Sunday, January 15, 2012

Metro Fix -- Hire A Thousand More Overpaid Slouches

Defective Equipment; Incompetent Driver?

Washington, DC, the Nation's Capital,  used to have one of the finest Metro Rail/Subway systems in the world. 

But that was sabotaged early on when LBJ's Great Society injected Social Welfare into the system with a rock-solid union which eventually became impervious to discipline or oversight, with generous pay scales [an escalator maintenance guy earns close to $85,000/year].  

It also has one of the worst safety records in the world, with train wrecks, escalators more frequently broken than functional, train drivers so inattentive they have run over and killed workmen repairing the rails, and station staff who are rude, lazy, ignorant, and incompetent.  Poorly maintained equipment frequently breaks down, while long-overdue track maintenance now forces the system to run at about 40% efficiency.

Managers seemingly don't care -- or are incapable of managing their employees, and the entire Metro system is overseen by a Board of Politically Correct Progressives motivated solely by political manipulation.

Previous General Manager, John Catoe,  a complete incompetent whose hiring was apparently based solely on his complexion, was routinely lauded by the Washington Post no matter how egregiously poor his performance, finally retired not long ago.  One would have thought from the praise the Post heaped on him that he had performed miracles. 

Well, in a sense, he had performed a miracle. 

He took what had been a beautiful, relatively efficient, and modern mass transit system and transformed it into a shoddy, poorly maintained and dangerous railway which operated below the standard of most developing countries -- manned by a union force of worthless, lazy, belligerent, overpaid slugs.  The passenger and employee death toll is staggering.

Former General Manager Catoe was finally eased out and replaced with Richard Sarles, a guy who looked like the knight riding in on a white charger.  He had all the right credentials; NY Port Authority, NJ Transit, and Amtrak's high speed rail in the Northeast Corridor.  He'd had every key management role you could ask for.

But, he's inherited a rail system with a crumbling infrastructure, deteriorating rails, and an incompetent, unionized legacy workforce not used to being pushed.  Since Sarles has come on board, rail service has deteriorated. The most heavily traveled Red Line is frequently out of service, and much of the system's escalator service is non-functional.

We've now learned that rather than institute managerial reform, e.g., mass firings and outsourcing for maintenance, Sarles has buckled to the unions and politicians and is preparing to hire 1,000 new unionized workers who will deliver the same incompetent performance with more warm, incompetent bodies; they'll be paid for through fare increases.  We can see hiring a few more to support the new Silver Line -- at most, 100.  Force the rest of the work force to be efficient.

Even the Washington Post can't stomach the costs that the unions and a very liberal, union-friendly Congress inflicted on the Metro system.  In a surprising editorial which echoes Conservative condemnation of public sector unions, the Post finally has come to grips with reality.

Was the Metro Driver Asleep? Texting? Smoking a Joint?

Before we hire ANY new employees, a few suggestions.

1)  Eliminate the union; make the workers responsible to empowered managers with the authority to hire and fire.

2)  Fire all -- repeat ALL -- the maintenance staff and bring on contractors to maintain the system; there are nearly 150 highly paid "technicians" who are rarely in evidence -- although the escalators are either stopped or completely disassembled for weeks at a time ["uhh, we're waiting for parts?"] in every station.
3)  Designate a single manager to oversee the maintenance and efficient operation of the escalators with the authority hire/fire performance-based outside contractors. 

4)  Create an action-oriented customer relations interface, complete with Ombudsman, to handle -- and ACT ON complaints and resolve issues of concern to riders.
5)  Reorient the Metro Police force; get rid of their dysfunctional "counter-terrorist" mission and have them patrol in civilian clothes and arrest the petty thieves and agitators who bully passengers.  Patrol the stations and parking lots late at night.  

6)  Improve the lighting and electronic surveillance of the Metro parking lots to reduce the risk of muggings, armed robbery, and murder.

7)  Last, but not least, hold Metro employees accountable for bad attitudes, negligent behavior which results in accidents and injury to riders and other employees.  Give managers the authority to punish poor behavior, and REWARD good behavior.

But, above all, get rid of the union!

We don't need 1,000 more employees. 

We need competent, motivated employees who should be happy to have a job at all in this economy, and who can give us back a safe, efficient, and economical Metro Rail system.