I’ve got a new post at Cato about the perennial problem of poor governance at Washington, D.C.’s WMATA Metro subway system, which on Monday suffered a smoke-in-tunnel accident that cost the life of a passenger and sickened many more. Excerpt:
If the cream of the nation’s political class, living within a 50 mile radius in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C., cannot arrange to obtain competence from their elected local officials in delivering a public service that’s vital to their daily work lives, what does that tell us about their pretensions to improve through federal action the delivery of local government services – fire and police, water supply and schooling, road maintenance and, yes, transit itself – in the rest of the country?
Reactions from George Leef (“it tells us that we should ignore them”), @jasonkeisling (“If it had been Uber, the gov would ban their service. But no need to address any problems with metro.”), and Christine Sisto/National Review. The Washington Post succinctly summarizes local outrage about the service’s failure to live up to its boasts of a “culture of safety”, while Washington City Paper, Aaron Wiener reviews Metro’s sluggish response to a series of previous safety crises and breakdowns.
A lot of literature — like this recent study cited by the Regional Plan Association — tends to confirm the idea that transit operations work better when governance is arranged so as to provide clear lines of responsibility and accountability. WMATA, which has gone through many general managers over the years, suffers from a weak, too-many-cooks board structure in which two each of eight board seats are filled by Maryland, Virginia, the District, and the federal government, along with another two alternates for each of the four jurisdictions.
On Wednesday morning at 9:15 a.m. I’m scheduled to be on Fox 5 WTTG Morning News television to talk about these ideas.
More: Michael Brickman, Flypaper. @politicalmath recalls when Metro got $200 million from the stimulus program to “create a safety culture.” Another comment from @jasonkeisling: “No accountability. Imagine if a private company had an incident like this…”