Self-Appointed WMATA Chief Secretary Foxx Is Solving the Wrong Problem

Because appointed, unaccountable dictators–aka ’emergency managers’–worked so well in places like Flint, Michigan. Why not expand this successful model to D.C.’s Metro (boldface mine):

“The most important thing to me with respect to WMATA is getting the safety culture right at every level. I am concerned that there’s been an effort to this point to balance service expansion with safety needs, and I am no longer interested in that balance,” Foxx said. “I am interested in a very clear focus, laser-like, on safety. Whether that is at the board level, at the staff level there, everybody has to be willing to stay focused on this because this is the nation’s transit system and it can’t be broken.”

Unfortunately for Foxx, while riders are concerned about safety, they are more concerned with reliability and schedules, as is shown by the decline in ridership, as well as a poll of the Amplify membership:


Note that crashes didn’t even make the list.

This is also a very myopic view of safety (boldface mine):

If riding Metro actually posed a serious risk of injury, then I’d be the first to say shut it down until it’s safe. But it’s pretty darn safe now.

It’s terrible that a woman died of smoke inhalation at L’Enfant Plaza in January, and even more unforgivable that Metro had been keeping quiet about the fact that radios didn’t work. WMATA needs to not only fix the problems that led to this, but also be far more proactive about identifying, disclosing, and fixing safety risks.

Still, you have to put this in a bit of perspective. Just this weekend, people driving killed one person walking and two people biking. Crashes that kill drivers on high-speed roads are a sadly common feature in the news.

If platforms get more crowded, that will harm safety too, perhaps far more than whatever a long-term shutdown or slowdown will fix. Same if people switch to driving, where they might imperil not only themselves but others. Shutting down night Metro service might help with repairs but also increase drunk driving, for instance.

Anthony Foxx has been a strong proponent of road safety, no doubt, and deserves credit for it. Still, none of us expects him to write that “America can forget any new road-expansion projects until the roads meet our safety standards.”

Even if he wanted to say that, Congress wouldn’t allow it. And not just Republicans; Senator Barbara Mikulski has been the first to be outraged beyond belief at any safety lapse at Metro but quiet on both Metro’s service lapses and road safety. Foxx is just hearing the message loud and clear.

Foxx’s unilateral setting of priorities completely ignores the needs of WMATA’s users. Then again, unaccountable dictats about the quality of life in D.C. are nothing new.

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