It’s become a joke that pretty much every morning in DC the question of everyone’s lips is not just ‘does the metro suck* today?’ but ‘how much does the metro suck* today?’
Well, last Tuesday the metro was shut down entirely. Yes, you read that right. On a work-day, in a major, first-world city, they shut down the entire underground rail network.
They had a reason of course. The night before there had been an electrical fire similar to the one that occurred about a year ago, which resulted in the death of a passenger from smoke inhalation, and they had to therefore conduct a safety inspection of the entire network. But I don’t call this a good reason, because to my mind the fire shouldn’t have happened in the first place. The dangerous state of the electrics in the DC metro was (is?) due to chronic under funding and negligence – they apparently conducted a similar inspection last year but this did not take 24 hours and, according to the Post’s sources, was not done properly. Can we really believe that it was done properly this time around? I’ve already heard that they were not able to fix all the issues they found, so there will be delays while these are sorted out.
When we arrived in DC we were shocked by the state of the metro. The carriages were old, delays were commonplace, there were very few intersections and you often had to wait 10 minutes for the next train. However, it was pretty cheap (compared to London), and relatively clean (especially compared to New York). While we’ve been here there’s been some evidence of investment, though this has clearly been on a limited scale. The metro map is an illustration of aspiration – for a couple of years now there’s been a projected line from the city center to the international airport at Dulles, VA. The exciting new Silver line arrived and opened, and now you can travel all the way to Wiehle Reston (so close – they’re just short by 7 or so miles!). But the first trains on the line seemed to be the oldest DC possessed, it was only recently that a few new carriages appeared and others began to be refurbished.
So the DC metro tries hard, but on its current funding can’t seem to really deliver.
And people are apparently abandoning it. While DC apparently rates highly in a study that measured whether a city’s metro system was widely used or only used as an ‘insurance’ transport system for the poorer inhabitants, the Post consistently reports that those who can afford it are choosing other methods of getting to work.
Maybe that was the reason last Tuesday wasn’t the complete disaster I feared it might be. There were cars clogging up the road network, an accident on the Beltway, and ubers were racing down the rat-runs of my usually quiet residential neighbourhood; but people also took the chance to work from home, to cycle, or to walk to work. Maybe some of them enjoyed it so much they’ll do it again, and something good can come out of the metro’s suckiness.
*actually the question is more usually constructed as ‘is the metro/how much is the metro f*cked today?’ but I thought I should be polite.