METRO TAKEOVER

The National Transportation Safety Board, recently recommended a federal takeover of the crumbling subway system in the Washington metropolitan. area.

Following a series of safety investigations of Metrorail, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), recently recommended a federal takeover of the crumbling subway system, which transports an estimated 200 million passengers annually.

The takeover was suggested in the wake of critical problems including electrical wiring that could catch fire, poor staff training, and decaying equipment. The NTBS proposed placing Metrorail under the authority of the Federal Railway Administration. While such a move could help address system-wide infirmity and re-engage public confidence, Jackie Jeter and members of the Amalgamated Transit Union – Local 689, said they believe it could also adversely impact Black employees and riders.

“We are dealing more than ever with a system that is wearing down, has gotten old, and is in need of repair, sooner rather than later,”  Jeter told the AFRO. “Not only does it impact the rider, but also the employees. Just as passengers complain that they are getting home 2-to 3-hours late because of track work, employees are not afforded time for basic safety checks, bathroom breaks, eating, or enough recovery time,” Jeter said.

Jeter points to an NTSB admonishment made in 2009 about employee fatigue. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) immediately adopted that language, spent money on a study of worker fatigue, and noted the same concerns.  It did not, however, according to Jeter, address the poor scheduling or lack of time to perform safety checks.

Of equal concern is the potential separation of the bus and rail systems, placing Metro buses in the hands of private operators that could mean a reduction in workforce and loss of benefits. “We have been plagued with this cloud of privatization, but it is a very big part of the bus systems here,” Jeter said. “Bus companies like DASH, Fairfax Connector, and the Circulator are running services formerly run by WMATA. The drivers make less money, have benefits, and the companies are run a foreign private company. We are taking U.S. dollars overseas and they do not offer the same benefits (including pensions) in America as they do in France or England.” FirstGroup, in the United Kingdom owns the D.C. Circulator; names of the other owners could not be collected before press time.  Even so, all of the companies say they are operated by U.S. management teams, but are foreign owned.

But with a growing popularity for bicycles and other car-share programs in the District, the fate of Metro routes and riders remain unclear. “There are people who have a two-fold reason for leaving Metro – they are not getting back on until the problems are fixed – safety; and they need to be reassured about reliability,” Jeter said. “People don’t mind paying more money to ride the bus or rail, provided they get to their destinations on time. We have got to make the system viable again for employees and riders.”