I appreciated the "Off the Rails" series exploring mismanagement in the Metro system [front page, June 5-8]. For those who don't take public transportation and so don't think these problems affect them, try this: Every dollar that Metro spends on inflated salaries, underperforming systems and fraud is a dollar not spent on clean-air technologies, such as natural gas buses, that would improve the air we all breathe.
As one who has watched Metro grow and has used it since its launch in the mid-1970s, I marvel at the enormous advantages this system has over the two I had used before, in New York and Boston. It is Metro's singular engineering achievement that automated trains arrive almost precisely on time and almost never back up along a line, as the human-operated New York and Boston trains invariably do, causing punishing delays. Metro also has led the way in access for people with disabilities.
With all of the breakdowns and delays Metro has suffered during my quarter-century of using it, I have never suffered the kind of commuter abuse that was a weekly and sometimes daily occurrence in New York, such as getting stuck in a tunnel under the East River for an hour with no air conditioning and no lights. Metro's efficiency in doing its basic job of getting people where they want to go has bred respect for this system among its ridership that New York and Boston never had, and it is reflected in the good behavior of the system's users.
Metro is not without its boneheaded mistakes, of course. For example, at the heavily used Landover Orange Line stop, why rely on only one pair of constantly breaking escalators to move people from the train level to the street when a concrete staircase would do? And why not hang straps in the aisles of cars, whether or not the seat configuration is being changed? All told, I like the Metro system, regardless of its problems. In its 30 years, it has changed life in Washington for the better.
STEVEN A. GLAZER
The long list of management mistakes and lack of proper cost controls makes me wonder why the Metro board has not ejected Chief Executive Richard A. White. That might not change things much, though, because the problems Metro is experiencing are endemic to public transit companies (Amtrak comes to mind).
A solution might be to privatize Metro. After all, this country believes that privately run companies can, if properly regulated, provide better and more efficient public services than the state can. As someone who led a team evaluating the feasibility of privatizing one of Brazil's systems, I know that a few subway systems, such as those in Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and London, have been privatized successfully. Overcoming the resistance of the unions would certainly be a problem, but the results could be worthwhile.
Unfortunately, I'm not sure our politicians are up to the task. Perhaps we should hire the mayor of London. Ken Livingstone introduced groundbreaking reforms in London's public transit system, and he knows that high stakes can bring big political rewards.
Shortly after the Red Line train on which I was traveling stopped at the Dupont Circle Station on Monday, the driver announced, "A door in car No. 5 won't close. Please help me by pushing it closed, and then let me know which door it is."
This statement was followed by door openings and closings. Within a minute or so, we were off again. Since I was traveling in the first car, I was unable to witness the manner in which the door in car No. 5 was closed.
When I got off at the Van Ness-UDC Station, I encountered a new, handwritten sign that said the escalator would be out of order until Oct. 5. Four months of climbing stairs is not the most pleasant of activities to anticipate, even for those of us who need the exercise.
Sao Paulo, Brazil, which is South America's largest city, has an excellent subway system. It began operating in 1976, the same year that D.C. Metrorail service began. I spend several weeks in Sao Paulo every year, and only once have I encountered an escalator out of order. I have never experienced problems with the train doors.
I find it odd that the subway system in a developing country is apparently superior to the system in our nation's capital.
JAMES H. KENNEDY
The Metro system may have management problems, but the root of its failings lies in its setting out to "reinvent the wheel" using complex, unproven technologies.
The heavy reliance on escalators, often left exposed to the elements, is the most obvious example. New York, London, Paris and other cities have mastered mass transit. Information on best practices is available. If Metro had chosen off-the-shelf solutions -- simple, proven, and to the extent possible, standard technologies -- the system would have been cheaper to construct, run and maintain.
JAMES P. HUBBARD
I recall the fanfare associated with Richard A. White's arrival nine years ago. He was the outside expert who had industry-wide respect, blah, blah, blah. Yet derailments, escalator problems and other troubles have increased on Mr. White's watch.
Why does Mr. White now need a group of outside experts to tell him what to do? As reported in this week's series, internal recommendations by many individuals identified problems and solutions. It is typical of bureaucratic management to ignore what is staring it in the face.
It is time for a change. I don't hold out much hope, but this management has run its course.
The Metro system needs two things: dedicated funding from Maryland, Virginia and the District, and better management. Among major subways, only Metro relies on passenger fares for more than half of its budget; in other systems, non-riding taxpayers pay their fair share because local governments recognize that everyone benefits from cleaner air and reduced traffic.
But money's only half the problem. At the Bethesda Station on Tuesday, three employees were handing out fliers with Metro's spin on The Post's series. This only emphasized Metro's mismanagement. Metro's customers know the escalators don't work, and so on. We don't need dozens of employees wasting Metro's resources writing, printing and distributing thousands of fliers. We need solutions.
While Metro fixes and re-fixes its escalators, forcing passengers to wait 10 or more minutes to exit during the morning rush, perhaps it could divert some money to constructing old-fashioned stairs. In stations such as Judiciary Square, where the platform is not far below ground and the delays are particularly aggravating, this would seem like a no-brainer.
I feel as if I end up walking up broken escalators 90 percent of the time as it is, so why not use the space between the "moving" stairs to build some stationary ones that don't have to be rebuilt every few weeks?
Any large city needs an efficient mass transit system, but Washington has a special, compelling reason: national security. Large numbers of federal workers and contractors use the system every day. If Metro were to melt down, the effect on national security from the resulting traffic gridlock would be intolerable. For this reason alone, Metro needs an independent funding source. Funding is something Congress needs to take up because Metro spans two states (including five counties and three cities), plus the District.
We also need a public relations campaign to encourage tourists to stay off Metrorail during rush hour. If tourists could be persuaded to begin their day after 9 a.m. and return to their lodgings after 7 p.m., that would be most helpful to commuters, particularly during cherry blossom time and summer vacation season.
MICHAEL A. FOUGHTY
I love it. The Post runs a series about how Metro is falling apart, with money being wasted and its performance getting worse. The next day [Metro, June 9] politicians call for a Government Accountability Office study. What does that tell us? That politicians do not ride Metro. Nothing new on either count.
The series on Metro's problems made a convincing case that the system is fraught with poor decision making and wasted revenue.
The obvious conclusion is that oversight of Metro decision making is woefully inadequate -- by the system's part-time board; by the jurisdictions that appoint the board members and subsidize the system's operation (Maryland, the District and local governments in Northern Virginia); and by the public.
Metro needs to open its operations and documents to greater scrutiny. For example, although Metro Board Chairman Dana Kauffman and Budget Committee Chairman Gladys Mack are offering to conduct a public hearing on Metro's fiscal 2007 budget plans, the board's discussions of the fiscal 2006 budget essentially were closed to the public.
A good first step would be for Metro to create a position of inspector general, based on the federal model, with a fixed term and a staff that can report directly to the board and the public on the types of management issues and problems discussed in the series. An inspector general also could report on Metrobus operations, upon which 500,000 riders depend daily.
Next, the board and committees should be required to observe the open-meeting laws that apply to local governments. Because Metro was the creation of an interstate compact approved by Congress, its board sets its own rules. It closes board meetings in which "critical matters" are discussed, because, it says, "untimely disclosure . . . may be detrimental to the authority."
MetroRiders.Org, a recently formed advocacy group for transit riders, also is urging that a rider representative be added to the 12-member board. The New York subway system, the nation's largest, has a rider representative on its board; Washington area transit riders deserve no less. Adding a rider representative should not, however, free the other board members from their obligation to use the system they oversee.
The writer is one of the founders of MetroRiders.Org, a nonprofit advocacy group.