Wednesday, January 27, 2010

An Amazing Display


Metro doesn't have a room big enough to accommodate the hundreds of people who wanted to give the Board a little friendly advice regarding service cuts, fare increases or raiding the capital fund to bridge this year's budget gap.

That led to an awkward, three-roomed circus, which might have been hard to follow had the message from the crowd not been so overwhelmingly loud and clear: Get your act together. We're fed up!

It was amazing to see most people haven't been suckered by WMATA's false choice of four sucky options. Yes, they're probably the only realistic options this year, but years of mismanagement, degrading customer service and underfunding have led us to this choice of four piles of poop, some bigger, some smaller, depending on your perspective.

People of all races, colors, income levels and creeds, and impressively, some with severe disabilities came out tonight to vent, not just about the immediate situation, but at what a husk of its former self WMATA has become.

To put it into a little perspective, last year, we attended one of the budget cut hearings in Arlington. It was so sleepy you could hear other people breathing.

Tonight was punctuated by applause and vocal praise for some of the more colorful speakers. There was even a little drama.

Some speakers suggested WMATA employees give up their free ride perk. "When I worked at Foot Locker, I didn't get free shoes," said one.

Another woman, frustrated by the poor choices before the Board, tore up a piece of paper with the four options on them and tried to deliver them to a very puffy and red looking Jim Graham who seemed unable to pronounce even the simplest of names.

Many speakers hearkened back to a long-gone era when Metro ran smoothly and efficiently. One such speaker asked the Board to "resign, retire or leave." Amen, good sir.

Yet these cuts are probably nothing compared to what's down the rails. We'll be right back here in a short while, with even bigger problems as Metro takes on the very ugly 2011 budget.

Other items:
Metro's fate now lies in the hope a superhero will take over as GM (WaPo)
WaPo's take on last night's hearing
Examiner's take
Examiner cartoon

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jim Graham=Thank god he's no longer chair!

jason said...

Cool pic

The Punk Gourmand said...

We don't have to be. Fire Catoe today.

I will serve as interim GM. Attorney, Hill experience, experience on several boards.

First thing I would do is demand Obama commit to third and fourth tracks throughout the system and a complete overhaul of rolling stock.

Second I require concessions from the unions and I would cap overtime.

Third, I'd look at developing Shady Grove as a town center.

Fourth, I'd seek changes to the structure of the Board so that they were elected directly by the riding public.

Anonymous said...

Graham has been replaced with a fellow who has stated that there is a culture of safety in Metro. I find that ironic coming just 2 days after 2 more people died due to Metro.

How do you cure employees who just don't care or are so stupid it's rediculous? Ballston station this morning has the one up escalator shut off. You have to walk up. But they have TWO down escalators running. Who's in charge today? Sleepy or Dopey?

Anonymous said...

Punk Gourmand:

How would you cut overtime?

A transit agency has three options:

Hire more full time workers so that fewer hours have to be worked at overtime rates.

Reduce service, so that there are fewer hours that have to be worked.

Improve worker productivity, so that more work is done during the regular work hours, and less work has to be done at overtime rates.

I do not know what Metro's staffing level is for bus and train operators, but if it is not near 100 percent this should be one of the first orders of business, right after bringing safety up to snuff.

Because of the costs of hiring and training workers, it is usually more efficient for a transit agency to have some overtime work rather ta\han none. There should be a good labor economist or two on staff to figure out the least costly mix of regular and overtime work for each labor category.

Service reductions are being discussed at this time.

Improved efficiency could certainly be brought to bear. Supervisors may need to more closely monitor work crews, etc. Also some bus routes and scheduling could be redesigned.

In the maintenance shops, good experienced managers should know how much maintenance work is needed per hour of vehicle operation. Maybe Metro should compare with other big-city systems to see if they are at standard on this.

As you probably know, Federal law sets hourly pay for overtime work, so reducing the overtime pay rates is not an option.

Regarding union concesions, you are aware that a new labor contract is just beginning after several years with no contract, meaning no raises?

A quick, unscientific check of pay rates for driving jobs requiring a CDL seems to show that the current hourly pay for bus operators, less thn $25 per hour, is not too far out of line. It is perhaps not unreasonable given the high cost of living in this area.

hrhkingfridayxiii, ret. said...

WMATA employees get free rides as a perk?? Hell, it should be MANDATORY that they ride those shit trains four times a day, during rush hour,to and from work just like the rest of us. I want them pissing in their pants EVERY MORNING hoping that 1) they wont die in a horrific train accident, 2) that they wont be 30 mins late to work and be fired, 3) they won't suffer a heart attack climbing thier fat asses up non working elevators.

Metro isn't a perk. IT'S PUNISHMENT.

Anonymous said...

After the decades of waste, WMATA can't kick the can down the road any more.

Category 5 death spiral brewing.

Anonymous said...

Third & Fourth rail? Where do you have room for the CSX tracks on the red line, or I-66 in VA?

Anonymous said...

Adding a third and fourth track is pure fantasy. It would be unworkable in above-ground areas, as anon@10:17 points out, and it would be even more absurd in the underground stretches, where it would require adding completely new tunnels and thus essentially rebuilding the entire system.
Adding a third track to the Dulles extension and any other future expansions might be a good idea, but metro certainly does not have the money to tear up the system and start again from scratch.
While New York's subway has 3 and 4 tracks in many places, this is not some international standard that Washington fails to adhere to. Many good subway systems were built as two-track systems. Three or four would be nice, but its too late to do that - that train has left the station, so to speak.

The Punk Gourmand said...

@10:17 - underground. buy a tunnel boring machine and put it to work full time.

obama, here's your public works project.

Anonymous said...

All of the other accounts of the meeting are so dry. Thanks for giving some flavor and offering up a piece with a little punch. Metro doesn't deserve objectivity any more.

Dave Stroup said...

Punk, it's a lot more complicated that that. Most of the system wasn't even dug with a tunnel machine, and is too close to the surface for that to work. I'm guessing you don't even know what parts of the system are cut-and-cover, and where the tunnels are stacked, etc. It's not actually two tunnels running parallel everywhere.

If your first priority is to add additional tunnels, then you've obviously not been paying attention to anything except for the fact that you don't think trains come often enough.

Anonymous said...

Put every line on the auction block, let private business take over. Usually, privatization of formerly state-owned (or semi-state-owned) royally screws thing up. Maybe it has the opposite effect on something so screwed-up as the metro? :D

Anonymous said...

$25/ hour to drive a bus? Makes me wonder what I got a Master's degree for, I started at less than that! I'm quite sure that a CDL course costs less than $100K...

Anonymous said...

@Anon 5:05 -
I'd imagine a CDL job has much less growth potential on that $25/hr where as your master's degree is an investment on the probability that you'll push $100k/yr down the line.

Anonymous said...

Anon. @5:05 on 1/28

I believe they are almost always hiring operators. Not a bad profession for someone with a HS diploma who can put up with the job.

My daddy drove for another big city system for thirty-five years, and was happy to do so.

Be prepared for the first seven to nine years though.

Working the board, which means show up at the garage and take any fill-in work needed. Sometimes that work is all taken by more senior operators, so go home with two or three hours pay for that day.

Move to regular work, in split shifts - work 3 hrs in the am and 5 in the pm.

Odd off days - Tuesday and Thursday for example. This means working Sat. and Sun. as regular days.

When senior enough to move from split shifts, the available runs at the quarterly markup will often be late at night in what some consider less desirable parts of town.

Work holidays, at regular pay.

Last choice of vacations. This typically means one week in March, and one in December, with Christmas week unavailable.

The followwing apply throughout your career.

When senior enough to have some choice of runs, the best ones usually leave the garage between 4 and 5 am, or 3 to 4 pm. Not much need for service starting at 9 and ending at 5.

Be at the garage 20 to 30 minutes early to check in for the day. Don't check in soon enough, and it is considered an absence for the day, go home with no pay.

Have five unscheduled absences in a year, and get fired. These cases do not get reinstated.

Be subject to random testing for controlled substances.

Hope that your sight, hearing, and reflexes hold up through your fifties and sixties so you can maintain the CDL.

Again, not saying it is a bad job. As you observe, the pay is decent, and can exceed that in some professions requiring college degrees. They are usually hiring.

However, operating a bus or train is not the cushy, no work, no show job that some portray.

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