This letter writer wanted to make a point about what he described as “misplaced pressure to maintain service over unsexy maintenance concerns.” The thought is timely as Metro prepares for a resumption of SafeTrack maintenance projects.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Organizations can be seduced or coerced into a popularity contest to maintain or expand service, with predictable but tragic results. Just as there is no free lunch, there is no cheap and painless route to correct the identified maintenance problems.
Since it is unlikely that a fairy godmother will whack the rails with her magic wand and solve the problems for us, we must support the maintenance work, and accept the inconveniences.
— Richard Garrison, Arlington
The condition that Garrison describes can affect the riders and the civic and business leaders who support the transit system, as well as the organization itself.
A distinguishing characteristic of Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld is that he repeated risks incurring disfavor by choosing “safety over service.”
In January, Wiedefeld and the transit staff experienced something that hasn’t been around in a long time: widespread praise. Out-of-towners and locals had good things to say about the extra service that was there when they needed it for the inauguration and the Women’s March on Washington.
Metro deserved that praise, but the warm glow is likely to fade quickly.
Riders will be in the midst of their cool-down this weekend, as the transit authority closes six stations across Central Washington for maintenance projects.
This is among the biggest service disruptions since the weekend repair program intensified in 2011. So it would be a big deal anytime, but for many riders it may turn out to mark an unpleasant pivot from a short period when the track work program was relatively quiet into an intensified phase that will continue for months.
The last SafeTrack project of 2016 ended Dec. 20. In the grand scheme, that wrapped up some of the most disruptive work in the year-long program. But that’s unlikely to impress the riders on the Blue, Yellow, Green, Orange and Red lines who will be unwilling participants in the upcoming projects that continue into mid-2017.
It’s especially annoying for Blue Line riders in Northern Virginia who are about to lose their connection between the Pentagon and Rosslyn stations for 18 days starting Saturday, Feb. 11.
Transportation officials will need to re-energize efforts to divert the displaced Metro commuters from thoughts of driving alone. While that’s helpful in these temporary circumstances, the region would be better off if those officials could focus on getting commuters already in their cars to try an alternative.
In the railroad euphoria after the inauguration and the Women’s March, I heard praise for SafeTrack and hopes that Metro had shown a significant gain in reliability.
SafeTrack wasn’t designed to fix all of Metro’s problems, and it hasn’t. This reality will crawl its way back into the riders’ consciousness over the next few months.
That will make them especially sensitive to other upcoming events: The Metro board will debate fare increases and service cuts. There’s no good way out of that one. The board might fiddle with its budget to reduce the impact — it has before — but no government is going to throw the Metro board a lifeline on this one.
As the weather warms up, Wiedefeld’s ban on extending service hours for special events during the SafeTrack program will again grate on the people who participate in those events and those who sponsor them. Wiedefeld has mentioned the possibility of easing the ban, but hasn’t announced a new rule. Meanwhile, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, scheduled for March 11, already has modified start times in light of Metro’s work plan.
The next blow falls at midyear, when Wiedefeld’s preventive maintenance plan takes effect, locking in a service reduction of eight hours per week for two years.
Despite my tale of woe about what’s ahead in 2017, I’m with Garrison. I support the maintenance work — the SafeTrack repairs and the preventive maintenance program that’s coming up — despite all the inconveniences that are bound to accompany them.
For years, we underestimated how much work time and how much inconvenience would be necessary to restore Metro, and our miscalculations led us into a deeper hole.
My hope is that decision-makers and riders will realize that we’re not looking over the rim yet. We’re still crawling our way up the sides of that hole.
Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.