Missing the real issue about WMATA
The Washington Post editorialized, in "A Broken Metro," once again about how all of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's problems have to do with the lack of a dedicated funding stream.
Nothing could be further from the truth, as the newspaper's own reporting ought to be communicating to us.
Here are the issues with WMATA:
- general vision and leadership
- the governance structure (members appointed to the board by the various jurisdictions that are members of the WMATA Compact--but too many of them have overly constrained worldviews about what they are doing and who they truly represent)
- the lack of a real system of regulatory oversight*
- funding of current operational deficits**
- funding of capital improvements***
- management of the organization
- operation of the organization
- how the organization treats and serves riders.
* The article in the Post about how BART has a redundant train control system to ensure that all trains are accounted for on the system at all times off-handedly mentioned that BART is under the oversight of the California Public Utilities Commission. See "Sister Transit System Took Steps to Counter Hazard: BART Saw Circuit Problem At Center of Metro Probe."
From the article:
Shortly after BART started operating in 1972, it installed a backup system. Initial tests of the main train protection system failed to detect the presence of a train in a few instances, according to Mike Healey, a longtime BART spokesman who retired in 2005. A subsequent 1972 BART accident involving a train that mistakenly received a command to double its speed instead of slowing down, sending the train off track and into a parking lot, was the catalyst "to have some redundancy to back up the primary train protection system," Healey said...
Willard Wattenburg, an electrical engineer and inventor retired from the University of California at Berkeley, said intermittent failures were frequent on BART in the early 1970s. Wattenburg analyzed BART's initial design for the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates transit systems, and crafted some corrections. BART officials at the time said the failures were flukes, but regulators insisted on the design changes. .
This used to be the case for the old streetcar system, which was overseen by the DC Public Service Commission.
There needs to be a joint commission, with appointees from DC, MD, and VA, to oversee the system and ensure that it meets the highest operational standards.
** Dedicated funding is important but is more focused on managing annual operating budgets. The cost of providing transit is greater than farebox and other revenues. Therefore, funds are provided by the member jurisdictions of the WMATA "Compact" to make up the difference.
*** While the annual appropriations include some money for capital improvements, it's never enough, especially when it comes to system expansion, or replacing large amounts of rolling stock.
Dedicated funding gets at just a little bit of the issues that are in play with WMATA generally.
We can argue that the accident is an indicator of a far bigger systems failure than the circuit system.
That's what we should be coming to realize as we are learning about the systematic failures of this system and the neglect of dealing with it--something that predates General Manager John Catoe.
See "Investigators: Metro equipment at crash problematic for 18 months," "Investigators examining glitches around system" AND ESPECIALLY THIS STORY "Metro operator: Recent crash failure echoes 2005 near-miss" from the Examiner.