Transit and Accountability in Boston and D.C.

Having grown up in D.C. and the surrounding area, I, unfortunately, am accustomed to just how inept local government can be (yes Northeasterners, it can be worse. Much worse). This is disastrous in the long run:

Like it or not, D.C.’s failures of governance, including Metro, affect everyone. D.C. is full of people who are interested in government, regardless of which side of the aisle they’re on. These are typically younger people, for many of whom D.C. is the first time living in a city and dealing with local government as adults. Every time there is a failure of governance, a new cohort is taught that government is a failure and that urban living is screwed up. Neither of these lessons is helpful.

Which brings to this comparison of how Boston’s MBTA and D.C.’s Metro react to problems (boldface mine):

I have lived all over the United States and have been a daily rider on subways in Boston, New York and Chicago. Nowhere else comes close [to D.C.] in terms of the utter inability to respond effectively to incidents.

In other cities where a particular line has recurring problems or where there is a problem in a central control function, people are fired and new people are brought in. This is done in a public manner and is a part of a culture of accountability in those systems. I have been riding Metro regularly for about nine years, and during that time I have watched whatever bits of accountability there once was all but disappear.

One other little point from Boston: When a couple of lines had problems, the general manager and his line operational managers set out to be visible on platforms at designated times. There’s nothing like having to face the public that you are pledged to serve to whip people into shape and get results.

MARC started doing this, too, after their celebrated failures a few years back. Metro’s managers are way too isolated for their own and for the riders’ good.

It’s really hard to stress to people outside of D.C., who don’t believe me, and to Washingtonians, who don’t realize how things could be different, how unaccountable the Metro, which is really important to the entire area (even if you’re a driver), is. I’m hoping the new general manager will institute some accountability measures (at least the fucking morons on the board didn’t hire this asshole–through no fault of their own). While I’m always reluctant to call for firing people, at managerial level, the rot seems so deep, some people need to be moved into early retirement. Likewise, most of the governing board needs to be replaced. The culture of pretending everything is fine, along with a faux politesse, needs to vanish as well: state the problems, and explain the difficult choices that need to be made, rather than sweeping things under the rug.

The Metro leadership seems to blunder from crisis to crisis and mistake to mistake. Time to clean house.

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1 Response to Transit and Accountability in Boston and D.C.

  1. dr2chase says:

    This last winter was pretty brutal for the T’s reputation. I now work in Kendall Square, I live a few blocks from one of the most frequent-running bus lines in the system and it connects to Harvard Square.

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