Let us help im­prove safety

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - The writer is pres­i­dent of the Amal­ga­mated Transit Union Lo­cal 689, which rep­re­sents Metro’s op­er­a­tors and cler­i­cal and main­te­nance work­ers.

Not much in the scathing Fed­eral Transit Ad­min­is­tra­tion (FTA) re­port con­cern­ing the Washington Metropoli­tan Area Transit Au­thor­ity’s bus and rail ser­vice sur­prised the sys­tem’s op­er­a­tors and me­chan­ics. We have been call­ing for these is­sues to be ad­dressed for years.

If any of the find­ings sur­prise Metro, it is only be­cause it has re­fused to lis­ten and act. The mem­bers and lead­er­ship of Amal­ga­mated Transit Union Lo­cal 689 have made nu­mer­ous at­tempts to work with Metro on de­vel­op­ing a safety cul­ture. But over the years, all we have got­ten from Metro and its lead­er­ship is lip ser­vice. Metro re­mains the safest mode of trans­porta­tion in the area, but a sys­tem facelift is des­per­ately nec­es­sary.

Since the deadly ac­ci­dent in Jan­uary, the FTA has out­lined 44 con­cerns about Metro­rail and 10 about Metrobus. Metro’s board of di­rec­tors and Congress can no longer pre­tend they don’t know about the sys­tem’s fail­ures. We have con­sis­tently made them known.

In March, our union at­tempted to re­new the con­ver­sa­tion on safety by host­ing a public hear­ing at which trans­porta­tion ex­perts, Metro work­ers and Metro riders shared per­spec­tives on their safety con­cerns. Jack Re­qua, in­terim gen­eral man­ager of Metro, and I mod­er­ated that hear­ing. We lis­tened as pan­elists de­scribed their con­cerns of in­ad­e­quate safety train­ing, bro­ken or in­op­er­a­ble train ra­dios, lack of transit po­lice pres­ence, fare eva­sion, wa­ter leak­age in tun­nels and lack of transit fund­ing.

Work­ers, riders and Metro lead­er­ship came to­gether at the meet­ing, de­ter­mined to im­prove the sys­tem.

We im­me­di­ately took the con­cerns from the hear­ing to Metro’s board of di­rec­tors; no ac­tion has been taken. Metro con­tin­ues to act as if a true in­vest­ment in work­ers and main­te­nance cor­rec­tions is a for­eign con­cept. This is no way to run one of the na­tion’s largest transit sys­tems.

To make mat­ters worse, Congress is play­ing pol­i­tics by with­hold­ing $50 mil­lion of its an­nual con­tri­bu­tion to the sys­tem. Be­cause fix­ing the safety is­sues will come with a price tag, Congress’s de­ci­sion to cut Metro’s bud­get will make safety im­prove­ments more dif­fi­cult.

On sev­eral oc­ca­sions since the smoke in­ci­dent near L’En­fant Plaza, we have out­lined to Metro the need for uni­form emer­gency pre­pared­ness for the en­tire work­force at least an­nu­ally, man­agers who have the same emer­gency prepa­ra­tion train­ing as front-line work­ers, open com­mu­ni­ca­tion with staff about safety is­sues and the elim­i­na­tion of re­tal­i­a­tion to­ward em­ploy­ees who re­port un­safe con­di­tions.

Now, the FTA has made di­rec­tives that re­flect what we have been say­ing all along. We call on Metro to ad­dress our four di­rec­tives im­me­di­ately in ad­di­tion to the FTA’s di­rec­tives.

Man­agers and di­rec­tors should look at Metro safety with a dif­fer­ent mind-set. Metro seems to ig­nore ev­ery is­sue un­less it comes from a Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board di­rec­tive. That must change. And chang­ing means more than just new safety rules and reg­u­la­tions. There has to be the ef­fort to en­act, teach and ap­ply safety stan­dards so that ev­ery em­ployee can fol­low the di­rec­tives, from the gen­eral man­ager to the cus­to­di­ans.

Ev­ery day Metro does not act, it is putting us in dan­ger. We are tired of wait­ing for the next ac­ci­dent or fatality be­fore some­thing gets done.

AN­DREW HARNIK/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

AMetro em­ployee di­rects pas­sen­gers to the Foggy Bot­tom sta­tion in­May.

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