RIDING THE RAILS of Metro has become a trip in the worst sense, with worn-out equipment and corroded management taking their toll on passenger patience, not to mention promptness. That's a harsh analysis, but it comes now not just from the public but also in candid comments from Metro chief executive Richard A. White. Mr. White did something unusual last week, taking responsibility for a set of management and personnel problems and promising new measures to shape up the organization. That certainly beats the usual bureaucratic explanation that "mistakes were made." Now it is up to Mr. White to deliver.
"We've done some things that, to this day, still don't make much sense to many people," Mr. White noted correctly. "Either we've misfired badly or we've done a totally inadequate job of providing the entire context or rationale for what we've done." It's both; poor supervision of certain operations and inadequate communications with the public. Some of the results: worker error produced a flood at a station when nobody paid attention to sprinkler alarms, a Metro police officer arrested a pregnant woman for talking loudly on her cell phone, a station manager bellowed at a pregnant woman and shoved her husband after they asked about a stopped escalator (most riders are surprised when they find any working escalators, never mind a working elevator). Then there was a cracked rail that stalled rush-hour trains, and malfunctioning doors at any hour.
Additional administrative errors: Early this year, Metro acknowledged that an internal audit estimated that the system might be losing $1 million a year in parking revenue because of poor monitoring of cashiers. The response? A switch to SmarTrip cards -- before enough were on hand to meet the demand. Now, another mess: Mr. White said that Metro is investigating whether the contractor for its paratransit service exaggerated performance numbers to cash in on more than $3 million in incentives. A Metro employee has been placed on paid administrative leave, and two of the contractor's employees have been removed from their positions.
More shake-ups are on the way, we're told, along with mechanical improvements on the Red Line, which has led the lines in breakdowns. Mr. White's assumption of responsibility is a good first step. But regaining public confidence will take some vigorous efforts.