Its not me, its you. And something has to change.
I’m one of those rare Washingtonians that was actually born and raised here. I went to college in the Metropolitan area. And now I live (practically) inside the Beltway and commute to my office downtown…via Metro.
I was raised on the Metro. I’ve been researching where to find red hexagon tile to finish my outdoor patio kitchen as a subtle nod to my love for this city. I remember the thrill as a child of riding downtown in those orange vinyl chairs. And occasionally, when the car was empty, we were allowed to stand in the aisle and pretend to surf and would topple over laughing when the train stopped. When I was 16, my boyfriend and I skipped school to metro downtown and visit the Smithsonian. We were caught (and subsequently grounded) thanks to a white Metro rail card. While I’m now a SmartCard user and have since married that 16 year old boyfriend, those memories are a part of me.
When I was a freshman in college, I lived on the international floor at George Mason University with all of the foreign exchange students. It was an incredible year, and I got to explore my hometown in a way I never had. I discovered a joy in using public transportation to go visit new neighborhoods in DC. I had a favorite coffee shop. A tiny art gallery in Dupont Circle I loved to browse, and ultimately bought my first piece of art from. When I was old enough to drink, I could safely get to the concert or club and back home in one piece. There are few things more exciting than heading home from a winning Redskins/Caps/Nationals game on a crowded car full of fans dressed in the team colors just like yourself. I’m now a mother, with a 4 year old daughter, who sees the magic of the metro herself. In the winter, when the trees are bare in my backyard, we can see the train rumble by, and can hear it from our yard. She’s always thrilled and begs, just for fun, to go riding it on weekends. I indulge her when I can, because I remember that feeling.
I live about a mile from the Vienna metro station. I moved there specifically because of its proximity to the Vienna metro station. When its nice out, I can bike there. I’ve walked when I have time. My commute, from Vienna to my office at McPherson Square, should be under half an hour.
I am reasonable enough to recognize that there may be the occasional extreme circumstance. I understand the occasional delay. I sympathize with the struggle to manage an efficient transportation system that serves almost a MILLION people each work day. But I need to tell you, as a rider, how tired I am. This relationship can’t go on like this.
I need you to know that this past summer I sat on crowded car on an aisle seat, and a man stood in the aisle next to me and masturbated inches from my head. This was only a week or two after the stabbing in July 2015 that spawned so much controversy in local blogs about the reality of standing up for yourself or being a hero. It was fresh in my mind, and I recalled a recent dinner conversation with my husband about how we agreed I need to avoid any confrontation if ever in a similar situation. I have a four year old daughter. My panic and anxiety rose and I pretended I didn’t realize until the next stop when I pretended to get off and instead he ran out. In hindsight, his actions were hidden by the large shoulder bag he was carrying. I’m an outspoken and confident person. I have never previously shied away from an outburst. But all I could imagine was that if he were crazy enough to do that, he’d be crazy enough to pull a knife if I caused him any “trouble”. I hugged my daughter extra hard that night, and began driving to work. It was the metaphorical straw after weeks of delays, out of service trains, dangerously overcrowded platforms, and increasingly terrifying reports of violence on the metro.
The day before the violation towards me, I was on a shoulder-to-shoulder car in the morning. A man boarded and loudly began moving through the crowd, harassing people for money. I just got out of jail, he said. I know you have money to spare, he said. And if the volume of his voice didn’t alert me as he got closer, the smell certainly did. He was accusatory and singled people out, demanding cash. And as he passed me, a woman with headphones jumped, ripped out her earbuds, and loudly accused him of touching her “ass” (her words). He denied it, she panicked and again, repeated that he absolutely did, and he began to verbally berate her and called her a C U Next Tuesday. Recall, this train was shoulder-to-shoulder. She became silent, he moved on, and not one person on that train moved to her defense. No one gave up their seat to her, or moved her behind them. No one demanded that the man immediately exit the train at the next stop. No one wanted to be singled out next. I wasn’t in a position to help her. If I were, would I have tried? I’m not sure. I still feel cowardly for not confronting my – assailant? violator? – but I’m not a gambling girl, and that risk was definitely not one I was willing to take.
And so, I drove to DC daily from mid/late July until November. It wasn’t all bad – it is significantly cheaper for me to drive and pay early bird parking garage fees in DC than it is to ride the metro. A travesty on its own. Until the Paris attacks in November.
Like many that live here, and particularly those of us that are Feds or Government Contractors, I have a personal emergency contingency plan. We are not Doomsday Preppers. We live and work in the Nation’s Capital. Our country is one of the most powerful in the world, and terrorism is a very real threat. I don’t let that fear define me and it in no way limits my activities. However, during the ice storm of January 2011, I left my office at 4pm and didn’t get home (from Falls Church to Bristow) until after 1am. Gridlock here is a serious issue. I also recall the cell service issues around 9/11. For me, if anything happens in DC, whether it is weather or terrorist related, I need to get home to my daughter. And I know that the roads will shut down and I won’t be able to reach her. So after Paris, when we all wondered if DC might be next, I started to Metro again, as that seemed like the safest option and the surest bet for actually making it back to Vienna.
My office is flexible. All of us commute. Busses, slug lines, metro – we get here. But those of us on Metro can be here in 30 minutes…or two hours. That’s not a typo. I have had a few mornings that took me TWO HOURS to get to work. They aren’t occasional delays any more. They aren’t unusual circumstances. There is a systemic failure of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
I read the Washington Post every single day. There’s a recurring theme – you. Crime is rising (these bully gangs are terrifying). Ridership is plummeting. The trains aren’t safe. The customer service is terrible. You finally brought in a new general manager, and he’s got to be regretting taking the position. There was a great article in the Post today about what needs to be done to win riders back. I agree with all of the points from the individuals that Mr. Kunkle interviewed. But here is one more –
Read the comments section. For the love of God. There is an article about you in the Post every day. EVERY DAY. And the comments are mostly critical, but occasionally terrifying. The technicians that talk about trains with issues that aren’t actually fixed, and are put back out on the rails. The employees that talk about being grossly overpaid (hey, isn’t there a budget issue here too?). The confessions from employees and thoughts from former employees share so much insight to a completely broken transportation system.
No one likes criticism. It is hard to handle all the negativity thrown your way. But for all the nastiness and hate, there are some actual, feasible solutions out there. And I beg you, take to heart what your riders have to say. No one wants this to fail. We aren’t paying triple to take an Uber for the fun of it – sometimes, we need to know that we can get somewhere, and we can’t count on you. And that surge pricing is worth the security.
I used to bounce into work after a delayed commute and think “A slow day in the Metro is better than driving in my car!” I have been conditioned to take some delays for granted. This morning I arrived at the Vienna Orange Line station and waited for a train. I finally boarded, and we sat and waited. Then they announced the train was out of service. We got off, and waited. A new train arrived. We crammed back in and waited. The operator actually said, “So I know you’re probably pissed, but this train is out of service too.” Pissed didn’t even begin to cover it. We get out and wait again. The third train arrived. We waited, and we finally set off downtown. Twitter was rioting. The fury in Vienna was palpable. And not until after we were finally moving did Metro finally tweet out about a “delay”. This is after I went through the same thing last night – the train went out of service and we were all kicked off. Next two trains were so packed, I couldn’t get on. Finally, my fourth attempt home of the evening, I made it in. Another late fee paid to my daughter’s daycare. Another peak fare price paid for inadequate service.
You can do better, WMATA. We aren’t unreasonable people. Be straight with us, and we’ll do what we can to weather the delays and off-boarding until hopefully your new GM can spin this around. The people of DC need an adequate rail system, and I’m sure I’m not alone in begging for something better. To borrow from the terrifying Donald J. Trump – “Make Metro Great Again”.