Wednesday, January 20, 2010

All Aboard!

Well there you have it: according to WMATA's website, "Metro General Manager John Catoe has decided to retire and leave the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority after three years as its top manager.  His last day will be Friday, April 2."  What took so long?

Granted, I wouldn't wish the managing of Metro on my worst enemy (okay, maybe the worst one, but still) - the system is antiquated, underfunded, and chronically denigrated by riders and non-riders alike.  Ask the latter group why they don't take public transportation and they'll list any of the above, plus myriad more reasons.

Not that Metro's doing much to combat all that negativity.  Type "Metro DC" into the Find People section of Twitter and this is your top hit: unsuckdcmetro.  Guess whose side they're on?  Let this sample Tweet answer that question for you: "Love the vagaries of WMATA. Reports of one car smelling like hash browns and catsup, another like cat food."  A judicious use of 140 characters, no?

Don't get me wrong; I'm grateful that Metro exists.  I don't have to own a car in a major metropolitan area due to the availability of a train and bus system that many much larger cities  larger would love to have.  The Indianapolis Metropolitan Area, for example, counts about 400,000 more residents than does the city of DC.

But since its opening in 1976 (that's opening day below...and those cars look suspiciously familiar), it's been one thing after another.  A 1986 editorial by Sam Smith in the Washington Post put it this way: "Metro has failed in its promises to Washington. It has been a financial flop, with construction costs nearly four times the original estimate; it has not met its ridership projections -- carrying tens of millions fewer passengers annually than expected at this point..."  And those were the reasonably nice sentiments.

So I'm setting out to get to the bottom of all this.  Why do we hate Metro?  Is there really no way for it to get better?  And how much worse could it be?

Before the end of 2010, I intend to visit every Metro Rail Station in the system and ride as many bus lines as I can possibly manage to hop on board.  I want to figure out what works and what doesn't by getting first-hand experience.  This adventure is un-scientific, but I think it might offer some illumination into this system that people love to hate.

More info coming soon!


Post a Comment