“Dear Fellow Rider”


(Click image to download PDF copy of flyer)

Since I dinged the Washington Post in my last post for wallowing in nostalgia for its glory days as an investigative paper rather than continuing to live up to them, it’s only fair to point out a series they’ve been running over the last few days that’s struck me as a real counterpoint.

Off the Rails” is a four-part series that started Sunday that has explored in detail exactly how badly managed Washigton, D.C.’s Metro system has been. It’s strong stuff. Anyone who rides Metro knows that the quality of service isn’t what it used to be — I was actually shocked when I returned to DC in 2002 after several years away to see how bad it had gotten — but in this series, The Post has exposed Metro’s problems as much worse than everyday wear and tear.

The centerpiece of the series is an independent analysis of Metro safety and performance data by The Post, which uncovered, among other things, that:

  • Warnings of lowered safety levels in the Metrorail system have been routinely ignored, due to the lack of any central oversight authority;
  • The newest batch of rail cars added to Metro’s fleet — the ones you may have noticed with the spiffy new red, white, and blue upholstery in place of the old earth tones — show a disturbing tendency to jump off the track, with four derailments in 18 months;
  • “Storage tracks”, which are not supposed to be used to carry everyday traffic, were being used for such a purpose at the Reagan National Airport station in January 2003, leading to a derailment; while a restraining rail has been installed at that station to prevent another accident, a similar storage track is in use at West Falls Church station without any such preventive measures
  • After spending $93 million to improve the reliability of escalators in stations across the system, a third of the repaired escalators are now breaking down more frequently than they did before they were serviced

… and on and on. This is what a metropolitan newspaper is supposed to do — hold the authorities’ feet to the fire.

And you can tell they’re feeling it at Metro headquarters, too, because when I entered the station to come home from work today, there was a Metro employee standing there handing out copies of a flyer entitled “Dear Fellow Rider” specifically seeking to rebut The Post’s claims. Thing is, though, it never really gets around to addressing the claims — it just talks about how ridership is up, and Metro is a good system, and they’ve been improving with time, and blah blah blah.

The irony? When I got past the guy with the flyers and onto the platform, here’s what I saw:

Busted escalator
Overcrowded platform

That’s right — broken escalators, and a platform overflowing with people because the trains were running late!

Here’s a hint to Dick White and the rest of the people in charge at Metro — there’s no need to waste my money printing up flyers rebutting the stories in the paper, and paying people to stand around handing them out. The only reason the stories need rebutting is because your management is so damn bad! You could do a lot more to rebut The Post’s charges by dropping the PR game altogether and just concentrating on improving the quality of service. If that comes up, they can say anything they want in the paper and nobody will care.

You only have to bother rebutting stories about yourself when they’re true. When they’re obviously false, they rebut themselves. So how about you get to work making the stories false, rather than telling us not to listen to them?

(Note: if seeing your money wasted by Metro on flyers and guys to hand them out ticks you off as much as it does me, click this link to send them an e-mail telling them so.)


Sandy Smith

June 8, 2005
9:18 am

“You only have to bother rebutting stories about yourself when they’re true. When they’re obviously false, they rebut themselves.”
I’m not sure that’s always true. The Swift Boat Veterans come to mind, although perhaps their claims weren’t “obviously” false. Not to violate Godwin’s law, but Goebbels did perfect the technique of the Big Lie, and an awful lot of people like James Joyce failed to find mass starvation in the Ukraine because they were willing to accept any excuse the authorities gave them for anything they saw.
I agree that the Post’s series is very well done, and I’m pleasantly shocked that they didn’t just jump on the “more money down the same old hole” bandwagon. Now if only they could examine DC Public Schools with the same gimlet eye…

Jason Lefkowitz

June 8, 2005
9:31 am

You know what I meant. People don’t have everyday experience with John Kerry’s military record the same way they have everyday experience with Metro. They can evaluate the veracity of the Post’s claims every day at rush hour.
If Metro was providing top notch service, the Post could fulminate all it wanted and it would only end up making the paper look silly. The best way to rebut the charges of incompetence is to not be incompetent.

Ann Kent

June 8, 2005
1:35 pm

I would rather walk to work (7 miles) than take the metro. It would take roughtly the same amount of time anyway.
Most of the people who work for Metro don’t even ride it…They drive to work! What does that say about about the chances of improving the system?