Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bored of the Board

Last May, we posted the above picture from the movie Reservoir Dogs because we think it pretty much sums up the parochial views of the three jurisdictions that are ultimately responsible for "running" Metro. And look, they're geographically accurate, too!

The result of the dysfunction and shortsightedness? Look at the lower right. That's "Mr. Orange" (could be Red, Blue, Green or Yellow) on the floor. If you saw the movie, you remember how this situation ultimately ended. Many of you may have felt caught in the Board's crossfire this morning as both the Orange and Red lines were backed up.

Whether you agree with Metro GM John Catoe's decision to retire/resign starting in April, many Metro watchers in the region are now taking aim at the Board, which is comprised of members from the three jurisdictions, as a roadblock to the real change Metro needs. It's a welcome turn of events.

We're far from experts, but after listening to Board meetings over the past year and reading the opinions of those who know what they're talking about, we concur that the Board, as currently designed, is completely outdated and should be dramatically overhauled in order to a) view public transit as a regional issue and b) to better represent people who actually take WMATA buses and trains regularly.

Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney, in the wake of Catoe's resignation, writes:

The other major problem [at Metro] is the board itself, where progress is repeatedly stymied by disagreements between suburban jurisdictions and the District and by the unavoidable desire of the politicians who sit on the board to cater to their individual constituencies rather than the needs of the region.

Metroriders.org, writing in the Washington Post, points out the following:

But there is a third major problem at Metro, and it's the overarching one: Metro's board. Its members -- most of them politicians -- have not been willing to fight their appointing jurisdictions to get more capital investment for the system in good years.

[...]Worse, board members are often at loggerheads. Currently, the board is made up of 12 members -- two voting and two nonvoting representatives each from the District, Maryland and Virginia. Two weeks ago, the District's two voting members vetoed a resolution supported by the Maryland and Virginia members that would merely have allowed the public to comment in a hearing on the option of raising Metro fares by 20 cents across the board from March to June; this would have provided just enough revenue to avoid service cuts and to allow minimal preventive maintenance of the fleet. Under the multi-jurisdiction compact that governs Metro, each jurisdiction has a veto over board decisions -- even regarding what issues that can be raised in public hearings.

Finally, former Virginia transportation secretary, Pierce R. Homer, again writing in the Post, noted the following shortcomings with the current way Metro is run:

More fundamentally, Catoe and his predecessors have been asked to operate within a system of governance that was designed -- 40 years ago -- to get a Metrorail system built in a region that had roughly half the population that it does today. Today, the challenges facing Metrorail are less about new construction and more about the unglamorous maintenance and operation of an aging system. Shouldn't the governance of Metrorail be updated to reflect this reality?

[...]Along with this, the makeup of the Metro board should be reconsidered. Today, Maryland, Virginia localities and the District appoint board members via different processes and for divergent reasons. Many of those appointees outlast the general manager. And the local officials who serve on the board also have to fashion local budgets, making tough choices among the competing needs of education, health care, public safety and transportation. The jurisdictions are in competition with one another for jobs, transportation funding and, yes, Metro services. In the meantime, the users of the rail system -- who pay nearly 80 percent of the operating costs of the rail system -- are underrepresented. That will still be the case even after four new federal appointees are added to the board.

[...]If we want Metro to focus on daily maintenance, operations and safety, doesn't it make sense for daily Metrorail users to have a significant say on the governing body?
Is a change in the Board a silver bullet? Absolutely not. Metro suffers from many ailments, but a change in the makeup and outlook of the Board would be a step in the right direction.

The problem is we don't know the best way to bring about these kinds of fundamental changes, as much as they're needed. To continue building on this unsteady foundation will likely result in the further degradation of Metro.

As we've suggested before, perhaps one place to start is to contact the organizations that appoint the Board members. We have all their contact information here.

If you have other ideas or suggestions, by all means share.

Other items:
Rebates for poor service? (Examiner)
Layoffs begin at Alstom as they wait for contracts (Evening Trib)


Anonymous said...

They're dinosaurs who know next to nothing (with some exceptions) about how to run a railroad.

Time for something new.

Anonymous said...

Term limits of 3 years. That should keep any bad jokes (Sally Jesse Raphael) from hanging around too long.

Anonymous said...

Don't they all die in the movie? Don't want anyone on the board or wmata to die, but perhaps it would be best to break the whole thing down and start from scratch.

Anonymous said...

Increase my cost while my ride from New Carrollton to Deanwood this morning was 40 minutes and to get to Ballston took 1 hour 40 minutes. Thanks Metro Board for continuing your dysfunctional ways!

There's so much metro alert email coming in my inbox these it looks like I'm being spammed by someone who like the word "Metro" instead of "Viagra."

I just wonder how many of the Board actually use Metro in a regular manner like us riders do. How many are signed up for metro email alerts? Bet it is 0% across the "Board."

Anonymous said...

Michelle Rhee for GM AND Board!

Anonymous said...

but who is responsible for changing the 'Compact' which Metro operates under???? is it the Govenors

Kara said...

Ugg, those alerts! Does anyone find them usefull? I finally unsubscribed since they would send a ton of messages and the ones that were relevant would be sent AFTER I was in the station seeing that there was a delay.

Supposedly you can have them sent via a text (not twitter) .... but the form on the metro site insists on an email address.

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