“I read about it last night, and I thought, ‘Oh, great — I’m going to have a long commute,'” Harold Singer said Tuesday while riding the Red Line from downtown to Van Ness. But it was worse than he anticipated. An hour worse, to be exact.
Yet Singer said the thought never crossed his mind that he would get to and from work without Metro. He swiped his SmarTrip card and climbed aboard the troubled system because what else is he going to do?
Still, he holds out hope that the system’s regional partners will come up with the funds to fix it. “I think the local governments have to give more money,” Singer said. “It’s not back to good yet.”
Patterns can become habits and habits can make people comfortable, which may explain why Monday’s derailment seemed to follow a script. Once again, it seemed as if Dixie cups and string might work better in an emergency than Metro’s radios. Once again, riders waited a long time in a car fogged with smoke or dust before anyone evacuated them. Once again, people wondered what happened to all that money that went into the system’s overhaul under the year-long SafeTrack initiative, or the $5 billion Metro Forward program before that, or …
If there was any silver lining, it was the glowsticks that Metro handed out to help passengers find their way to safety. But after a year of large-scale rebuilding and promises of renewal through campaigns such as SafeTrack and Back2Good, Washington commuters are once again wondering when the turnaround will come. Still, they get on the trains.
Erin Dailey, 22, an unpaid intern at the National Zoo, took the derailment in stride. “I’m not really fazed by things much,” she said.
Dailey, a recent Virginia Tech graduate who lives in Arlington, said she usually drives because there’s not much traffic when she leaves early to get to work. But she took the subway on Monday, arriving at Metro Center about 20 minutes after the derailment.
“Everyone seemed a little irritated, and I was just kind of, like, ‘Well, there’s nothing you can do about it, sooooo …’ ” she said Tuesday. “And I feel if I was going to a paying job, then maybe I would have shown a little more urgency. But they knew I was going to be late.”
Dailey said Metro handled Monday’s crisis fairly well, except for the shuttle buses that seemed in short supply at first.
But she said Metro still has a lot of work to do. “It seems like there needs to be more done,” Dailey said.
Gizella Olivo, 31, who lives in Rosslyn, hadn’t heard about the derailment as she was heading to work on Tuesday. But Olivo — who is better known among her yoga students as Gizella Om — said the derailment, as terrifying as the thought of such a thing might be, wouldn’t have changed her plans. Since moving to the area a few months ago, she said she has ridden the system daily to her studio in Crystal City.
“You just learn to be patient, I guess,” she said. She also took the longer view: “I’m going to get back on the train, fate being what it is.”
Rick Bolczak, 71, an engineer who lives in Arlington, shrugged off the latest accident as no big deal. If anything, he said, it pointed to the system’s need for better funding — a message made as if on cue by Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans after Monday’s derailment. But Bolczak also mentioned the need for better governance, too.
“I think that the system, as all systems, can be improved,” said Bolczak, who boarded a Silver Line train at L’Enfant Station on Tuesday. “[But] it won’t be improved until you have better governance, and particularly among the governmental entities that control the funding. That’s the crux of the problem.”
Other riders and members of the #wmata Twitterverse didn’t think so. To them, the latest mishap — coming almost three years to the day after a fatal accident and more than a year after unprecedented emergency shutdowns and high-profile repairs — seemed to suggest that Metro could run its trains on rails of gold and the system would still break down.
Still, it all depends on your point of view.
Matti Ronkko, 37, gives D.C.’s subway system high marks. The Finnish native — who now lives in San Antonio, a city that has only buses for public transportation — trusts Metro so much that when he comes to the District on business, he builds his trips around using the subway. He doesn’t rent a car. Instead, he reserves hotel rooms near the Metro.
Ronkko said he’s surprised when he hears Washingtonians griping about Metro. “This is like a European-level transit system,” he said. “This reminds me of Helsinki.”