- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 15, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The region’s rail/subway/bus system is troubled, and not just because of the deadly problem that resulted from the smoky Yellow Line incident this week.

“What did Metro employees know?” and “When did they know it?” are questions hounding regional authorities.

Did firefighters and other first responders have underground communications issues?

What was happening with the driver of the Metro train?



Do rail passengers know how to safely open rail doors and windows? Are rail passengers even aware there are safe ways to break free?

Was there sabotage? Can Metro be sabotaged?

All those and many, many more questions must be answered. Let’s now, however, cut to the chase, as they say.

Metro, the region’s rail/subway/bus system, needs change from within.

Handling high-volume ridership on special days doesn’t deserve gold stars. Nor does the buses running on schedule or doing a good job filling in for rail issues.

And with the top priorities apparently being the Silver Line and Maryland’s proposed Purple Line, Metro seemingly is trying to be all things to all people. It cannot and it should not.

Metro was designed — and approved by Congress — to safely, conveniently and somewhat rapidly move people around the inner regional core, not everybody from Frederick to Fredericksburg. That is why it is called “Metro.”

But even the fare system has become a contrived jumble of numbers that more resembles a bowl of Ramen noodles more than a simple pay-as-you go system. Passengers who utilize MetroAccess, which was created for the “disabled,” is a far simpler setup: Schedule your ride; get door-to-door service; and pay only $6.50 — maximum.

MetroAccess serves the region’s inner core, D.C., suburban Maryland and “traditional” Northern Virginia, Alexandria, Arlington County, Fairfax County and Falls Church. If you live outside that inner core, Metro conveniently loops in with other county and city transit systems, and that is how things should be.

What Metro needs to do is go back to being Metro, instead of trying to outgrow the phenomenal New York City subway system.

Metro also needs to rethink its revenue ledger. Sure, Congress will easily dole out public dollars for operations and capital projects, but it will begin to think twice about that if and when federal lawmakers admit to themselves that the additional funding is not curing Metro’s woes.

D.C. officials are already jumping ahead. Next week they are scheduled to hold hearings on this week’s L’Enfant Plaza incident, in which a woman died and dozens more hospitalized, as a Yellow Line car filled up with smoke, apparently from an electrical fire in the tunnel.

Other passengers tried to save her life, bless their hearts. But, as I said, there are just too many questions that need answering, and the questioners, at this juncture, should not be only the people seated at the D.C. Council dais.

Maryland’s new governor, Republican Larry Hogan, hasn’t even been sworn in yet; D.C.’s new mayor, Democrat Muriel Bowser, just took office Jan. 2; and while Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, also a Democrat, is all too familiar with Northern Virginia’s clogged roads, that doesn’t mean he’s going to pour money into Metro and possibly forsake the state’s other transportation issues.

These are but a few of the inconvenient truths about Metro, and taking a hurry-up look won’t prevent another third-rail incident or even the cracked rails that snarled the morning rush on Metro just last week. (Guess not everyone listens to weather forecasts that warn of freezing temperatures.)

Taxpayers deserve a well-thought-out plan on how to maintain and sustain the Metro system now — before deliberating any future rail development.

Perhaps authorities should revisit old-school bus planning, which seems to be the transit system’s safest and surest bet.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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