Friday, February 26, 2010

Progress or Another Metro Illusion?


Metro announced yesterday that they will increase the number of at-will employees from 75 to 253. At-will means "either party can break the relationship with no liability, provided there was no express contract for a definite term governing the employment relationship and that the employer does not belong to a collective bargain."*

Maybe this will be a good step toward greater accountability among "all mid-level supervisors, such as superintendants and front-line supervisors," but it only represents an increase from .75 percent of employees to 2.5 percent. A LOT more accountability needs to in instilled up an down the Metro culture. Metro needs a lot more than tinkering at the margins.

Unfortunately, the union has a very different view of how things should go. In an article in today's Post, union president Jackie Jeter said "There's a lot of discipline . . . punishment instead of trying to find out what the problem is."

This must be the punishment Jeter is talking about.

It should be noted that the District, Maryland and Virginia are at-will states. Also, were these employees under some kind of contract? If so, when do they end? If they're union people, how can Metro declare the jobs at-will? Mysterious.

Also yesterday, new Board chair Peter Benjamin issued "incoming remarks." It had some good points about how Metro needs to focus on customer service, increase safety and better communication.

However, he should have nixed this graph:
We also need to have a better understanding by our customers of Metro’s limitations. We have a 34-year old rail system, which is not like it used to be when it was new. It has old rail cars, track bed, power equipment, and communications. Some of our bus garages are 100 years old and some buses are 15 years old. As the equipment and facilities age they become less reliable, break down more often, and need more maintenance. We will have more service disruptions and delays than when the system was new.
Customers will not and should not be understanding of more service disruptions and delays.

Metro began service in 1976; the New York subway in 1904. So by Benjamin's reasoning, it should suck approximately THREE TIMES more than WMATA. It doesn't.

We're glad to see Benjamin's focus on the immediate issues of safety, customer service and communication, but there are big picture issues behind WMATA's poor performance, and those need addressing, too.

Among those are funding, the outdated compact the governs WMATA, labor agreements from a bygone era, and perhaps most importantly, political infighting on the Board itself.

Now is not the time for more excuses. DC area commuters need leadership and vision.

Other items:
Metro to install rollback protection on some cars (WMATA)
Metro to fix door controls on half of fleet (WMATA)
Woman sues Metro for $2 million (Examiner)

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

illusion. metro hasn't reached bottom yet, but will at some point. metro's like an alcoholic and needs to hit bottom before they seriously think about making the changes that are needed.

Anonymous said...

The blind leads the blind. Where's Underdog? I think we're gonna need him.

Anonymous said...

WMATA and the new york subway are apples and oranges. WMATA was built "on the cheap" with only one track in each direction. New York has at least two tracks in each direction allowing express trains to bypass quite stations and serve only high volume ones at peak times. That also allows them to bypass stuck trains. WMATA can't do that easily and that problem can't go away.

Anonymous said...

On the cheap? HA! That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard about Metro. It was done on the wasteful and dumb, not cheap. Pleather seating, carpets, ceramic tiles, flashing lights on the platform and on and and on.

Maybe those things made sense at the start, but there's been no effort to bring the system into the modern day.

Tear it down and start again.

Anonymous said...

"Metro began service in 1976; the New York subway in 1904. So by Benjamin's reasoning, it should suck approximately THREE TIMES more than WMATA. It doesn't."

Not really. The issue is not so much the age of the system as the age of the equipment, and how well the infrastructure has been maintained, modernized, and replaced as it wears out. New York isn't using its original 1904 subway cars, for example. One reason that the New York system works more reliably may be that they have a better maintenance program. Whenever I visit (usually on the weekends), it seems like some subway line is out of service for track replacement and the like.

The New York and DC systems really are apples and oranges in a lot of ways. New York's subway was not built by a government transit agency; it was built by several private companies who operated their lines in competition with each other. The lines eventually were consolidated and taken over by a single public transit agency. This is why some New Yorkers still refer to the lines by the names of the companies that operated them originally - the IRT, the IND, and the BMT.

The 3-4 track system in New York is a great advantage, and if we had it to do over again, it would certainly be desirable to have built our Metro that way. But its not like that is some sort of international standard that Washington fails to live up to. Most subway systems around the world are 2-track systems. It is New York, not Washington, that is unusual in the number of tracks.

Anonymous said...

Trying to stop the sucking... Transportation for America (mycommutesucks.com) has a email campaign going to urge Sen. Reid to add another jobs package to invest in public transportation. You'd be surprised how little mail politicians receive on relevant issues, so before you get all cynical just consider that. I think all of us in the DC/MD/VA area have a particularly urgent need for attention with all the Metro safety problems in the past year.

Jacob said...

"We also need to have a better understanding by our customers of Metro’s limitations. We have a 34-year old rail system, which is not like it used to be when it was new. It has old rail cars, track bed, power equipment, and communications. Some of our bus garages are 100 years old and some buses are 15 years old. As the equipment and facilities age they become less reliable, break down more often, and need more maintenance. We will have more service disruptions and delays than when the system was new."

So how exactly is it that the New York Subway (opened 1904), the Paris Metro (opened 1900) and the London Underground (opened 1863) are all consistently more relieable than Metro. Is it possible that the problem is not the age of the system but the fact that those system have been competently operated and maintained while the DC Metro has not?

Anonymous said...

How is it that once again Metro wants to claim it is customers' lack of education/intelligence/awareness that adds to their woes? Give me a BREAK Metro. Stop trying to push some of this on the customers - we are the innocent ones paying an arm and a leg for it - apparently in a literal sense at times no less!

Anonymous said...

Yes, the problem is that Metro has not been competently operated and maintained compared to the systems in NY, Paris, and London.
The good news is, it is possible for even a mismanaged, poorly-maintained system to turn itself around. The NY subway went through a really bad period of decline in the 70s and 80s. When I lived in NYC (late 1980s), it was starting to get better, but still bad. Interestingly, the perception of the subway system vs. the bus system was approximately the opposite of what it is in DC: higher-income Manhattanites were willing to ride buses, which seemed safer because you were above-ground and theoretically could jump out if attacked by muggers, but avoided the subway, which was very dirty and was perceived as dangerously crime-ridden. But then the city started investing a lot of money in graffitti-proof trains, boosted the number of transit police, and generally improved the system. The NY subway is a well-run system today, but it wasn't always so.
If the Washington area is willing to make the investment, it is certainly possible to make Metro run well.

Anonymous said...

"We need to change how we handle safety at Metro. The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result. We need a new approach. . . . Safety involves training... and retraining."

http://www.wmata.com/about_metro/news/PressReleaseDetail.cfm?ReleaseID=4338

LOL @ WMATA! Perhaps it's the training regime that's a substantial part of the problem and something that needs to be reevaluated. It strikes me as "insane" to simply reinforce all of the problems that continue to manifest themselves in the system by retraining workers in what may be a problematic training program to begin with.

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