Next week will mark my one year anniversary of working in DC.
And do you know what? In this entire time – in almost 365 days – not once – I repeat – not once, have the Washington DC Metro escalators between my home and my office all been in operation.
I noticed this about a week into my job, and thought it a rather amusing coincidence. But it didn’t change. Weeks became months, and I began to watch out for the one day when all the escalators between my home and my work would be in operation. It hasn’t happened.
A year has now past. In this entire period – on NOT ONE DAY were all the escalators working between my home and my office. Anyone who lives in and around DC knows just how inconvinient (and how potentially hazerdous to some people’s health) this is.
Look at this morning for example. The main escalator at my home stop (Huntington) was shut down for a period of several weeks a little over a month ago, and completly "refurbished". Mid-last week, it stopped working. It was shut down again for repairs, and still isn’t operational (this morning the side escalator also didn’t work, nor did the escalator or elavator at Metro Centre). According to the WMATA website, at this very moment there are 61 escalators out of service – a staggering quarter of all escalators.
This is just mind-blowing. The escalators alone have a staff of 192 employees, and a staggering $29.5 million annual budget. Having lived in cities all over the world with extensive public transport systems, this is beyond words.
So why is this? Why can every other city get it right, except for DC?
The answer is simple: unions. As the Alliance for Worker Freedom pointed out earlier this year, "Metro ignored the advice of an independent task force, which concluded that private-sector businesses would repair the escalators faster and at a lower cost than unionized government employees. Of course, WMATA continued "business as usual."
With the cosy WMATA-Union relationship, there is no incentive whatsoever to fix escalators permenantly, because if it happened, the Union would lose members, power and money. So,a perverse incentive exists to KEEP THEM BROKEN! This is public choice theory demonstrated in practice at its most basic. Rent-seeking unions want more taxpayer money to "solve" the problems they themselves create.
This is especially evident in the "minor" shutdowns that shut an escalator down for a few hours.
WMATA states: "there are safety sensors the entire length of an escalator to monitor if a foot gets between the step and the side wall.. These are very sensitive sensors and will shut an escalator off with the slightest pressure….Roughly 66% of escalator shut downs are caused by safety switch activations [by riders].Every time an escalator shuts down because of one of these sensors, we need to dispatch a technician to trouble shoot the problem and re-set the unit."
So. Someone’s foot brushes across the side of an escalator. It stops – that’s understandable. But, unlike in every other city in the world where the station attendent will simply turn it back on, in DC, to provide useless work for Union friendss, WMATA must call out for a Union technician, wait 2 hours, and then have them press the on-switch. All under the guise of "safety". The other excuses they give, such as that people shouldn’t walk up escalators, are equally farcial when you consider every other major world city can cope with such things.
So the next time you’re tired and forced to climb a mountain of stairs at the DC Metro, rememebr to thank the unions.
(Photo via WTFMetro)