Episode 004 of the FixWMATA Podcast was recorded in December, 2017 and features news and an interview with Maryland Delegate Marc Korman (@MKorman).
Link to Ian Sutherland's Music: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/ian_sutherland
Text of this episode:
I’m Chris Barnes and this… is the FixWMATA Podcast
This week we take a quick look back at the news from December 3rd through December 8th, 2017, take a look ahead at the week of meetings, and then I sit down with Maryland Delegate Marc Korman to talk about Maryland’s proposals to fix WMATA.
In WMATA news this week…
Riders and workers were stunned when Demarcus Joseph Graves evaded the fare machines at Minnesota Avenue station, walked to the platform and then threw a dockless bike left by a previous rider onto the tracks. Moments later an Orange Line train comprised of new 7000 series cars hit the bike causing damage to 3 of the cars and delays of 4 hours on the line. Graves then set trash on the platform on fire before being arrested by police.
DC residents are growing impatient with WMATA after over a year of reported vibrations believed to be caused by heavier 7000 series rail cars passing under their Petworth neighborhood. Metro says they’re looking into the complaints but the pace of that investigation isn’t fast enough for those affected so they’ve enlisted the help of DC Council member Brandon Todd.
Congresswoman Barbara Comstock introduced a bill this week to reform Metro. The bill calls for increased PRIIA funding while asking for reform measures in return. Some of those reforms include changes to the Board of Directors and the option to terminate previous contractor and labor agreements.
And the Metro Transit Police are once again in the spotlight as allegations of excessive force against a teenager at Fort Totten station surfaced along with a video of the incident.
All of these stories and more can be found on FixWMATA dot com where new stories are added throughout the week.
And here are just a few of the opportunities we have to get involved with fixing WMATA this week:
On Monday the 11th the Accessibility Advisory Committee Bus and Rail Subcommittee will meet at WMATA Headquarters from 4 to 6 PM.
On Wednesday the 13th the Youth Advisory Council will meet at WMATA Headquarters. That meeting starts at 5 PM.
The WMATA Board of Directors meetings were moved from their normal week this month – the meetings now happen on Thursday, December 14th at WMATA Headquarters starting at 9:45 AM.
Also on the 14th the Riders’ Advisory Council’s Customer Service Committee meeting will take place at WMATA Headquarters starting at 6 PM.
All of these meetings are open to the public and allow public comment. These events and others with more information can be found on FixWMATA.com under Calendar.
Marc Korman is a delegate in the Maryland House of Delegates representing District 16 which includes Metro stations in Maryland along the western side of the Red Line. Marc and his colleagues have been working on a Metro reform plan for almost a year now and produced a document called “Metro Reform: A Maryland Approach”. The document, which is linked on FixWMATA.com, takes many of the same ideas from the LaHood Report and the Comstock Bill and expands on those while keeping riders as part of the process.
I sat down with Marc this week in Silver Spring to find out more about the Approach and what Maryland is working on to help fix WMATA…
[begin interview audio]
[FixWMATA] I’m sitting down with Marc Korman today. Marc, for those who don’t know you tell us who you are and what you do for the great people of Maryland.
[Marc] Sure, I do a lot of things but I think the reason you’re interviewing me is I’m a delegate in the Maryland General Assembly representing an areas that includes Friendship Heights, Bethesda, Medical Center, Grosvenor, and White Flint if you’re going up the Red Line.
[F] I was going to say some of those sound like Metro stations. I’ll start with the question I ask everyone and go ahead and get it out of the way: What’s wrong with Metro and how do we fix WMATA?
[M] So, I think that’s the whole conversation we’re about to have is trying to identify some of those issues, I think there’s a lot. I think if you were going to have a unified theory of what’s wrong with Metro – to me it comes down to any lack of ownership, the buck doesn’t stop with anybody with Metro and that makes it very difficult to operate as it’s supposed to and improve over time because there’s no one really accountable when Metro fails. It’s such a disjointed governance structure that when there’s a screw up there’s no one party for the General Manager, for example, to be dragged in front of to explain what the issue is. You know – maybe get reamed out a little bit but also explore how to resolve the problem if it’s more resources, if it’s something with a manager – whatever it is. And that’s really difficult. There’s a lot of different people who will drag the General Manager in and yell at him but none of them are actually directly responsible for the system and I think that’s pretty problematic.
[F] I guess to further that point why haven’t politicians and legislators like yourself been able to get WMATA reformed, get some kind of financing agreement. It’s all kind of coming to a head now but this has been a long time brewing so what has happened that politicians have failed us so far?
[M] Yeah, I think there’s a lot of reasons. First of all 50 years ago politicians succeeded greatly by even establishing Metro so I don’t want to totally discount the role of politicians in having Metro to begin with which you know despite it’s current trouble is an overall success story. But again what’s happened disjointed nature makes it very complicated and example of how that plays out. About 15 years ago, 13 years ago there was a great effort at dedicated funding. The Brookings Institution put out a report and there was all sorts of momentum building and at the time you had a Republican Governor in Maryland and Democratic Governor in Virginia and then those flipped – then you had a Democrat in Maryland and Republican in Virginia. So it’s like the stars never seemed to align – not that Democrats and Republicans always line up one way or another on these things but there’s certain trend lines, obviously. So that disjointed structure of the jurisdictions has made it really difficult. The other thing is the jurisdictions all treat Metro differently. In Virginia it’s actually largely a locally driven enterprise by the Northern Virginia counties and cities. In Maryland it’s actually at the state level that the funding is provided and the voting board members are appointed.
[F] One place Democrats and Republicans certainly line up together is on a platform. So hopefully that’s not going to keep us from getting things done. You call the Red Line “the double economic spine of Montgomery County”. How has the last 2 weeks of having one of those spines severed gone?
[M] So I am a daily rider 9 months a year – a weekday rider – the Maryland Legislature is part-time so I ride on the western side of the Red Line. So we’ve been less affected although the headways have increased – so I don’t have a ton of personal experience with what’s been happening. I will say that a short term disruption, one that’s scheduled or maybe not scheduled and publicized enough, is obviously than a full failure of one of the Metro lines. The reason we call it the double economic spine is because if you look at all the growth areas in Montgomery County they tend to be concentrated around Metro stations. That’s for 2 reasons. One it’s by design – the Planning Board, the zoning districts have been driven that way. But it’s also what sort of the market is demanding. Right? More people want to live in walkable areas and get to the restaurant at night. More businesses like Marriott, like Amazon are asking to be around Metro or other mass transit wherever it is and so that’s why we call it that. A temporary disruption while really difficult for people who need to commute in the morning and the evening including the people who don’t take Metro – because more people end up in their cars – is disruptive but not critical. Its if there’s a longer term problem and the ridership continues to decline that it really creates a lot of difficulty.
[F] As a Silver Spring resident it became painfully clear to me this week that the Purple Line would have really come in handy during the last 2 weeks – either getting me to College Park or getting over to Bethesda as alternates. Luckily I think MARC picked a lot of the slack here in Silver Spring.
[M] Yeah so one of the ironies about that is of course one of the last gasps of opposition of the Purple Line was over Metro’s declining ridership and one of the benefits of the Purple Line is it’ll create additional transit opportunities and actually be able to help with some of these situations. So it’s actually really vital the Purple Line be completed. It doesn’t mean it’s a perfect project, isn’t causing disruption, but overall there’s going to be a lot of benefit to creating point to point transit connections not just a feeder in and out of DC which is basically what the Metro is now.
[F] And the other thing about the Purple Line is it’s going to compliment Metro not provide an alternative to it that’ll take riders away from it – if anything it’s going to bring riders to Metro, right?
[M] I agree. And also it should be emphasized that the Purple Line, although it will compliment Metro, is not part of Metro. Which is something a lot of people, maybe not people who listen to your podcast but the general public, are unaware of. They look at the Purple Line and think it’s like the Silver Line. Maybe something being built by another party but that will then be transferred over to Metro. Not the case. The Purple Line is going to be run as a separate line although is’s supposed to have a compatibility with SmarTrip card or whatever the next generation fare card is. So it’ll compliment it but actually will not be run by Paul Wiedefeld or WMATA or anything like that.
[F] The Maryland Approach is a document supported by yourself and 9 of your colleagues. In it you say “there is broad acceptance that Metro is in trouble”. I don’t think many people would disagree with that. In addition to the Maryland Approach there’s the LaHood Report and the Comstock Bill. Those are basically the 3 options now plus I guess if you throw in DC has said sales tax for everyone – if that happens. How is all of this going to wash out?
[M] Yeah, so that report came out about 6 months ago and just to explain the context last year in the Maryland and Virginia budgets actually there was language basically requiring both secretaries of transportation of the 2 states to start discussions over the Metro compact and reopening the Metro compact. So in a lot of ways we were responding to that. I joined with 9 other colleagues: 5 from Montgomery, 5 from Prince George’s. There is interest in the legislature by some non-Montgomery/Prince George’s members of course, but all of the stations are in Montgomery or Prince George’s County. We had 1 senator from Montgomery and 1 senator from Prince George’s so bi-cameral both counties coming together trying to think about “well if you were going to reopen the compact what would that look like and what problems would you try to solve through that process and we figured that if this sort of went forward the way people thought it was going to go forward in April or May that Virginia was going to have it’s own sort of thoughts about what you’d do with a compact. And we wanted to offer what our thoughts were. Several of us, not all of us but several of us, are daily or regular riders so we definitely had that experience in mind – being riders on the system. One of us, not me, had a lot of experience with Inspector General issues and so knew a lot about what you could do there. And so we all brought sort of different expertise. And put together a report that we emphasize whenever we talk about it that it’s not a “my way or the highway” approach, obviously because it’s a transit system we’re talking about. It was meant to offer ideas that could be taken up as a part of a broader conversation about reform. Now again – this document is 6 months old so I think the conversation has continued to evolve since then. The LaHood report, you know, doesn’t talk about reopening the compact. It views non-compact solutions so a lot of what is in our report could be done without compact changes, some of it would require reforms to the compact. We think there’s a lot of good ideas in there that people from DC, the Federal government, Virginia – Republicans, Democrats – should all be supportive of.
[F] I agree. There’s a lot of good ideas in this. One of those ideas is to redefine the WMATA Board of Directors as 3 voting members: the Maryland Secretary of Transportation, the Virginia Secretary of Transportation, and the DC Director of Transportation. Is this a reform board or is this a board reformed for a permanent solution? And where is the Federal vote in all of that?
[M] The way it’s envisioned in the document, and this is one that would require a compact change, is it’s a board reform. This would be going forward what the board would look like and again when we talk about this we like to emphasize that there are certain goals we were trying to achieve with this structure that we’ve outlined and those goals may be achievable other ways. Making the board smaller, making the board more politically accountable, increasing the connection between the board members and the funding jurisdictions because they’re the ones that need to provide the dollars to make this work, increasing expertise, maybe making sure the board members have relevant staff to help them. And of course DC has already had the DC Director of Transportation on the Board and I think that’s been really positive. I don’t follow the Board meetings as closely as you do unfortunately but from what I’ve seen it’s very positive having that experienced voice there. This idea actually came from a current or former Board member, I won’t tell you which or who, and just seemed like a very sensible approach to us. It especially works well in Maryland where again it’s a state obligation. I recognize it’s a little more complicated in Virginia where the counties and cities are also involved. For the Federal piece – one way to deal with that would be to add a 4th seat that could be the Federal seat and then the 4 people together elect a 5th person. I take a somewhat snarky view of this and I view that the feds bought their seats on the cheap, right? The Federal Government didn’t have seats until PRIIA when they add $150M a year while Maryland has been paying half a billion dollars a year and that’s been going up – they’ve been doing that for years and years. So Maryland, Virginia, DC have paid a lot of money for their seats. Congress got them for the relatively cheap price of $150M a year so I take a somewhat snarky view to the Federal seats but there’s a way to address that in a similar way as what we proposed.
[F] The document’s very much a conversation starter – not a final word on what you want done, right?
[M] Yes. I mean at one point we had thought about actually doing a track changes on the compact and we thought that was not a good idea. It would be better to put a lot of information and ideas out there and I think it’s not on your website. If people are really bored and into this stuff I’d encourage them to read it – I think there’s a lot of good background information in there as well in addition to the recommendations.
[F] And some graphics! Which is nice for a PDF. In addition the Approach says “the Federal Government and local Maryland and Virginia jurisdictions would be able to appoint non-voting ex officio members to speak and participate at Board meetings but would not have formal vote”. Where is the rider representation in this new Board of Directors?
[M] Yeah, so, and I’m sure we’ll talk about this in a minute – we dealt with the sort of rider piece in a different way but you know – that’s a perfectly good idea to have ex officio rider members as well. The goal was to let the relevant stakeholders have a voice in Metro in lots of different ways including the Board but allow the Board to really function and operate. And it’s just a delicate balancing act and we especially wanted to make sure the locals from Virginia had a voice because of the funding – although living in Montgomery County Maryland myself I obviously thought that was important that they be involved. And of course that ex officio piece was a way to deal with the Federal Government as well. But again – as you said – conversation not a dictate so doing something similar for riders could be good too. Although again, and we can talk about this there’s another approach to the rider voice in the document that I think has some merit as well.
[F] And speaking of that – the Maryland Approach also lays out how the Riders’ Advisory Council and Accessibility Advisory Committee should be restructured to better represent riders at WMATA. First of all I think one of – the only piece of WMATA reform I’ve read that involves riders – so thank you for that. Under the new structure there are 3 committees: rail, bus, MetroAccess. The total number of representatives comes to 21. Which is a reduction when you consider that the current RAC and AAC membership numbers exceed 21 currently. And those members would be appointed by the DC Mayor and each of the jurisdictions. How would riders go about requesting membership in this new layout? Like currently they go to WMATA, WMATA holds basically an audition, and then you get in front of a Board member for your jurisdiction and the Board members decides whether or not you’re on the RAC. You’re not putting that into the government’s hands – state, local, mayor – how does that work?
[M] Sure so first of all I want to emphasize we came up with this proposal before your last podcast so we were on to this issue even before the FixWMATA Podcast although frankly there was a lot of great background in your last episode. If folks haven’t listened to it I’d encourage them to go back and do so. Yeah, so in Montgomery County and I can’t speak to all local jurisdictions though I think it’s pretty common, there are tons of local boards and appointments that get done. We do it by our County Executive nominating and our County Council approving and I think it would be a similar structure here and I think that would work in most of the local jurisdictions I think. Almost all governments have some type of appointment and confirmation process that you’d just use the same way here. What our goal was was to create a little bit of separation between the Metro governance and the Riders’ Advisory Council because you want a little bit more leeway to assert themselves and not be so accountable to the Metro management. There’s other ways we do that including a dedicated funding source to fund the RAC specifically to fund a little bit of staff for them and the model there is the Maryland and DC Office of People’s Council which are 2 bodies funded by utilities that basically look out for rate payers in front of the state and city public service commission. This is a similar idea – you would have a staffer or 2 who could be paid by a fixed percentage, its actually a pretty small amount of the Metro budget, to help run the RAC, organize it and really look out for rate payers – or excuse me – to look out for fare payers.
[F] As someone who was on the RAC and someone who still goes to their meetings and the AAC I guess as well they really do need dedicated staff. It would make all the difference in the world. And if that person was paid I guess independently from a position at Metro I think that would also be a great way to go. So I’m glad to see that. The Maryland Approach calls for 3 of the 21 members of the new RAC to be “from businesses located within a half mile of a Metrorail station”. Can you elaborate on how businesses would interact with a riders’ council?
[M] Yeah, so again we imagine those people would be appointed in the same way as riders – and they could be rides as well they would just be people who work near a Metro station. It was just once again trying think about how you get all the different stakeholders to have a little bit more say over what’s going on with Metro. In Bethesda we have something called the Bethesda Metro Station Improvement Taskforce which is largely business driven although there some residents on it as well. That have really had a lot of success in pushing Metro to fix up the station there. It’s not perfect by any means but they’ve had a lot success in cleaning things up – adding some art. Actually it was supposed to be under the previous general manager the station of the future. I think that project’s now on hold given things like SafeTrack. But because these businesses nearby view Metro as so important they really offer an important voice. It doesn’t mean that should be the dominant voice but having them at the table as stakeholders we thought made sense. We thought this was the way to do it.
[F] In general how do we encourage the public to show up to these meetings? Whether it’s a RAC meeting or a public forum on budget changes – how do you get people energized to get out there and be part of the solution?
[M] Yeah so I think first of all the meetings have to be meaningful. Right? People have to feel like there’s some purpose to them and something will come out of them. I have to tell you as a rider it would almost never occur to me to go to a Riders’ Advisory Council meeting if I had a problem or an issue. Now I guess I’m an unusual rider in that I would probably just call up one of the Board members but I don’t think people would look to the Riders’ Advisory Council if there’s a handicap accessibility problem with one of the buses that comes by. I just don’t think people would think that way. If the RAC was a little bit more super-sized and had a little bit more authority and power it could attract people that way. In general one of the things we do in the document is talk about the need to have more of Metro’s work be done out in the jurisdictions. We’d call them in to do a strategic plan every 5 years, we’d call them in to do a more robust capital planning process. And we’d like to see them do meetings in the jurisdictions not just downtown at Metro Headquarters but if they do it in places that people are used to going to community meetings like out in Rockville or Alexandria or wherever it is we think that would encourage more people to come. But that problem you’re identifying is a problem across all types of public agencies. You know people self select who shows up and who gets involved and that’s always a challenge.
[F] Yeah, some of us are just squeaky wheels and show up. I apologize on behalf us. The Maryland Approach and you personally seem to agree that WMATA needs to have dedicated funding but that dedicated funding should come with strengthened oversight. The Maryland Approach calls for a set amount of dedicated funding by the jurisdictions (DC, MD, VA) but leaves how those funds are raised up to each jurisdiction. Some say this isn’t a viable long-term solution with inflation and whatnot. How did the Approach decide that this was the way to go – to let the jurisdictions figure out how to meet a dollar amount?
[M] A big part of it is just practicality, right? You asked earlier why can’t politicians fix Metro – well if you’re trying to impose the same solution on Virginia, DC, and Maryland that’s really difficult to do. It was the reason it didn’t happen at the creation, right? Most transit systems get some kind of dedicated funding early on or before they’re even built. I should say major transit systems. That didn’t happen here because it’s so complicated. You know the inflation issue is interesting. We worked off the General Manager’s – what he said, which was $500M a year in dedicated funding. That wouldn’t be the only funding. You would still have an operating capital subsidy – those would still grow under the General Manager’s approach by 3% each to cover inflation. This would just be a special fund that you could use to bond money out and have Metro get much better rates for borrowing to some significant construction work. It doesn’t mean in 10 years you can’t revisit it and try to plus it up if it’s working. I think it makes sense to start with the General Manager figure and work from there.
[F] There’s nothing in the Maryland Approach about fares from a rider perspective. Do you support a flat fare, or a capped fare, or lower fares, or not touching the fares at all? There’s a discussion out there – some others have proposed other solutions – where does Maryland or maybe even you personally – where do you stand on fares?
[M] So first thing, me personally the fares are too high. I pay with a subsidy from my employer – I pay to ride Metro. You have to dig into the numbers which I admit I haven’t done. Metro always tries to make the case, and again have not dug into their numbers, that it doesn’t work because of the way our system is both a sort of urban subway but also kind of like a commuter rail. It would not work to just have a flat fare. I’d like to see some pilots – I’d like to see pilots of 2 types: 1, not necessarily a flat fare but tiered fares maybe 2 different fares – the long haul fare and the short haul fare and see if there’s any way to make the numbers work with that and I’d also like to see the possibility and I think Boston is piloting some of this stuff something for the lower income folks. Cause our system and I don’t recall the numbers off-hand anymore but if you compare us to other systems we compare very poorly when it comes to cost accessibility of our rail. The buses are pretty cost accessible but the rail is not. So there might be something we can do on an income basis for certain riders to subsidize lower income folks. I’d like to see some piloting of that to see how it works. The Brown-Raskin bill in Congress has that. And like things in the Maryland Approach that’s something Metro could probably do now – that they could start piloting to see what might make sense. And I think there is a reasonable argument that if you lower the price on something that can have an effect on demand and we want more riders on demand and we want more riders so that seems like a viable approach.
[F] Yeah a very frustrating thing right now is to see Metro basically begging for riders to come back but also charging a peak fare at 5:30 in the morning. So there’s got to be some give and take with the riders vs you needing money if you want to retain riders in the long run, right?
[M] Yeah I think occasionally Metro realizes it’s gone too far, right? There used to be the peak of the peak which I believed they rolled back. They do now have this grace period thing for when you go in and if your train basically breaks down you can get out for free. They used to make you pay to get out of the station when you couldn’t’ even get on the train.
[F] That, by the way, was a Riders’ Advisory Council initiative that we got done. So… it does work! It does work!
[M] I learned that listening to the last episode but I remember when they put that in place but you know just recently, as you know – you’ve covered it, they got rid of another rider-friendly thing which is basically letting people go into a small negative balance and it just – Metro always comes off as very rider-unfriendly. I’m not sure the intent is there but that’s the effect that a lot of their actions have. So doing things that remind people that the riders are important – as are the workers as are the neighbors and all those things – would be in Metro’s interest.
[F] It’s literally public transit which means everyone is involved. You co-chair a Maryland group called the WMATA-Metro Working Group. It’s a group of legislators committed to supporting and improving Metro and doing the ongoing work of providing increased oversight at Metro. Very good work, by the way. Are you guys the ones who will be appointing the Maryland member of the new Safety Oversight Commission that replaces the Tri-State Oversight Council?
[M] So the way those appointments will work in Maryland – Maryland, Virginia, and DC all had to pass an identical bill – but that bill left the appointment process to the jurisdictions to figure out for themselves as long as they appointed people with certain types of expertise – 2 members and 1 alternate. So that’ll be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate in Maryland but what this group helped do last year was pass a bill to require that one of the members always be from Montgomery or Prince George’s County in Maryland – which we thought was important because yes you want safety and engineering experience and all those things but I think you also want someone who has some potential experience with the system. Maybe they’re not a rider themselves but their neighbor is or their spouse is or their family member is – so we thought it was important again going back to the idea of the need for having some rider perspective. That workgroup is somewhat an informal effort – it has the blessing of our House leadership anyway but some of us got to Annapolis in January of 2015. Carol Glover had passed away the week most of us were sworn in so we saw a need to increase attention and oversight of Metro. And sometimes that means championing Metro. It means letting people know Metro does need more money or we do need to pass the safety commission and sometimes it means trying to get a Metro official in there to answer some questions and try to improve things a little bit. We also met with a lot of other stakeholders we’ve had the workforce in there, we’ve had some riders groups in there, we talked about having the old riders’ union in but it never worked out. But we’ve had some other riders come in as well.
[F] Last question – the Maryland Approach also calls for a strengthened OIG Office – independent at Metro. How crucial is this and how is the Maryland Approach working to fix this? Clearly this has been news recently – the OIG is just a little bit too intertwined with the inner-workings of Metro. Does Maryland agree with that and how do you think that can be fixed?
[M] So I have to credit the co-chair of the WMATA-Metro Working Group, Erek Barron, he has a lot of expertise with the Inspector General and this is something he started talking to me about 3 years ago when we first started working together on this stuff and it’s nice to see the US Senate and the Washington Post and everybody else start to catch up and realize there’s an issue here. What our approach basically offered was increased powers for the Inspector General to much more closely match the Federal Inspector General Act, some more independence and some more money. Part of the issue is our Inspector General is made from an old auditors office and so the audit function is actually pretty robust and strong, the investigation function not so much. And a lot of the powers are audit heavy so something the Inspector General wants is basically a petty cash fund to help fund sting operations so people have a bank draw they can do. He wants some procurement independence – things that are less important when you’re auditing but really important when you’re doing investigations. So we think this is really important – we also think it’s something that Capital Hill obviously favors. When PRIIA was passed one the strings attached to that was creating the Office of Inspector General in the first place. The Board then did it – it was later put in the compact so we think there’s a lot of opportunity there. We also put in funding independence which we think is really important. This would be, again, similar to the RAC although a bigger number – a fixed percentage of Metro’s budget that would just flow automatically to the Inspector General so that you couldn’t have any monkey business going around with Board members or the General Manager not wanting to fund the Inspector General because they don’t want to deal with the scrutiny and maybe severe cases they could be potentially investigated – whatever it is. So we think there’s a lot of merit to that it’s great that this has become a much more known issue because again, Delegate Barron has been talking about this for the 3 years I’ve been working with him – he might have been talking about it before that as well.
[F] Marc, you are very much a friend of public transit and the riders. We’ve seen that in the last 2 years alone – you are running for re-election this year, is that right?
[M] 2018 yeah – so primary is June of 2018 general election is in November.
[F] Yeah, less than a year. I wish you well in that election. As a Maryland voter I definitely will be voting. Again, thank you very much for everything you do for the riders and thanks again.
[M] Thanks for having me, appreciate it.
[end interview audio]
Before we wrap up this episode I wanted to say a couple things about rider involvement….
As plans to help reform WMATA come to surface from the various invested jurisdictions I want to encourage them to include riders in those plans. Riders need to be a part of the process, not just a recipient of the decisions made by others. I spoke last week and in my interview this week with Marc about the Riders’ Advisory Council and the Accessibility Advisory Committee. This week both of those groups held their monthly meetings and I went to both of those meetings. There are stark differences between the RAC and the AAC – primarily involvement by Metro staff. I’ve seen years of dedicated assistance by Christian Kent and Christian Blake at the AAC meetings – always happy to address accessibility concerns brought forward by the AAC members and public attendees. But on the flip side the Riders’ Advisory Council seems to be in a whole other universe despite meeting in the exact same meeting room at WMATA Headquarters.
A couple of years ago the RAC went from being facilitated by WMATA Board of Directors staff members to being facilitated by Lynn Bowersox who heads WMATA’s Customer Service and Communications departments. The change produced what I called a “culture of NO”. When the RAC would ask for something of staff they would be met with “no” most of the time. Good examples are their attempt at social media and my repeated request to have station visits to reach out to the riders I represented.
This week the RAC lost their appointed staff person, Joy, after she got a promotion and moved on to other projects. So the RAC is once again at a decision point – who will facilitate the RAC’s mission and coordinate their wishes with the Board of Directors and Metro staff?
The Maryland Approach goes a long way towards pushing for change on the RAC. I won’t say the Approach has a 100% perfect solution for the RAC and AAC but I do credit it for understanding the power of these groups falls or grows depending on which staff person has been assigned to work with the groups. The Approach calls for dedicated funding for the reformed RAC as well as paid staff who’s sole purpose is to facilitate the new group.
In the grand scheme of WMATA’s problems these all seem trivial but I like to keep a focus on the ridership and how we can stay involved and have a voice. As our elected officials work towards WMATA reform I encourage them to keep the RAC and AAC in their plans and work to strengthen the groups. Neither of the groups may be perfect but they’re really all we riders have.
Which brings me to my final point. As riders we need to demand a seat at the table and voice in decisions made at WMATA. But to make these demands we have to show up. We have to be present. I realize the RAC doesn’t have much confidence or support by the ridership – at least by those riders who even know it exists – but we HAVE to show up. We HAVE to push them to stay on message and get energized. We HAVE to ask questions when the RAC or the AAC is met with “no” as an answer to a request.
In a perfect world we could be content with just paying our fares and hoping our elected officials take care of us. But most who use Metro would agree this isn’t a perfect world so we need to be present. So I encourage all of you listening to this podcast to take time off for the holiday season. Focus on your loved ones and get re-energized and come back with me in the new year ready to be present and have a voice so we can ALL work to fix WMATA.
I hope you’ll join me again next time. Until then take care of yourself and your fellow rider – we’re all in this together!
If you would like to be featured on a future FixWMATA podcast or have segment suggestions please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @FixWMATA.
If you have something to say about WMATA and want to leave feedback you can call me at 202-709-6282 and leave a voicemail that may be included in a future podcast.
The FixWMATA podcast is recorded using Apple products and can be found on iTunes, Google Play and YouTube.
A text version of each podcast is available at FixWMATA dot com slash category slash podcast.
The music used in the podcast comes from Ian Sutherland and a link to his music can be found on the website.
You can continue the conversation on Twitter by following @FixWMATA or searching the hashtag WMATA.