The nation’s second busiest subway system may have to shut down service for 6 months in what could be a catastrophic outage for a system which carries 800,000 passengers a day. Once the nation’s crown jewel system, the problems that have brought Metro’ Subway System low are an accumulation of problems over years. About half of the blame rests with how the system is funded, the other half is based on gross incompetence at the middle and senior management level of the Authority.
Metro or the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority is an odd duck in terms of organization due to the fact that a significant portion of it’s budget comes from the Government. Which means Congressional oversight and piddling in the affairs of the company. The Company’s ownership is spread across the 7 jurisdictions it serves in the Washington Metropolitan area, including the Federal Government. The Federal Government is a player here because 53% of the passengers on the system are Federal Employees. As everything from fares to which communities are served is regulated, the company is designed never to make a profit (or even break even), and each served municipality pays a proportional part of the actual operating budget each year.
In function, the Transit Agency works like a Federal Government entity – meaning there is no motivation of the employees to either improve service, to make systems operate more efficiently, or to cut costs…Ergo the old $10,000 Toilet Seat issue. Massive cost overruns are the norm. Massive project failures are the norm. The recent Silver Line expansion ballooned from $1 billion to $3 billion, in large part due to project being managed by the corrupt Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority – a situation created because of lack of faith that Metro could manage such a large project. I mean when the Federal Government is going o take over your local transit authority – not only are things truly f’d up… But they are going to get a lot worse.
While, like any big dollar enterprise, there are incidents of corruption – even to the highest levels of the management structure, there is no evidence of any major corruption issue, or that corruption is the reason behind the Authority’s failure. It really boils down to incompetence within almost the entire senior management structure at the company’s headquarters. As such, confusion, lack of vision, lack of will, turf fights, nepotism, and duplicate organizational functions are the order of the day. And to clarify a point, very little of “the problem” has to do with the rank and file customer facing employees who in general believe in the mission of serving the community and often will go above board to make things right.
Accepting Federal money means the involvement of Congress. It also means Federal Agency Oversight, which in typical form tries to solve problems at the weed level instead of systemic. It means getting whipsawed by political trade winds in Congress, being victim to corruption at the Congressional Level, and dealing with Congressional fingers in the pie at any time. Ergo the Republicans want the system to operate without tax dollars or a fare hike (It’s the same magic which destroyed some of their own states), and the Democrats want the system to operate as a social good vehicle.
A major shutdown of the system could entail putting 500,000 cars onto the Washington area’s already gridlocked streets. It will cost the Federal Government and private businesses Billions of dollars in lost work and revenue. As a Management Consultant who has done rescues, turnarounds and restructurings of companies, and a former employee of Metro, I have a pretty good idea about what needs to be done…And it isn’t initially going to be pretty.
Repairs to Washington’s aging subway could require the closure of entire rail lines for months at a time, the system’s chairman, Jack Evans, said Wednesday. At the very least, Mr. Evans said, riders should expect the closure of segments of individual lines for extended periods.
His remarks were the latest indication that the system, known as Metro, will be facing significant service disruptions as its management confronts financial and safety problems.
“If we are going to fix the infrastructure, we can’t do it three hours at night,” Mr. Evans, who is also a member of the D.C. Council, said at a symposium marking Metro’s 40th anniversary.
“There may be decisions where we have to close down whole lines and repair them, which are going to be very unpopular,” Mr. Evans added. “But the only way that we are going to get this system fixed is to make unpopular decisions.”
Metro officials already closed the system for a day earlier this month for an emergency safety inspection.
Mr. Evans called the system “maybe safe, somewhat unreliable, and being complained about by everybody,” and said that its health long-term requires increased — and a permanent — source of financing, like a regional sales tax and annual federal contributions.
Paul J. Wiedefeld, Metro’s general manager, will announce a systemwide maintenance plan in four to six weeks, a Metro spokesman, Dan Stessel, said Wednesday.
Mr. Wiedefeld, in his own remarks at the Wednesday meeting, said the scale of the transit agency’s woes required drastic measures.
“What we have been doing has not been working,” he said. “We cannot Band-Aid, we cannot paper over some of these issues.”
Both men’s remarks were first reported by The Washington Post.