The last several weeks provide some really good insight in just how Metro and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, the "voice for transit workers in the nation’s capitol," appear to operate.
On the heels of the two embarrassing videos, Metro suddenly announced a "zero tolerance" policy regarding using cell phones while driving. Prior to the emergence of the videos, there was a three-strike policy.
First, a violator was suspended for 5 days, second, they got a 10-day suspension and finally, if they were so mind blowingly stupid as to do it again, they got the boot.
Had it not been for a couple of entrepreneurial passengers armed with video cameras, would the three strike policy have continued indefinitely? Who is in charge here? WMATA? The union?
The trains may now be in manual, but WMATA and the union seem to coast in cruise control until they're jolted to action by an outside force.
We asked Metro if they'd ever considered putting cameras in the operator cabins, and they said they had not, but that the union would certainly have a say something like that. So, it's certain the zero tolerance rule had to get the union's blessing, too.
We tried to contact union president Jackie L. Jeter twice to ask about the union's stance on cameras. We have yet to hear from her.
Now we hear from WTOP that Jeter said before the cell phone ban can take effect, Metro should enter into talks with the union about the poor communications equipment on board the trains. Wait a minute. Say what?
Is the next line in this argument going to be that operators need their cell phones as backup to Metro's communications gear? Are they all Verizon customers? Surely not.
Then is the zero tolerance policy is a bargaining chip? Sounds like Jeter is saying that Metro operators will cling the old ways until Metro agrees to talk about another issue altogether.
The union may have a point about the communications gear, but they should not tie it together with the texting ban. That is absurd and reckless.
Then again, Jeter is not unfamiliar with those concepts. On July 8, in an Examiner article about growing impatience with Red Line delays, Jeter said "I understand that you want to get to work a little sooner ... everybody should back off that. ... At least you're alive."
Can you believe there was ever any tolerance for texting or cell phone usage by an operator at the helm of a train carrying hundreds of people? Who at WMATA signed off on that? We'd love a transcript of that negotiation.
It appears that Metro and the union's “culture of safety” is nothing more than reactive, responding only when they have egg on their faces.
What other moronic policies are hiding in Metro's closet waiting for a YouTube video or worse to shed light on them?
We obviously aren't privy to Metro and the union's internal discussions, and from where we sit as normal Metro passengers, we're only able to report on what's visible: the accidents, breakdowns, foul ups and other absurd blunders.
Yet every once in a while, when Metro and the union are left with no choice but to act, there's a revealing flash of sudden policy changes, and we get a quick, illuminating glimpse into the core of how things work. It's not a pretty sight.
Metro seeking input on X1, X2 and X3 routes (WMATA)
Takoma Stn. staying open tonight (WMATA)
City Paper take on Red Line rehab