Friday, July 22, 2011

Don't Believe the Hype

Yesterday, Metro put out a de rigueur press release about GM Sarles' 6-month "state of Metro" presentation to the Metro board. It's exactly what you'd expect. Fine. Make of it what you will.

What's weird and disturbing is how many local, commercial media outlets basically regurgitated Metro's party line without much, if any, questioning or input from anyone else besides Metro principals.

Take a look:
Washington Post
Fox 5

Yeah, it's good that there's going to be a virtual tunnel, and it's welcome that you will be able to add money to your SmarTrip card online, but those are basically fringe issues, and if Metro had ANY common sense, both would have been done years ago.

Better late than never? Yes.

But really, are we supposed to have a champagne toast because Metro is dragging its feet in gathering the low hanging fruit?

The whole system is a rickety, second-tier railway and an international embarrassment.

There's still no accountability or transparency. Who's been fired for 6/22? Who's been fired for the L'Enfant escalator incident?

Your money--fares and taxes--is wasted daily. Things go wrong with the cars and the tracks more than on any other transit system I've ever been on, delays are way too common, the escalators don't work, there are too many confrontational employees, too many bus drivers drive dangerously, the crumbling platforms are often dangerously overcrowded, people are passing out from the heat because the AC doesn't work even though Metro says they're "on it," and there's no indication whatsoever about when Metro will return to automatic train control.

One could go on and on.

But back to the topic at hand.

Even worse journalistic laziness and obsequiousness can be found in this piece from the Washington Post about an alleged "more than 30 percent" drop in crime on Metro. (This was also mentioned in the Fox piece.)

More than 30 percent!


Two Metro cops we talked to called the drop in crime "BS" and "cooking the books," respectively.

One laughingly said, "Thirty percent? Is that what they're saying? You believe that sh*t?"

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that those cops are just bad apples and just want to slam Metro no matter what.

A quick Googling of Compstat (Metro calls it Metrostat), a police department "organizational management tool" cited by Metro (and repeated by the Post and Fox) as the reason for the drop in crime, shows there's actually a rather vigorous debate about the effectiveness of Compstat in fighting crime. Even the Wikipedia page talks about the debate.

You'd think the "reporters" at the Post or Fox would have Googled or made a call or two, especially when Metro's reported drop in crime sounds miraculous.

It reminds me of a favorite Simpsons exchange:
Bart: Well Dad, here's my report card. I think you'll be pleasantly
Homer: [incredulously] A-plus?!? You don't think much of me, do you boy?
Bart: [almost proudly] No sir!
Homer: You know a D turns into a B so easily. You just got greedy.
Metro is a regional leader in suck, but local "journalism" isn't far behind.

Other items:
Weekend delays (WMATA)
Metro Center fail (A Vulnerable Geometry)
Operator shows common sense (26minus5)
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