Friday, April 8, 2011

My Turn to Whine

No, I am not whining because I am an about to be furloughed federal employee. If the government shuts down, I will survive. So will the rest of the country. My beef today is about something that is much more petty and parochial, though on second thought, it might be a microcosm of the larger debate that is going on with regard to the size, scope and level of accountability of government. It has to do with a quasi-governmental organization: The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, affectionately known as “Metro”.

As a federal employee, I commute into DC every day, taking the Maryland Commuter (“MARC”) train into Washington’s Union Station and then hopping on the Metro to my final destination. I have heard people whine about Metro for years:  It is too crowded, they are too strict in not allowing food or drink on the rail cars, there are too many breakdowns, etc. etc. Though there is some legitimacy to these complaints, I have always maintained that the Washington Metro system is one of the best if not the best in the nation. The modern rail cars and the stations are clean and comfortable; the service is relatively predictable and reliable, and the metro stations are well lit and safe. If anyone wants to whine about the Washington Metro, they should first check out the dingy and dangerous New York subway system, or Chicago’s slow and rickety L trains.

But now, even my love affair with the Metro has started to strain. It all started when several months ago, an escalator malfunction caused it to stop suddenly and cause some substantial injury to a metro rider. In a classic case of government over-reaction, Metro was made to embark on a multi-month project to overhaul the escalators. The repairs have been anything but minor, and escalators have been out of commission for months, causing long human traffic jams as up-bound and down-bound passengers must squeeze single file onto the same narrow escalator.

I can be patient with such an inconvenience for a day or two, maybe even a week. But it has been several months now. I am willing to bet that this could have been taken care of much faster and cheaper by a wholesale replacement of the old escalators with new ones. What is the holdup?

As previously mentioned, the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority is a quasi-governmental organization. As such, they have a virtual monopoly. If they were a private organization or at least had some competition, I can guarantee they would not be causing major and prolonged inconveniences or disruptions to their passengers, lest the latter start voting with their feet and seeking alternatives elsewhere. Alas, like many “services” provided by governmental or quasi-governmental organizations, Metro is the only game in town. So together with thousands upon thousands of daily commuters, I have no choice but to line up amidst the crowds waiting to squeeze onto one non-working escalator, and read the signs about how Metro is working to better serve me.


His Lordship The Gun-Toting Atheist said...

As such, they have a virtual monopoly. If they were a private organization or at least had some competition

I'm not familiar with the DC area, but how are the highways?

JD Curtis said...

The Beltway is Hell. At least every time I go there, that is.

The Maryland Crustacean said...

The beltway is hell, but driving into DC is worse, which is why public transportation is the only way to go. Folks on the Virginia side have found creative ways to get around the HOV lanes on I-95, using "slug lines" to add enough passengers to vehicles to get in and out of the city faster. It has turned into an entire subculture. There is a lesson to be learned here about spontaneous private initiative, necessity being the mother of invention, etc.