WASHINGTON — The Subcommittee for Government Operations dressed down public transportation leadership during a meeting on Thursday. Committee members said the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has "jumped from crisis to crisis," and said it is plagued by a culture of mediocrity.
The harsh words came during a hearing to address WMATA's service, safety and future on Thursday.
The subcommittee heard testimony from Paul J. Wiedefeld, General Manager of WMATA; Geoffrey Cherrington, Inspector General of WMATA; Paul Smedberg, Chair of the Board of Directors for WMATA; David L. Mayer, Chief Executive Officer of WMATA; and David Ditch; Policy Analyst, The Heritage Foundation.
Members of the committee questioned witnesses about recent and long-term safety issues that continue to plague WMATA, and the steps leadership is taking to prioritize the health and safety of riders.
“This subcommittee has a long record of sustained oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. We have found what plagues WMATA is a culture of mediocrity. As the system has jumped from crisis to crisis, this culture of mediocrity has been a common theme – falsified track inspection reports, the failure to document or investigate more than 3,000 criminal complaints from riders, and now a disastrous defect with 60 percent of the system’s railcar fleet that was allowed to languish for four years,” said Chairman Gerald E. Connolly in his opening statement. “Our goal is to help WMATA leadership and overseers get to a culture of excellence within the system that improves the safety and reliability of Metro.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin questioned Wiedefeld about the failure to report safety issues regarding the 7000 series railcars, which were pulled from service following a derailment last year, to the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC). Other members asked how communication has improved between the transit authority and the commission.
Wiedefeld said they are creating a new system the flags problems "up the food chain" for both the commission, and internal leadership.
"So that’s what we’re creating — in effect, moving a lot of things from the paper side to the digital side so we can monitor this live and do it on a number of other issues that potentially have safety-related issues,” Wiedefeld said.
As far as when those 7000 cars could return to service? Work is still being done.
"Our priority is safety, so we have not set a deadline for this plan," WMATA CEO David Mayer said.
The committee made it clear that addressing these issues is vital for the future of public transportation in the D.C. region.
"Failure of WMATA is not an option, and we can no longer afford a pervasive culture of mediocrity," Chairman Connnolly said.
House Majority Leader Stenny Hoyer said the pandemic has brought about many challenges for public transit, but said work will continue in order to improve safety, reliability and confidence in it.
"We cannot and we will not give up on Metro," he said.