Security Theater, D.C. Metro Edition

Everyone wants our transportation systems to be safe. But safety must also be balanced with respecting the privacy of citizens, and not wasting money on things that do not make us safer. Sometimes, our safety overlords do things that utilize scarce resources (including taxpayer dollars!) that seem mind-bogglingly dumb.

See WMATA’s recent decision to begin randomly screening bags in D.C. Metro stations.

The inspections are expected to take only minutes and are designed to be non-intrusive, as police will randomly select bags or packages to check for hazardous materials using ionization technology as well as K-9 units trained to detect explosive materials. Carry on items will generally not be opened and physically inspected unless the equipment indicates a need for further inspection.

Anyone who is randomly selected and refuses to submit their carry-on items for inspection will be prohibited from bringing those items into the station. Customers who encounter a baggage checkpoint at a station entrance may choose not to enter the station if they would prefer not to submit their carry-ons for inspection.

This is absurd. If we ever get to the point where there is someone in the D.C. area wanting to bomb the Metro station, none of these measures will have even a remote chance of stopping them. Let’s say you’re going to bomb the metro rail. Don’t enter the station where the cops are checking for explosives.That was hard to figure out.

We’ve had some very dumb attempted terrorist attacks, but I suspect most terrorists could figure out one of the 3,000 different ways to get around these randomized bag searches. They note that Boston and New York have “successfully” implemented this program, though there is no definition of what “success” means here.

Furthermore, this is just going to anger D.C.-area residents who ride the Metro. Washington’s Metrorail system, as of late, has been reliably unreliable. Many days, Twitter is abuzz with the #wmata hashtags documenting how 20 minute commutes have turned into hour long commutes.

UnsuckDC Metro recently (there is a blog dedicated solely to this topic) posted some troubling news regarding the (lack of) functionality of the escalators. It turns out that there are a number of problems with the way escalator repairs are handled which have led to them consistently breaking down, and injuring people in some instances.

WMATA: throwing your hands up in the air and claiming that the escalators weren’t built for the outdoors isn’t a satisfying response. Why would you build an escalator that wouldn’t work well in the outdoors when it’s going to be outdoors 365 days per year? There are also many indoor escalators that are out of order for months at a time.

Despite all of these problems, their resources are being put into random bag checks which will do next to nothing. Hurray!