Posts about Ben Cardin
The Federal Transit Administration found serious communication failures at WMATA surrounding safety, and an inadequate safety oversight system in the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC). At a briefing yesterday, area Congressional representatives seemed extremely frustrated at their inability to fix this problem.
According to a report released yesterday, the current Tri-State Oversight Committee has not been sufficiently effective. Its members are lower-level employees of the three state DOTs, and top managers at those DOTs weren't even aware that TOC members reported to them. At least, Pierce Homer of VDOT was not, according to FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff at the hearing. Conflicting laws and procedures of the three jurisdictions sometimes interfere with the TOC, such as their communication with the media and response to FOIA requests.
TOC only worked with low-level staffers at WMATA, and were stymied when WMATA refused to allow them certain types of access because "there was no process in place" for them to go over the heads of the Chief Safety Officer. The FTA report simply recommends such a process be created, but it's also troubling that TOC members felt they couldn't do anything without a formal process. If their office building is on fire, do they consult their procedures manual to determine whether the official process is to notify their superiors first and wait at their desks for instructions before calling 911?
The FTA report also says "WMATA managers and executives stated that TOC, at times, appeared to be using the media in a punitive manner to resolve differences of opinion with WMATA," but TOC members "explained that the media found these stories and featured them, without influence from TOC." Perhaps the best thing to happen to safety at WMATA was the Post's discovery that WMATA refused track access, which led to the Board getting involved and setting up a new rule that staff notify them anytime they deny a TOC request. But instead of praising this development, the TOC is basically disavowing any involvement and WMATA managers are complaining about it.
WMATA marginalized their safety office, according to the report. The safety office is understaffed, with 10 of 41 positions vacant, depriving them of the ability to coordinate among departments or conduct safety audits of their own. Furthermore, the report says that the rail division doesn't share information with the safety office and that safety officials aren't involved in high-level discussions that could involve safety.
Many of these problems are now improving. The Board now has given TOC the official permission it was waiting for to pick up the phone and call the Board when something is wrong, and WMATA and the TOC are now working together to close "Corrective Action Plans" (CAPs), the recommendations from TOC on safety. They have closed 75 in the last two months, bringing the number outstanding from 140 to 66.
The most disappointing piece to me is why it took press attention and FTA oversight to identify, explain, and fix these issues. WMATA could have formulated and publicized its own report explaining how the safety structure was deficient and suggesting ways it would fix them on its own. It didn't. After the Post discovered and publicized the lapses, WMATA's statements instead nitpicked specific wording from TOC Chair Eric Madison to try to claim there wasn't a problem at all.
WMATA needs to own up to these things, not just respond to the FTA's report and have meetings but actually start coming clean to riders. There are undoubtedly some points the FTA missed; WMATA should proactively suggest those as well. As for the TOC, they have a solemn responsibility to ensure safety, and should take whatever steps necessary without regret, whether that's breaking procedure and going directly to top managers or the Board, or talking to the press and shouting from the rooftops when something is wrong.
At the briefing, Congressional representatives seemed remarkably frustrated, just as Senator Menendez and his colleagues were when they sent the letter threatening some indeterminate kind of "federal takeover." Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) also kept asking about a takeover, to which Rogoff repeatedly replied that the FTA does not operate transit systems and has no desire to take over WMATA nor do they think that would be helpful. Mark Warner (D-VA) asked about the Board structure, wondering if it's problematic that the Board Chairmanship keeps rotating, a point Homer raised in an op-ed shortly after John Catoe
resigned submitted his resignation.
A takeover makes no sense, and changing the Board rotation wouldn't fix much. But the Senators clearly seem to be casting about for a solution. They don't want to devote all their time to this issue. They want to find something they can do to fix the problem. The Board, top managers, and advocates should work together to figure out what this is, so that the Senators can actually do something constructive instead of flailing around and breaking things.
From Roads to Rail" on Monday evening, July 7th in Tysons. House Transportation Chairman James Oberstar will speak too. Thanks bfox!
Next, Manhattan? Urban farming has transformed people's diets from imported canned goods to fresh local vegetables in Cuba. Cuba's big agribusiness may be inefficient, but look for more of this in the developed world as energy prices go up and up. From the International Herald Tribune. Thanks Bianchi!
Not another drive-thru: Walgreens is planning to build on a former gas station at Veazey and Connecticut, right by the Van Ness stop, reports reader Steve. The somewhat-good news: they're seeking a variance to build only 27 parking spaces instead of 40 (it should be even fewer). The less-good news: Walgreens gets to keep all the curb cuts the gas station had, and so they're building a drive-through. We should not be building drive-throughs in urban areas, especially not next to Metro stations.
Cardin on transit: Ben Cardin,
Delaware's slightly less well known Senator Maryland's newest Senator and a great advocate for transit, gets interviewed by Grist. He talks about the transit component of the Climate Security Act, which he authored (and which failed to pass a Republican filibuster this year). Oops, I confused Carper and Cardin. We have a wealth of pro-transit Senators whose names start with 'Car'.
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