A Study in Suck

Those who follow me on social media have been privy to my consistent griping about the Washington DC metro. Since ankle surgery, I’ve been able to take my car and park at work, but now that the ankle is healing, I will be back to taking the Metro next month.

You know it’s got to be bad when someone actually created a website entitled “Is Metro On Fire?” Accessing this site allows riders to know whether or not their metro line is actually ablaze. And if you want to know how often this happens…

metro…well, all you have to do is read this. Apparently metro was on fire 73 times in the first three months of 2016. SEVENTY-THREE times. This does include instances of smoke in the subway system, which apparently Metro officials protested as not being incidents of fire, such as malfunctioning train brakes that fill a station with smoke, or a third rail that is arcing so severely that the fire department is called, because apparently there are different definitions of “smoke” and “fire.” Regardless of the quibbling, can you imagine the second largest public transit system in the United States catching fire that many times in the first quarter of the calendar year?

Seriously? What in the everloving, rollerblading, couch-humping hell?

The press is freaking out about alleged Metro under funding. Congress won’t give metro more money, and is actually cutting funding for the ageing system! Metro doesn’t have a dedicated funding stream and has to go begging for money from the jurisdictions it services! Oh NOES!

For metro, it’s all about Mo’ Money! Mo’ Money! Mo’ Money! How can they be expected to run a busy transit system in the nation’s capital on a mere $2.8 billion (based on FY16 numbers)?

Oh, I dunno… perhaps not paying 70 percent of its budget to labor costs would be a good start?

Labor costs constitute over 70% of the 2014 WMATA budget, making it the single largest expenditure WMATA has to worry about. And it’s no wonder why it’s the largest bit. In 2011, during the middle of the recession, Amalgamated Local 689, the WMATA union, dragged a 3 percent annual raise out of management. The agency’s board declined to protect taxpayers and riders by not appealing the arbitration result. Naturally, riders were incensed—but WMATA paid no heed.

Now, I did a fair bit of analyzing of defense spending in my previous days. That’s a lot of labor costs! NATO, our biggest alliance, sets a benchmark that encourages its members to spend no more than 50 percent of their defense budgets on military and civilian personnel costs. There are reasons for that. While the biggest percentage of any budget is normally personnel costs, 70 percent is pretty outrageous and usually indicated bloated salaries – especially for high-ranking or connected personnel. It’s how much Greece spends as a percentage of its defense budget on salaries and benefits, and we know what an economic shit show that country is!

The average salary for a WMATA employee is $78,000 per year! And given the bloated personnel budget, that leaves precious little money for actual maintenance of the equipment that carries hundreds of thousands of passengers to their destinations. There are 488 station managers taking naps working inside glass kiosks at rail stations, and their base salaries are in the high $50,000s. However, given overtime, these guys take home closer to $70,000, and when you factor in overtime, at least 20 station managers took home a six-figure salary, according to a 2012 press report.

And you know what it takes to fire one of these tools? Apparently almost killing a whole lot of people! This douchebag was in such a hurry to get to his break at a location with some good places to stuff his face, that he decided “fuck the red signal!” And this wasn’t his first time being a reckless jackass with other people’s lives!

The operator was on his rail job less than a year after transferring from WMATA’s bus division. As a bus driver for about two years, he racked up three moving violations: two red light overruns and an illegal right turn on red. As a train operator, he added two unspecified safety violations before the potentially disastrous red signal overrun.

And while the system doesn’t have a dedicated funding stream, they do have a nearly guaranteed revenue source in this area – the federal government. Federal employees get transit benefits – $240 per month. You think they won’t use them? And there are quite a few of them. Why not use the benefit, if one can? And it allows the Metro to provide shitty service, because… well… they’re getting that money. It’s not like federal workers are spending their own money on the commute, so it doesn’t hit their wallet.

Thirty-five Metrorail stations serve federal facilities and 42 percent of Metrorail’s peak period commuters are federal employees. On Metrobus, 16 percent of peak period commuters are federal employees. The federal government contributes roughly 56 percent of the capital costs. Fares and other revenue currently fund 56 percent of the daily operations, while state and local governments fund the remaining 44 percent.

So a system that’s on fire so often, there’s a site dedicated to informing riders when they’re in danger of… you know… DYING, that brags its stations are oh so clean (Then why did I actually find a turd on the mezzanine of the Ballston metro station last year? Yes, a real piece of poop. On the floor.), that is running unreliably, or not at all, some days, and that is pissing off riders so badly, they’re losing ridership despite the government transit benefit, wants more money to… do what? It wants to raise fares. Again. It wants to cut service. Even more. And it expects people to just suck it up. At some point, the transit benefit isn’t worth it. It doesn’t matter if it’s free to get to work. When it takes you two hours to ride the orange line 10 stops, it’s just not worth it, and the feds are starting to realize it too, while Congress even tried to pass a bill giving federal employees the option to use the benefit for other options, like Uber.

Overall, Metro is just a study in FAIL.

Shitty employee training.

Preferential racial hiring.

Lack of required annual re-certifications.

Intentional sabotage of equipment.

Poor safety practices.

Political infighting.

Idiotic priorities – no, I don’t think riders care whether some Metro moron is wearing his uniform correctly. They care about getting to their destination in a reasonable amount of time!

Lack of accountability and planning for growth.

Crappy maintenance.

Do I need to go on? No.

If Metro was run like a business, rather than a cushy jobs program for barely literate, incompetent ass clowns, maybe then things would get fixed. But since funding is pretty much guaranteed, there’s no incentive to change.


They can’t fit to allow the door to close. If the door can’t fully close, the train can’t move. If the train can’t move, you’re stuck at the station until several of these people step off the train to allow the door to close.

And it’s the taxpayers, who pay for the system whether they use it or not, and those who wind up stuck in a tunnel for 20 minutes in stifling heat with 1000 of their closest buds rubbing up against them in the summer, who suffer most.

I wouldn’t even mind a dedicated funding stream for metro, if we had any faith that the idiots who run the system would actually fix the long list of what’s wrong with it. But considering their track record (no pun intended), and the big, fat fail that has been their “safetrack” repair initiative so far, I can’t trust them to use the money wisely.

Rob says they should shut down the system, fire everyone, and start from scratch. I would be OK with driving to work or taking Uber until they got their shit together.

Maybe metro should stop wondering why riders are abandoning the system and take a long look at the mirror.



10 responses

  1. Safety isn’t a laughing matter…but I do find it rather funny, in a sad sort of way, that someone actually created an app about whether your ride is on fire.

    I understand about the shitty service. I also get a public transportation benefit at work. Unfortunately it’s useless to me. Service ends before midnight, which means I would need to find alternate transportation either to work on the weekends or leaving work during the weekdays. Leaving work and heading home would take 1 hour and 25 minutes. Leaving home and heading to work would take, oh wow it’s down to 1 hour and 10 minutes. Last time I checked it was just shy of 2 hours. Sure, it’s free and would save wear and tear on the vehicles, but I can drive to work in under 15 minutes.


  2. I try REALLY hard not to ride Metro, ever. The system takes in 1 billion a year in revenues, and is taxpayer subsidised almost 2 billion… And I was un aware that the gov paid for the Federal rides, so it actually is worse than that. Now they close at midnight, screw the customers that might be attending a sporting event…. Christ A mighty, is it too much to ask that the goddamn thing serve the actual needs of the people that pay for it? I second the motion. Shut it down, fire EVERYONE, and start over.


  3. I don’t know the DC Metro, when I was in DC, I drove. I was a recent customer in Montreal and a NYC subway rider and I rode BART in San Francisco for a few years. Those are all good systems that seem to run right, on time, and are reasonably clean. I’m just a hick but it seems to me that the nation’s capital should be a good example instead of the other kind. What am I missing?


  4. I moved to Chicago in 1976. For a brief period, about 18 months, I lived in the north suburbs and took the Metra train into the city, but that involved getting a CTA bus ride to work, which wasn’t exactly fun. I moved into the city the winter of 1978-1979, when a storm hit the area that was so bad, it shut down O’Hare Airport and took me 3 hours just to get out to the Edens Expressway, to get home. It was no fun at all. After that, I took the CTA bus to work. Chicago’s history of public transportation is not spotless. There’ve been accidents like a very bad derailment of the El in the Loop, and the February 2011 breakdown of a flexbus on Lake Shore Drive in a gale-force wind with horizontal snow. But it’s Chicago. People expect it to work and 99% of the time, it does.

    Metra —

    I’ve driven under commuter rail bridges that were at least 100 years old, with concrete crumbling from exposure, and reinforced by new steel girders until the bridges could be shut down and everything rebuilt. Most of the time, I just took the bus. Sometimes, the crime rate was so bad that the CPD put cops on buses and that stopped it. You may see that at the links.

    It’s never been perfect, but it’s always been there, even in bad weather. The worst thing I ever had to put up with was standing at the bus stop in the south Loop in a blizzard, waiting for the bus to show up, and when it finally did, I started to give the driver a piece of my mind. His response: Lady, get in line behind me. I’ve got enough complaints about the supervisors to fill a thick book.

    I can’t say anything about New York’s public transportation system, but it also goes back to the 19th century, around the time sandhogs were digging under the river to provide a base for the columns and piers of the Brooklyn Bridge. Almost everyone working on that bridge was an immigrant from Europe, didn’t speak English, but could understand clearly drawn illustrations.

    I think there is NO excuse for crappy public transportation. It’s an embarrassment to any US city that has it when it isn’t managed properly and has that many accidents. Fires are accidents. They should NOT happen at all. But if you have a city management that just doesn’t give a shit, and the city itself has no history of public transportation like Chicago and New York City do, then you’re stuck with it.

    Keep bitching about it.


  5. I NEVER rode metro unless I had no other choice. Even going from Ballston to WNY, I’d STILL drive. It’s going to take killing a train load of people in a fire to get any movement. You know that as well as I do. Glad I’m long gone from DC. Stay safe!


  6. I was a tourist in DC in the early 80s. The system seemed to be working well.

    That was true on later visits. It worked well enough having a car was pointless. (And my dad used to say once you got into DC the only thing you could do with your car was burn it.)

    I was out there earlier this year…and the Metro was “single tracking” which mean they had closed one of the two rails and had alternating one way traffic, right between me and where I was going. The local news media was trying to interview people about the problems was causing, and I (with some regret) followed my standard policy of saying “No” verbally while saying “Go get fucked by a 12 gauge swab dipped in aqua regia” in my head.


  7. Sounds like a solid case of fraud, waste, and abuse to me. Has anyone tipped off the OIG about this?


    1. All of this is fully public and has been covered by numerous reports in the press. I have no idea if Metro’s OIG is actually doing anything about it.


  8. […] clear: there are definitely things about living in the Northern Virginia area that are awful, and metro is probably the worst. I’ve lived in a number of different jurisdictions throughout my life, and I have never seen […]


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