While WMATA’s problems are deep and can’t be solved by one person, it’s good to hear this from the new GM (boldface mine):
Unlike his predecessor, Clarke said, the public will not hear him stressing safety as publicly as Wiedefeld did. The former general manager’s unofficial mantra and mission for Metro was to put “safety first.” Clarke, who served as the chief safety officer for Boston’s transit system, said safety will be intrinsic.
“You won’t hear me talk a lot about safety, because I actually believe you will never run service that is not safe,” Clarke said. “So they’re not a binary thing to choose between. We are running safe service or the service should not run.”
…“We have to get our bread-and-butter issues resolved, in my opinion, before we can get to the larger conversation,” Clarke said. “Now, that doesn’t mean they don’t start running in parallel at certain points, but I think a lot of the issues we’ve just talked through — we have to get better service, we need more frequency, we need people back on the system.”
As a Metro rider (train and bus), I obviously don’t want to die because of unsafe equipment. But transit is far safer than driving. If we held roads to the same standards as trains, the Capitol Beltway would have one lane in each direction moving at no more than 25 mph.
Unfortunately, at least one board member doesn’t agree:
Board member Tracy Hadden Loh said she needed to hear that safety would remain the highest priority because most of Metro’s problems involve overlooking or ignoring safety.
“I know when you get into a new role, there’s a desire to have a lot of early wins,” she told Clarke. “And I want that for you. I want that for us. But I know that you yourself are a former chief safety officer, and so you probably don’t need me to tell you this but, just to reiterate, safety first.”
WMATA’s long-term problem is there has been far too little emphasis placed on service: how often trains and buses run, and what is the experience while traveling. There also has been far too little emphasis placed on maintenance, and other day-to-day issues, that affect the quality of service. Some of these do affect safety (arguably, nearly everything does in at least a trivial sense), but people won’t come back until service is better.
The lens through which success and failure must be evaluated is service.
Meanwhile, his former employer is going to shut the entire Orange Line for a month to try to catch up on decades of deferred track maintenance, which the FTA brought up in a series of urgent “safety directives” a couple months ago (and that was before an Orange Line train caught fire on a bridge over the Mystic River and one rider, not content to just get out of the train and onto the tracks, then jumped into the river and swam to shore).