More Signs of Incompetence in Washington, D.C. Transit System

In the latest sign of dysfunction at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“Metro”), the struggling subway system has appointed a supervisor of escalators and elevators — to supervise its supervisor of escalators and elevators. David Lacosse, who has been director of Metro’s escalator and elevator office for about seven years, will report to Rodrigo Bitar, who has been named to the new position of general superintendent of elevator and escalator programs.”

How many  other organizations put two supervisors in charge of the same area — with one supervising the other?

A story in the Washington Examiner notes that safety violations continue at Metro, and that Metro tracks were used as a toilet by employees. Safety problems have been left unaddressed even after being “reported repeatedly” by employees.

Last year, federal investigators rebuked the Metro subway system for a “systemic breakdown of safety management at all levels.” In June 2009, a deadly Red Line crash killed 9 people and injured 80. Four Metro employees have been killed in three recent accidents. Metro’s safety record has been called the worst in the nation.

All too often, threats to public safety are simply disregarded by Metro, and problem employees are kept on the job even after they commit safety violations or are responsible for accidents.

Metro has been informed that it has “dozens of problematic escalator brakes.” On Oct. 30, a faulty escalator brake at L’Enfant Plaza Station injured six passengers, making the escalator slide downward and dump passengers in a pile at the bottom of the escalator.

Despite Metro’s dismal record, its managers do not seem very concerned. They are immune from political consequences thanks to the rigidly-liberal constituencies they represent, where public-employee unions dominate the political landscape.

All too often, Metro’s Board of Directors has turned a blind eye to incompetence, waste, and safety hazards at Metro, even while jacking up subway fares by massive amounts. (Metro employees sometimes make more than $100,000 per year).

As Radley Balko noted in Reason magazine, Metro is extremely slow to take action against employees who pose risks to public safety, thanks in part to obstruction by Metro’s union:

“Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan Area Transit Authority fired Metro bus driver Carla A. Proctor this week after Proctor struck a jogger earlier this month. The jogger was just released from intensive care at a local hospital.  It’s good to know nearly killing someone was—finally—enough to get Proctor out from behind the wheel of a public bus. Her record to that point:

• Proctor had five off-the-job traffic tickets in January alone, including driving an unregistered, unlicensed vehicle.

• In 2003, Proctor got off a bus she had been driving to check a sticky door without first assuring the bus was parked. The bus rolled down a hill without her, damaging eight vehicles, including the bus. Metro paid out $27,000 in damages.

• Also in 2003, Proctor turned into oncoming traffic, at which point her car was struck by another vehicle. Proctor’s car went flying into a fast food restaurant, injuring two women.

• In 2004, Proctor crashed another Metro bus, this time into a parked vehicle, injuring a 72-year-old pasenger.

Given the impressive record of the Metro workers union in helping scofflaws avoid discipline, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Proctor back on the job.”

Don’t expect any adult supervision of Metro from the Obama Administration and the feds. The Obama administration wants airline security and Amtrak to become more like Washington’s inefficient Metro, by increasing the power of unions and making it harder to get rid of problem employees. For example, it’s now seeking to  unionize the TSA, even though the TSA was originally forbidden to unionize due to security concerns.

All past TSA administrators have recognized that collective bargaining and union work rules are inconsistent with the flexibility needed to protect public safety and adapt quickly to changes in terrorist tactics. (Undercover agents have managed to slip bombs past TSA screeners, and the TSA is even less effective than the private security firms it replaced.)

Image credit: afagen’s flickr photostream.