On Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) praised the Washington, D.C. Metro, apparently oblivious to the fires and horrific management problems the Metro faces.
“DC Metro is pretty good, especially when compared to the MTA lately,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a Facebook “moment,” contrasting the D.C. Metro to the New York subway. “It’s clear they are investing in public infrastructure w/modernized train cars, etc.”
She responded to criticism shortly afterward. “Lots of folks begging to differ on DC metro being better,” the congresswoman added. “I just got here so taking the train on a Sunday without a delay or track change or 1000 people in the car seems like a minor miracle to me.”
Ocasio-Cortez noted complaints about the D.C. Metro, including the lack of “monthly unlimiteds,” the “charge by distance, so people who live further away have pricier commutes,” the lack of express trains (expressed in all caps: “NO EXPRESS TRAINS”), and the need for infrastructure investment.
RealClearPolitics reporter Philip Wegmann shared Ocasio-Cortez’s messages on Twitter.
As a resident of the Washington, D.C. area, I can testify to the problems with the Metro. Yes, the Metro has constructed new train cars. The Metro is also comparatively clean because food is not permitted in the cars. However, fires have broken out in old cars, stalling travel and making commutes horrendous. Traveling on the Metro often involves commuters packed into cars like sardines, and prices are far higher than they have any right to be.
D.C. Metro’s slogan is “back to good,” and workers voted to go on strike last year. The transit system is a money suck, hitting commuters and taxpayers alike.
According to Metro’s own data, the average salary and benefits compensation for an employee exceeds $109,000 — $20,000 more than the average D.C. area worker. That gap only widens when you compare Metro employees to their compatriots in similar jobs across the District. Private-sector bus drivers earn only an average of $59,000 in pay and benefits, while Metrobus drivers earn almost twice that.
Overtime compensation, excessive and often abused, cost Metro more than $83 million last year, averaging out to more than $7,800 per overtime-eligible employee. These employees also accrue pension benefits relative to overall pay (including overtime), an odd practice out of line with most labor rules.
To make matters worse, Metro’s “service” costs — $300 million last year — went to hiring outside contractors to do some of the same work the union employees are supposed to be doing.
D.C. residents are well familiar with the escalators being shut down for weeks at a time, the hated practice of “single tracking,” and the constant presence of employees who seem to have nothing to do. Extremely high labor costs and a seeming sense of entitlement among workers help explain why Metro seems so inefficient.
Despite government subsidies, Metro fares keep increasing. Commuters are choosing other options, driving ridership down to pre-2000 levels, despite the region’s 30 percent population growth in recent years. With crowded roads — and municipalities actually erasing lanes on busy thoroughfares — and more economic activity, Metro’s demand should be on the upswing, but the opposite is true.
The D.C. Metro is the most expensive major city transportation (rail and bus) system in the country, costing $4.03 per rail mile and $4.63 per bus mile to operate per passenger. D.C. area taxpayers — and U.S. taxpayers — cover 77 percent of the Metro’s $3.2 billion annual operating cost.
Metro has demanded an additional $25 billion over the next decade, but General Manager Paul Wiedefeld — perhaps embarrassed by this large sum — has insisted the system can get by with $15.5 billion, raised through — get this — new taxes.
To make matters worse, the Metro is closing seven stations this coming summer.
D.C. Metro is a government boondoggle. Perhaps Ocasio-Cortez wants to carry water for it to support her big government advocacy.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.