Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Correction:

To clarify, bringing food and drink on the Metro is fine. Eating and drinking, on the other hand, is prohibited.

Transit secret: WMATA employees eat and drink on the Metro

April 24, 2012 - 10:02 AM
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(Photo: Jenny Rogers)

Metro forbids its riders from consuming any food or drink onto the system and has for years. It's one of the reasons we don't have quite so many rats on our system as New York City does. One of last summer's biggest coups was when WMATA relented and allowed — during a blisteringly hot day — its riders to bring on and drink from simple bottles of water. Of water! Other items like coffee and food have always remained completely off limits. Perhaps you've seen the recent WMATA ads against coffee? WMATA spokesperson Dan Stessel confirms that it's the first in a series of anti-eating and drinking campaigns on the transit system set to run through the summer.

But what about WMATA staff? Should they, too, be forbidden a cup of coffee or a snack on a long work shift?

The above photo was snapped this week on the Metro and is hardly uncommon. You always see photos pop up on Twitter or Unsuck D.C. Metro or elsewhere about the WMATA employees who break the rules imposed on the system's riders. Is it so bad though? I understand the indignation on part of the riders but also understand why any employee would want to enjoy food or drink on their shift. The problem comes from the image of hypocrisy and the notion that these employees are setting a bad example for riders, which is valid but not the greatest of shames. Because here's the real secret — while WMATA of course doesn't want its riders bringing on meals and beverages to create a mess and attract rats, the transit agency really and truly does not want to ticket all its riders, as far as I can tell, and implicitly accepts that there'll a certain level of eating and drinking. In March, WMATA issued only two citations for consuming food out of several dozen crimes. The only citations for consuming drink were paired with alcohol violations. Stessel has indicated in the past that WMATA staff are more inclined to warn riders about these violations rather than ticket them. Who wins from ticketing over a cup of coffee? It's the same way Metro forbids bikes during rush hour but typically avoids issuing tickets.

The prime issue is that WMATA needs to stay conscious of how its employees break those rules publicly.

Update, 10:50 a.m.: The Twitter user MedievalMetro notes that by the rules, WMATA workers are formally prohibited from eating and drinking just as much as riders. Look to the Metrorail Safety Rules and Procedures Handbook at 2.18: "Employees shall not eat or drink in trains, train cabs, station kiosks, or in the paid areas of stations, as well as any other areas where these activities are prohibited." No surprise there. Formally, riders and workers are prohibited. But on a practical level, these rules are broken consistently.

Is better enforcement the answer here? No one likes food or drink on their trains but I question how much of a problem this really is. With workers, as I said initially, the issue comes down to practicing — or not practicing — what the transit agency preaches in its rules, statements, and ad campaigns throughout the system.

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