Friday, May 17, 2013

An Open Letter to Dr. Gridlock

Washington Post reporters talk with Metro GM Richard Sarles during a Google+ Hangout. Via: The Washington Post

From Fake Dr. Gridlock:


I am writing as a reader and a daily Metro commuter who is fed up on two fronts. I'm fed up with the lousy deteriorating service provided by WMATA, and I'm even more fed up with the lousy coverage provided by Dr. Gridlock and the transit team over at the Washington Post. I'm not even sure I should even call it coverage, because it barely even scratches the surface.

On Tuesday, May 14, there was an mini-explosion and fire on a Red Line train outside of Silver Spring. After writing an initial story on the incident, there was absolutely no follow up in the Dr. Gridlock blog as of Thursday. After the Green Line meltdown a few month ago, Dr Gridlock said Metro needed to improve communications during situations like this. The Red Line incident was a perfect test for Metro to prove they were fulfilling their promise. Metro failed miserably. Not only was there a giant, restless crowd outside of Takoma station, but Metro's Twitter feed had the nerve to actually blame the fire department for the delays. Dr Gridlock decided it wasn't necessary to call out Metro for failing to fulfill it's promise of better communication. The Dr Gridlock team was able to write about important stories like a crosswalk opening and Captain America being filmed in town. Another mini-story that came of the Red Line fire that has been picked up by other local outlets (but not Metro loyalist Dr. Gridlock) was that Metro's Twitter (run by self-proclaimed Twitter guru and social media trailblazer) blocked prominent critic FixWmata for calling them out for thanking the fire department after blaming them for the delays at least five times. Both stories portray Metro in a negative light and were ignored for trivial matters.

Most of the articles regarding Metro (track work, etc) are eerily similar to press releases put on the Metro website. When there is an article "covering" an incident at Metro, most of the articles don't do anything more than report what happened through the eyes of Metro. They will report what happened, ask Dan Stessel, Metro spokesman, for comment and leave it at that. A good deal of the time, Stessel is not being honest (he has a terrible track record with the truth). Dr. Gridlock does nothing to ever follow up or pressure him when he's being dishonest. He just takes it at face value. This is not journalism. And this SHOULD be embarrassing for the Washington Post. This is the same newspaper that was instrumental in uncovering Watergate. Could you imagine if those reporters just dropped everything at "I asked Nixon's press secretary about it, and he said there is nothing to see here." If Dr. Gridlock and Dana Hedgpeth were pulling their weight, the LEAST they could do was develop a relationship with sources at Metro to find out what is going on. Dr. Gridlock is very supportive of weekend track work. What he fails to notice is the sections that are "repaired" over the weekend often cause problems the following Monday. Same goes for the escalators. There is a system of sheer incompetence at Metro that he fails to even address, let alone investigate. I don't think he's mentioned once the fact that there is almost no accountability whatsoever at Metro. Metro's union has a stranglehold over disciplinary measures, making it borderline impossible to get fired. Yet these problems are never brought up.

Furthermore, Dr. Gridlock's interaction with readers is pathetic. His Twitter consists of nothing other than promoting his articles and retweeting Metro. His weekly chats, which should have SOME value, are completely worthless. A week after some passengers were injured when an escalator panel fell off, Dr. Gridlock spent the majority of the chat discussing with riders how far apart cars should be spaced at a red light. I couldn't possibly make this one up. There couldn't be a more inconsequential, ridiculous, and irrelevant subject to discuss, yet Dr. Gridlock felt like this was more important than riders being injured by an escalator. In the last week, Dr. Gridlock offered a steadfast defense of Metro's out-of-touch decision to remodel the Bethesda Metro Station. Despite the fact that 67 percent of riders polled were against this decision, and the vast majority of comments reacted negatively to this decision, Dr. Gridlock and friends classified this as "some riders" being opposed to the idea. He is deliberately misrepresenting the feelings of the riders with this nonsense. And last weekend, Metro was unbearable. People would wait 30 minutes for a train if they were lucky. So were these items discussed? Of course not. Waze and I-66 message boards took priority.

I'm not asking Dr. Gridlock to be as negative as, say, UnsuckDCMetro or FixWMATA, but it sure would be nice to feel like he has the riders back once in a while. It would be nice if just once in a while, he'd do a better job following up, calling the PR department out on their misleading/dishonest statements, and doing some investigative journalism for once. As the newspaper industry is having financial troubles, I have to ask if you have considered the fact that Dr. Gridlock gets outdone on the reporting front by UnsuckDCMetro, who is an UNPAID BLOGGER. UnsuckDCMetro reports on Metro as a hobby, and has been able to break more meaningful stories more frequently than the Washington Post, has been able to develop relationships with sources inside Metro, without being paid a penny. Meanwhile, you are paying a full year's salary and benefits to a guy who does little more than parrot Metro PR talking points and discuss irrelevant topics such as car spacing at a red light. Not only should the Washington Post's journalism department be embarrassed, but their financial department should be as well.

I have to ask whether the soft coverage is the result of a cozy relationship the Washington Post has with Metro. In addition to the Post having an agreement in terms of The Express distribution outside Metro Stations, they have even teamed up to host events. The Post hosted a media event "Conquering the Commute" which was sponsored by Metro. Of course, nothing of importance to improving Metro was discussed, and notably absent from the panels was anyone who is critical of Metro. They had nobody to counterbalance David Alpert, a strong Metro Apologist, (who also writes articles for The Post, and has been given guest blogging duties by Dr. Gridlock) who has no background in transit or planning whatsoever. Of course, nobody can forget the Google + hangout with Dr. Gridlock and Richard Sarles, where he was, asked a series of laughable, softball questions, most notably "Why are some platforms on the center and others on the side?" This is unacceptable. This is not journalism, and you, as Dr. Gridlock's superiors, should be embarrassed. Metro is becoming increasingly unreliable and unsafe. If things keep going this way, its not a question of if someone will be fatally wounded by Metro negligence, its when someone will be fatally wounded. Dr. Gridlock does not represent the interests, safety, and wishes of Metro riders. In two months, Kytja Weir and Liz Essley will be let go from the Washington Examiner. Personally, I'm not a fan of the Examiner because I find their political writings to be extreme. But these two young ladies do a phenomenal job when it comes to covering Metro.  They have sources, they acquire records and comb through them. They probably do more work in a week than Dr. Gridlock and friends do in four months. If Dr. Gridlock doesn't want to change his approach to covering metro, I'd be glad to recommend these two to replace him and Dana Hedgpeth. You would get a lot more value out of real journalism.


Fire Dr. Gridlock
Fancy pants Washington Post

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Metro to roll out short trip passes (WMATA)
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