“Metro Is A Public Service — Its Leaders Need To Run It Like One”

So says Greater Greater Washington, in pushing for riders (and others) to sign a petition echoing many of the themes I’ve written about D.C.’s public transportation system (boldface mine):

Several members of Metro’s Board of Directors appear to have given up on trying to attract its former riders back and are content with relegating it to a 9-to-5 commuter rail system. This goes against everything the board — and local elected officials — should be trying to do

Metro board member Steve McMillin, appointed by the US Department of Transportation, suggested that Metro has no need to try to win back the riders it has lost over the past decade: “It would be crazy for this authority to simply run more trains in off-peak times chasing additional passengers,” the Washington Post quotes him as saying.

Maryland Metro board appointee Michael Goldman sees no reason that Metro should operate good service for people traveling outside of rush hour: “I’d much rather spend money trying to encourage people to use Uber and Lyft to get to the trains…I think that’s a better use of money than to try and spend a lot of money just to run trains empty throughout the day.”

Metrorail and Metrobus’ services eliminate hundreds of thousands of car trips on the area’s highways and roads, and allow dense (read: more sustainable) communities to thrive. Good transit enables local jurisdictions to waste less land on roads, and to build businesses and badly-needed homes instead. We need a useful Metro system if we’re serious about meeting our sustainability and road safety goals — and we need leaders who will actually work to make it better…

WMATA leadership seems to have forgotten — or are abdicating — the agency’s role in our transportation network. Why? Because WMATA board members answer to the local elected officials who appointed them — and their interests can differ from what’s good for Metro.

Increasing mid-day service slightly costs a few million dollars, but a board member appointed by Virginia officials is working to limit new service to save the state’s budget. A board member from Maryland works to further Maryland interests, thus the elimination of the Grosvenor turnback. Those from DC work to get more money from the jurisdictions (while driving to Metro board meetings). The federal appointees have a political interest in allowing the private sector to take over [yes, they do]…

Metro leaders like to blame anything other than their own agency. Board documents only admitted that lousy service was a reason for part of the decline in 2017, years after it was obvious to others. Recently Wiedefeld said that younger riders want their commute and stations to be an “experience” akin to shopping Whole Foods versus a normal grocery store, and confoundingly wants to add phone charging stations, photo booths, DVD rental boxes, and package pick up lockers to reach them.

Rush hour service cuts are just the tip of the iceberg. The agency’s unreliable night and weekend service is also driving riders away in droves. Week after week, the majority of Metro’s rail lines operate less frequently than every 20 minutes, and it’s not uncommon to find multiple lines running even less often — sometimes only a train nearly every half hour.

The board’s answer? Focus on peak ridership hours, and let Uber and Lyft take those late-night or weekend riders! If the Metro board won’t advocate for running more frequent buses and trains for the localities they’re supposed to represent, then why bother even pretend trying to encourage use of the system?

It’s no wonder that Metro has lost riders over the past several years. Agency leaders were pressured to run longer hours of service, officials failed to maintain the system, and no politicians were there to ask questions and double-check the agency’s homework. Now with unrelenting trackwork to try and get the system “back 2 good,” riders are finding ways to move around in quicker, more reliable ways, while Metro’s leaders are fumbling about…

Metro is vital to our region, and it would be disastrous to limit its availability to just morning and evening rush hours. The region spent billions to build an urban subway system through DC, Maryland, and Virginia, and billions more to expand and maintain it. Telling riders “you’re better off calling a cab” because the trains don’t run frequently enough in the evenings is frankly ridiculous.

You don’t go to the expense of building an urban subway if rush hour commuter rail is an acceptable outcome,” Editorial Board member Dan Malouff points out.

Besides, the thousands of people Fairfax County hopes will take the Silver Line into Tysons have lives outside of work. Many people around the region work outside of 9-5 hours — often, these are the workers who most need access to reliable transit.

The positive effect of a reliable public transportation system on the health of the planet can’t be understated. A well-publicized report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change presents dire consequences that will occur if the planet’s temperature continues to rise, and shows that transportation accounted for 28% of global energy demand and 23% of CO2 emissions in 2014. “It is primarily the switching of passengers and freight from less- to more-efficient travel modes (e.g., cars, trucks, and airplanes to buses and trains) that is the main strategy” to reduce the use of oil products and decrease carbon emissions, which drive climate change.

Given all of the benefits of a working transportation system, one would expect WMATA to try to limit the impacts of the work. Sadly, it has done no such thing

The litany of issues facing the transit agency are real: perception, finances, increasing costs, political pressure, and fewer riders, just to name some of them. The elected officials who appoint the Metro board can’t be allowed to sit around and let the system fail. Metro’s leadership needs to step up or step down.

The reason I’ve quoted this at length is because the statement is worth supporting–and you can do so here. Mind you, this entire statement didn’t even really mention the bus system, which, rather than providing service that fills in the gaps of the train system, is used primarily as a feeder system for the (dysfunctional) train system. If D.C. politicians are serious about Vision Zero and stemming the rash of car-related deaths, and regional politicians are serious about global warming, then making Metro better–which gets people out of cars–is a vital interest. Unfortunately, as I’ve discussed many times, the region’s political leaders, who mostly don’t use the system, provide virtually no meaningful or useful oversight. So sign the statement and let them know.

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2 Responses to “Metro Is A Public Service — Its Leaders Need To Run It Like One”

  1. Pingback: Mike’s Blog Round Up – Fake News Matters

  2. Bern Smith says:

    All public transit should be free at the point of entry, as are the public roads, the vast majority of which do not require a toll for private vehicles to enter…Imagine if we charged every driver $5 every time they tried to get out of their driveway onto the public road with their 2500lb gas guzzling, pollution spewing pile of metal and plastic.

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