Why D.C. Metro Escalators Are Always Broken: Incentives Matter

For Washingtonians wondering why Metro is always on the fritz, check out my piece over at The Examiner about how WMATA unions pay employees to shirk rather than to work.

From Unsuck DC’s Metro:

According to a source intimately familiar with Metro’s escalators, twice a year, Metro maintenance personnel bid on the escalators for which they’ll be responsible. Workers with the most seniority get the first choices.
This is called the “pick” system, and it was referred to as a “critical” problem, albeit in a somewhat sugar coated way, in the recent report on Metro’s escalator woes.

I wrote:

People respond to incentives. Employees perform in the way they are paid to perform. WMATA employees paid to fix escalators will fix escalators. WMATA employees paid to sit tight til it’s her colleague’s turn to fix the escalator will do exactly that.

All of this misincentivization is, of course, compounded by the fact that WMATA employees enjoy fat union benefits, making it difficult to encourage any performance at all. Because employees paid to kowtow to union bosses while keeping their respective individual heads down — well, they’re certainly not going to fix elevators.

Or brakes, for that matter.

Image credit: afagen’s flickr photostream.