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The Right Note: Is It Time?

Mark Kelly

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Turns out inspectors had discovered the rail defect that caused the Aug. 6 Metro derailment at a July inspection. News that WMATA knew but did nothing about it is the latest safety failure for the system. WMATA is fortunate no one was injured this time as opposed to the tragic incident in January.

General Manager Jack Requa said what he should say about the defect being ignored. It is unacceptable, should never have happened, should never happen again.

At what point, however, do we say enough is enough?

In July, the Washington Post reported that Metro’s former general counsel Kathryn Pett quit her $200,000 job to sign a contract for more than $311,000, plus travel expenses. That contract was canceled, according to the Post, because it violated a ban of hiring former employees for a year.

In 2010, I campaigned against my opponent’s support for hiring an art director for WMATA. A six figure salary for the position, I argued, was money that could be better spent on a broken elevator or escalator or any of the other seemingly never-ending maintenance issues of the system.

The relative drops in the budget bucket from these personnel decisions were symptomatic of larger problems and a lack of the right priorities.

There seem to be a multiple of fundamental problems with WMATA, and its governing body seems incapable of getting the whole thing under control. The union contract was renegotiated in 2013 to require WMATA employees to contribute to their pensions, but personnel costs still put a tremendous strain on the system.

No amount of political pressure, including Congressional hearings, or public shaming seem to make a difference. Fares go up. Promises are made. But little improves.

So, is it time for a bankruptcy-like reorganization of the system? One where the federal government or a federal judge steps in temporarily to facilitate the process of turning Metro around.

Tearing down and rebuilding the current management structure or replacing it with a private contractor, reconstituting the WMATA Board, and creating a new labor agreement from scratch all seem like fairly reasonable options at this point.

Yes, it is a radical approach. But do we honestly a light at the end of the tunnel now?

It seems like the time has come for dramatic changes. But whatever the path forward for WMATA is, the end results need to be dramatically different than what we are getting now.

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