In an effort to bring together Metro riders with those who make the mass transit system run, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s union held its first town-hall meeting Monday. Participants discussed issues from broken escalators to Metro transit police.
“We identify with a lot of the same problems,” said James Madaras, a shop steward for the system maintenance division and an executive board member of Local 689 of the Amalgamated Transit Union.
About 50 Metro bus and train riders, bus drivers, rail operators and union leaders gathered at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in the District.
Some in the audience questioned whether the union was concerned about what one person called the “increased militancy” of Metro’s transit police, citing a May incident in which two transit police officers were shown in a video on YouTube having an encounter with a man in a wheelchair at the U Street Metro station.
The incident is under investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in the District, the the transit police are conducting an internal review.
Jackie Jeter, Local 689’s president, said she is concerned about the complaints the union is receiving about transit police.
Other attendees complained that too many escalators are out of service.
Union leaders said the system is constantly exposed to bad weather.
“An escalator is similar to a car,” said Tim Hoepfl, a union leader who specializes in escalators and elevators. “If you drove with your hood up [in bad weather], it would cut off. A lot of equipment [in escalators is] water-sensitive.”
Some escalator units look like “Luray Caverns,” Hoepfl said, because they have so many issues with water. “If it rains, the outside units will cut off. The handrails slip, brakes cut off.
“It is ongoing issues. It is something they’re working on. It is hard to keep running.”
Audience members also questioned whether Metro is safer nearly two years after nine people were killed and dozens injured when a train on the Red Line crashed into another at Fort Totten.
Madaras said operators at Metro’s central command center are getting outside more often to understand how the trains work.
“There’s a lot to be done,” he said. “But I can assure you that the union is working with riders and employees because we all ride the trains and the buses, and our families want to see us come home safely at night, too.”
Jeter said she hoped to have another town-hall event near the end of the summer.