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Metro Union Chief Sounds Off

metro logoSILVER SPRING — The president of Metro’s largest union says recent management decisions put riders at risk of losing their jobs due to tardiness.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 president Jackie Jeter is criticizing WMATA managers’ decision to allow contractors to run shuttle bus services while a Red Line station was closed last month because deficiencies in the shuttle service created a risk that riders might lose their jobs due to tardiness.

Metro management paid private bus operators to transport riders between Silver Spring Station and Fort Totten Station when WMATA temporarily closed Takoma Station for a capital improvement project. Metro spokesperson Sherri Ly had said the long trip times and long lines of people waiting to board at Silver Spring Station Nov. 27 were due to traffic caused by an unrelated vehicle crash that day.

However, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 president Jackie Jeter – whose union represents more than 9,000 Metro employees – attributed the shuttle delays Nov. 27 and 28 to WMATA’s decision to use private buses operated by contract bus operators rather than Metrobus drivers and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority vehicles.

“Metro needs to take responsibility for their piss-poor planning. This shutdown – which is SafeTrack, only by another name – was announced over the summer,” Jeter said. “They had time to prepare, yet here we are with private contractors who can’t get the job done in a way that gives the riding public the Metro service they deserve,” she added.

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‘I Got Lucky That Day’

Passenger talks of his experience surviving the 2009 Metrorail crash 

PatrickTuite 1Patrick Tuite.   PHOTO COURTESY OF CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY  On really hot days, we might call air conditioning a “lifesaver.” On June 22, 2009, some good air conditioning on a Metro platform actually helped to save Patrick Tuite’s life.

Tuite was a survivor of the horrific Metrorail crash that day that took nine lives, on a Red Line train going from the Takoma to the Fort Totten station. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the accident occurred because a warning system, intended to alert Metrorail operators of stationary trains on the tracks ahead, was not functioning.

Tuite, now 50, was on his way to teach a summer-school night class at Catholic University of America. He was, and still is, a professor at the university’s theater department.

Until the accident, Tuite said he almost always rode near the front of the front car of Metro. “I thought it was safer to sit near the operator,” he explained. “It was also nice to look out the front window with my kids.”

All nine people killed in the crash are believed to have been toward the front of the front car. The front car survivors were toward the rear at the moment of the crash. 

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Metro passenger remembers 2015 Metrorail smoke incident

“This is it. This is how I’ll die.”

That’s what Tom Davey thought at the bleakest moments in the January 2015 Metrorail smoke incident that claimed the life of another passenger, Carol Glover.

Davey even tried to call his ex-wife so she could tell their daughter Althea that he loved her. But he couldn’t get a phone connection.

Federal investigations of the electrical fire, which burned the third rail and electrical cables, uncovered irregular maintenance, failure to replace old equipment, faulty safety inspections, and inadequate emergency protocols. The incident served as a wakeup call to Metro and the community that the increased safety effort, following the catastrophic 2009 crash that took nine lives, fell way short of the needed level.

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Metro Assaults Up

Broken Promises - Bad Dreams, A Metro Investigation (Fifth in a series)

WMATA’s overall crime down but concerns remain on Metrorail 

Metro entranceIn the last six years, the MTPD (Metro Transit Police Department) has battled several lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) relating to their use of excessive force. At the same time, although overall crime has gone down at Metro stations, the number of assaults has gone up. Two notable suits involved young teens. According to the complaint filed by the ACLU in D.C. district court, in 2013 a 14-year-old girl referred to as A.K., was falsely arrested by MTPD officer Leo Taylor for a possible curfew violation. According to the ACLU the curfew would not have applied to A.K. since the train she was on was involved in interstate travel. Taylor pulled A.K. away from her older sister, punched her in the face, handcuffed her and then dragged her out of the station.

According to the complaint, Taylor took A.K. to a street-level bus shelter. Another officer told A.K. she could stand up, when she did Officer Taylor tackled her to the ground and smashed A.K’s head against the side of a bus shelter. When A.K. started to spit blood, Taylor tried to put a surgical mask on her, when A.K. resisted, Taylor hit the 14-year-old in the face several more times.

The teen suffered a severe concussion and had to receive physical therapy due to her injuries.

According to Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) spokeswomen Sherri Ly, Taylor still works for Metro. She was unable to provide any specifics about his duty assignments.

“Like every police force in a large metropolitan area, they are dealing with tens of thousands of people every day; they are dealing with crowded conditions. I have some sympathy that they have a very tough job to do, in general, police officers try to do it well sometimes things do not turn out right, more often there are officers who just lose their temper,” said ACLU legal head Art Spitzer.

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Could Take Decades

Broken Promises - Bad Dreams, A Metro Investigation (Fourth in a series)

WMATA’s quest to get “Back2Good” runs into many problems

Metro entranceWASHINGTON, D.C. – Although the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) SafeTrack program concluded months ago, riders on the rail system continue to deal with closures and single-tracking – strategies the Metro system may be employing for some time.

Just weeks after the conclusion of the WMATA SafeTrack program, maintenance workers were back on the tracks addressing issues, and even after months of accelerated work with thousands of repairs and replacements made to the tracks, grout pads and tie downs of the rail system, stations continue to close and safety incidents are still occurring.

Eric Randall, a principal transportation engineer with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said work and issues like those WMATA has faced are not unusual for metropolitan rail systems, but for a system with a backlog like Metro’s, it could take decades to get back on track.

“We are catching up on a backlog. It is going to take a few years, a handful of years or more maybe, to work and get through to get back to a state of good repair and keep following a fairly aggressive schedule, but Metro is never going to be new again,” Randall said. “We’re never going to get back to a whole brand new system, so yes, there’s always going to be a more aggressive maintenance schedule.”

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Remembering the early days of Metrorail

201002 metro19761215Metrorail map from Dec. 15, 1976. COURTESY PHOTO  “What took you so long?”

That was part of my reaction to Metrorail when I started using it regularly in 1977. I grew up on Long Island, and often visited New York City, where I took the subway all around Manhattan and to summer jobs. So with my New York background, it felt funny to be in a major city with no subway when I moved to DC in 1969.

Metrorail opened on March 27, 1976, with just five Red Line stations: Farragut North, Metro Center, Judiciary Square, Union Station and Rhode Island Avenue. Gallery Place opened in December 1976. (NoMaGallaudet did not open until 2004.)

When the Dupont Circle station opened on Jan. 17, 1977, I became a regular Metro commuter. I lived in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, and worked at the D.C. Council as a legislative aide for John A. Wilson, after whom the District’s city hall, the Wilson Building, is named.

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Spare Part Woes

Broken Promises - Bad Dreams, A Metro Investigation (Third in a series)

FTA concerned with the latest in Metrorail’s budget problems

Metro entranceA problem with spare parts finds The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority once again in trouble with the Federal Transportation Administration.

Metro is now accused of dodging FTA procurement regulations.

According to the proposed FY2018 budget, WMATA charged $23 million in railcars to the operating budget because Metro managers were having difficulty complying with FTA requirements. Those funds apparently should have been charged to the capital budget.

According to the Approval of FY2018-2023 Capital Improvement Program and CFA extension that $23 million was spent on parts “necessary for railcar safety and reliability.”

According to that same report, the money was moved not only because some parts were not procured in compliance with federal regulations but also “a lack of available non-federal capital funding.”

Tom Bulger, a member of the Metro board of directors, said he wasn’t aware of this specific move of money, but he was aware of alterations to the procurement process to ensure that Metro had parts to repair things.

“I’m aware of the fact that we were running out of spare parts at a fast clip since 2016 and they {Metro} needed to get more supplies in order to keep up with maintenance and the procurement process was accelerated,” he said.

When asked why Metro was running out of parts, Bulger assigned blame to the suppliers.

“Supply. Logistics. The suppliers were behind. We weren’t able to obtain the parts on a schedule that would meet Metro’s requirements.”

Those alterations to the procurement process are part of The Parts Bridging Program, a program started by WMATA to “temporarily purchase parts using non-Federal funds and procurement rules until December 2017,” according to the Approval of OneYear Extension of Parts Bridging Program (PMP) and Update on Parts Procurement Program. Last October, the enrollment deadline was extended until December 31 of this year and the initial contract end date was extended until June 30, 2023. According to that report, the program was started after a board resolution imposed “heightened standards on parts procurement.”

However, according to that same report, Metro was also running out of parts. The report states that “In the 2015 Annual Vital Signs Report, the Office of Performance (CPO) noted its findings that the high non availability rates of revenue service vehicles were attributable in part to inventory part shortages throughout the warehouse system. This shortage of inventory parts was having an adverse effect on safety and on time service within the transit system.”

According to that report, “the existing procurement methods used by Metro could not correct this deficiency.”

According to the documents, a goal of the program is to - after the fact - request waivers for contracts that didn’t follow FTA regulations or be eligible for reimbursements from the FTA from any given part in the program.

According to FTA spokesman Steven Taubenkibel, the use of local funds is a local decision.

WMATA has been accused of breaking FTA regulations before.

In 2014, a damning FTA audit revealed WMATA’s misuse of grant money, which included WMATA incurring unallowable expenditures and underreporting $42 million in federal expenditures. According to the report, WMATA also offered a contract without soliciting the three bids necessary to make that contract competitive. According to the 2014 audit, Metro didn’t have the internal controls to properly manage their grant money, although the final report of the audit included documents that acknowledged Metro’s progress on improving its internal controls.

Carol Kissal, the CFO of the Metro at the time and the person to whom some of the problem departments reported too departed.

“It’s all been cleaned up as far as I know,” said Bulger. “It better be.”

“When the changeover came there was a different way for accounting for hours spent and parts and personnel that seems to be working better,” he said about the changes to Metro’s operations after the audit. And we brought in a new CFO from Chicago.”

FTA today still requires Metro to carry out corrective actions for safety and they oversee how WMATA uses federal grant money. According to the FY2017 budget, WMATA’s operating personnel budget decreased by $21.6 million, primarily because WMATA moved expenses for the required safety actions to the Capital Improvement Program. In that same year, that decrease was offset by increases for FTA required safety actions.

Earlier, FTA diverted a large sum of money into safety spending

According to FTA correspondence with WMATA, FTA diverted $20 million of non-safety spending into safety spending, $10 million away from pressure washing and cosmetic maintenance of the stations and $10 million away from open bankcard and automatic fare collection systems. They then put that money into SafeTrack.

FTA management is also apparently unhappy with the local governments and their failure to provide for adequate safety oversight for local transit. According to FTA correspondence with local governments in early 2017, FTA withheld federal grant money from local transit companies, including Metro, until a new safety oversight program could be certified and it is unclear if that has even happened yet.

“The U.S. Department of Transportation advised the Governors and Mayor that their respective jurisdictions may be subject to the withholding of up to five percent of their FY 2017 Urbanized Area formula funds if they did not collectively establish a State Safety Oversight Program (SSOP) for the rail operations of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metrorail), certified by FTA, by February 9, 2017,” reads the correspondence. “They have not met that deadline.”

@CKomatsoulis

 

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“We Just Deal With It”

Broken Promises - Bad Dreams, A Metro Investigation (Second in a series)

Metro workers say many are afraid to report safety problems

Metro entranceWASHINGTON, D.C. — Metro union workers claim Metro management is the biggest problem in guaranteeing safety.

According to Raymond Jackson, who represents Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, Metro workers say they are afraid to report safety problems because supervisors react negatively when they do. Jackson, executive vice president of Local 689, said instances in which Metro workers fail to report safety concerns occur often, and they are more frequent than most realize. For many, not reporting safety issues is becoming second-nature.

“We’ve been dealing with it for so long, we just deal with it,” Jackson said. “You just deal with per se not working safe.”

ATU Local 689 spokesperson David Stephen said the union would not violate Metro policy through facilitating interviews for a reporter with frontline workers. 

“It is against their company policy,” Stephen said. “They can be fired for that. You’re asking our members to speak to you so they can get fired. I will not, absolutely not do that.”

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Metro faces severe budget trouble

metro logoWith ridership continuing to decline, revenues from fares also decreasing despite rate increases and at least a half a dozen pending lawsuits with claims of one million dollars or more, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority trains continue to chug along, in part, thanks to an influx of government money.

“A primary cause of Metro’s current budget challenge is the decline in rail ridership. Total rail ridership peaked in 2009 and has stagnated or declined each year since then,” Paul Wiedefeld, WMATA General Manager/CEO, wrote in his executive summary of this year’s Fiscal Budget, which began July 1.

The $3.1 billion FY 2018 proposed budget includes $1.8 billion for operations and has more expenses than income in the 186 page-budget. Money for operations includes $841 million from fares, parking and advertising, and another $976 million from government funding from Maryland, D.C. and Virginia.

Metro’s total operating budget is very dependent upon the government, noted a spokesman from the National Society of Accountants, who reviewed recent budgets for the Sentinel.

“This thing is bleeding, but it is propped up by government funds,” the spokesman said. “There has been a substantial drop in the use of the Metro.”

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Metro has history of major problems

metro logoThe latest problems regarding safety on the Metrorail is but the latest in a long line of safety problems that go back decades – some say since the very beginning of the Metrorail system.

Others who’ve worked for Metro say getting repairs or any work done was a “constant battle,” with plenty of blame available to go around as to the cause.

In December 2009, the Tri-State Oversight Committee, Metro’s state-level safety oversight body which FTA later replaced, published a report that detailed an extensive list of workplace safety violations and a lack of a safety culture at WMATA.

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