Greater Greater Washington

WMATA riders' council can be influential; once, it was

A new WMATA rider advocacy group, Metro TAG, has been arguing that the official rider voice, the Riders' Advisory Council, is "completely ineffective" and has "failed" riders. Has it, and can it be effective?


January 2011 bag search forum. Photo by Thomas Nephew on Flickr.

There is definitely room for more than one rider voice, and it's great to see riders speaking up through Metro TAG. Meanwhile, the RAC does have the ability to also be an effective force. When it started, in 2006, it did assume this mantle of a strong advocate for riders.

Unfortunately, the RAC hasn't seized the opportunity in recent years. Whether the RAC is effective or not is up to the RAC's members and whether they take a narrow or expansive view of their role. Members must be willing to use the RAC's stature and authority to draw public attention to issues, rather than being content to simply pass resolutions and reports that few will read.

In a WUSA story, RAC chair Ben Ball told reporter Debra Alfarone, "We do a pretty good job of representing the riders in the narrow circumstance in which we are allowed to advocate for riders."

But who isn't allowing the RAC to advocate? The WMATA Board could change the RAC's bylaws or refuse to reappoint members who do things that board doesn't like, but it very rarely refuses to reappoint members, and only changed bylaws once, at the RAC's request and not related to reining in the RAC.

Instead, almost any shackles upon the RAC come from its own members' recalcitrance, not from actual limitations from the WMATA Board. The RAC spends a lot of time mired in internal debates about whether they are "allowed" to do something, or not.

The RAC started out as a strong and independent voice

The RAC spoke up loudly for riders in its early days. In its first year, there were articles in the press about problems with MetroAccess and its contractor, MV Transportation. Member Mary Williams, a MetroAccess rider, suggested a public forum, and the RAC unanimously passed a motion to convene one.

According to Dennis Jaffe, the RAC's first chair, they ultimately convened two, mid-afternoon and in the evening on the same day. He says, "In between, we arranged for one-on-one and one-on-three meetings between riders and representatives of MV Transportation and Metro's MetroAccess agency staff, for the purpose of resolving individual complaints."

The RAC's advocacy wasn't popular with the WMATA Board. Jaffe says that board chair Gladys Mack tried to prevent the RAC from holding the forum at all. "I had 8 phone conversations with Gladys Mack, at her initiation," he wrote. "At one point she said, 'The Board forbids you to hold a public forum on MetroAccess.'"

But Jaffe told Mack he wanted to respect the RAC's decision. Before the forum, Mack convened an ad hoc committee on MetroAccess issues, and appointed Jaffe and WMATA Board member Dana Kauffman to chair. Jaffe says that Mack again tried to persuade him to not hold the forum; when he refused, Mack then pledged to send out flyers to 16,000 MetroAccess passengers encouraging them to make their voices heard at the forum.

The ad hoc committee, with the help of transportation experts among its membership, made several recommendations to fix MetroAccess problems, and the WMATA Board ultimately approved the recommendations.

Today's RAC and WMATA Board take a different view

I served on the RAC from 2009 to 2012 and was DC vice-chair in 2010 and 2011. During that time, I saw the RAC make a difference at numerous opportunities. I also saw RAC members limit their own influence in other ways.

In January 2011 (while I was vice-chair), the RAC asked Metro Transit Police top brass to a meeting to explain their controversial bag search program. Dr. Gridlock and other media outlets covered it. We weren't successful at halting the program, but were able to shine more light on what's going on, and bring more criticism to bear, than without the RAC's involvement.

However, while a few board members agreed with us, the board did not engage with the RAC's process to anywhere near the level that Gladys Mack did. They didn't ask us not to hold the forum, but neither did they appoint a committee of both board members and riders.

Maybe that issue wouldn't have been the right one, but I'm not aware of any joint committees of board members and riders at any time I was on the RAC. Board members would show up at RAC meetings when invited, and speak about their thoughts, and would very occasionally meet individually with members, but that was the end of it.

While the RAC during my tenure held a few public forums to push WMATA on key issues, more often the members would spend long stretches of meetings debating whether it was appropriate to take any kind of action. They would fret about the group staying within its own lane.

That problem seems to have only worsened since. When I was on the RAC, I wrote on Greater Greater Washington about what we'd learned in meetings, about the 7000 series rail cars, bus stop design, track work schedules, and NextBus performance. But earlier this year, when chair Ben Ball drafted a few articles for Greater Greater Washington summarizing a report the RAC created on airport bus service, members raised questions about whether it's even appropriate to have articles in blogs. Months later, they passed a resolution to form a committee to develop a policy on the issue; I haven't heard anything back about this.

While it was frustrating to spend a lot of time with Ball on articles which then never ran, this isn't about Greater Greater Washington. The RAC can only be effective in advocating for riders if it speaks out, loudly. That should include posting on Greater Greater Washington but also contacting reporters about stories and placing op-eds in many other media outlets.

The RAC needs to be more visible and less fearful

It should also use social media. I've heard that WMATA board staff told the RAC it couldn't have a Twitter account of its own. It's a ridiculous limitation. It would be interesting to see what would happen if the RAC simply went ahead and created one anyway, as Jaffe might have done.

The same goes for the RAC website, which does a very poor job of communicating anything about issues or rider concerns. When I was vice-chair, the officers asked staff coordinator John Pasek, who maintains the website, to make a few very small improvements that would help people find reports, letters, and resolutions. He did this for a few months, but then reverted back to the old and more opaque format.

But it's not just, or even primarily, a staff issue. Members themselves were reluctant to even list bios and photos about themselves on the site, as some said they hadn't expected to have any public exposure when they were appointed. Pasek, who primarily screens applications for membership, clearly isn't mainly looking for members who will be visible public advocates for riders. Maybe this practice arose in response to Jaffe's outspoken advocacy.

The RAC has long struggled with a question of whether it is just a focus group, where staff show up, present on a plan, hear from a representative cross-section of 21 riders, and "check a box" where they can tell the board they consulted riders. In its earliest days, members didn't see it that way, but as a strong and fairly independent voice for riders.

It can be that again, if members are willing to be such and if board members ensure that they appoint people with that interest. So far, that's not happening, and Chris Barnes and Kurt Raschke are probably right when they say the RAC has failed riders. But RAC members, without the staff's or board's help, could turn that around tomorrow, if they want to.

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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Thank you.

by Chris Barnes on Aug 13, 2013 1:57 pm • linkreport

What we need is an elected advisory board. The benefits to riders are obvious, but WMATA also benefits in the long run. An elected board can help WMATA gauge public sentiment, will likely advocate for expanded funding to the public, and serves as an additional PR conduit. Furthermore, an elected council would make it more difficult for more extreme groups (whether the highway lobby or UnsuckMetro) to claim that they have majority public support.

There are a lot of difficulties to creating such a board, but is there anything in WMATA's charter that would absolutely prevent it?

by Fantastic5 on Aug 13, 2013 3:01 pm • linkreport

WMATA isnt going to care about anything or anyone until people stop using the system altogether

by 3rd Floor Guy on Aug 13, 2013 3:15 pm • linkreport

What is electing an advisory council going to do and why would anyone pay any attention to those elections? The people running will get as much coverage as people running for ANC (none). I don't think that will get the public to pay more attention.

Honestly I think if this separate group manages to actually rally some support (so far it just seems to be a blog/twitter) then maybe they can get more people to show up at RAC meetings and put some pressure on them.

But for now I doubt WMATA is going to be interested in putting anyone with a history of actually being active in the transit sphere on the RAC. So many of the people interested in transit issues around here are involved in the industry in some way, or are planners, etc. so that might present a conflict of interest and they probably don't apply. So you end up with a group of people who are sort of interested but don't really have inside knowledge or contacts that help them. And certainly if WMATA thinks you are a rabble-rouser then your application is going straight to the circular file.

Maybe somebody should interview the people who review applications or FOIA the results to see how exactly they pick people and who they are passing up.

by MLD on Aug 13, 2013 3:17 pm • linkreport

David Alpert here makes a very good case that the RAC under Dennis Jaffe was effective, and the RAC not under Jaffe not so much.

I think it is worth noting how unusual Jaffe's leadership is to understand why subsequent RAC chairs haven't achieved the same results. FWIW, my personal disclosure: prior to the formation of the RAC, I had worked with Dennis on a few WMATA-related advocacy efforts via the Sierra Club, at which point we saw the need for a rider organization. I then worked with Dennis (and others) to establish the RAC.

Dennis's success as RAC chair was not simply a matter of clarity of purpose (although he had that too), but the result of an enormous commitment of time coupled with his experience from an extensive professional career in politics and communications. At one time he was elected to a contentious school board (in NJ), he is fearless in "speaking truth to power," he understands how to cultivate relationships with the press. He combined a powerful commitment to transparency in government with a rather ascetic lifestyle to focus his energy on the RAC without worrying too much about his material wealth. He had both the experience of a 40-year old and the sort of single-minded drive and vision more commonly associated with 20-somethings in a startup.

Finding the right combination of talent, time, and dedication is a tall order for an unpaid position. I wish Metro TAG well and they seem, at this point, more promising than metroriders.org (little known fact: Dennis also helped metro riders.org get their early major press coverage.) But the sustained advocacy necessary to push WMATA on anything is hard to keep up.

I've come to believe that a truly effective transit-rider-focused organization would need to be sufficiently well-funded to have full-time staff. An issue might take a dozen meetings with WMATA staff to resolve; keeping at this for more than one issue would be a problem for someone with a day job that isn't close to WMATA HQ.

by Tom Metcalf on Aug 13, 2013 4:02 pm • linkreport

@David, the last sentence in your post says it all. So does @Tom Metcalf's last paragraph. One correction, Tom, in 2005, I was already 42 ;-).

by Dennis Jaffe on Aug 13, 2013 11:00 pm • linkreport

I applied for RAC membership and was interviewed by Chris Zimmerman. During my interview I talked about working with WMATA to improve the station enhancement program, improve the transparency for reporting and resolving maintenance issues, and improving the communications amongst WMATA management, station managers, and communities around each station. My efforts to improve metro maintenance and WMATA to community communications were mentioned in several Washington Post articles. I wasn't selected for RAC membership. Instead someone that was interested, but passive was selected.

by Paul Derby on Aug 14, 2013 6:41 am • linkreport

Thinking Metro will be influenced by any kind of RAC is NAIVE. As long as the RAC doesn't have leverage on Metro's decision and work, Metro won't listen to it.
The only power riders have on metro is to stop using it... However Metro is well aware that the effect will be limited.
Remember 2012 when Metro organized a customer poll in the metro stations concerning riding metro. The questions were not about metro experience, it was only about customers: where we live, where we work, how much we do, if we have a car, if we have other alternatives than metro to commute. All the point of that poll was for Metro to see how far they can cut service while maintaining profits.

We already experienced that on the weekend schedule. 2 years ago, normal weekend schedule was trains every 6 min on the red line. Then they started track maintenance with waiting time between 12 and 32 minutes. In 2013, for the cherry blossoms festival, they advertised "normal schedule", but the waiting time was pushed to every 9 minutes, thus saving 33% operating costs.

by NoNo on Aug 14, 2013 9:09 am • linkreport

@nono

I agree metro service has gone off a cliff ever since just after the 2009 inauguration. However lets all work from the same facts. When I lived in silver spring from mid 2007 to mid 2009 normal weekend service was never 6 min headways. At best trains were coming every 12 mins or so.

by ChrisB on Aug 14, 2013 9:31 am • linkreport

@NoNo The two-word response to Metro earning profits by cutting service -- or by *anything else -- is No No. They don't earn *any profit, NoNo. None. I definitely am not defending Metro, I am correcting your false statement. Metro does maintain a surplus -- to be used if/when urgent, fundamentally important expenses exceed revenue by a very significant amount.

Believing that the RAC can influence WMATA is definitely not naive. It's a steep challenge. In fact, believing that the RAC *cannot influence WMATA is what's naive.

by DennisJaffe on Aug 14, 2013 9:43 am • linkreport

MLD said: "I doubt WMATA is going to be interested in putting anyone with a history of actually being active in the transit sphere on the RAC." The Virginia Assn. of Railway Patrons (a volunteer nonprofit group; I'm the chairman; www.varprail.org) has a similar situation with Virginia Railway Express. We used to have a good relationship with VRE. We'd occasionally be invited to discussions at VRE headquarters, and their people would at least listen if not agree. Then some years ago there was a change in management, and we were shut out. We asked for a seat on the riders' panel (three of our board members were VRE commuters) and the answer was no. I think that VRE too wanted passive members in its riders' group.

by Steve Dunham on Aug 14, 2013 9:44 am • linkreport

There are different ways to effectively advocate for change, and different leadership styles. I understand the desire for a loud, public advocate for riders, and if I had my druthers I would be this kind of RAC chair. But working with WMATA and my fellow RAC members for the last eight months, I've discovered that an adversarial relationship will be ultimately counterproductive for riders, and it is not a kind of relationship that my fellow RAC members support. (The op-ed fiasco was where this light went on, if you must know.) Recognizing this reality, I have scaled back my expectations and attempted to work more behind the scenes to advocate for rider interests.

So I understand the point you're making here, and I sympathize with it. But from where I sit, the course you're looking for me to follow would actually sever the productive relationships we've built up with the Board and WMATA staff - relationships that are just starting to bear fruit. It would also alienate me from the rest of the RAC, which prefers a more measured approach.

I know that riders want visible change, and that some are mad as hell. In this context, my approach seems overly conservative and cautious. Yet I remain unconvinced that the WMATA of today can be strong-armed into anything. The only way the RAC will make a difference is by gradually building its reputation with the Board and WMATA staff as a sensible, competent body - a reputation is does not currently enjoy. That strategy is boring, it takes time, and it looks ineffective at first. But it will open the door to a broader range of interactions that will produce change in the end. That is what I am trying to achieve.

As I said in the WUSA interview, there's plenty of space for advocacy of all kinds. I welcome MetroTAG, and hope that it achieves what the RAC cannot or will not. There's plenty of room for all of us to help Metro improve.

Finally, I'll just note that in my opinion, Twitter is a gigantic waste of time. It's great that y'all are obsessed with it, but that doesn't mean that I have to be. I'd rather have a life. #Luddite

by Ben Ball on Aug 14, 2013 9:50 am • linkreport

Another weekend metro issue that RAC should push for is additional trains on BOTH side of the track maintenance area.
One example: Last weekend on the red line, trains were single tracking between Dupont and Van Ness, with additional trains between Dupont and Glenmont. Why no additional trains between Van Ness and Shady Grove?
It is technically easily doable (trains do "U turn" in Van Ness when single tracking between Friendship Heights and Van Ness) and it would be highly beneficial for riders on 33% of the red line.
The only problem? Metro will have to run more trains, and thus will have to cut service less than what they want.
Once again, I repeat, service adjustment on the weekend is not only about "fixing the system", it is first of all about cutting service to customers.

by NoNo on Aug 14, 2013 9:52 am • linkreport

Ben Ball: "Finally, I'll just note that in my opinion, Twitter is a gigantic waste of time. It's great that y'all are obsessed with it, but that doesn't mean that I have to be. I'd rather have a life. #Luddite"

Ben, who says you can't take advantage of Twitter's communication platform and still have a life? Hundreds of millions of people use Twitter every day and still have satisfying lives.

I think you just need to manage your time better...and not be scared of new communication technologies.

by 20011 on Aug 14, 2013 10:01 am • linkreport

Ben: What was adversarial about the "op-ed fiasco"? You submitted posts that were identical in tone (and in parts, identical in words) to the RAC report. We edited them and they still made just the same points in the report. How would publishing them have constituted being "adversarial"?

In my experience, the RAC members need to be pushed a little bit beyond their comfort zone, and so do staff. You don't have to be belligerent, but someone has to tell RAC members, hey, we want to be an effective voice for riders? We have to speak up more and not be so scared.

by David Alpert on Aug 14, 2013 10:12 am • linkreport

I have been off the RAC, so-to-speak, since late 2007, and have not commented about the RAC, so I'd just let it and its members go about RAC-ing.I

I understand what Ben Ball is saying from his above comment. Most often, what's needed to achieve effective advocacy is neither blowing the torch of antagonism or waving the flag of a non-aggression pact. Rather, it's maintaining the opportunity to hang the hat on the back of the door in the WMATA conference room while also actively -- but responsibly -- challenging the agency, and yes, in public.

If -- If -- the RAC basically abdicates its prerogative to challenge Metro -- to publicly but credibly "take it to the doorstep of the agency" -- it is guaranteed to render itself ineffectual.

Credibly and publicly challenging the agency and maintaining relationships and accesss to decision-makers are *not* mutually exclusive or elusive. Not easy, but do-able.

by Dennis Jaffe on Aug 14, 2013 10:25 am • linkreport

@NoNo
Remember 2012 when Metro organized a customer poll in the metro stations concerning riding metro. The questions were not about metro experience, it was only about customers: where we live, where we work, how much we do, if we have a car, if we have other alternatives than metro to commute. All the point of that poll was for Metro to see how far they can cut service while maintaining profits.

Complain about their customer interaction if you want, but this criticism is way off-base.

The rider survey that WMATA does every ~5 years is required locally for equity purposes. I believe starting soon it will be required by FTA for all large transit systems to do something similar. The purpose for WMATA is two-fold: one is to figure out where riders live for use in the local funding formula, and the other is to figure out who riders are so WMATA can prove they are meeting equity requirements and not disproportionately screwing over minorities.

They already know where they can cut service - places and times where ridership is low. They don't need a survey to do that. They also regularly do surveys where they ask about rider experience, and there are other ways and opportunities to express your displeasure with WMATA.

@Ben Ball

Totally understand and agree with you re: being antagonistic and adversarial. You are correct that the RAC/WMATA relationship cannot function and improve if the people on the RAC are just seen as rabble-rousers and don't have, as Dennis put it, "the opportunity to hang the hat on the back of the door in the WMATA conference room."

That said, I think partially what people are frustrated by is that the behind-the-scenes approach makes it hard to figure out what the RAC is actually doing. I find it bizarre that WMATA and the Board feel that you writing something for a blog or giving information to the public sphere to be an "adversarial" action. How is the RAC supposed to interact with the public and provide WMATA with insight into what the public thinks without actually posing its ideas to the public at large? Without that sort of interaction, it seems like the RAC is just a rubber stamp for WMATA so they can say "see, we consulted the public."

by MLD on Aug 14, 2013 10:52 am • linkreport

Some of these comments strike a chord with me as I think of my experience on MDOT's bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee (MBPAC). No one seems to know who the Governor to appoint me to that, but I was not really a bike-ped advocate at the time. Simply taking an enthusiastic approach to collecting information rubbed several people the wrong way, and got me ousted as a subcommittee chair, because I was raising questions that the more cautious chairman felt uncomfortable being raised.

I came to the conclusion that to be reasonably effective on this type of a committee, one probably needs to have an independent platform on which to stand when communicating to the public or having extensive conversations with government officials. In my case, once I was also on WABA's Board I probably became much more aggressive about the questions I raised, yet it did not make people so uncomfortable because they could view it as a WABA official behaving as a bike advocate (rather than as an MDOT advisor behaving such). Needless to say, my posts never leave the impression that I am opining as an MBPAC representative.

Thus it seems to me that the lesson here is that at least some people on the RAC should, if time permits, also become officials for Metro TAG or some other such organization, and use that platform for rallying the public. The "op-ed" controversy mentioned above should never have resulted if Ben Ball was identified as a member of the TAG board. The RAC's function is not to be a public communication's arm for Metro or for riders, but rather to speak to Metro (and simply make those resolutions and statements available to the public). Affiliation with other organizations, aside from allowing one to leverage what they know with better communication to stakeholders, gives on additional credibility within the advisory group, or at least it should.

That said, the agency has to want to learn from its advisory committee. Overall, I think that the state of Maryland does, and simply wants members of advisory groups to avoid comingling their roles as advisors with their other roles on such matters. Whether RAC's issues are beyond that I have no idea.

The point that it takes an inordinate amount for time for advisory groups to be effective seems correct to me. When a Commission has actual authority, one need only spend enough time to reach a valid decision--if you are on an advisory group, you need to do that, and then spend 5-10 times as much persuading key people.

by JimT on Aug 14, 2013 10:57 am • linkreport

Metro is a rogue agency, unanswerable to anyone.

by Rik on Aug 14, 2013 11:17 am • linkreport

I just moved to SF from DC and joined the local advocacy group here, San Francisco Transit Riders Union. I'm told its well-respected, so perhaps it can be used as a model for other cities (or at least a point of reference).

http://www.sftru.org

by Ryan on Aug 14, 2013 11:27 am • linkreport

@DennisJaffe
OK... the word profit is inappropriate. I agree with you "maintaining a surplus" is a better way to say it.
You can't deny that excessive cut of service makes us think that it is also made on purpose to help "maintaining the surplus".
If not, why not adding train on both side of the maintenance area?
These zones are not affected by track works, people live there, people use metro not only to go to downtown DC, there is a life in Maryland and Virginia... What is the rational about cutting service there other than saving on operating costs?

@MLD: concerning cutting service when ridership is low: Don't you think it would make more sense to encourage people to ride the metro where the ridership is low, instead of discouraging the people already riding it?

Another personal suggestion would be to set the fares considering the number of trains running at the time. Why charging the same price for a 6 minutes vs a 24 minutes average waiting line on the weekend? Why charging peak fare after midnight when the waiting line is the highest?

by NoNo on Aug 14, 2013 11:35 am • linkreport

@MLD:
I quote you: "They also regularly do surveys where they ask about rider experience"
Really? Where? When? I didn't see any since I moved to the DC area 3 years ago...

"...and there are other ways and opportunities to express your displeasure with WMATA."
You mean by filling the forms online on their website? In my experience, you receive first a prefilled answer, based on key words ('escalator'. 'maintenance', 'delay') the first time. Then if you ask for more details or specific question, you receive that: "your feedback has been noted and made available to the appropriate department for review and consideration." and you never hear back from them anymore.
Or maybe you are talking about the MetroForward Facebook page where all opinions different that theirs have been BLOCKED.

by NoNo on Aug 14, 2013 12:10 pm • linkreport

@David, the op-ed idea was good in theory, but didn't pan out for many reasons. I lost that battle and decided to let it go. Sorry.

In my opinion, the goal is not necessarily to push WMATA outside its comfort zone. The goal is to promote the changes riders want to see. My strategy for doing this is to expand WMATA's comfort zone rather than challenge it.

I concede the point that the RAC hasn't yet been able to accomplish its goal of producing visible change. That's not going to happen overnight, as any past RAC member will tell you. What I'm trying to do is create a RAC that WMATA respects and listens to - the first step in starting a dialogue that will produce change for riders.

@20011, nice try. I'm not afraid of Twitter. I just care about other things more.

by Ben Ball on Aug 14, 2013 12:15 pm • linkreport

@Ben Ball and @20111 nice try. I'm not afraid of Twitter. I just care about other things more

Comfort or fear of technology, or how you want to live your life is a bit beside the point. Twitter is simply a terrible say for an advisory committee to communicate with the agency that it advises. And that's the only communication function the RAC has.

by JimT on Aug 14, 2013 12:28 pm • linkreport

@NoNo
The ways to make one's voice heard influentially with Metro are mostly up to the strategic creativity of the individual(s). The 10-step program for Metro Accountability that I co-led (I mistakenly before said 'led') was responsibile for the WMATA Board establishing for the first time a public comment period at its monthly meetings. It won't raise the barn -- but it's a staple that hadn't existed, and we -- through Sierra Club -- achieved that.

I wrote about Metro's customer comment form -- I think it's absurdly, poorly designed, and yes I agree about the quality of responses, which I think too often are the "non-response response."
http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/4872/the-transit-ombudsman-reform-the-form/

I do believe that the two primary reasons as to why we have service cuts and delays are:
1) An aging rail system critically needs maintenance/repairs that had been put off due to fiscal constraints that previous agency leaders failed to galvanize public support for the necesssary sufficient funds;
2) Metrorail has only one track going in each direction, unlike NYC, for example, with multiple tracks. This greatly constrains the work that needs to be done.

@JimT I strongly agree that one critical way for RAC members -- and the RAC itself -- to increase its influence on WMATA decision-makers is by increasing their own individual *public standing. I cannot emphasize that enough! However, once I became a RAC member, I fastidiously avoided acting in any way that would give any reasonable person a reason to perceive me as representing Sierra Club. I believe in institutional clarity. I had gained some measure of public standing through my advocacy with Sierra Club -- and that included getting out there in the news media. I actually stopped being active with Sierra Club during that period at the very least because of my own time constraints. But I never promoted anything on behalf of the organization while I was a RAC member. Public standing needs to be attained to influence Metro, which I describe this way: For an organization with a mission to move people, the agency is often itself unmovable. Through my transit ridership advcocacy with Metro, I coined the phrase, "pro-active inertia."

I have long held that while Metro does many things very well, it also does many things poorly. At the same that I will criticize the agency, I also am a proponent of their receiving more funding. On one hand, they will make even more mistakes. But they absolutely also need more funding!

I want to encourage Ben Ball and others on the RAC to be more assertive while not being so caustic that they mar the critically valuable relationships. At the same time, I cannot help but be reminded of that classic, Waiting for Godot http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waiting_for_Godot

by Dennis Jaffe on Aug 14, 2013 1:39 pm • linkreport

@Dennis Jaffe
I quote you: "I do believe that the two primary reasons as to why we have service cuts and delays are: 1) An aging rail system critically needs maintenance/repairs that had been put off due to fiscal constraints that previous agency leaders failed to galvanize public support for the necesssary sufficient funds; 2) Metrorail has only one track going in each direction, unlike NYC, for example, with multiple tracks. This greatly constrains the work that needs to be done."

I don't deny the need for maintenance, the fact that single tracking is the less bad solution for that... but you can't deny the fact that every weekends significative part of the metro system are undergoing massive delays and service cuts without any material reasons! The single trafficking should impact only the area where there is actual work! There is no reason for delays in MD (3 metro per hour last weekend) when there is not one single construction work in the entire state (single tracking between Dupont and Van Ness)!

by NoNo on Aug 14, 2013 2:36 pm • linkreport

@NoNo
The work irritates me big time. It's a big hassle, it's annoying as all heck, and it is inescapable that it also "drives" away riders during those times of less frequent service.
I definitely am not at this point knowledgeable enough about options, constraints, costs, etc., to support any particular change.
But, for anyone who really would like to see this improve, what it takes is:
a) Having detailed command of various options/alternatives, constraints, costs
b) Collaborating with other advocates to develop consensus in support of XYZ solution
c) Identifying who at Metro to first privately communicate to .. and then if there's no or inadequate response, go up the ladder both in terms of who to approach (you conceivably start at a public Board meeting) and more importantly, the level of pressure to engage in. Another words, don't start with insulting language and of course, try hard to avoid that throughout. There's a persuasion process here, and it requires starting out congenially, and then drawing support from more people.

by Dennis Jaffe on Aug 14, 2013 3:00 pm • linkreport

@Dennis Jaffe
And here is how Metro clouds the issue...
Endless procedures to know why Metro is not doing on the weekend, what it does everyday during the week.
Crazy metro system where the RAC have to force Metro to provide service to keep riders using it, when metro should do by itself its best to persuade riders to continue riding it.

by NoNo on Aug 14, 2013 3:22 pm • linkreport

MLD - Elections can make a huge difference. The ANC analogy you use is apt: even though the participation and media coverage of ANC elections is limited, ANCs still influence important things like zoning, far more than an appointed neighborhood advisory committee would. There are a lot of reasons for this: successful candidates enjoy and have experience campaigning and communicating with the public; they have an incentive to obtain results (policy reversals, new infrastructure, etc) rather than acting as yes-men; their proposals carry greater normative weight, which can influence internal government debates; they're a convenient source of "opposition quotes" for local news stories.

Elections with low turnout do have their own problems - certainly ANCs tend to be parochial. But overall ANCs probably produce better government than we would get from planners in the Wilson Building, combined with ad hoc pressure groups. The kind of people who would vote in a WMATA advisory board election are the kind of people who care most about transit, and while that's not perfectly representative its better than the status quo.

by Fantastic5 on Aug 14, 2013 4:50 pm • linkreport

And who is the electorate in this case? What would you do, hand out ballots on buses and trains as for Major League Baseball's all-star game?

Maybe it would be easier to just have this committee (or most of it) appointed by the same people that appoint the metro board. While volunteers, they would still have some status and in some cases might even be plausible future candidates for the board itself.

by JimT on Aug 14, 2013 8:51 pm • linkreport

The ANC analogy you use is apt: even though the participation and media coverage of ANC elections is limited, ANCs still influence important things like zoning, far more than an appointed neighborhood advisory committee would.

That's not an inherent characteristic of the fact that they are elected bodies. ANCs have influence because the Home Rule charter says so, and the other governmental bodies honor that. In order for an elected RAC or any RAC to have influence, WMATA has to decide to allow them that influence. That is the problem.

But overall ANCs probably produce better government than we would get from planners in the Wilson Building, combined with ad hoc pressure groups.

Heh, guess we'll just have to agree to disagree here.

The kind of people who would vote in a WMATA advisory board election are the kind of people who care most about transit, and while that's not perfectly representative its better than the status quo.

Disagree. The kind of people who would vote are those who both care and have the time to vote. Elections don't necessarily mean that the people who need more representation will get it, or that the people elected will be the most informed and able to represent what the public needs.

by MLD on Aug 15, 2013 9:04 am • linkreport

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