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  • DC Metro lags on federal safety actions

    Can get delayed going to work, killed in a crash, beaten or raped by thugs, die from smoke inhalation; it's an adventure.

    DC Metro lags on federal safety actions
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    Moriah Ratner

    By Melanie Zanona - 07/14/16 02:12 PM EDT

    The Metrorail system in Washington, D.C., still has to complete 600 actions required by a federal oversight board in order to fix safety defects, according to the latest data.

    The Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which assumed temporary oversight of the city's beleaguered transit agency last fall, reported on the process Thursday.

    The FTA has been conducting inspections of the subway, identifying safety defects and requiring remedial actions when necessary.

    Metro, which has been scrambling to address ongoing safety and maintenance issues with its rail system, is in the midst of implementing its own massive, yearlong repair plan. The transit agency had to adjust its schedule for the project in order to implement some of the FTA’s safety requirements.

    Since October 2015, the FTA has found a total of 1,124 safety defects in the rail system, according to the data. Those include items like missing track fasteners, defective rail ties and nonfunctioning lightbulbs in tunnels.

    The FTA has recommended 749 corrective steps, which includes clearing blocked water drains and retraining train operators.

    But there are still 600 open actions remaining, though the data notes that some of the steps may have been completed and are just awaiting verification.

    The FTA also said that during the course of more than 200 inspections, federal inspectors were denied track access 15 times, though that problem has “significantly” subsided, it said, since being brought to the attention of Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld.

    Some critics have questioned whether the FTA has the teeth to enforce oversight of Metro.

    A more lasting, tri-jurisdictional oversight body is in the process of being created.

    But the FTA does have the power to shut down Metro service if it believes safety directives are not being adequately followed, something Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has warned he would do.
    To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway

  • #2
    WASHINGTON — A Metro worker blamed for falsifying records about the tunnel fans that failed during last year’s deadly smoke incident near L’Enfant Plaza has been granted his job back by an arbitration panel — and Metro’s largest union has just filed a lawsuit against Metro because the worker hasn’t been reinstated yet.

    Court documents obtained by WTOP show Mechanic AA Seyoum Haile was fired by Metro the month after Carol Glover died on a smoke-filled Yellow Line train. Metro found that preventive maintenance activities that Haile had signed off on for a fan shaft near the smoke incident had not really been done.

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    The Metro investigation found that no computer logs from the Rail Operations Control Center or radio recordings showed any evidence that the appropriate tests had been done Nov. 6, 2014, despite paperwork filed by Haile that indicated the tests had been completed.

    “You have shown a pattern of routinely falsifying [preventive maintenance] records for fan shaft FL-01 a critical fire/life-safety system, to include falsely representing communication with an Operator from an earlier test at a different fan shaft,” the Metro investigation concluded.

    Haile also had signed off on tunnel fan tests at the same site last Oct. 3 and Sept. 24; there is no audio or computer evidence of that testing either. There is no evidence that the fans were turned on by Haile or his partner at the fan site.

    Metro’s ventilation failures were among key factors blamed for Glover’s death.

    HAILE CHALLENGED HIS FIRING immediately in February 2015, and the grievance under the union’s collective bargaining agreement went to arbitration in fall 2015. The union argued “a more systemic problem” led to Metro’s decision to fire Haile.

    “Local 689 argues that blaming the grievant for the January 12, 2015 ‘breakdown of tunnel fan FL-01 is a misplacement of responsibility and the discharge should be overturned,” the arbitration report read.

    The union argued Haile is a good mechanic in a systematically flawed environment in which inaccurate and incomplete maintenance reports were not unusual. The union also pointed to the fact that the less-experienced partner Haile was working with got just a three-day suspension.

    Metro argued that Haile intentionally concealed his failure to test tunnel fans and violated Metro’s cardinal safety rules. The arbitration report said Metro argued that it “no longer trusts him; and that his continued employment is a safety risk.”

    The arbitrators concluded that the root cause of the problems was a culture at the time that included ineffective communication between the maintenance workers along the tracks and the Rail Operations Control Center which is supposed to remotely test fans for emergency situations. They added that “systemic maintenance practices … tend toward mitigation of discipline.”

    Among the practices at issue is that Metro would accept blank checklists, that did not indicate proper tests had been done, without raising any concerns. Some evidence was also presented that Metro called Haile into the office immediately after Carol Glover’s death to adjust fan testing records.

    “Mechanics might need to wait ‘an hour or two’ for ROCC operators, and to exercise patience with repeated interruptions,” the report read. “But there is a distinction between putting up with delays and operators unsuccessful in exercising fans when requested. While that does not excuse the grievant from reporting incomplete work as complete, it places the misconduct within a context which may have made it not unreasonable for him to return the following day to complete work.”

    Haile had 13 years of seniority and had only been disciplined once. He was suspended 10 days, and “nearly terminated,” in Metro’s words as quoted in the report, in 2009 after he left work without permission to run a personal errand.

    Metro said it suspended the junior partner he was working with only three days because there were signs he “came clean” in some later interviews.

    “The grievant’s misconduct was serious. However, in the light of all the evidence, it was not so serious as to be disruptive of the employment relationship. The penalty must be rehabilitative, rather than punitive, and mitigating circumstances must be considered,” the arbitration report concluded.

    “While discharge may have been warranted but for systemic issues, in all likelihood, progressive discipline will be effective,” the report signed by the arbitration panel’s neutral chairman said.

    IN THE APRIL DECISION, the panel reduced the discipline to a 180-day suspension without pay and without loss of benefits or seniority.

    The lawsuit filed Wednesday asks a federal judge to confirm that Haile should be back on the job.

    “Despite repeated assurances from WMATA, the grievant Seyoum Haile has not been reinstated, granted full seniority and benefits,” Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 said in the filing.

    The lawsuit was filed now because a 90-day time period when Metro could have moved to vacate or correct the arbitration award has expired.

    In a statement late Thursday afternoon, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said Metro will move to get the arbitration panel’s decision overturned by a judge.

    “We strongly disagree with the arbitration award given the employee’s egregious acts. We intend to file a motion in District Court to vacate the arbitration award,” the statement said.

    Follow @WTOP on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

    © 2016 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.

    To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway


    • #3
      Happy Friday, just in the area they already "fixed" but are back fixing again...
      By - Associated Press - Updated: 10:02 a.m. on Friday, July 29, 2016

      D.C. Metro train derails; 1 passenger hurt

      ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Metro says a train has derailed in northern Virginia and fire officials say one of about 75 passengers on the train was taken to a hospital with minor injuries.

      Metro spokesman Richard Jordan says two cars derailed at the East Falls Church Metro station platform Friday morning, but the train is upright. There’s no service between McLean and Ballston, which is causing orange and silver line delays that will likely continue through the morning.

      Arlington County Fire Department spokesman Deputy Fire Marshal Peter Corbino says one passenger was taken to a hospital with minor injuries.

      Jordan says the derailment happened by a switch where trains begin using one track in an area where Metro’s performing work as part of a major maintenance effort.

      He says the cause is under investigation.

      Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.
      To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway


      • #4


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        Metro fourth-quarter ridership plunges 11 percent
        The rider's guide to navigating Metro's Safe Track Play Video3:08
        Having trouble maneuvering around Metro's 10-month maintenance overhaul? Well here is a guide to help riders find the perfect alternative. (Ashleigh Joplin/The Washington Post)
        By Faiz Siddiqui and Martine Powers TransportationSeptember 6
        Metro’s rail ridership has declined dramatically over the past year, a worrisome trend for the transit agency as it heads into budget season in the midst of its aggressive SafeTrack maintenance program.

        Ridership decreased 11 percent in the period from April to June, compared with the same time last year.

        “This gives you a sense of what we’re probably going to be facing through this fiscal year,” said Michael Goldman, chairman of the Metro board’s finance committee.

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        General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld is expected to release his proposed budget in October or November for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
        So what went wrong?

        Keep Reading
        Metro officials offered several reasons for the drop: Early blooms shifted much of the Cherry Blossom Festival ridership to earlier in the season, they said, although no accompanying spike in overall early-spring ridership was noted. Heavy rain in May also deterred people from using Metro, they said.

        “However, losses continued even on days with good weather and during peak commuting times, which normally are not significantly affected by weather,” officials said.

        In addition, service disruptions from the first two surges of the agency’s SafeTrack program — which affected the Orange, Silver and Blue lines — had a significant impact on ridership, officials acknowledged. And riders have been slow to return after surges hit their areas.

        What wasn’t mentioned: riders’ growing dissatisfaction with Metro’s safety and reliability and their increasing willingness to find other ways to get to work. Rail customer satisfaction was at 66 percent by the transit agency’s last measure, seven points lower than at the same time last year, and well below the agency’s target of 85 percent. Rail customers’ sense of reliability was even worse: Only 42 per-cent said the system was reliable.

        A consultant’s report presented to the board in July warned that if current trends continue, the agency will face a budget shortfall of $1.1 billion by 2020. That presentation noted that ridership had dropped to levels not seen in more than 10 years and that the lost revenue from declining ridership was a key factor in the system’s financial woes.

        Recent numbers paint an even worse picture.

        Metro customers took about 8 million fewer trips from April to July than they did during the same period last year, according to documents released Tuesday in advance of a Thursday board meeting.

        [SafeTrack closures: These D.C. Metro lines and stations will be disrupted in the next year]

        And those losses came across the board.

        “Ridership was down across all time periods, days of the week, and nearly all individual stations,” Metro officials wrote in a memo included in a presentation for a meeting of the board’s finance committee. “Losses were especially severe in off-peak periods.”

        In all, riders took 321 million trips across the Metro system in the fiscal year that ended June 30, down 20 million, or 6 percent, from the previous fiscal year. Metro had forecast a 3.2 percent increase.

        The Metro board’s chairman, Jack Evans, attributed the ridership slide to SafeTrack, concerns about safety and reliability, and the reasons outlined by Metro. He said the ridership losses, while unsurprising, pose a financial concern for the agency.

        Shifting funds from Metro’s capital budget into its operating budget, the Band-Aid solution the agency has previously undertaken for lost ridership revenue, is unfeasible in the long term, he said.

        “Even if it’s legal, we’re not doing it,” Evans said. “Well, we’ll do it, I’ll just quit. Over the long term, it’s impractical — because you need the capital dollars to do the capital improvements.”

        [Metro board chairman warns of asking jurisdictions for up to $100 million each]

        Despite the ridership losses, Metro avoided a budget shortfall this year through a combination of savings in service contracts, lower gasoline costs and lower propulsion usage prompted by reduced service. The revenue losses also were offset by savings from a hiring freeze for non-safety-critical positions.

        That Metro’s need for aggressive maintenance contributed to the ridership slide underscored the need for increased funding — specifically, $300 million in dedicated funding from Congress, Evans said.

        “We need more money. We need more money. We need more money,” Evans said, in a now-familiar refrain. “If we don’t get it, then I don’t know what the option is. We have to then stop service,” meaning reduced train and bus schedules.

        Even so, Evans was unconvinced that SafeTrack would keep people away from the system permanently.

        “If we start running a safe and reliable system again, people will return,” he said.

        Board member Carol Carmody, a federal government appointee, said she’s confident that riders’ frustrations about reliability and concerns about safety are the most significant cause. But, she added, she’s hopeful that long-term improvements resulting from SafeTrack will bring riders back.

        “The ridership issue will continue until the public is convinced that things are being fixed,” Carmody said. “It’s going to take a while.”

        But Goldman maintained that the answer to Metro’s ridership decline isn’t that simple. He pointed out that ridership numbers started to drop several years before the system’s safety and reliability problems became chronic.

        [Metro ridership continues to plummet along with service]

        Ridership has been declining since 2012: In that time, Metro’s numbers for average weekday ridership have dwindled from between *0.5 and 2.5 percent a year.

        Goldman identified one significant factor for the decline, which won’t get fixed by SafeTrack: housing patterns.

        Metro was conceived and built at a time when it was largely used by federal workers commuting in from outer suburbs. Now, Goldman said, there are fewer federal workers — and they’re younger, more likely to live closer to the city, and to have alternatives other than Metro for getting around.

        “The basic old core ridership just isn’t there anymore,” Goldman said.

        And cheap gas prices, which have encouraged people to return to their cars, will continue to make it more difficult for Metro to compete as far as costs, Goldman said.

        That’s not good news for officials who have said that SafeTrack investments will result in a quick return to growing ridership and revenue. Goldman said Metro will need more help than that — and that the key for long-term growth will involve encouraging more transit-oriented development and effective advertising campaigns to commuters who have more transportation options than ever.

        “It will probably still take a couple of years to draw those riders back to Metro,” Goldman said. “We’re going to get a good system, but ridership isn’t just going to turn around and start boosting again.”

        The dismal fourth quarter was an especially tough end to a year in which Metro had already seen flagging ridership. Bus ridership was down 6 percent, or 2.1 million trips, from the fourth quarter last year. Ridership on MetroAccess — the agency’s door-to-door service for the elderly and people with disabilities — increased 2 percent. The ridership losses for fiscal year 2016 translate into $58 million less in revenue than was anticipated from rail.

        Declining ridership will be among the top agenda items at the board’s finance committee meeting, where members will be briefed by three experts on ridership trends to provide a better idea of why ridership is falling — and how, or whether, the transit agency can expect to win back some of those riders in coming years.

        In recent years, other systems have enjoyed either steady growth or less substantial losses than Metro. The Chicago Transit Authority said rail ridership remained at 2015 levels in April, the most recent month for which data is available — although bus ridership declined by 6 percent. During the period from April to June, ridership on the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in San Francisco increased by 0.3 percent from the same period last year.
        To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway


        • #5
          I find it amazing the highschool dropouts they hire and massively overpay manage to be so rude.
          WMATA is up against a budget deficit. Today, it floated ideas for some very big, very difficult changes.

          by Kelli Raboy • October 11, 2016

          WMATA is again estimating that its operating costs will far outpace revenues. To close the gap, the agency is considering closing several stations during off-peak hours, decreasing how often trains run, and cutting some bus routes.

          Under WMATA's new proposal, stations with red dots could only get service during rush hour. Image from WMATA.

          The official budget proposal for FY2018 won't come out until November, but a draft of a presentation that WMATA staff will give to the Board of Directors on Thursday gives some insight into big changes the agency is considering in order to close an estimated $275 million budget gap.

          One option would eliminate service to 20 low-ridership stations during off-peak hours (midday, evening, and weekends). Many of these stations are located east of the Anacostia River, but White Flint and Tysons are also on the list.

          Another option would eliminate service for bus routes with the highest operating costs per rider. One of the routes listed is Metro's new bus rapid transit service, Metroway, which runs largely in dedicated bus lanes with bigger, better bus stops.

          Some other options on the table include cutting more employees, increasing bus and rail fares, increasing peak-period rail headways from every six minutes to every eight, making weekend service less frequent, and asking Maryland, Virginia, and DC to contribute more funding.

          These are bleak choices, but absent an infusion of funding, WMATA has to balance its budget somehow. What do you think it should do?

          Without changes, the WMATA budget may grow increasingly unsustainable

          by David Alpert • September 8, 2015

          Metro's costs are growing faster than revenues, and the agency may find itself in increasingly difficult financial shape unless something changes.

          Graphs from WMATA.

          If current trends continue, WMATA's costs will grow 6% a year while revenues only grow 1% a year, creating a larger and larger need for local governments to pay more, according to a presentation the WMATA Board will discuss Thursday.

          While transit is a vital service in our region and one that's worth paying for, it's not realistic for local governments to keep paying a larger and larger share of their own budgets into this one service when cost growth exceeds inflation or the level of growth in local GDP.

          WMATA CFO Dennis Anosike and the other staff preparing this presentation seem to have stopped trying to pretend problems don't exist. In fact, there's a whole slide entitled, "KPIs are Clear—Metro Must Improve," referring to the "Key Performance Indicators" the agency uses as management metrics.

          About 70% of the forecast growth comes from adding staff or raises for staff; MetroAccess, the regional paratransit service, makes up 10% of the growth, and opening the Silver Line's Phase 2 accounts for 8%. Fuel, contracted services, and other things comprise the rest. There are also unfunded benefits and pension liabilities of $2.5 billion.

          According to the presentation, WMATA would either need to get cost growth down to about 2% while keeping revenues the same, or increase revenue growth to about 8% a year, or some combination, in order to keep the local subsidies growing at 3% a year total.

          What to do?

          Is it possible to keep subsidy growth to 3%, and if so, how? This presentation doesn't answer that specifically, but talks about a mix of "operational efficiency" like reducing the number of staff and outsourcing some functions, saving money on supplies and utilities, other revenues like retail in stations, and changes to service.

          The presentation notes that WMATA's labor contract is up for renegotiation soon. There's a constant tension between the need to pay good wages to help families reach and stay in the middle class, pay which also encourages skilled people to stay in their jobs, and the fact that in some years wages and benefits have risen faster than on local governments' payrolls or for private sector jobs.

          If WMATA and the union can't reach an agreement, it goes to an arbitrator; in the past, arbitrators have awarded significant raises on the grounds that Metro could raise fares, even if that would hurt riders (and ridership). The most recent contract garnered praise for giving raises but also requiring workers to pay into their pensions.

          MetroAccess paratransit rides have started growing again. A few years ago, WMATA instituted some rules (which disability advocates decried as painful cuts) to limit paratransit service more closely to the legally-required level, serving people at the times and in the places when transit service runs. The agency also tried strategies to encourage people with disabilities to use the buses and trains when possible.

          A separate presentation for Thursday looks at more strategies to keep people using "fixed-route" service, like more "travel training" which teaches people with disabilities how to get around on the bus or train, more alternatives to the vans such as local taxis, stricter restrictions, and more.

          The board will also discuss proposals to move more "non-regional" bus service, bus routes which aren't as much a part of a holistic regional network of important routes, to the local jurisdictions; while that just shifts costs around between governments, it could stabilize the bus costs and services inside WMATA. (More on this later.)

          Don't cut service

          As the presentation notes, 6% of the region's new households and 14% of the new jobs are near Metro stations, and Metro boosts local tax revenue by $200 million a year. The fact that Metro keeps driving economic growth shouldn't be lost on decision-makers.

          Among the presentation's fairly exhaustive list of options is "potential targeted service adjustments to improve productivity." There are indeed ways to optimize service to work better, but it's important to avoid a situation where we gradually erode transit service until we find it far harder for people to live car-free or car-light.

          Already, rail service has degraded with slowdowns to fix the tracks, more single-tracking, long weekend headways, and Metro's (now seemingly dormant) proposal to cut service; Metrobus also has seen its share of cuts over time and, worse yet, the buses are just more delayed.

          The region can keep transit service at a high level and keep costs growing at a reasonable rate. It needs to be a political priority to do what it takes (once we better know what that is) to make it happen.

          To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway


          • #6
            Death spiral '

            Dr. Gridlock

            Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s budget raises fares, reduces service, cuts 1,000 jobs

            By Martine Powers, Robert McCartney and Faiz Siddiqui

            October 30 

            Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld is proposing fare increases, reduced rail and bus service, job cuts and higher subsidies from the jurisdictions Metro serves, according to a briefing on his fiscal 2018 budget obtained by The Washington Post and presented to Metro’s Board of Directors over the weekend.

            Wiedefeld is planning to request an additional $130 million from the District, Virginia and Maryland to help close an anticipated $290 million budget shortfall for the budget year that begins July 1 — a gap that is $15 million higher than estimated in recent projections to the board.

            Under Wiedefeld’s proposed fare increases, bus fares would rise 25 cents, to $2 per ride. For rail passengers, the minimum and maximum fares would increase to $2.25 and $6 respectively — up from $2.15 and $5.90. Off-peak trip fares on Metro would increase 25 cents, while peak-trip fares would increase a dime. The cost of daily parking would also increase by 10 cents.

            The proposal would also slash rail and bus service, increasing average rail wait times during peak hours from 6 to 8 minutes, and eliminating about a dozen unspecified “low-ridership” bus routes. Metro says trains would arrive every 2 to 4 minutes at transfer stations in the system’s core. But outside of peak hours, trains would arrive every 15 minutes.

            “Metro has to face reality when it comes to what the region says it can afford and direct those resources to best serve the riders we have today,” Wiedefeld said in a statement. “This plan has Metro doing everything in our power to get major expense categories under control while improving safety and making the trains run on time.”

            The proposal specifies a need to “rationalize services for today’s ridership.”

            “The most difficult part of this plan is the impact for Metro customers and employees,” Wiedefeld said. “Tough choices are required to balance the operating budget.”

            Metro is trying to stem revenue losses caused by falling ridership, which is expected to be worse than previously projected, according to Wiedefeld’s proposal. While previous projections estimated a $59 million budget shortfall because of fewer riders, Wiedefeld’s proposed budget nearly doubles that figure to $103 million. Under the proposal, Metro would seeks higher subsidies from all three jurisdictions it serves, including an additional $47 million from the District, $44 million from Maryland and $39 million from Virginia.

            The proposal assumes no general increase in wages — even though Metro and its unions are in negotiations in which unions are seeking an across-the-board pay increase.

            The proposal was unsatisfactory to Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans and board member Corbett A. Price, both of whom represent the District. The two have repeatedly spoken out against fare increases and service cuts, saying that fares are already too high and that such steps would only reduce ridership.

            Evans has said he and Price would use the District’s jurisdictional veto to block any fare increases or service cuts. Asked about that Sunday, Price stopped short of threatening a jurisdictional veto, but opposed any fare increase or service cut.

            “We continue to be opposed to any fare increases. It’s counterintuitive to raise fares and cut service,” because such measures would hurt ridership, Price said.

            The proposal comes as little surprise after Wiedefeld and Metro’s budget staff warned in recent weeks about the need for “painful choices,” as declining ridership and growing costs have exacerbated the transit agency’s financial woes.

            On Friday, he informed staff in an email that he is in the process of notifying 100 workers and managers that they are being laid off — part of an earlier plan to eliminate 500 positions through layoffs, attrition, and unfilled positions. The latest proposal would downsize Metro’s workforce by an “unprecedented 1,000 positions” in total, per a news release Metro sent out Sunday.

            [Metro announces 100 layoffs as agency prepares for painful budget cuts]

            “I anticipate that Metro will have to make many difficult decisions to balance the budget,” Wiedefeld said in the earlier email.

            Though Wiedefeld is advocating for this plan as the optimal approach to tackling a dire budget situation, it still must be approved by the Metro board. And several board members are opposed to fare hikes, particularly given the chronic service disruptions caused by SafeTrack and the general decline in reliability in recent years.

            “I don’t support fare increases, I don’t support taking money out of the capital budget, I don’t support selling assets,” Evans, who also is a D.C. Council member, said earlier this month. “These are all just proven bad ideas.”

            Last week, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser said she was not altogether opposed to fare increases — but would not support a price increase or service cuts that she believed disproportionately affected D.C. residents or bus riders
            To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway


            • #7
              DC Metro has been under budget and poorly managed for years. Part of the reason for this is Congress having too much hand in the running of the District. Many long term residents are highly resentful of Congress' heavy hand. It's also one fo the reason one of the more popular DC license plates say Taxation Without Representation.

              Additionally, unlike other great metropolitan subway systems, the Metro is not really intended to move one around the city. It is really intended to move people (i.e., nonresident Marylanders and Virginians) into and out of the city. The more efficient way to move around within the city is by the Metro bus service as well as Uber or taxi.
              “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
              Mark Twain


              • #8

                DC Metro Wants a Pension Bailout. Here’s Why Congress Must Not Cave.

                Rachel Greszler / November 16, 2016 / comments

                Rather than forcing Metro to become fiscally sustainable, a federal takeover would allow Metro’s unsustainable operations to continue unchecked with taxpayers bearing the cost. (Photo: John Greim/John Greim Photography/Newscom)

                Commentary By

                Portrait of Rachel Greszler

                Rachel Greszler

                Rachel Greszler is a senior policy analyst in economics and entitlements at The Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis. Read her research.

                Like many union-run pension plans, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration—otherwise known as D.C. metro—has promised far more in pension benefits than it has set aside to pay. According to recent reports, the pension shortfall is $2.8 billion.

                This kind of over-promising of pension benefits is commonplace for union-run or multiemployer pension plans. This is possible because multiemployer pension insolvencies can’t bankrupt either the companies that participate in them or the union that runs them, as single-employer pension plans can.

                Moreover, the union officials who help secure unrealistic pension promises are usually long gone by the time those promises come due.

                Federal law stipulates rules to help ensure that private pensions make adequate contributions, but union-run plans operate under a different set of rules. These rules allow the plan administers—half of whom are union officials—to use Enron-style accounting standards to contribute only half of what is required by similar, nonunion pension plans in the private sector.

                So why should taxpayers care about Metro’s pensions? After all, if Metro can’t pay what it has promised, won’t it be the Metro employees who get short-changed?

                Not quite. Under current law, if Metro’s pension plan goes insolvent, a federal entity called the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) would step in and pay Metro retirees a limited pension benefit—up to $12,870 per year for a retiree who worked for 30 years.

                These, however, are not taxpayer funds. The PBGC is a fee-based agency that derives its funds from employer contributions. Federal law currently forbids taxpayer funds from being used to pay for the PBGC’s insured benefits.

                But should Metro’s pension system become insolvent, Metro pensioners would not be happy to see their pensions reduced. That is probably part of the reason that Jack Evans, Metro board chairman, recently suggested a federal takeover of Metro, including assumption of its $2.8 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.

                If the federal government took over Metro and its pension obligations, Metro pensioners would be spared any potential benefit cuts.

                Aside from the terrible precedent that such a federal bailout of private pensions would set, a federal takeover of Metro would not fix its problems. After all, the federal government is no model of efficiency.

                Rather than forcing Metro to become fiscally sustainable, a federal takeover would allow Metro’s unsustainable operations to continue unchecked with taxpayers bearing the cost.

                A federal bailout would force taxpayers to pay for Metro’s failure to set aside enough money to pay its promises. This would be great news for Metro retirees and pensioners because instead of significant pension cuts, they would receive their full benefits—but it would be horrible news for taxpayers who would have to pay Metro retirees’ pensions while also saving for and funding their own retirements.

                It is not just D.C. Metro’s unfunded pension costs that are at stake here. Private union pension plans across the country are in the same situation, having promised over $600 billion more in benefits they can afford to pay.

                While the federal government has never before in history bailed out a private sector pension plan, the Senate Finance Committee passed a bill on September 22, 2016—S. 1714, the Miners Protection Act—that would do just that for one particular union. That union is the United Mine Workers of America and it has promised $5.6 billion in pension benefits that it can’t afford to pay.

                A bailout for the UMWA or D.C. Metro would undoubtedly lead to future bailouts for many, if not all, union pensions.

                Congress must not open the door to private sector pension bailouts. Doing so could cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars, and it would signal to state and local governments that the federal government can bail out their pensions, too.

                This would simply be unaffordable to the taxpayers—unfunded state and local pension liabilities stack up to an estimated $5.6 trillion. Moreover, such bailouts would encourage pension plans across the country to recklessly promise more than they can afford to pay.

                With the UMWA’s pension bailout already passed out of committee and with increasing bailout requests coming from groups like D.C. Metro, it is critical that Congress draw a clear line in the sand and prevent the UMWA pension bailout from final passage.

                Only when private and public pension plans know that a federal bailout is off the table will they be incentivized to protect both their pensioners and the taxpayers.
                To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway


                • #9
                  Metro wants a source of funding so they can keep the bloated salaries coming in and still not have to function as a rail system

                  There are four proposals to save Metro. Which might prevail?


                  A red line train departs the Rhode Island Ave. station in Washington. (Bonnie Jo Mount/Washington Post)

                  By Robert McCartney

                  November 29 at 6:00 AM 

                  There are no fewer than four distinct plans being floated to save Metro. Business leaders and elected officials urge a crusade to repair the transit system by restructuring its board, giving it reliable funding or handing it over to the federal government. They proclaim bravely that failure is not an option.

                  In fact, experience with similar restructuring efforts suggests that failure is the probable outcome. The same political and economic divisions that have stymied restructuring for the past 40 years persist today.

                  If the region is to finally fix Metro’s structural weaknesses, analysts say, then force must be exerted on the top elected officials in the District, Maryland and Virginia to get them to act.

                  One such stimulus for change would be a unified coalition of business leaders, transit advocates and civic organizations. Government and business groups, including the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Federal City Council hope to assemble such a bloc.

                  It’s especially important that prominent chief executives join the effort, supporters say. Top executives of large companies have the clout needed to persuade legislators in Richmond and Annapolis to ensure dependable revenue for Metro, and possibly transform its board and other governing structures.

                  “It has to be key industry leaders, CEOs, stepping up and saying, ‘We can’t afford to live in limbo here,’ ” said Bob Buchanan, president of the 2030 Group, a regional business organization. “The status quo continues to be an embarrassment as Metro twists slowly in the wind, and piecemeal efforts aren’t going to do it.”

                  But many CEOs of major companies in the area are busy with national or global issues rather than local ones, or they prefer to avoid potential political controversies.

                  [How to salvage Metro? Rewrite the compact, says influential D.C. business group]

                  Another potential change agent — but less desirable — is Congress. It could appoint a control board or other body to take over Metro — temporarily or permanently — and push through needed changes to save the system.

                  Metro board Chairman Jack Evans, who also is a D.C. Council member, is among those who has endorsed such plans.

                  That prospect has lost much of its allure with Republican victories in the recent national election. Much of the GOP prefers to devote transportation dollars to roads, and the party platform approved in July urged phasing out federal transit spending altogether.

                  “There needs to be a strategic pause in discussion of a control board,” said a senior official in the administration of D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who asked not to be named to speak candidly about a sensitive political issue.

                  The question to be decided in the coming months is whether the region can overcome its internal differences and coalesce around a common plan. Otherwise, federal intervention becomes more likely.

                  Two major obstacles loom. First, it will be difficult to get Virginia’s support for increased taxes for Metro, as advocated by the District and Montgomery County. Northern Virginia Democrats said it would probably be necessary for their state to find a different source of fresh revenue, such as highway tolls.

                  “This all really hinges on Virginia,” said COG Chairman Roger Berliner, who also is a Democratic Montgomery County Council member representing Potomac-Bethesda. “I know we will win in the District. I believe we can win in Maryland.”

                  A division also has emerged over whether it is necessary to transform Metro’s board and governing structure at the same time that reliable funding is sought.

                  On one side, Virginia and the Federal City Council say it’s vital to rewrite the Metro compact, the founding document that outlines how Metro is governed and funded. U.S. Reps. John Delaney (D-Md.) and Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) also have proposed revising the compact, albeit to a lesser extent, by requiring Metro board members to have expertise in transit or another relevant discipline.

                  [Federal takeover of Metro? Board chairman’s proposal triggers debate but has some support.]

                  “There’s no doubt there needs to be governance restructuring,” Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said. “It needs a visioning process so we can look at both public and private entities [as guides] and ask, ‘What’s the best structure to run Metro?’ ”

                  By contrast, the District, the COG and the Board of Trade have sought to avoid a discussion of amending the compact. Although they are open to it if a consensus could be reached, they say they fear that a battle would undercut the higher priority of obtaining a dedicated funding source.

                  “It runs the risk of being a distraction from the core issues with the system,” the senior District official said. “The riders don’t care who governs Metro. They just want a safe system that gets them to where they need to go.”

                  There is little time to waste. Officials have said they need a common funding plan by summer. That would allow for a lobbying campaign before the Virginia and Maryland legislative sessions open in early 2018.

                  Metro’s budget pressures have led some players to think of moving more quickly. The Board of Trade may propose legislation in the Richmond and Annapolis sessions beginning in January to allow the suburban counties to tax themselves to raise money for Metro.

                  “It probably needs to move faster than originally anticipated,” James C. Dinegar, president of the Board of Trade, said.

                  Here’s a summary of the four plans:

                  ●Put funding first. The COG and the Board of Trade have been working since spring on a plan to seek a reliable funding stream in exchange for setting performance benchmarks for Metro on safety, reliability and customer satisfaction.

                  Metro is the only major transit system in the nation that doesn’t obtain a significant amount of its revenue from a tax or other dedicated source.

                  The proposal got a major boost last month when Bowser publicly urged adoption of a regional sales tax of at least half a penny to fund Metro.

                  Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), a strong opponent of higher taxes, initially was cool to the idea. But he later signaled he could go along if Montgomery and Prince George’s wanted to tax themselves to support Metro, as long as the rest of the state wasn’t affected.

                  Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has supported a regionwide sales tax for Metro for two years. Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) sought to place responsibility on Annapolis. His spokesman noted that the state, rather than the counties, has funded Metro in the recent past, and has “unique authority” to explore sources such as a sales tax.

                  A major hurdle is Virginia. The Republican-controlled General Assembly opposes tax increases to help Metro. Even Northern Virginia Democrats said they can’t ask their constituents to pay more in sales or property taxes to support transportation.

                  [Budget proposal paints grim portrait of Metro’s future.]

                  At the same time, two top Virginia Democrats, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D), agree that Metro eventually will need some kind of dedicated funding — even if it’s in some form other than a tax.

                  “That’s something we’ll all be scratching our heads over,” Bulova said.

                  ●Rewrite the compact. The Federal City Council, arguing that dedicated funding alone isn’t enough to save the agency, introduced a proposal this month to radically overhaul Metro’s governance by rewriting the agency’s compact.

                  The council wants to reduce the size of the 16-member Metro board, among other things, to make it more efficient. It also wants to weaken union protections by dropping the requirement that outside arbitrators decide labor contract disputes. Such mandatory arbitration has had the effect of driving up labor costs.

                  The proposal to reopen the compact enjoys wide support in the business community, but transit advocates are skeptical.

                  “You could end up in a complete quagmire, stalemate, unable to come to an agreement on the union issues, on funding formulas,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

                  ●Let the feds take over. Evans, the Metro chairman, has been so frustrated with the board that he called for federal appointees to take control of the agency, either temporarily or permanently.

                  He has acknowledged that such a scenario is unlikely. He hoped in part to call attention to the structural problem in which board members have split loyalties between their duties to Metro and to the jurisdictions that appoint them.

                  The Federal City Council urged Congress use the threat of a federal control board as an incentive to force the District, Virginia and Maryland to agree on changes.

                  Some welcomed that idea as providing necessary leverage. Others said that it risked handing over Metro to people with no stake in the region.

                  “Congress can’t even pass a budget on time, and we’re going to ask them to make the trains run on time?” said Ronit A. Dancis, president of the Action Committee for Transit, which advocates for improved public transit. “I’m not comfortable with a federal takeover even being a threat.”

                  ●Professionalize the board. Delaney and Comstock have co-sponsored a bill to require that most federal appointees to the Metro board be certified as experts in transit, management or finance. If the compact were rewritten, the rule would also apply to board members from the District, Virginia and Maryland.

                  Comstock and others said that revising the compact is critical to supporting Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld, who has generally won praise for aggressive changes in his first year in the job.

                  “We need a new structure with the compact so Paul J. Wiedefeld can do the job that he’s been hired to do,” Comstock said.

                  Delaney said it’s hard to push through genuine changes because Metro is suffering a gradual decline without a dramatic, one-time crisis requiring immediate action.

                  “It can kind of limp along for a while, and that’s why you don’t see something being done right away,” Delaney said. “It’s death by a thousand cuts.”
                  To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway


                  • #10
                    Fired track inspector denies accusations, fires back at Metro
                    By Max Smith | @amaxsmith
                    January 5, 2017 12:43 am
                    WASHINGTON — A Metro track inspector accused of copying reports month after month before a train derailed near East Falls Church this summer defended his actions Wednesday, hours after Metro fired him over what he said were separate accusations of track inspection failures that he also denies.

                    “What they’re calling fabrication is … the normal process, absolutely normal, not our idea. It’s the way it’s done,” Trap Thomas said.

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                    He was on the way to inspect tracks as usual Wednesday, he said, when he got a text to come in for a meeting. A Metro manager told him he was fired because of other track inspections Metro found were not done at Vienna and Medical Center, not because of the failed inspections of the crossover at East Falls Church, where a train derailed in July.
                    The inspection issues emerged from Metro’s audit and criminal investigation of the derailment that began after reports, including those filed by Thomas, showed the exact same information copied over month after month, year after year.

                    “We use the switch report from the month before because we have to verify whatever defects, whatever measurements they want us to show,” Thomas explained.

                    He said that the distance between the tracks really did remain exactly the same down to 1/16th of an inch, and that there were consistently exactly 15 defective rail ties in the area. Track inspectors can impose speed restrictions or take track out of service entirely for safety issues like rail ties that are no longer supporting the tracks.

                    “What they claim is that I falsified because for months, the measurements stayed the same. … But, as I’ve said, they use steel and hard wood. They install these things at specific measurements. The measurements are not supposed to change,” he said.

                    Thomas (whose first name was spelled Trapp in documents Metro provided the National Transportation Safety Board) said that the information he put on the form was what he found at the switch, and that the heavy use of the crossover during round-the-clock track work could have caused the problem to grow quickly.

                    Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 representatives said a total of seven of the track inspectors it represents have now been fired — in addition to at least five supervisors — as part of the discipline for nearly half of the Metro track inspection department following the investigations.

                    They also said Metro had set a policy in 2010 requiring that any switches used for continuous single-tracking be inspected at least every 12 hours during the time trains were making unusual movements. That was not done in this case, and Metro only ordered special inspections of crossovers that were to be used for 24/7 work zones after the derailment.

                    Union officials said Metro management should have known about and addressed over decades the fact that work was not being done or done correctly, including at the East Falls Church derailment site, where Thomas said he took track out of service for repairs in 2011, but only saw the equivalent of a “band aid” applied.

                    “When I think of falsification, I think of an act that a person committed blatantly in order to lie about an incident. When you have individuals who have been following a pattern of doing a job for the same way day after day, year after year … this is the way the work has been done,” ATU 689 President Jackie Jeter said.

                    Union officials said all of the workers it represents who have been terminated over the track inspection issues have been told they were fired for falsifying something other than the East Falls Church reports themselves, although one supervisor was fired directly due to that incident.

                    The union, which represents more Metro workers than any other, complained that the workers, including Thomas and two others fired on Wednesday, have not been given enough specific detail about why they were fired to understand the decisions.

                    Some of the workers, the union said, were apparently fired for things that happened up to three years ago. The union also said that the firings distract from other issues and simply lead to newer, less experienced workers doing the same jobs.

                    Until recently, the union said, track inspectors were trained when initially taking the job and with brief recertification tests. Last year, Metro launched enhanced training through the University of Tennessee, and the agency is now updating track inspection and maintenance manuals after a series of reports found that many workers were not familiar with some of the basics.

                    “Where did the falsification come in? Was the person who trained them to do it 30 years ago wrong?” Jeter asked rhetorically. “Was it the manager who was responsible? … Whose responsibility was it to teach him nine years ago when he first came here that that’s not the right way to do it? And whose responsibility was it to catch the fact that it was being done wrong?

                    “That’s where I have a problem, because somebody failed them as workers, and that person has not been fired yet,” she said.

                    Metro has fired or demoted a number of supervisors tied to the track inspection review, and Jeter acknowledged that failures to follow up on safety issues led to Metro’s chief safety officer getting forced out over an August 2015 derailment.

                    “A true culture of safety requires that we hold ourselves and each other accountable,” General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said in a statement issued as the union spoke to reporters. “We cannot condone falsification of documents, and I stand by the actions we have taken that hold both frontline and management employees accountable,” he said.

                    Jeter cited other long-running issues regarding safety culture and more that have never been addressed. She recalled hearing a train operator on the radio in 1996 begging to run his train in manual mode but being denied. In automatic mode on that icy day, the train skidded through the end of the line, and the operator was killed.

                    In two expert reports on safety culture and track inspection, the union argued that the discipline and firings could cut into the skill level of the inspectors and dissuade them from participating in safety programs.

                    Otherwise, the reports largely mirror years of findings from the Federal Transit Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board and other experts, but Jeter said Metro still needs to learn lessons from directives and recommendations that are a decade old or more.

                    As they have in the past, the union argued that workers need more training; that more workers are needed to do certain jobs like track inspections safely; that Metro should listen more to feedback from workers; and that Metro should follow through on the many federal safety recommendations and directives.

                    A letter the union sent to Congress Wednesday provided little new detail, though. The union had promised at a December hearing that it would provide specifics about intimidation and any direction from supervisors to falsify reports.

                    Wiedefeld, who has led Metro for just over a year, has issued memos over the last year directing more focus on safety, and has cited increased speed restrictions as a small sign things may be turning around.

                    Wednesday, the union said that inspectors are still at times getting assigned too many switches to inspect in a single day, and that workers are accused of falsifying inspection reports all across the system.

                    Thomas alleged again Wednesday — as he had in an interrogation shortly after the East Falls Church derailment — that there is a culture of retaliation and fear that has led some track inspectors to avoid putting speed restrictions in place. But another long-time track inspector said that he had not experienced retaliation.

                    The review of inspections following the East Falls Church derailment revealed that in May, three inspectors on the Silver Line apparently reported over the radio that they were moving from one monthly switch inspection to another so quickly that Metro concluded the inspections could not possibly have been done, or at least done correctly.

                    Three inspectors and a supervisor were fired due to those inspection reports, as part of the 28 people disciplined across the track department.

                    Thomas said it was normal for him to find hundreds of crumbling rail ties or other issues along the Orange Line before the 24/7 track work this summer, when rail ties were replaced. In one inspection — where he identified more than 180 problems rated at Metro’s second-most-serious level —there were more than 1,000 failing rail ties in all between Ballston and West Falls Church, he said.

                    “I found plenty of times that the only way that maintenance came out to fix anything, no matter how bad I said it was, is if I slowed the trains down,” Thomas said.
                    To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway


                    • #11
                      The problem began years ago with Maryland and Virginia refusing to fund WMATA with adequate capital improvement money, leaving DC to pick up much of the tab. Still, a great metrorail system.
                      To be Truly ignorant, Man requires an Education - Plato


                      • #12
                        And still they manage to hit the riders with worse service

                        New report finds Metro ridership down for 2017


                        WASHINGTON (ABC7) — A newly released Vital Signs Report showed that the D.C.'s transit agency could use some improvement.

                        In the first three months of this year, rail ridership on Metro was down nine percent from the same period last year and bus ridership was down four percent. Overall, there was a seven percent drop.

                        In addition, the rail revenue was down 11 percent and the transit agency was 15 percent under budget. Parking revenue was also down nine percent.

                        Metro's board will discuss the report in a meeting Thursday morning.

                        To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway


                        • #13

                          Monday, June 19, 2017


                          Let's face it: Washington, DC's Metro is the worst in the world

                          by Jason Russell | Jun 19, 2017, 12:01 AM Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Email this article Share on LinkedIn
                          One transit expert said it is

                          Riders of Washington, D.C.'s Metrorail subway system might feel they deserve a reward for enduring more than a year of what is called SafeTrack. That's essentially a big cut in services so that three years' worth of maintenance can be done at triple the normal speed.

                          Instead, riders are getting hit with fare increases and service cuts, effective June 25. Perhaps it's what they should have expected. After all, mismangement is a chronic feature of the subway system in the capital of the richest country in the world.

                          Metro's rush hour fares are going to rise by 10 cents (a $50 annual increase for someone who travels to and from work five days a week, 50 weeks a year). Other fares will increase by up to 25 cents a trip. Despite this, service will decline during rush hours, with fewer trains running on five of the system's six lines, so commuters will wait longer on platforms.

                          Metro defends the changes, rationalizing the move in a press release as "part of an effort to rightsize service, close a budget gap and provide needed time for new categories of preventive maintenance to improve safety and reliability."

                          But riders aren't convinced that system failures, some of which cause hour-long delays, will become less frequent. Worse, they worry Metro hasn't gotten any safer. Memories remain fresh of a 2009 crash that killed nine people and a 2015 incident in which smoke inhalation killed one and injured more than 80.

                          Source: WMATA

                          The Washington subway system has been so bad that it derives a benefit from low expectations. Riders are let down so often that higher fares for worse service is what they have come to expect.

                          Perhaps the best chronicler of this Metro malaise is the guy who runs a Twitter account called @unsuckdcmetro. He agreed to be interviewed for this article on the condition of anonymity. We'll call him Unsuck.

                          For Unsuck, failures reached breaking point in February 2009. "I had to start taking Metro every day because of a new job. … I just couldn't believe how bad it was ... It felt like a rickety roller coaster. ... It's just completely unreliable, questionably safe, and very expensive."

                          All that, plus a lack of accountability for Metro's administrators and staff, encapsulate the most common complaints from riders.

                          They've become world-famous. At the International Transport Forum this month in Germany, Washington's system was used as a cautionary tale.

                          One transit expert said it is "a hell of a problem," while another said it suffered from "poor governance and poor attention to long-term investment." A third expert called Metro leaders "cowards" for not raising more revenue with fare increases or tax hikes, the Washington Post reported.

                          Whatever the numbers say, and they don't go quite this far, Metro's riders feel theirs is the worst subway system in the world.

                          How it got so bad

                          Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 no longer contributes to the re-election campaigns of Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.

                          Its political action committee gave $7,000 to Connolly's first re-election campaign in the 2010 cycle, but only $1,000 in 2012, according to Federal Elections Commission filings. Since then, the cash flow has stopped completely, even while the PAC continues to donate to other local members of Congress, including Maryland Democrats Anthony Brown, Jamie Raskin and Steny Hoyer.

                          This might be because Connolly assigns some blame for Metro's failures to the union. "Unfortunately, some of the labor leaders, like Jackie Jeter and the ATU, continue to defend the indefensible, which erodes public confidence in the system," the lawmaker told the Washington Examiner.

                          Between August 2016 and January 2017, 1/3 of the staff, 21 employees, of Metro's track inspection department were fired for falsifying safety records. (AP Photo)

                          Between August 2016 and January 2017, 1/3 of the staff, 21 employees, of Metro's track inspection department were fired for falsifying safety records. Another 14 were disciplined. The union defended the workers, saying they were only guilty of "shoddy paperwork" and that inspectors were given too much work to do.

                          But Connolly supports the firings. "[Union claims that] ‘You can't hold them accountable for filing a false inspection report' is, to me, something that doesn't pass the giggle test for the public. There has to be accountability and the union ought to be a partner in that, not an enabler for serious misconduct that puts the public at risk."

                          Metro workers have a reputation for customer service, not just bad safety.

                          When asked what complaints he sees most often in Twitter mentions, Unsuck says, "It's kind of surprising how often the interactions with Metro workers are negative. … Most Metro workers are fine normally, but there seems to be an awful lot of angry people that don't realize who's paying their paycheck and don't treat passengers well."

                          Even fellow Metro workers can't believe how bad some hires are. One told Unsuck that new hires "don't even know the business end of [a] screwdriver."

                          Connolly said, "You've still got thousands of employees who need to step up to the idea that they're there to serve the public, and they need to be customer-friendly. That standard seems to have significantly diminished into this culture of mediocrity."

                          Metro's union and its employees aren't the only culprits. Administrators deserve blame, too, for letting maintenance problems get out of hand and for failing to create a culture of safety and accountability.

                          Safety and accountability failures led to the January 2015 smoke inhalation that killed 61-year-old Carol Glover. She was on an early-evening rush hour train that stopped in a smoke-filled tunnel. It took firefighters more than 40 minutes to reach the trains and get commuters out. The smoke was due to an electrical failure, then communications failures made the problem fatal.

                          This incident and another similar fire triggered a shocking system-wide shutdown that lasted 29 hours in March 2016. Commuters were given just a few few hours notice. But it had been at least six months since fraying electrical cables had been inspected.

                          In June 2016, Metro introduced SafeTrack to bring maintenance up to date at an aggressive pace. Entire segments of track were shut down for weeks, spread over the course of 13 months. It also mean "single-tracking," with trains traveling in opposite directions having to wait to use the same length of a single line. In other words, either terrible service or none.

                          Metro seems today to acknowledge that it isn't doing well. In November 2016, it launched an improvement plan. Its title, Back2Good, didn't exactly set high expectations.

                          Metro and the Washington Examiner weren't able to arrange an interview for this story. Metro referred to audio and a presentation from the March board meeting where the fare and service changes were approved.

                          Where Metro is now

                          "All our tax dollars are going into it, and it's not going anywhere."

                          "Well, that was awful."

                          "I was coming in from Ballston, two trains come by completely packed…"

                          These are comments I overheard from Metro riders in the first two weeks of June.

                          The fact that the Metro is the core commuter system for the nation's capital makes comparisons invidious. (AP Photo)

                          Metro has a reputation for being hated by its regular users, so riders might be surprised that surveys show 69 percent customer satisfaction. Metro's goal is 85 percent. There is an oddity in the report, which says customer satisfaction is undermined by lack of reliability, but also says that reliability (distance traveled between delays) exceeds goals.

                          Perhaps the most important way to measure customer satisfaction is ridership, not least because Metrorail fares make up more than two-thirds of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's revenues aside from government subsidies.

                          Ridership has fallen for the past five years in a row, despite the Silver Line opening in 2015 with five new stations and, presumably, access for new riders.

                          The fact that the Metro is the core commuter system for the nation's capital makes comparisons invidious. People think it should run as well as the subways in Tokyo or London.

                          "Those are great contrasts to our system, in terms of efficient, clean, safe and reliable systems," Connolly said, having ridden both of those systems in the past year. "It's terribly disconcerting, because this is the capital of the free world. … Surely we can make a transit system work and pull together resources needed to do that."

                          Connolly rides the Metro as often as he can and says he loves to do so, even though his schedule often doesn't allow it.

                          Unsuck has lived overseas and in New York, and says his benchmark Metro experience was set in Japan. "I don't understand why there is no system in the United States even remotely close to as good as any system in Japan."

                          The millions of tourists who visit the Capital region each year might wonder why commuters loathe the Metro. Despite its faults, it's relatively clean and easy to navigate, at least compared to New York.

                          It generally performs well between the morning and evening rush hours, with waits generally shorter than 10 minutes, at those times, with not much crowding.

                          If a tourist gets on the Metro at Capitol South around noon after a tour of the Capitol and heads to McPherson Square to go look at the White House, he or she will probably have a pleasant trip. "If you live in a town [with no public transit], it's kind of amazing that there's this train system that runs through D.C.," Unsuck said.

                          But it's when Metro is needed most, in the morning rush hour, that it fails. That's when Metro is most crowded with regular commuters, and when any delay more than five or 10 minutes will ignite riders' fury.

                          If you doubt that Metro has earned its bad reputation, consider this: According to its own data, only 69 percent of customers arrive on-time. More than one-in-four trips are delayed, although 86 percent of customers arrive within five minutes of schedule.

                          A commuter who rides Metro to and from work five times a week, that means, on average, more than one delay each week of more than five minutes.

                          Source: WMATA

                          Metro's path forward

                          Depending on who you ask, Metro is either poised for growth if it can get its act together, or it's screwed because it can't.

                          "There's just not much room for it to grow, in terms of passengers," Unsuck says. "I don't know if ridership is going to recover, frankly."

                          Metro stations are small with no easy way to expand. Stations can handle only eight-car trains. The system has several choke points in stations such as Rosslyn, with its tunnel under the Potomac River. There's no way to add a new rail line or stations downtown without huge public expense and disruption.

                          Connolly, however, sees residential development along the new Silver Line stations in the heart of his district as a sure sign of long-term growth, and likely in Metro ridership. "You're seeing an explosion in new, high-rise residential development in that corridor. That's going to add thousands of riders."

                          Then, there are the fare increases, both the immediate one coming on June 25 and the prospect of more in the future. Will they hasten the death of Metro or be its savior?

                          Higher fares will drive riders away if they don't improve quality. But high quality and capacity could attract more passengers than are lost because of higher fares. So says Richard Anderson, a transit expert at the International Transport Forum.

                          In a Nov. 1, 2016 editorial, the Washington Post called for a federal takeover of the Metro system. It is not an outlandish idea. Between rail and bus, 1/3 of the federal workforce uses Metro. (AP Photo)

                          As for safety and reliability, the federal government is under pressure to get involved.

                          In a Nov. 1, 2016 editorial, the Washington Post called for a federal takeover of the Metro system. It's not an outlandish idea. Between rail and bus, 1/3 of the federal workforce uses Metro.

                          More likely in the short-term is a rise in demand for federal dollars and better federal oversight rather than a full takeover.

                          Connolly criticizes former Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, a Democrat who served under President Barack Obama. "[Foxx] made a big mistake in putting safety oversight at the [Federal Transit Administration] instead of the [Federal Railroad Administration] as recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board after the last tragedy. … The FTA has got a really spotty record in terms of urban transit systems. It's not their forte, in terms of safety."

                          Connolly also wants an annual federal subsidy for Metro. "It would not solve all our problems, but it would certainly stabilize financing. … The burden of financing shouldn't solely be on the shoulders of the local governments."

                          What are the odds of that happening? It might depend on new Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, who Connolly is confident can turn around the culture of mediocrity. "He's willing to expend political capital for all the right things. He has a lot of support on the Hill as a result. He's got credibility — credibility previous managers, frankly, did not have, or if they did they squandered pretty fast."

                          Still, many Metro riders, citing past experience, are skeptical that extra money will be spent well. That includes Unsuck, who cites the MetroForward program in 2010.

                          Through January 2016, Metro spent $3.7 billion on MetroForward, but "the system actually got worse," Unsuck says. Metro's on-time performance was at its worst point since it started tracking in 2010. The money was spent on new infrastructure, but there was still no accountability and a culture of mediocrity. The fatal smoke inhalation incident happened after all those billions of dollars were spent.

                          Unsuck asks, if the system actually does get a federal subsidy, or dedicated funding from local sales taxes, "How do you know that money doesn't end up where MetroForward money went?"

                          Down a Metro sinkhole.

                          Jason Russell is the contributors editor for the Washington Examiner.

                          The union is part of the problem.

                          Union seeking dedicated funds to fix D.C. Metro system

                          Flat-fare method proposed instead of distance-based costs

                          Story TOpics

                          Amalgamated Transit Union

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                          By Sarah Nelson - The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2017

                          The labor union that represents most Metro workers on Monday called for a dedication funding source for the troubled transit system to correct its longstanding problems.

                          About 100 members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 rallied Monday outside a meeting of the Prince George County Council in Upper Marlboro.

                          The union presented its plan, called “Fund It Fix It and Make It Fair,” which includes measures for dedicated funding and flat fares for riders.

                          Metro is the only major transit system in the nation without a dedicated source for funding, such as a transit tax. It relies mostly on subsidies from jurisdictions in Maryland, Virginia and the District, as well as the federal government.

                          “That’s why we’re here, to lock down that dedicated funding,” said union spokesman David Stephen.

                          Union officials said the subway has become too expensive for a significant number of residents, and suggested a flat fare system instead, similar to that in New York and other jurisdictions.

                          “If we have just a $2 fare to ride the train, I don’t care if you get on at six in the morning or 11 in the morning, $2 will get you from Bethesda to Branch Ave.,” said union member Leon Huntley Jr. “It gets more people on the trains, more people on the buses, and with less traffic.”

                          Mr. Stephen said a flat fare is a “common-sense approach [that] gets everyone excited about the system and increases ridership.”

                          Metrorail ridership has declined steadily since 2010, and the transit agency has long registered complaints about late trains, broken escalators and safety concerns. The 40-year-old subway system saw a 12 percent decline in customers from July to December amid its SafeTrack maintenance program, which ends this month.

                          “Riders and workers have a lot in common,” said Jackie Jeter, president of the Metro union, which has about 9,000 active members. “We all want reliable service.”

                          Metro General Manager Paul Weidefeld, who last week called for $500 million a year in dedicated transit funding, attended Monday’s county council meeting.

                          Also on Monday, a group of Maryland lawmakers proposed restructuring Metro’s Board of Directors to provide it with the dedicated funding it needs.

                          Their proposal also would leave it to Maryland, Virginia and the District to decide how to come up with the dedicated funding that Mr. Weidefeld has called for.

                          “There’s a need for funding, but it certainly will not come without credible governance and oversight reform,” said Delegate Erek L. Barron, Prince George’s County Democrat. “This proposal gets us there, and we’re certainly open to other ideas.”

                          Under the plan, which would take effect only if approved by lawmakers in the city and both states and ratified by Congress, Metro’s board would shrink from 16 members to three: the secretaries of transportation for Maryland and Virginia and Washington’s transportation director.

                          Metro’s current board, which includes appointees from each jurisdiction and the federal government, has often been described as unwieldy, and any jurisdiction can block major changes from taking effect.

                          Giving each jurisdiction the power to come up with a funding formula is an acknowledgment of the political reality that elected officials are unlikely to agree on a single regional tax, such as a sales tax, to fund the system. The proposal also would allow Metro to issue bonds to pay for capital improvements.

                          • This article is based in part on wire service reports.
                          Last edited by troung; 20 Jun 17,, 15:52.
                          To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway


                          • #14
                            What the ‘Dumpster Fire’ D.C. Metro Says About Federal Bureaucracy

                            City council just voted to impose a 500 percent tax hike on Uber and Lyft to save the subway. Really?

                            By James Bovard • July 10, 2018

                            The Washington D.C. Metro.(Credit: Thomas Hawk/Flickr/Creative Commons

                            The District of Columbia Council voted in June to impose a tax increase of almost 500 percent on Uber and Lyft users to help fix the Washington Metro transit system. Anyone who summons a Lyft or Uber ride inside D.C. will now be hit with a 6 percent fee to bankroll a subway that a top Obama administration official aptly labeled an “ongoing dumpster fire” two years ago.

                            I traveled downtown via Metro a couple times recently, departing from a station where one track was closed for overhaul. I saw plenty of loitering Metro employees but work seemed sparse. Three guys in the repair crew were hanging by a Mercedes in the Twinbrook station parking lot, chatting and snacking. Another repair crew member was standing outside avidly checking his cell phone and glowering at passers-by. Not a bad gig if you can get it, considering that Metro spends an average of $125,000 in total compensation for each employee—probably at least three or four times the earning of the typical Uber/Lyft driver.

                            The Twinbrook station slackers reminded me of my summer on the Virginia Highway Department payroll decades ago. As a 16-year-old flagman, I held up traffic while highway employees idled away the hours. I was usually assigned to the crew with the biggest goof-offs in the Shenandoah Valley. Working glacially to slipshod standards was their code of honor. Anyone who worked harder was viewed as a nuisance, if not a menace.

                            The most important thing I learned from that crew was how not to shovel. Any Yuk-a-Puk can grunt and heave material from Spot A to Spot B. But, with a little practice and savvy, a mule-like activity can be refined into an art.
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                            To not shovel right, the shovel handle should rest above the belt buckle while one leans slightly forward—but not enough to evoke comparisons to the Tower of Pisa. It is important not to have both hands in your pockets while leaning, since that could prevent onlookers from recognizing “Work-in-Progress.”

                            The key is to appear to be studiously calculating where your next burst of effort will provide maximum returns for the immediate task. One should exude the same keen-eyed concentration a falcon shows before swooping down on its prey.

                            My crew was diddling on building a new road that summer. The assistant foreman scoffed at that task: “Why does the state government have us do this? Private businesses could build the road much more efficiently, and cheaper, too.” I was puzzled by his comment, but by the end of the summer I heartily agreed and later recognized this as one of my most valuable political economy lessons.

                            The Highway Department could not competently organize anything more complex than painting stripes in the middle of a road. Even the placement of highway direction signs was routinely botched. The more highway officials became involved in a decision, the more likely the final result would be imbecilic. The bureaucracy consistently produced results more boneheaded than any individual would have devised.

                            When I worked for the Virginia Highway Department, there was no danger that its snafus would compel drivers to abandon the roads. But Metro now has collapsing ridership and proliferating scandals on falsified inspection reports, bogus overtime claims, endless broken down escalators and elevators, safety problems (including blind people falling between badly designed new train cars), and murders and sexual assaults in broad daylight. Even the D.C. government admits that Uber is a faster way to get around the District than Metro.

                            The skewering of Uber and Lyft riders was spurred by the D.C. government’s promise to ante up $178 million a year in “dedicated funding” for the subway system. Virginia and Maryland are also chipping in massively for this “solution” that threw the Washington Post editorial board, which retains boundless faith in the magic of government spending, into ecstasy. Metro managers had long claimed that dedicated funding would sway passengers from comparing the subway to Dante’s Inferno. But as soon as the funding deal was done, Metro stunned riders with plans for a vast array of new service disruptions, including shutting down subway lines south of Reagan National Airport for more than three months.

                            Much of the prolificacy and inefficiency in local transit systems is the result of federal mandates. As a Heritage Foundation analysis noted, “Federal subsidies decrease incentives…to control costs, optimize service routes, and set proper priorities for maintenance and updates.” Transportation scholar Randal O’Toole observed, “Innovative solutions are bypassed and high costs are guaranteed because of the requirement that transit agencies obtain the approval of their unions to be eligible for federal grants.” And the unions often don’t give a damn about the traveling public. Unions representing DC Metro workers blame riders for the system’s problems and denounced as “diabolical” a plan to contract out custodial jobs. But union campaign contributions make politicians happy, which trumps reducing costs.

                            If money could solve Metro’s problems, the heavily-subsidized system never would have commenced a death spiral. But neither the feds nor local politicians have the courage to compel radical changes to curb the power of unions, end anti-work rules, and vastly reduce a bureaucracy that makes endless excuses for the system’s other failings. Nor is it likely that Metro employees will even learn the art of non-shiftless shovel leaning.

                            James Bovard is the author of Lost Rights, Attention Deficit Democracy, and Public Policy Hooligan. He is also a USA Today contributor. Follow him on Twitter@JimBovard
                            To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway


                            • #15

                              Metro union threatens 3-day strike, calls for strike vote meeting Sunday

                              By Max Smith | @amaxsmith
                              July 15, 2018 7:15 pm

                              A Metro train arrives at the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro Station, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

                              WASHINGTON — Metro’s largest union is threatening a three-day strike that could grind the D.C. region to a halt. The union provided no timeline on when such a strike might occur, but an emergency strike authorization is taking place Sunday.

                              A vote to authorize a strike does not immediately trigger one but gives union leaders the authority to call for a work stoppage that Metro said would be illegal. The union has had problems with its elections in the past.

                              Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 President Jackie Jeter issued the threat Friday, after two other labor actions where a significant number of workers showed up to work well after the starts of their shifts.

                              “I will be shocked if there is not an overwhelming endorsement for a strike authorization,” David Stephen, the union’s communications coordinator said Sunday.

                              On Thursday, Metro estimated about 20 percent of morning buses and thousands of riders were delayed by the larger, second action.

                              The strike threat came in response to a follow-up memo Friday from Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, detailing discipline against those who came in late Thursday.

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                              “If you make good on your threat to suspend ANYONE for three days for a single miss, ALL OF LOCAL 689 WILL BE TAKING A 3 DAY SUSPENSION (sic),” Jeter said in an email to Metro management Friday afternoon.

                              Metro’s policies provide for progressive penalties with a first instance usually resulting in something like a warning.

                              “I want you to know that out of our 12,000-strong team at WMATA, about 500 L689 employees participated yesterday in a job action in violation of their collective bargaining agreement,” Wiedefeld wrote Metro workers.

                              Under collective bargaining rules and the contract still in effect that expired two years ago, the union is not allowed to conduct labor actions like strikes that disrupt service. In exchange, there is an arbitration and grievance system in effect to handle disputes.

                              A strike could give union opponents leverage to dissolve many or all of those protections.

                              “I sincerely hope that no further action is needed. However, we are prepared to pursue all remedies to protect service for our customers, including seeking relief from the courts and progressive discipline up to, and including, termination. To be clear, this is the last thing I want to do, and I am hopeful that no further action is necessary,” Wiedefeld wrote to employees.

                              Metro and ATU Local 689 expect arbitrators to rule very soon on a new contract. It is expected to be retroactive to July 1, 2016.

                              Union leaders and other workers have not stated clear demands for Metro to meet that would avoid further labor actions. Jeter frequently uses fiery and sometimes hyperbolic rhetoric both in person and in emails like the one she sent Friday.

                              The threat of a three-day strike came closest to making a clear demand of the agency: that Metro not suspend anyone who participated in Thursday’s “late out” for three days if they have not had any other disciplinary history.

                              Jeter also suggested that 500 workers reporting late to work could be understandable in such a large agency.

                              “Your assumption that the workers who are fed up with you are mindless followers taking union instruction is offensive and tone deaf,” Jeter said.

                              The union had expressed both internal and external support for the labor action, and acknowledged the “late outs” on both July 4 and July 12.

                              Metro Chief Labor Relations Officer John Gilman wrote Jeter Friday morning, demanding the union stop supporting such actions.

                              “Based on the activities of your members yesterday morning, it is reasonable for WMATA to believe that Local 689 members are engaged in a collective job actions,” Gilman wrote.

                              “We demand that Local 689 cease and desist from any further illegal action and that you immediately instruct your members to arrive on time for work and to comply with all standard operating procedures,” Gilman said.

                              There is no single thing Metro could do to address the union’s concerns, ATU Local 689 spokesman David Stephen said.

                              The union’s latest issue was with Metro shifting work locations for custodians out of Metro office space and into places like stations, where riders pass through. While Metro did not reduce the number of positions, the union was concerned it would lead to more private contracting.

                              Stephen claimed Wiedefeld has not negotiated in good faith over general work rules or abided by certain arbitration or court decisions.

                              It is not clear how or if the union would decide whether to attempt another labor action up to or including a strike, but it could include a vote by union members.

                              “Stay tuned,” Stephen said. “There are a lot of possibilities. There’s not only one way that we are looking at addressing the dysfunction.”

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                              To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway