The Truth Behind DC Metro, Stimulus Funds, WMATA and Union Problems
Originally published in the DC Examiner:
If you have taken the DC Metro's Red Line recently, then you have experienced the frustration of a seemingly endless wait to board a sardine packed car. Be warned: This trend of slow, manually-run trains may continue for the next year. But the worst news is that the DC Metro system's internal issues are not much better.
According to reports, last week's accident was caused by a failure of the signal system and operator error on an older Rohr Model 1000 train. However, the National Transit Safety Board (NSTB) recommended the 292 model 1000 rail cars be replaced or retrofitted in 2004 and 2006. No action was taken.
Instead, Metro spent $383 million on 192 new rail cars. The result - trains break down 64 percent more frequently than three years ago, and the number of daily delays has almost doubled since 2000.
WMATA's questionable use of their cash-stream doesn't end there. $93 million was allocated to repair escalators that ultimately needed maintenance more frequently than the escalators that were left alone.
The Examiner reported in May that the Metro website listed fifty-three escalators as experiencing problems and awaiting repair. Currently, the Metro website reports that there are fifty escalator outages - that's a rate of fixing, on average, only three escalators every two months!
In 2005, Metro ignored the advice of an independent task force, which concluded that private-sector businesses would repair the escalators faster and at a lower cost than unionized government employees. Of course, WMATA continued business as usual.
Now, Metro is supposed to receive an extra $1.5 billion in federal funding over the next decade. Unfortunately, President Obama's first budget failed to include the federal government's initial share of $150 million. But that's not all; the "stimulus" is also giving Metro $202 million.
What is WMATA's plan for all that money? Metro Chief Administrative Officer Emeka Moneme decided one of the major improvement plans funded by the "stimulus" is to upgrade the system of electronic screens in stations and on platforms that provide information about arriving trains, escalator outages and problems in the system.
Screen updates? Here's an idea: instead of allotting money to the electronic screens that update riders on systematic problems, use the money to actually fix the systematic problems!
On June 24, it was announced an extra $34.3 million federal grant will go towards buying new rail cars. With WMATA's current track record of spending millions of dollars on repairs that never seem to turn out quite right, I'd try and find a seat. This may take a while.
Brian M. Johnson is the executive director of the Alliance for Worker Freedom and the author of the 2009 Index of Worker Freedom: A National Report Card (forthcoming). Rachel Sessa is a federal affairs associate at Americans for Tax Reform.