Following the unprecedented closing of Washington’s Metro system on March 16, Northern Virginia Congressman Gerry Connelly (D) angrily declared that there needed to be firings of employees of the beleaguered transportation system. In addressing recently uncovered safety issues that were not properly addressed 15 months after they were first discovered, he said, “Those who sat on this issue ought to be held accountable.”
His comments make for great news fodder and cater to his frustrated and often at-risk constituents, but Connelly is absolutely right. Yet, he’s being too single-minded in his approach. Firings need to go beyond Metro employees. They need to extend to the leadership of the Metro region (DC, Virginia and Maryland) who have enabled a byzantine management structure that has underfunded, over-processed and put at risk the entire transportation system and the passengers who use it every day.
It’s easy to say in front of cameras and microphones, “Let’s fire some people,” but I hope that leaders who make such pandering declarations take a deep breath and look in the mirror at the people who built, reinforced and enabled an operating and capitalization structure that is as broken and unreliable as the actual subway system. Gerry Connelly’s name, as well as the names of just about every other federal, state, and local official in the entire region, is on that list too.
And guess who else’s name is on that list. The commuters.
Commuters, like taxpayers, have every right to growl and be angry at fare hikes, poor service, dreadful safety and constant unreliability. But when you don’t put the resources into a complex and resource-intensive system like Metro, costly repairs, breakdowns, poor performance, growing hazards and even deaths result.
This is the system the region has paid for and its leaders have enabled. And we are getting the painful return on investment in very real, visible and costly ways. A regional economy is at risk when its transportation system cannot support or safely perform its intended purpose.
Similar stories about the consequences of infrastructure neglect are playing out in other cities and communities. Until taxpayers enable real investments in these systems and leaders have the real courage to make tough decisions to appropriately capitalize these infrastructures, we can expect more of the same.
I hope Rep. Connelly and the rest of us think of that the next time there are calls for someone to be fired from the Metro system.