Last week, the Greater Washington Board of Trade released a 35-page report on improving the METRO system.
Considering that the METRO is the largest public transit system serving Virginia (providing about 400,000 daily trips in the Commonwealth), its improvement is a major state issue.
There are a lot of recommendations in the report. And some politicos have already gone on record supporting or opposing the ideas. Basically, I’ll divide the players into two camps:
Those who think the current system is acceptable. And those who don’t.
Count me in the latter group. And, no, it’s not just funding. (That has nothing to do with an employee absentee rate of 7.5% or a lax system of safety controls).
METRO has slipped significantly in the past ten years. The trains are crowded and increasingly expensive. The escalators break down constantly. The safety record is weak. There is minimal flexibility for dealing with major athletic or cultural events.
The current system is not proactive in listening to riders or making changes. And no one is stepping up to take responsibility.
(This summer I criticized METRO on my blog for their poor service to and from FedEx Field. No one contacted me in response. By’ contrast, when I wrote a negative article about the Redskins ticket sales in 2009, their legal counsel contacted me the next day).
It’s time for a change.
There is a need for a METRO CEO with a transit background to make operational changes without threats of jurisdictional veto. This leadership should use the system on a regular basis and be familiar with the various lines. The CEO should have flexibility to deal with large public events, such as political rallies on the Mall, just like VDOT has flexibiltiy to deal with major weather events.
Finally, I think that the leadership of METRO should come outside the community of elected officials.
Especially in Virgina’s “part-time” elected world, it is impossible to expect a public official to focus on their elected duties and a METRO position for a part-time salary. (I can’t do it as a State Senator).
We need professional people who are willing to make tough decisions and are not scared about the political consequences. And we need that to happen soon.
Too many people use METRO to let it slide further. It’s time to bring the system back to the “gold standard” it was when it first opened in the 1970′s.