Is it time for Metro to get out of the escalator business?

Tom Fairchild Transportation, Uncategorized 1 Comment

The Washington Metrorail system has many moving parts, many of which have nothing to do with moving trains. Metro operates more elevators (275) and escalators (613) than any other transit system in the Western Hemisphere, including some of the longest escalators in the world.

With DC, Maryland and Virginia officials unable to craft a strategy for funding Metro adequately, maybe it’s time for Metro to gift its DC stations to DC, Maryland stations to Maryland and Virginia stations to Virginia. Let the states figure out how to fund the maintenance of the stations in their respective jurisdictions. Metro can focus on tunnels, tracks and trains.

Where should the boundary line between Metro and local authority logically be drawn? Although Metro’s escalators have nothing to do with moving the trains safely between stations, clearly they are necessary to get us to the platform to board Metro trains. But so are sidewalks and roadways that lead up to the stations. Is it possible that the cost and myriad of issues presented by operating 91 stations has diverted Metro’s attention and important funding from that most important job of safely and efficiently moving the trains? The time has come to think this through again.

In a Washington Post article last month, Paul Duggan compared our Washington Metro to Boston’s MBTA public transportation system. What caught Mr. Duggan’s attention is the line of control. As a state agency, the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) reports to a CEO and Board of Directors all of whom are appointed by the Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. In the article, Duggan cited Baker’s decisive actions for dealing with MBTA problems that occurred during this year’s epic snowfall. Such actions would prove more difficult for Metro with a WMATA board made up of members with loyalties divided between two states and DC. Perhaps more important than dealing with record-breaking snowfall, Duggan pointed out the clear benefit of MBTA funding issues falling directly under control of the Governor Baker as opposed to the ongoing spectacle of DC, Maryland and Virginia failing to adequately fund our Metro.

If Virginia Governor McAuliffe (or Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille) were responsible for the King Street Station, would the citizens of Alexandria make funding available so that all fare card machines work and platform tiles are fixed? If Mayor Bowser were responsible for the Farragut North Station, would monies be available to fix the ceiling tiles and upgrade the lighting to something better than dim? If the states had control of the stations, would they hire station managers that are trained for customer service?

Besides operating trains and stations, Metro has its own transit police. With the myriad of overlapping police authorities in the region, is this appropriate? We know about the communications problems that compounded the L’Enfant station tragedy. If DC Police had authority inside the L’Enfant station, it seems logical their working relationship with DC Fire & EMS would have helped emergency personnel respond to that tragedy in a timely manner. And if Metro’s focus had been on tunnels, tracks and trains, perhaps radio communication and ventilation inside the tunnels could have received the priority and funding necessary to make certain they worked in an emergency.

Our region NEEDS a strong Metrorail system. It is the circulatory system for our economy. Show me a booming business district in our region and I’ll show you an adjacent Metro station. Like bread and butter, they go together. No bread, no butter. Right now, Metro not only has to make the bread, but the plate, the table and the building where it is served.

In short, we need a strong entity to manage our vital mass transit train system. To do this, WMATA must control the system’s tunnels, tracks and trains. Everything else, give to DC, Maryland and Virginia. If the New Carrollton Metro Station isn’t working properly, hold Governor Hogan responsible. Let’s allow Metro to shed extraneous responsibilities and take care of the critical business of running trains. And – finally – let’s come up with a funding plan so WMATA can perform this work to the high standards that our National Capital Region deserves.

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Comments 1

  1. MLS

    Simply put, I do not trust the government of the District of Columbia to manage the several dozen stations that fall within its borders. Look at how they fucked up the streetcar, look at how bungled the Circulator routes are (every 10 minutes my ass)–NO, DCDOT cannot be trusted to fund and maintain such a massive infrastructure. Likewise, my confidence level that Maryland could do the same, is not much better–you need only look at the defunct “Silver Spring Transit Center” to see how great they handle transit projects! I don’t know much about how Virginia handles public works, but I’m betting they have the best potential of the three to actually maintain their stations to a satisfactory level.

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