A modest proposal: Dump Metro, get goats


A Red Line train was stuck for more than an hour in the tunnel near the Tenleytown-AU Metro stop and was eventually off-loaded at the station. (Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
John Kelly
Columnist September 19, 2012

It is a melancholy object to those who commute via Metrorail to routinely find oneself late for work, late for a show or late for a date because the stupid system has once again ceased operating.

Wednesday’s Red Line meltdown was just the latest example of a subway system in severe crisis. It may have been the most dramatic example — mysterious power outages, dangerously overcrowded platforms, passengers single-filing their way down the track bed like characters in “Cloverfield” — but it wasn’t really all that surprising. Metro long ago stopped being what you’d call dependable. If you’re not stung by one of the numerous weekday annoyances, you board a train on a weekend only to find that half the line you’re taking is shut down for “routine track maintenance.”

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

I’m not here to assign blame, but I do think I can provide a solution to Washington’s public transportation woes: goat carts.

No, not go-karts — though those would certainly be fun. Goat carts: little wagons pulled by goats.

I propose replacing Metrorail’s 106.3 miles of track with earthen paths that would be crisscrossed by a network of trained goats. The billions of dollars we spend on balky trains whose doors won’t shut, on computer control systems that can’t keep track of where those trains are, on steel rails that warp in the summer heat and crack in the winter cold, would instead finance thousands and thousands of goats, as well as cute little wagons for passengers.

“Obviously they don’t have the stamina of a horse,” said Pamela Anderson, who with her husband, Hugh, runs Crooked Pine Ranch, a 50-acre dairy goat operation in Polk City, Fla. “But at a trot and a walk, they can go for several miles no problem.”

But are they dependable?

“Yes,” Pamela said. “That’s not a problem. . . . A goat that’s healthy and well fed is a happy goat. They want to do anything to please you.”

Well that right there puts them ahead of WMATA.

In addition to the 50 or so goats she and her husband raise, Pamela has a side business called Great Goat Gear that provides custom harnesses to people who want to hitch their wagons to goats.

A large, 300-pound goat — a Saanen or a Boer, say — can easily pull one person, or even two, she said. Put two goats together, get a bigger wagon and you have yourself a little goat cartpool.

A bottle-fed goat baby costs about $250. A harness is about $175. Carts are in the neighborhood of $200. That’s under $700 for a foolproof, four-legged transportation system. A 7000 Series WMATA railcar costs $2 million.

I know what you’re thinking: Won’t we have to milk all those goats and then figure out what to do with gallons and gallons of goat milk? Do we really want to be up to our elbows in chevre? Good news: We use castrated male goats. Pamela said they are much better suited to our purposes than lactating females or intact males.

I laid out my plans to Pamela and asked her what she thought. Would it be possible to use goats in Washington?

“I don’t know if they would allow animals in an area like that,” Pamela said. But she did add: “Fifty years ago, it was extremely common to see goat carts around. You’d see kids with a little goat cart, people pulling milk canisters with a goat cart. It was very common.”

And of course it still is in third-world countries; countries where the infrastructure is a joke, where overloaded buses creak down potholed roads, where subways are sweltering deathtraps. In those places, economical, dependable, environmentally friendly goat carts are the chariots of choice.

It’s time to introduce them here.

By the numbers

The peak fare from Forest Glen to Farragut North is $4. Thus, when My Lovely Wife and I ride Metro, we each spend $8 a day, for a total of $16. If we park at the Forest Glen Metro that adds another $5 for parking. So, taking Metro costs us $21 a day.

When we drive downtown, I can park in a lot near my office that is $11 if I get there before 10 a.m. Add the obligatory dollar tip and you get $12.

Yeah, I feel like I’ve just disemboweled a manatee whenever I do it, but is it any wonder that with Metro seemingly in its death throes, I find myself driving more and riding less?

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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