Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

WMATA now lists all rail problems and delays in a daily report

May 2, 2012 - 03:44 PM
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(Photo: Jay Westcott)

Yesterday Metro reported 27 problems on its rail system. Perhaps early morning Blue Line commuters noted a delay of nine minutes due to train hitting a deer at Van Dorn Street Metro just before 6 a.m.? Then there was the 3:46 p.m. brake problem that purportedly delayed Red Line riders around six minutes at New York Ave Metro. Exactly a half hour later, another Red Line train encountered delays at Rhode Island thanks to a door problem and was removed from service.

Yes, you guessed it. The daily Metrorail Service Reports are back. It's a victory for transparency in an agency struggling to avoid the impression that it's not.

WMATA restored the daily accounting of its delays and problems on Monday, April 30. The report is a simple tally: time, problem, and a calculated amount of delay. You can view yesterday's report here.

The D.C. transit agency scores another victory for transparency here in listing the official record of problems. Will these records always match up with rider experiences? I don't know precisely how accurate the delay listings are. But to any rider who encounters a frustrating commute, these reports now provide some semblance of what was happening on the transit system in any given hour. The more information D.C. commuters have, the better. This spring season has revealed multiple instances of Metro opening its information back up to the public at large. Consider the return of WMATA's monthly crime blotter, which had remained dormant for more than half a year. In addition to the blotter, WMATA has also begun to illustrate its monthly crime data by comparing the last month's incidents to last year's in a Year-to-Date Crime and Enforcement Report. You can look and see how the reported crimes of March 2012, by category, compare to the crimes of March 2011.

Transparency sometimes comes in small doses ... but it also can fail in other bigger ways. Case in point — tonight the Riders Advisory Council was scheduled to meet with representatives of WMATA's Office of the Inspector General about the credit card misuses alleged to have plagued the WMATA planning office.

"We had assumed it would happen tonight," said Joseph Kitchen, Maryland vice chair of the RAC. "These are public dollars — these are rider dollars."

RAC's meeting with OIG was on the schedule for the last two weeks, but late yesterday, the council learned that Metro Board Chair Catherine Hudgins instructed OIG not to appear before the riders' council. Kitchen told me the RAC members were especially sensitive to the OIG credit card report and allegations of fraud and financial abuse due to the Metro fare hikes recently approved. The RAC has asked its staff coordinator to inquire about the Board's concerns about talking with the OIG and to express "our displeasure with her making the change" without consulting or directly informing them.

"The Board has never done this before," Kitchen said, "but they do have the authority to do it."

Kitchen describes the past relationship with the Board as generally positive. He's surprised at the move. WMATA's response failed to elaborate on details (Note: this post was updated moments after publication to include WMATA's comment).

"The Board requested that the Riders' Advisory Council modify the agenda pending a meeting to collaborate on a work plan for the Council," WMATA chief spokesperson Dan Stessel said in a statement. "Chair Hudgins expects to set a meeting with the RAC leadership this month."

The transparency games of WMATA are nebulous and myriad. But today, at least, we now have a daily tally of the system's malfunctions and maintenance.

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