A blog commenter using the handle RogSterling69 posted this to my Commuter page article about Metro’s long-range planning proposals: “Before WMATA talks expansion (code for higher wages, fares and taxes), perhaps they should first address service and safety issues. Do they already forget the stranded Green Line trains … ?”
Well, the draft of Metro’s “Momentum” plan does stress service and safety. In fact, those things are listed as the top strategic goals. But I think the fact that the transit authority formally acknowledges the importance of those goals just emphasizes the significance of last Wednesday’s stranding on the Green Line.
For the past few years — particularly since the June 2009 Red Line crash — senior Metro officials and board members have stressed the goals of safety and service in their public statements. So when transit officials emphasize those goals in documents like the draft strategic plan, it doesn’t feel like news. Most of the stories and columns you’ve seen about the Momentum plan in the past couple of weeks instead highlight the prospects for eight-car trains, new tunnels and fast bus services.
To illustrate the gap between Metro’s self-imposed standards and what’s actually happening, I’d like to review some of the transit authority’s statements about its safety and service goals.
While multiple goals were approved by the Metro board and are being advanced in the strategic plan, I’m going to focus on the first two as particularly relevant:
Goal 1. Build and maintain a premier safety culture and system.
That means fixing and maintaining the system, creating a shared climate of safety and expecting the unexpected, the strategic plan draft says.
Goal 2. Meet or exceed expectations by consistently delivering quality service.
That means focus on the customer, fix things first and fast, be on time, and make it easy to plan, pay and ride.
For further guidance on Metro’s goals for itself, look back to the aftermath of the July 2012 stranding of a Green Line train near College Park: Dave Kubicek, the transit agency’s deputy general manager of operations, told Metro board members that emergency response practices will be improved.
Kubicek said that when a train loses power, emergency procedures would be initiated within five minutes. “We have got to start mobilizing right away,” he said.
Metro, Kubicek said, needed a better strategy for communicating with riders.
Fast forward to Wednesday night. We don’t know everything that happened when two trains lost power in the Green Line tunnel, but we get the general idea. This from Dana Hedgepeth’s Post story: “Dozens of the stranded passengers opted to climb out out of the trains and into the tunnels, according to officials, in a risky reprise of a botched train evacuation last summer.
“Riders reported panicked and uncomfortable scenes on the stuck trains and little information on what was going on or how long it would last.
Once the trains made it to the stations, there was crowding and confusion. At Navy Yard/Ballpark, Anacostia and other Metro stops, passengers were frustrated by the absence of shuttle buses and lack of official direction.”
We should learn more from Metro’s review, but I think it’s not too early to characterize the Wednesday night incident as a failure by Metro to meet its general goals on safety and service and its specific plans for dealing with a train stranding.
See more of what readers had to say about Metro during Monday’s online chat about traffic and transit issues.