One of the responses to Metro’s critics is a variation of “things are tough all over.” Not so fast. Other major subway and light-rail systems may have problems but this graph from yesterday’s Wall St. Journal shows that WMATA is in a class all its own. Ridership is down 19% from 2011 through 2016. And no one thinks those figures are picking up even though SafeTrack is over and we’re theoretically “Back to Good.”
You can make the case that this proves the dire need for more money invested in capital improvements to make the system more reliable. But it also makes the case for improved accountability for WMATA. This goes beyond Paul Wiedefeld to include Metro’s ineffectual board and problematic unions.
Resources are important but it’s also how they are spent. Consider how many escalators have been “fixed” or even completely replaced only to stop working almost immediately. Consider further how many problems federal inspectors found with the tracks even right after SafeTrack passed through an area.
ATU Local 689 has fought against firing track inspectors who falsified inspection reports and put public safety at risk. You can say that the union is doing its job for its workers. But the workers, and the union that defends them, sure aren’t working for Metro’s riders or public safety here.
My sense is that Paul Wiedefeld has pushed change in a positive direction of actually trying to fix the the system. But the ridership numbers tell the story. I want Metro to get more money but I equally want evidence that Metro will spend it better.
We’re hearing a lot from Maryland state legislators, and even the Governor, about dedicated funding. Not as much about reforming its expenditure. Dels. Marc Korman (D-16) and Erek Barron (D-24), who have been leaders on dedicated funding, also have a bill in to improve how we appoint Maryland’s board members. (Sen. Brian Feldman D-15 is sponsoring the Senate bills.) It’s a start. But far, far more is needed to restore public confidence.