Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bumbling, Sneaky or Rogue?

It's funny to think of Metro as a bumbling clown that just can't get it right despite trying as hard as it can.

But funny morphs into arrogant and sneaky when "the Authority" deletes a press release about allowing the drinking of bottled water from their website and refuses to say why.

And sneaky starts to appear as rogue when the publicly-funded organization, accountable to no one--especially the public--won't answer some basic, crucial questions about its operation after a YEAR!

From CS:
It's just what we predicted.

Have you ever wondered why the doors on Metrorail cars so often don’t work, throwing trains out of service and delaying thousands upon thousands of riders?

What about safety and reliability, after Metro began putting its oldest cars in the middle of trains following the fatal Red Line accident?

And who about the affliction of manual train control will come to an end, with return of automatic operations?

So has Unsuck. Which is why we filed three public records requests (updated here and here) with Metro for information about these issues of vital concern to riders.

The one-year anniversary of our requests was yesterday. And despite Metro’s bluster about a new era of openness and transparency, we have received not a comma’s worth of information from the agency.

Not even an explanation about why we’ve gotten nada.

Metro’s open records policy says that it must respond within 20 working days.

We asked Metro to explain why it hasn’t responded, and is so grossly out of compliance with its policy.

No surprise – no response.

There’s also a procedure in Metro’s access policy to seek expedited handling of requests, when there is an urgency to inform the public about WMATA activities. Figuring that masses of people getting delayed or risking death had a certain urgency about it, we tried that approach, too.

No surprise – no dice.

Metro proffered a bizarre interpretation of the rules, saying that before something could be considered urgent, it has to be known to the public or the subject of news coverage. But if something is known to the public or has gotten coverage, well, then, that means there is no urgency. As daft as that sounds, it’s an argument Metro lawyers make with a straight face.

By Metro’s logic, if Metro Center blew up one day, but the story didn’t happen to make the news, that would relieve it from the realm of urgency. That’s an absurd example, perhaps. But what, say, if the Metrorail system was in a spiral of decay, and safety was being compromised by deteriorating infrastructure, shoddy management, and sloppy operations along the rails? By Metro logic, no urgency there.

Metro’s response to our request isn’t one of an agency that has even a lukewarm regard for openness. Although Metro may now have figured out how to tweet and pay attention to social media, all the gimmicks of the modern age haven’t changed its baseline, cloistered mentality. It remains, as we said in our posting a year ago announcing our requests, “Kremlin-esque in what it doles out to the public.” In fact, Soviet-like, Metro has recently rolled out a fancy ad campaign to tout repairs to the system (which should have been made a decade ago, but evidently, no one was paying attention). So Metro is pretty open when it comes to dishing the propaganda. Not so much when it comes to information about what’s really going on.

Metro people themselves should be outraged at the actions of the agency’s legal department. Because the clamming up on public records requests undermines what have otherwise been some legitimate efforts to open up.

So, unfortunately, but not surprisingly, what we predicted a year ago has come true. As we said at the time: “Don’t hold your breath. If history is any guide, Metro will delay, stonewall and temporize, throwing up all manner of obstacles to avoid disclosing the information. What should take weeks will drag on for months and maybe even years.”

Indeed. One year down. How many to go? Will anyone at WMATA rise above the sloth and actually respond to our requests with real information, of value and great interest to the hundreds of thousands of people who ride Metro each day, plus the many non-riders whose daily lives are also affected by what Metro does or doesn’t do?
Other items:
Metrobus driver hits car, flees scene (2nd item, Mt. Rainier Police)
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