Greater Greater Washington

Transit


What can we seriously do to fix WMATA?

Everyone agrees WMATA has problems. Unfortunately, there are a lot more criticisms of the problems going around than actual solutions. That's because solutions are hard.


Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

But if we're going to actually fix WMATA, instead of just complaining about it, we need to seriously discuss how to fix what's broken.

Calling for all WMATA Board members to be lined up against a wall and shot might feel satisfying after you've gotten stuck in a tunnel after a train malfunction, but it's not realistic. Dissolving the whole agency isn't going to fix anything either. The trains will still be aging, the escalators still worn out, the PID signs getting behind.

Some say that all that's really broken is funding. That WMATA quite simply can't afford to maintain all its aging equipment, leading to breakdowns and frustration. If they had the money, things would run smoothly and riders would be happy.

That's partly true, and funding is a big problem. No matter how well run an organization, it's not possible to run good transit service without the minimal resources necessary. However, good organizations also make the best of their limitations. Many DC agencies have become more efficient at delivering quality service despite limited funds as well.

The DC government even pulled itself out of a hole similar to what WMATA now finds itself in, where everything was falling apart and it gained a public reputation for total incompetence that has taken a long time to shake even once actual results turned around.

Many have said that fixing WMATA must start at the top. For that reason, the Greater Washington Board of Trade decided to examine WMATA's governance structure, and the Council of Governments, chaired by DC Councilmember Kwame Brown, signed on to participate. Unfortunately, despite early promises, the task force quickly voted to conduct almost all its deliberations in secret, shutting riders out from learning about and participating in the conversation about this important issue.

The Riders' Advisory Council therefore decided to conduct its own, more open conversation and analysis of WMATA's governance. Its committee, which I chaired, held 7 public meetings and heard from 5 current WMATA Board members, 3 former members, and representatives of business, transit advocacy, and labor groups. The RAC has now released a draft of a report for public input, and really wants to hear what you think.

The RAC developed 6 high-level recommendations:

  1. The Board is analogous to a legislature and should include public officials.
  2. The Board should set clear, high standards for its members.
  3. The Board should focus on high-level policy and objectives.
  4. The Board should act as a regional body rather than as individuals.
  5. WMATA's top staff member should be a CEO rather than a General Manager.
  6. Board decision-making should include a clear and accessible public input process.
I'll examine each of these in this series. Let start with #2, the easiest by far. WMATA Board members vary greatly in quality, and even on basic metrics that almost anyone can agree with, some are falling down on the job.

Chief among these is attendance, which GGW and the Examiner have repeatedly noted. Some Board members have missed up to two-thirds of meetings. Some worst offenders have told reporters they are involved behind the scenes, but that's not a substitute for actually participating in the meetings.

Likewise, some members come under repeated criticism for not riding bus or rail. This should is a basic qualification for Board members. The RAC therefore recommended the Board set attendance standards, to clarify to any potential member that attending is part of the job, and that jurisdictions appoint people who are going to attend and going to ride transit.

In addition, when hearing from many current and former Board members, the RAC committee noticed that people had very divergent views of what is expected of a member. Is communicating with riders part of the job? Advocating for transit publicly? The Board should create a written list of responsibilities, so that riders and jurisdictions making appointments can all be on the same page when thinking about members.

There's more to membership on the Board than simply casting votes in favor of the best proposals. Board members typically take the issues WMATA faces back to their own jurisdictions and advocate for its funding needs. Many, especially in DC and Northern Virginia, also play a role in setting local land use policy.

Land use greatly affects transit ridership and the revenues of the transit system. TOD around a station brings in more riders, especially more riders outside rush hours, than large parking lots. When people who make transit decisions are also part of the local conversation around land use, it strengthens the link between the decisions WMATA makes and the decisions the local government makes. It's best for WMATA, and for the region, when some people overlap between both.

What do you think should be qualifications for Board members? What roles and responsibilities should apply to the Board and its members?

You can read this section of the RAC report, as well as the whole report, here. Next, I'll discuss #3, how the Board should take a higher-level, more policy-focused view.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. 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 loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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- Implementing a real system of accountability would be a nice start. I get sick seeing stories of drivers texting being put on "paid suspension". People need to know that it is actually possible to lose your job for incompetence.
- WMATA headquarters is located at Gallery Place. Take away parking spaces for all the people who work there. Parking there is expensive, so for a system thats short on budget, you can save some money. If the workers who use that building don't like taking metro to work, maybe that will inspire them to actually get off their behind and freaking do something to make it better. Most board memebers and execs have admitted they do not regularly take metro.

by J on Nov 10, 2010 12:33 pm • linkreport

"The DC government even pulled itself out of a hole similar to what WMATA now finds itself in"

The DC government didn't pull itself out of anything. The Federal government loaned the city the money to repay its huge debts and then took control of DC's finances through the control board. Having said that, perhaps the same action would be useful for WMATA.

The Federal government should take control of the transit system, vacate the current union contracts, dismantle the board and the senior leadership and provide the funds needed to get Metro back into good working order. In the meantime, DC, Maryland, Virginia, and the Federal government will go back to make any necessary changes in the WMATA Compact to redesign the board, senior leadership, and provide the system with dedicated funding mechanisms that are so important to every other mass transit system in the country.

There. It's a plan. Now let's make it happen.

by Adam L on Nov 10, 2010 12:49 pm • linkreport

I like mandating that the Board members actually show up to meetings and regularly take Metro.

I'd also require that anyone who fails to attend 75% of the meetings is automatically booted from the Board.

And no freebies of any sort for Board members.

All meetings be publicly announced 2 weeks beforehand, open to the public, and webcast.

And sell off the Metro property at Gallery Place, use the money to plug budget holes, and find cheaper digs that are Metro accessible.

by Fritz on Nov 10, 2010 12:51 pm • linkreport

I don't really expect board members to ride transit for every trip, or get rid of their car. Sometimes, your effectiveness as a public official is related to the number of different things you can get to in a day, and spending half of your day waiting for buses and trains can really cut into that.

Board members should ride Metrobus and Metrorail enough to be familiar with common problems in the system.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 10, 2010 12:52 pm • linkreport

I think the basic problem is a lack of duties of care and loyalty.

No governance structure is perfect. But I'd argue that instead of a legislature, you need to look at this from a typical corporate board standpoint.

Board members owe duties of care and loyalty to the company. And board members dont' have either. They aren't showing an competence, and they often have divided loyalties.

Setting that out as a standard is one thing. Then you have to define it -- which is hard in for a nonprofit government corporation.

And setting out remedies is even harder. When someone sues WMATA we all lose, because that money is coming from public sources.

But as a start, you need to define the basic duties of a WMATA board member -- and how today's members aren't demonstrating either.

by charlie on Nov 10, 2010 12:53 pm • linkreport

I suspect the notion to require Board members to ride the system is more of a preemptive measure against having members appointed who do not live in the area.

Otherwise, I have yet to hear about a Board member unable to handle an issue specifically because they did not ride the system. Seems like it's mostly a PR and "theater" type move.

by Lou on Nov 10, 2010 1:28 pm • linkreport

Many board members do not ride the system, especially buses.

Zimmerman rides the system all the time. When he hears the staff presenting things like treating buses that are two minutes early as "on time", he calls them on it because he has the experience of getting to the stop only to find out that the "on-time" bus has already left. The past two committee meetings he has specifically mentioned changing the criteria to tighten treating early buses as on-time.

Board members that don't ride the system don't typically have this rider-oriented perspective.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 10, 2010 1:34 pm • linkreport

The problem with WMATA Board members is that their primary constituency is not Metro riders, but the political entities that appointed them. There is a basic conflict, especially when it comes to money. Local and State governments don't want to spend too much, and Metro always needs more. When your governing body has more loyalty to an outside, and occasionally hostile, entity, your organization is bound to fail.

by dht on Nov 10, 2010 1:40 pm • linkreport

Michael, that's a great example of the myopia on the Board. I'd rather have them fix the scheduling problems than bicker about semantics of "on time". Again, not sure you have to ride the system to work on the bigger issues.

by Lou on Nov 10, 2010 1:47 pm • linkreport

@Lou: you can't fix what you don't measure. If your measurements are crap then you end up improving service in a way that's detrimental to riders (bus operators pushing to be early in their routes so that when they get delayed later it's not counted as "late")

He's also pushing for Metro to identify what it is they need in terms of funding or resources so that they can push that on-time percentage higher. Some of it is due to inadequate schedule time between when a bus is turned in and when it needs to be on its way to the next run. If there's only a few minutes to turn around a bus, then any delay from the previous run turns into a late pull-out for the next run. If Metro can say "If we had $2.0M per year for x additional buses, we can eliminate 50% of our late pull-outs", then the Board can act on that.

The way it's working now, Metro is just reporting a number without enough information to figure out how to make it better or worse.

In comparison with other systems, Metro has one of the more lenient on-time criteria in the business, at two minutes early to 7 minutes late. For a bus supposed to come every 10 minutes, you could just miss the bus that's two minutes early and have to wait 17 minutes for the next one, and Metro would report that as "on-time". Zimmerman's push is to improve the standards so that Metro is forced to improve the on-time performance.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 10, 2010 1:59 pm • linkreport

Lou,
Are you saying that "on time" is a smaller issue that shouldn't concern Board members?
Are you saying that people concerned about "on time" are being myopic?
Michael's description of the "on time" discussion does not sound like bickering. It sounds like someone trying to hold staff to a reasonable standard of customer service.

If you think that arriving on time to find that your bus left early, maybe you haven't had that experience. It can destroy your schedule for the day, and leave you frustrated with your transportation "service."

Or are you saying that "on time" is not as big an issue as something else? What is that issue?

by pinkshirt on Nov 10, 2010 2:07 pm • linkreport

Michael, all very fine points. I just don't see how riding the system is the only way someone can grasp those concepts. And people who do ride the system are still going to have different ideas on the metrics.

Is quantifying the bus on time problems the best reason for requiring members to ride the system? Really? Should management and staff also be required to ride?

by Lou on Nov 10, 2010 2:10 pm • linkreport

The issue of dealing with the ATU is going to be a sticky one.

On one hand, the Union's members are going to be fiercely loyal, and stand up for their own interests (as they should)

On the other, they are always going to have opponents that are vehemently anti-union, no matter what. Adam L provided a nice example of that prospective earlier in this conversation. Firing most of the workers, and pissing off the ones that remain is not a viable solution for fixing Metro's woes, and it's a bit ridiculous that this is so frequently proposed as an option. It's not.

That said, I do think that the weakened economy and successes of private operators (ie. First Transit's contract with the Circulator) will give WMATA an upper-hand in labor negotiations if they choose to capitalize on this. (And Metro's spiraling labor costs indicate that the agency seriously needs to cut back).

Hopefully rationality will dominate the conversation...

by andrew on Nov 10, 2010 2:22 pm • linkreport

@Adam L 12:49pm

The scenario you advocate -- the Federal government assuming control of WMATA -- is exactly what will happen if the Board and management can't get their act together and soon.

With the Silver Line passing through Virginia's most important business district, Tyson's Corner, and connecting to the region's largest airport, Dulles, there are now two senators (Warner, Webb) and three congressmen (Wolfe, Connelly, Moran), plus a myriad of local officials, who are much more interested than before in seeing WMATA succeed in providing efficient, safe, and affordable transportation services.

These officials working together with Maryland's two senators (Mikulski, Carden) and its three metro DC area U.S. Representatives (Hoyer, Edwards, Van Hollen), form a very sizable block of Federal power. None of these public servants is going to sit idly by and watch the system go down the drain. There is bound to be Federal intervention if Metro's service and safety continues to deteriorate. Additionally, any attempt to raise fares further will be closely scrutinized.

The only solution for WMATA, barring a massive increase in local and federal funding, is to bring down costs. That means pension reform. That means having employees no longer gaming the system through "pension spiking," or the act of working lots of overtime in the years before retirement. That means a deeper employee contribution to help offset expensive health insurance plans. And so on.

Yesterday, the state of California announced it had reached agreement with its largest public employee union on pension reform. If California can do it, why can't WMATA? With its standard red-ink budgets, pension reform is no longer a "should consider" matter for WMATA, but a "must do." And the reform process needs to begin now, not next year or the year after, but right now.

What was that word again that consultant David Gunn used to describe WMATA's financial outlook. Unsustainable. Sorry. I can't make that out. Unsustainable! Once again, please. UNSUSTAINABLE!

Uh, got it.

by InArlington on Nov 10, 2010 2:25 pm • linkreport

"On the other, they are always going to have opponents that are vehemently anti-union, no matter what. Adam L provided a nice example of that prospective earlier in this conversation. Firing most of the workers, and pissing off the ones that remain is not a viable solution for fixing Metro's woes, and it's a bit ridiculous that this is so frequently proposed as an option. It's not."

Please. I understand what the point of a union actually is. To protect the rights of workers. Key word: WORKERS! People who actually fulfill their tasks in a competent manner on a day to day basis. The purpose of a union is NOT to defend incompetent, rude, lazy, and borderline criminal people who are almost stealing paychecks from WMATA. Incompetent people deserve to be fired, and there are a lot of them out there. There are tons of examples, and that is just the workers who have been CAUGHT.

by J on Nov 10, 2010 2:32 pm • linkreport

@Lou: Here's another example of board members that ride metro pushing reforms that are in the interests of passengers.

Both Zimmerman and McKay are regular bus riders, and both have been pushing for ways to get Smartrip cards in the hands of more bus customers, because they know how delayed buses get when a lot of riders are trying to pay with wadded-up dollar bills and exact change.

Mr. Giancola rides Metrorail all the time. He calls staff out on their reporting that over 90% of system escalators are operational. It may be true. But if you never rode and heard that 90% were operational, you might think they're doing a good job. His experience riding and hearing that 90% are operational tells him that 90% is actualy pretty poor performance and it needs to get better.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 10, 2010 2:40 pm • linkreport

"Firing most of the workers, and pissing off the ones that remain is not a viable solution for fixing Metro's woes, and it's a bit ridiculous that this is so frequently proposed as an option. It's not."

Who said anything about firing most of the workers? The Federal government's ability to vacate current labor agreements is not the same as firing everyone. Did the Financial Control Board fire all DC government employees? No, of course not. That would have been ridiculous. However, federally appointed bureaucrats are more insulated from actions that may piss off union bosses and therefore might be able to rid WMATA of the most egregious problems with employee pensions, year-on-year pay raises, and yes, perhaps letting under-performing employees go.

Just as it's not fair for union employees to bare the brunt of dealing with Metro's probably, it's also unfair for them to be completely insulated from the agency's problems.

by Adam L on Nov 10, 2010 2:41 pm • linkreport

Please. I understand what the point of a union actually is. To protect the rights of workers.

Actually, this is not quite correct. The point of a union is to protect the rights of its members.

Understanding this distinction reveals quite a bit.

Disclaimer: I'm pro-union.

by oboe on Nov 10, 2010 2:44 pm • linkreport

Am I the only one who thinks we have a great transit system and that WMATA is not somehow fundamentally broken? Escalators will break, but I'd rather have the exercise of climbing stairs anyway. The trains may be somewhat old, but they're quiet and relatively clean. Our new BRT-style buses are super stylish and very comfortable.

Perhaps expectations are different here than in Boston, where I lived for the past four years. The MBTA has NINE BILLION dollars in debt. There you had no such thing as a PID sign. The only thing I could wish for from WMATA is Google Transit.

by Philip LaCombe on Nov 10, 2010 2:49 pm • linkreport

Michael, 90% is 90%. What good does it do to call out staff for reporting the truth? Again, it seems like most of this interaction is the Board questioning staff's methodology rather than focusing on solutions. I want the board focusing on how to fix problems, not arguing about how they are reported.

Same thing with the SmarTrip cards. They still do not know what they are doing about the final price structure. It's great that they want to make them more available, but they do not know how. That, to me, is a bigger failing, and they can ride around in trains all day but that's not going to help them figure it out.

by Lou on Nov 10, 2010 3:00 pm • linkreport

@Lou

The Board calling out WMATA on reporting "on time" as a window 2min early to 7min late and on 90% operability being "good" means that you actually can assess what is going on. The issue isn't with them reporting the number as the "truth," the issue is that the number is being portrayed as a good results when in reality it's a crappy result. If escalator availability is 90%, and you ride on 8 escalators a day (2 per station you visit) then your chance of getting through a day w/o going down a broken escalator is like 40%. Does that sound "good"?

If you are constantly being told that things are going "great", but your metrics are such that a D- is "great," then what the hell is the point of getting a report at all?

And seriously, your counter-argument is that they can't figure out whether or not they want to change the SmarTrip price? There are way more important factors in making the transit system function properly.

by MLD on Nov 10, 2010 3:12 pm • linkreport

@ Adam L Would you be okay if your bank preemptively raised the interest rate on your fixed rate mortgage? Times are, after all, tough.

WMATA has a contract with its employees. They can not choose to unilaterally tear it up. They can, of course, negotiate with the union for concessions. And they can go to the binding arbitration they agreed to. They can't just decide they've changed their minds, though, any more than your bank can change the terms of your fixed rate loan.

by jcm on Nov 10, 2010 3:17 pm • linkreport

@Lou: I think the context was that the 90% turned out to only be the escalators that were in scheduled or long-term corrective maintenance, and that shorter duration shutdowns were not being included. Don't quote me on that though it's been a while since I listened to that meeting.

I think MLD hits the nail on the head. An ignorant board can easily be told that things are going great, and be shown tons of metrics to "prove" it. A more involved board that has riders would look with a skeptical eye based on their experience that all is not well.

It took a regular rider (Zimmerman) to push Metro on the value of Google Transit and open data compared to the $50,000 or so they thought they might get for attempting to sell access to the data. It took a regular rider to push the value of getting Nextbus out there in the real world. Metro was constantly tweaking that one. It'll probably be a rider board member that will finally push Metro to implement a frequent network bus map.

Board members that don't ride regularly don't know about the little things that matter to riders. They only know what staff tells them, and sometimes staff doesn't know.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 10, 2010 3:19 pm • linkreport

MLD, I did not bring up the SmarTrip pricing fiasco. It was raised as evidence that Board members should be required to ride on Metro.

I happen to disagree with that concept. And I agree with you, there are way bigger issues for the Board to consider, however that is one small one that stumped them evidently, both the ones who ride the system and the ones who do not.

by Lou on Nov 10, 2010 3:21 pm • linkreport

@jcm

First off, the ATU contract is up. That WMATA has been continuing on the current agreement is an act of shear stupidity, in my opinion. Given that the agreement has expired, I see no reason to try and extract more concessions going forward.

And yes, for the record, my mortgage company has not jacked up my fixed APR, but I have had credit card companies change the conditions of their member agreements and I've had health care companies change their coverage agreements in the middle of the policy term.

by Adam L on Nov 10, 2010 3:27 pm • linkreport

Umm, why should the board be the one concerned about granular details like bus on-time windows? Why isn't anyone on the WMATA executive staff worried about stuff like that -- and has the ability to do someting about it.

by charlie on Nov 10, 2010 3:29 pm • linkreport

Wow! I just started reading this blog, and I am very impressed by the level of the articles and the commenters. I like this a lot better than the immaturity and invective being thrown around on UnsuckDCMetro. Well done, all!

by Newbie on Nov 10, 2010 3:49 pm • linkreport

@charlie: Because the board's committee looks at the reported on-time percentage rates as part of its oversight role, and when you look at numbers it's important to know what the numbers really mean.

Otherwise, the staff could set the window to "plus or minus half an hour, only when the driver actually reports it" and report 99.5% on-time and the board would say "okie-dokie".

Am I really arguing against people that think the Board should just be ignorant and take whatever the staff says at face value?

by Michael Perkins on Nov 10, 2010 3:49 pm • linkreport

@ Adam L The contract expired, but it had a provision to continue, and be subject to binding arbitration. The reason your credit card company was able to raise your rate is because the contract you signed with them said they could. WMATA doesn't have any option to unilaterally modify the work agreement. You can read it here, if you'd like. (pdf link)

This Agreement is to continue in effect through June 30, 2008, and from year to year thereafter unless change is requested by either of the parties hereto by written notice ninety calendar days prior to June 30, 2008, or ninety calendar days prior to June 30 of any year thereafter. In the event the parties cannot reach agreement upon proposed changes or modifications, or in the event of a notice of termination if collective bargaining fails to result in agreement, then all matters in dispute shall be arbitrated as provided in the provisions of this Agreement dealing with the arbitration of future contracts.

Nothing has changed since the last time we had this conversation.

by jcm on Nov 10, 2010 3:50 pm • linkreport

@jcm

The failure of WMATA to successfully renegotiate the agreement is not my problem and is exactly why having the Feds in charge may help change things up.

by Adam L on Nov 10, 2010 3:52 pm • linkreport

@charlie, Lou:

The board has a committee, the Customer Service and Operations committee, that spends roughly two hours per month in meeting.

What should this committee be doing?

Here's what the board procedures says:

"The CUSTOMER SERVICE AND OPERATIONS COMMITTEE shall
ensure that WMATA operational activities and programs are designed to provide reliable, effective and clean transit service, responsive to customer needs. The Committee oversees transit system performance and service standards, the quality of operations programs and procedures, and customer service, communication and outreach activities, including public and media relations."

by Michael Perkins on Nov 10, 2010 3:59 pm • linkreport

@jcm

I just thought of a better analogy to articulate my point. Metro is an agency that is essentially bankrupt. Just as a federal bankruptcy court can modify contracts, so too should the federal government have the ability to step in and make modifications to agreements between WMATA and its vendors/unions/creditors/etc. Painful? Yes. Necessary? Definitely.

by Adam L on Nov 10, 2010 4:02 pm • linkreport

@Mperkins; look, again, look at the corporate example. Should Google's board be looking at ad sales? Or apple's board at iphone pricing?

That level of granular detail should be contained further in the organization.

Now, I do understand that you can't transpose those standards perfectly into a nonprofit governmental entity. But it is a very valid question to ask why the board has to get to specific -- and whether that level of detail is part of the symptoms of bad governance.

by charlie on Nov 10, 2010 4:06 pm • linkreport

The Board should not be made up of elected officials, their loyalty is not to the ridership, it's to the jurisdiction's they represent. Federal representation should be part of the board too, since Federal employee's rely on the system to run the nations's government, and lots of people not just from DC,Md, & VA use the system.

by Matt on Nov 10, 2010 4:24 pm • linkreport

Michael, are you really arguing that Metro is so effed up that staff would go to egregious lengths to frame their numbers in a positive way, and that the Board has to ride on Metro to avoid this type of trickery?

Come on. I don't have the best opinion of some of the Board members, but I at least give them credit for not being that dense.

And back to my first point, you know a lot of people want that ridership requirement for the Board just in case Richmond eventually gets a seat or two.

by Lou on Nov 10, 2010 4:24 pm • linkreport

"Michael, are you really arguing that Metro is so effed up that staff would go to egregious lengths to frame their numbers in a positive way, and that the Board has to ride on Metro to avoid this type of trickery? "

Would that be the first time an agency has ever juked the stats, cooked the book? I mean, seriously?

You TRUST what Metro staff say?

Wow.

by J on Nov 10, 2010 4:49 pm • linkreport

A simple starting point would be immediate restructuring, voiding union contracts, and laying off half of back-office employees. No transit systems have the amount of back office (highly paid) bureaucrats as metro. The system should basically run itself at this point, and the only back office positions of note should be related to the control center/traffic control, maintenance, safety, and human resources. We could shave hundreds of millions off instantly. While it stinks to see people lose their job, and many be unemployable elsewhere, it needs to be done if we want to maintain a viable transit system.

The second thing we could do is slash MetroAccess and bus routes to make it more in line with other jurisdictions nationally. We are spoiled by the frequency and extent of Metrobus. Have counties and cities shoulder the burden.

by sg on Nov 10, 2010 5:02 pm • linkreport

@sg according to this:

http://wmata.com/about_metro/docs/ANNUAL_BUDGET_FY2011.pdf#page=23

there are only about a thousand non-operating line employees at Metro.

I guess if they all made a million each and you fired half, you could save "hundreds of millions", but the fact is they mostly make less than $100,000 and you can't fire half of them because many of them work in stuff like purchasing (can't buy parts without contracts) and contracting (how do you hire the contractor to repair the rails without a contract officer?) and planning (how do you adjust bus schedules based on operating conditions like traffic and construction, and plan for major repairs?)

by Michael Perkins on Nov 10, 2010 6:43 pm • linkreport

As to the recommendation of selling off the Jackson Graham Building, WMATA previously evaluated selling the JGB and relocating in 2008. The short version is that the most commercially viable option for that plot of land would be to tear down the JGB and re-build from scratch, but that is complicated by the fact that the Red Line tunnel bisects the JGB basement (this was originally used to unload the money train), and there are chillers on the roof which serve Judiciary Square and Gallery Place and which would have to be relocated. Partly because of the need to work around these 'speciality assets', WMATA would end up losing money on the transaction.

by Kurt Raschke on Nov 10, 2010 10:27 pm • linkreport

@ Adam L I don't think the basis of your hypo is correct. Metro is not essentially bankrupt. Beyond that, there's several problems:

1. As far as I know, the feds do not have the authority to do what you want them to do.
2. I find it difficult to believe that anyone who lives in a jurisdiction that has no representation and deals with federal meddling all the time wants more of that.
3. I find it difficult to believe that anyone thinks having the feds manage an agency is a prescription for running a tighter ship with better financial management and less red tape.

The title of this post is "What can we seriously do". Pinning your hopes on some federal magic wand to fix WMATA by abrogating contracts isn't serious.

WMATA has a contract with its employees. WMATA can negotiate for lower salaries. If WMATA's employees are truly overpaid, then they'll likely win concessions, in arbitration if not through negotiation. I'm sure there's fat to be trimmed in the labor contract, as well as in other areas, but I think the real issue is too much service with too little funding. Any serious discussion of WMATA's problems needs to start there.

by jcm on Nov 11, 2010 9:11 am • linkreport

I like the earlier comment about understanding how a board actually operates. The board is in charge, not senior management. I think the board needs to be removed from the purvey of local governments and either appointed by congress or elected regionally.

All the other problems start to get resolved when the board structure is changed. Union dominance of operations, not enough money spent on maintenance vs. salaries, poor public relations, idiotic solutions to fundamental problems, etc. all get resolved once we have committed adults in charge.

I'm also amazed at how local reports get rolled by WMATA PR. The crap that comes out of WMATA's collective mouths is laughable to anyone who actually understands complex operations.

by DC RES on Nov 11, 2010 9:33 am • linkreport

I will wait to see the full RAC report on WMATA governance.

In the interim, though, I would agree that it is important to understand the long-term regional and institutional consequences of almost ANY reconstitution of WMATA governance (including top-level senior WMATA management.)

It is also particularly important to capital-t think about what WMATA should do and be and how it should be run once all of the supplemental transit projects that are in the offing right now - Silver Line, DCSC, Purple Line, ARTS, MARC upgrades - are in place.

That multi-modal, "multi-layer" WMATA, whether it acutally operates the DCSC or the Purple Line or not, will be a fundamentally different public policy animal than the one-trick pony WMATA this region has had since the Red Line opened to the public in 1976.

Also, as WMATA extends operations outside the original compact area, the constitution (and, especially, the long-term financial obligations) of each of the compact signatories needs to be reviewed and updated also.

There is a lot of work to do here, Lady and Gentlement of the Jury.

Harold Foster; AAG-ProfGeog, AICP
Acting Exec Officer
The Americas Institute
Petworth
DC

by Harold Foster on Nov 12, 2010 9:48 am • linkreport

Bottom line is this system was never intended to handle the capacity of riders 35 years ago when it was built .If they envisioned todays numbers you would seen 4 tracks not two , more mezzinines , more means of egress and covered escalators from the get go .
You dont run escalators uncovered , in the heat , rain and snow 20 hours a day and do not expect to have problems .

by Harmon on Nov 12, 2010 5:52 pm • linkreport

Of course the original design by Bechtel was full of stupid deficiencies, the escalators uncovered is a glaring example. But I said when I moved here from the Bay area in 1983, "atleast it's not a nuclear plant!" The lighting , the signage, the dangerous closing doors, etc. But the WMATA Board hasn't seen a stupid idea they didn't like ever since. They funnel money down the drain in a million wasteful ways. They fix the unbroken things , like their role is to kiss someones ass, not guide a productive safe system. They changed a polite door anouncement into an obnoxious loud, thumping disturbing nuisance, did nothing to correct the structural danger of doors that cloase on baby carriges!. When you can't see the inappropriateness of things, and don't carefully select what is needed from all the other garbage they try out, no wonder you lose bearing, kill employees and riders, let he system come apart, ignore the critical. The original deficiences were never remedied, while WMATA is rushing to take OUR land, OUR trees, and build developents in a frenzy. They cannot run our metro, they shouldn't be running our development either. WMATA is destroying the trees and open space at the Brookland Metro, an arrogant offense to any caring person, who wants a little shade, some fresh air and green space to walk in. WMATA is a failure, these people need to go, and get a citizens review board , with an education, and the power to reorient the whole mess. Plan for the future transit needs of our communities, safe metro, safe energy appropraite scale buses, light rail, streetcars and gracious open airy stations, follow examples in NY and other older systems, stop the ridiculous fare card system, go 24 hours. The things they have failed on are obvious nd easy to change. Between the complete destructive mess WMATA is responsible for and the excessive , overworked policies and "improvements " by DCDDOT, transportation is becoming a nightmare, on the street as well as in the subway. The Mayor(Fenty, Gray), the City Council are arrogant beyond belief. they live in a delusional world of Developers, big business, finance and handing OUR resources out to millionaires. Save McMillan Park.!!!. There are less than 20 people who have an egenda a mile wide, and it isn't sensible or safe. They are so few , controlling so much, we need fundamental democratic process, enfranchisement and empowerment. Not the insipid "Taxation Without Representation', we are represented poorly, by so few people. Once in power and playing ball with the Big Boys, they are not our leaders, not at all. That is the bottom line, I personally have heard enough Bullshit from these arrogant entrenched SOB's for a life time. I really wonder who Gray is kidding, and I pray there would be one indication that he will be any more interested in the real people and issues of DC than Emporer Adreinne was,.,Good Luck! No indication yet, except the utter crap he has said to get elected.

by Daniel Wolkoff on Nov 18, 2010 10:48 pm • linkreport

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