Poor Service Is a Bigger Problem than Terrorism

This is a staggeringly poor use of resources:

The Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) now has a dedicated unit devoted to deterring a terrorist attack in the Metro system. The new anti-terrorism team will increase surveillance of the Metro system, conduct more frequent security sweeps of Metro facilities and tunnels, and provide greater visibility of uniformed officers.

Using a $9.56 million Transit Security Grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), MTPD formed the 20-member, anti-terror team in December. The team, whose mission is to deter terrorists from selecting Metro as a target, will use tactics such as increased surveillance and random, unpredictable patrols of Metro buses, trains, stations and facilities to keep the Metro system and its riders as secure as possible.

Is this a joke? We’re supposed to stop terrorists from targeting the Metro with a team of 20 people through “increased surveillance” and “random, unpredictable patrols”? Does Metro realize that virtually every single terrorist attack comes as a suicide attack? What on earth is a random patrol going to do to someone who is willing to kill themselves? What is increased surveillance going to accomplish? People need to understand that if someone wants to strap a bomb to themselves or bring a machine gun into a metro station or train, they’re going to be able to do it.

At a certain point, there’s just nothing you can do. For example, one way to make sure no terrorists get in a Metro station would be require a strip search. Even leaving aside the enormous inconvenience and invasion of privacy, you’d still have a bunch of people clustered somewhere in line, which as it happens, would be a fantastic target for a suicide bomber.

Don’t get me wrong, we should definitely do what we can to make transportation safer. Simple, low cost things like adding locks on the cockpit doors makes a lot of sense. Costly and irrational security theater that does little to make anyone safer while wasting time and money is one of the ways in which terrorists “win.”

Now, as it happens, this crack team of 20 Terror Hunters won’t do much to disrupt anyone’s commute, but consider for a moment the news yesterday that facing a $4 million shortage, Metro is looking to run fewer trains, less often despite the lack of commensurate demand, thus risking a Metro death spiral.

I realize this money comes from a Federal grant, but it’s indicative of the poor choices we’re making. Terrorism is not nearly as big a problem for Metro users as inadequate service.


Metro Suicides and the Press

Here’s the latest from WMATA on the most recent “Metro Suicide.”

A 50-year-old woman from Kensington, MD, who was struck by a Red Line train at the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan Metrorail station at 11:36 p.m., on Monday, Jan. 4, died this morning (Tuesday, Jan. 5) as a result of her injuries.

The Metro Transit Police continue to investigate, but preliminary information shows that the woman intentionally placed herself in the path of the train.

She was hit by a six-car train traveling toward Shady Grove.

Beyond the disruption these cause to thousands of people, consider the emotional trauma experienced by train operators who find themselves unwitting suicide accomplices. Imagine opening a door to discover it had been tied to the trigger of a gun and simply by going about your daily business, you had played a direct role in ending the life of another human being. It’s a horrible thing to force to upon someone else.

I don’t mean to diminish the pain experienced by someone who sees fit to take their own life or the anguish that their loved ones and friends must experience in the wake of a such an event, but we ought to do whatever we can to prevent these types of things. It’s really quite difficult to prevent suicides structurally, but the WMATA, DCPD, and local press really ought to read these recommendations from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention as there is a demonstrated effect of “suicide contagion.”

…between 1984 and 1987, journalists in Vienna covered the deaths of individuals who jumped in front of trains in the subway system. The coverage was extensive and dramatic. In 1987, a campaign alerted reporters to the possible negative effects of such reporting, and suggested alternate strategies for coverage. In the first six months after the campaign began, subway suicides and non-fatal attempts dropped by more than eighty percent. The total number of suicides in Vienna declined as well.

More Capacity, Less Moping

An editorial in today’s Washington Post correclty pushes back on the idea of one its readers that Metro should lower fares so long as the delays stemming from the June 22nd accident on the Red Line Continue. The Post also misses an opportunity to make an important point.

To accommodate passengers, Metro has put more eight-car trains into service on the Red Line (most are still six cars) and should add even more if electric power supplies allow for it. It should continue to warn passengers to factor in delays of 30 minutes or more on the line. Until Metro gets out the kinks, passengers will either have to wait or find alternative means of transport. That, unfortunately, is the price of prudence.

Well, yes, it is the price of prudence, but it’s also the price of not having a Purple Line to carry Beltway commuters and reduce strain on the Red Line. More broadly though, it underscores the point that redundancy within a transit system is actually a good thing. We are not resigned to this fate.

This Post Is Not About Twitter; Focuses on Metro Inefficacy

Some of my friends aren’t totally sold on Twitter yet, so one of the points I made in support of the medium’s efficacy is the @metroopensdoors account, which tweets updates on the Metro’s status. This is a very useful tool, but here’s the thing: the only reason it’s at all useful is because the Metro is a decrepit piece of shit. Seriously, sometimes I wonder if the Metro isn’t actually connected to Detroit. Let’s examine only Red Line tweets over the past 24 hours or so.

Note:  I’ve inserted rough times in brackets.

Red Line: Expect delays in both directions due to an earlier train malfunction at Metro Center station that has been resolved.

Red Line: Trains are sharing the same track between Judiciary Square and Farragut North due to a train experiencing mechanical difficulties

Red Line: Expect delays to Glenmont due to an earlier train malfunction at Van Ness station that has been resolved.

Red Line: Expect delays in both directions due to an earlier train malfunction at Van Ness station that has been resolved.

Red Line: Expect delays to Shady Grove due to an earlier train malfunction at Van Ness station that has been resolved.

Red Line: Expect delays to Shady Grove due a train experiencing mechanical difficulties at Van Ness station.

Red Line: Disruption cleared.

Red Line: Expect delays to Shady Grove due to an earlier train malfunction at White Flint that has been resolved.

Red Line: Expect delays to Shady Grove due to a train experiencing mechanical difficulties at White Flint station.

Red Line: Trains are sharing the same track between New York Avenue and Rhode Island Avenue stations due to scheduled track maintenance. Exp

Due to some conflagration of divine intervention and blind luck, the Red Line managed to be trouble free during today’s morning commute hours, but as you can see, basically had some form of problem for roughly all of its useful time thereafter and note also, that this generously excludes a number of problems on the Orange/Blue lines. I mean, why doesn’t the Metro just save us all the time and just let us know when it is working? If a person was this unreliable, you’d be right to wonder if they had a crippling heroin addiction.

Of Canned Fish

Say what you will about the plight of sardines, but at least they have the benefit of being dead.

Anyway, just another reason to go ahead and fund these “shovel ready” Metro projects.

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