot cope. Under these circumstances, it is understandable that the present division of responsibility for regulation among four different agencies no longer meets the needs of the area. This division of responsibility has contributed, as it could not help but do, to the development of an inadequate system of public transportation. The situation plainly requires the unification of regulatory authorities over public transportation throughout the metropolitan area.

The present enactment, however, falls substantially short of this objective. Its failure to include the Virginia segment of the metropolitan area within the jurisdiction of the proposed Commission is a fundamental deficiency. Through this omission of an integral and important part of the greater economic community, a system of fragmented and divided regulatory authority is continued. What is worse,. the Federal Government is placed in the position of treating the carriers and persons within one segment of the area on a different and discriminatory basis from those in the remainder of the area. In the absence of any substantial grounds for this differentiation, the measure is unacceptable even as a temporary expedient.

This bill is also unsatisfactory because it extends, without sufficient safeguards, the authority of the Federal Government to matters that have, hitherto, been considered as primarily the concern of the District of Columbia and of the States. The problem is difficult because the urgency of need and the extent of Federal interest in the Nation's Capital both argue for unification of regulatory authorities under Federal auspices, at least for the time being. However, in any such arrangement means must be found to give adequate recognition to the rights and responsibilities of the District and of the States involved. Specifically, provision should be made to enable the States of Maryland and Virginia and the District of Columbia eventually to make arrangements for the exercise of this function under joint responsibility. In this regard, it would appear desirable to explore the feasibility of utilizing an interstate compact or other cooperative arrangement in which the Federal Government would participate and the Federal interest would be fully protected. In addition, every effort should be made to minimize the impact of any new Commission upon the internal affairs of the District of Columbia.

With respect to Title II of the enactment, I agree that further study of metropolitan transportation problems is desirable. The primary mission assigned to the Commission is related directly to highway, bridge and traffic problems. In emphasizing this role rather than consideration of mass transit problems, the bill unnecessarily complicates relationships with the National Capital Planning Commission and the National Capital Regional Planning Council. I believe that further consideration by the Congress will result in a more orderly allocation of responsibilities between the Commission and these existing planning agencies. Title II also establishes undesirable limitations governing the appointment and qualification of members of the Commission.

I hope that the 84th Congress will promptly enact a measure to unify regulatory authorities over public transportation and provide for a further transit study with adequate coverage and recognition of State and District responsibilities. Since Title I of this bill would not have become fully effective until July 1, 1955, there need be no significant loss of time in obtaining its objectives. Similarly, time did not permit the Congress to provide funds for Title II before adjournment. Therefore, since an appropriation cannot be made until after the Congress convenes in January, little time, if any, need be lost in the studies which a revised Title II would encompass.


Note: This memorandum was released at Lowry Air Force Base, Denver, Colo.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill Providing for a Commission To Regulate Public Transportation of Passengers in the Washington Area. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232582

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