WMATA Metro Officials Expected to Reach Out to Private Sector

Dana Hedgpeth of the Washington Post reports:

[Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)] officials are expected to make a presentation on Thursday to Metro’s board of directors on their plan to hire an outside contractor to do preventative maintenance on 54 escalators and 20 elevators on the Orange Line from Rosslyn to Vienna…

(General Manager Richard Sarles) said the additional manpower will “supplement the existing staff” of roughly 200 in-house employees who now work in the escalator and elevator division.

“We need more people,” Sarles said. “Rather than attempting to hire more people who then have to go through a multi-year training effort to be brought up to full speed on doing repair and maintenance, we can go out to seek qualified contractors to do the work.”

Weary Metro riders are presumably encouraged by this news as the system has been plagued with performance issues for years. Hedgpeth cites a 1997 investigation that discovered falsified escalator maintenance records, which lead to a staff shakeup. Hedgpeth also identifies a 2010 study that found “Metro was failing to adhere to it’s own maintenance standards.”

If WMATA’s new approach is unsuccessful, Metro officials should expect a social media response. The agency’s oft-maligned management of Washington, D.C.’s Metro system has faced increased scrutiny over the past the year from Twitter and Facebook users. For example, Metro’s previous Twitter account @metroopensdoors inspired a parody account @metroshutsdoors, which is operated by an anonymous writer sarcastically poking fun at the agency. WMATA has since switched it’s Twitter account to @wmata and is engaging in a concerted public relations campaign called Metro Forward to improve it’s public perception.

Conducting escalator maintenance is simply not a core governmental function. Sarles is smart to recognize this and provide leadership by reaching out to the private sector to address the agency’s new goal to buy new, rehabilitate or replace about 180 escalators and elevators.

For more on WMATA’s Metro system, see previous posts by my colleague Samuel Staley here, here and here.