D.C. Metro’s Reliability Is The Issue

When the New York Times covers the far flung hinterlands–places like Philly, Boston, or D.C.–too often much hilarity ensues (Maureen Dowd’s referring to South Bostonians as “Southies” comes to mind). That said, this NYT article about the D.C. Metro’s woes makes a very important point (boldface mine):

So goes the split-screen state of affairs these days as Metro wraps up a yearlong, more than $150 million maintenance blitz aimed at bringing its aging infrastructure back from the brink of collapse. Its leaders say the program, SafeTrack, was a success, making the system significantly less dangerous — and, as riders returning after the blitz ends Sunday will hopefully find, more reliable.

But as Friday’s snafu showed, more work is badly needed. The system’s long-term success may have more to do with its ability to avert a fiscal crisis than the execution of this year’s track-fixing ordeal. Without $500 million or more a year in a new revenue stream dedicated to paying for preventive maintenance and other capital projects, transit leaders agree, the nation’s third-busiest subway system will continue to deteriorate

However they proceed, Metro’s leaders will have to contend with a deep well of skepticism among riders who say they have watched for years as Metro’s pledges and promises have done little to slow declines in service. Trains are rarely overcrowded. It’s mostly that service is unreliable. A 15-minute commute one day can take an hour the next.

Until Metro’s managers begin to take reliability, service, and recovery from failure (i.e., response to breakdowns) seriously, Metro will continue to hemorrhage riders. The other point that is neglected in all of this is that the bus system is being neglected. Buses aren’t charity for the poors, they are an integral way to get around the city.

Perhaps if many of those who make decisions about the Metro actually used it, our political betters would realize it’s all about reliability and service.

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