Does Anyone Make Real Shit Anymore?

metro trash
Once the envy of the nation, Metro is now a mess.

I ask, cause I’m not sure:
Do anybody make real shit anymore?

– Kanye West, Stronger

I put off getting a new iPhone as long as possible, waiting until the battery life was mere minutes and I carried a charger every time I left the house.

I knew replacing it would be an ordeal. Months earlier, I had gone to the Apple Store and asked about my options. It took an Apple genius 30 minutes and a complicated diagram to explain the new pricing plans.

Eventually, I upgraded, ordering an iPhone 7 through my carrier, AT&T. FedEx lost it. I called AT&T, who blocked the phone from the network. Then, of course the phone showed up. AT&T unblocked it and then, perversely, decided to block it again the next day, making my phone a shiny, non-operational brick. I tweeted in frustration:

@ATTCares responded. Their Twitter account says that they provide support. But they don’t, they just refer you to the website, to an endless customer service chat. On Friday, I went through a lengthy chat where I had to type in various technical data about my phone. They said they would unblock. And I went through the whole process again on Sunday. My phone still doesn’t work.

This isn’t an unusual story. American life these days largely consists of doing battle with broken things.

On Sunday, while I was trying to work all this out, I had to go downtown. Ten years ago, I would’ve taken Metro. I avoid the transit system now. During the week, Metro features breakdowns and beatings, while on the weekends, it barely runs it all.

Instead, I took Capital Bikeshare. I write about CaBi so much because it’s a system that actually works. Swipe your key, hop on a bike, and go.

Capital Bikeshare 2.0
Capital Bikeshare – the one thing that works in Washington.

Washington seems to be going backwards in terms of transportation, from heavy rail to bicycles and rickshaws. I fully expect a horse-sharing scheme to emerge within the next couple years.

At least I wasn’t on Amtrak #161, a Twitter saga that also unfolded on Sunday, passengers trapped on a train outside Washington for so long that they had time to order pizza. Their rescue was delayed for want of a stool so that they could climb from one train to another. Richest country in the world.

Romans didn’t just wake up one morning in the ruins of empire. Instead, it was a slow decline. Officials weren’t paid. Water from the aqueducts stopped flowing. Barbarians walked in, unopposed.

We could have a national train system that’s not dependent on a stool. DC could have a safe and efficient Metro (it once did). AT&T could fix problems for customers instead of sending them to chat-based hell.

It’s a choice. As Kanye, bard of our age, asks: Does anybody make real shit anymore?

We can’t cut our way out of crisis. If America is going to move to the next chapter, then it needs to invest in quality once again. We need to make real shit.

Southern Monuments

Confederate War Memorial in Sylva, NC
Confederate War Memorial in Sylva, NC

Monuments tell the story of a people. Overlooking the town of Sylva, North Carolina, stands a Confederate War Memorial. The statue was erected in 1915, at the height of Jim Crow in the South. Bands played and dignitaries came from as far away as Asheville. The copper soldier stands guard atop a stone base in front of the courthouse, with a commanding view of the town below.

If you read Cold Mountain (or saw the movie), then you know that the people who lived on the slopes of the Blue Ridge were reluctant participants in the Civil War, for the conflict brought nothing but chaos, murder and starvation to this remote corner of North Carolina. It took decades to recover. Northern money brought the region back, as Sylva became a manufacturing center, its paper mill belching white smoke even today.

I’ve been coming to the region for twenty years, ever since friends moved here from Florida – a very common story. The mountains are filled with Floridians retiring from Florida to North Carolina.

Trump supporters are proud of a map colored red, all those counties away from the coasts voting for a new kind of war against the federal government.

All-Gender Restroom

But the red states are red just barely. In Asheville, which went for Clinton, restaurants and coffee shops make a point in identifying their bathrooms as “all-gender,” appalled by their legislature’s bumbling efforts to regulate toilets.

The cities and towns are blue, while the rural areas are red. A man who worked in a remote valley said that people just assumed that he voted for Trump. After all, he was in his 60s and white. But he didn’t. Old enough to remember segregation, he recognized wrong then and he recognized it now.

“We fought the Civil War once already,” he told me, not interested in another red versus blue battle.

I-26 east of Johnson City

On the way home, I took I-26, a four-lane highway soaring over the Eastern Continental Divide and down into the green valleys of Tennessee. It’s a monument to the genius of America, with passages blasted through granite and tons of concrete used to create ramps and bridges, allowing me to drive 70 mph over mountains that formed an impassable barrier during the Civil War.

I nearly had the road to myself, just me and a few other drivers enjoying the monumental views of the Blue Ridge. Where other generations valued segregation and identity, our generation values progress, as memorialized in the monuments that we build. Rather than casting bronze renditions of a lost cause, we’re connecting cities with all-weather highways.

When I was in North Carolina, I kept being asked, “What’s going on in DC?” Even in the mountains, people recognized that calamity in the nation’s capital would eventually touch their lives.

Retirees can only afford to live in these red counties with Social Security. The federal government battles the opioid epidemic that plagues trailer parks in the hollows. Highways like I-26 are only possible due to a much-maligned administrative bureaucracy.

Government is a monument that some would tear down upon themselves, happier to live among the rubble. That’s what taking back America means to them. Like those who precipitated the Civil War, they would rather see the country burn than change.

Monuments like the one in Sylva represent the past. Those who cling to these symbols want to return this country to the days of segregation and oppression. If you truly want to make America great, then it is government that you must support. It’s the monument that we all depend upon – and one that we build together.

Letter from Washington: Signs of Spring

signs of spring

There are signs of spring in Washington, DC, little splashes of color appearing around the Tidal Basin and elsewhere in the city, despite temperatures that remain in the 40s. I spotted bits of of yellow, pink and white while running between memorials, the bright tones popping out against the muddy grays and browns of late winter.

Winter, even a mild Mid-Atlantic one, is a season to be survived. The days get shorter, the green drains from the trees and a low clouds descend upon the city for weeks at a time.

Snow is the only consolation, the bright white blanket that stills traffic and turns Washington into a pedestrian paradise. With its marble monuments and red-brick townhouses, DC becomes a magic snow globe, fat flakes falling forever, piling up on history and politics, Mother Nature making a mockery of man’s schemes.

But we didn’t even get snow this year. Instead, nothing but chaos under cloudy skies, stretching from the Presidential Inauguration until today, marches and demonstrations filling the streets, the weather be damned.

“I want one one day without a CNN alert that scares the hell out of me,” the judge says in the Trump Peoples Court skit on SNL.

But there will be no relief. Instead, we get some light treason from the Trump campaign, revealed to be in contact with the Russian government before the election. All the dark theories about Putin’s control of our President are revealed to be true, in a blockbuster New York Times article fueled by leaks from the intelligence community.

Trump rages, in a barely coherent tweet slamming not the Russians, for subverting our democracy, but, instead, the American government.

The right calls it the Deep State, civil servants striking back against legitimately elected leaders. But, when you have a leader that’s mentally unstable, do you blame them? This rebellion of the bureaucrats prevented Mike Flynn, friend of Putin, from becoming National Security Advisor.

It’s a victory. Not quite the checks and balances envisioned by our Founders but a stop to erratic, dangerous and possibly treasonous executive action, joining the hold issued by the 9th Circuit against the Muslim Ban in the pantheon of victories.

Our enemies are weaker than they appear, held together only by the bluster of the flim-flam man. Take apart the lies, and they’re revealed to be scared and desperate, lest the mark uncover the illusion.

Winter seems to go on forever. Then, one day, you notice a couple of green shoots. Within a period of weeks, the world turns green again, spring reasserting itself with the power of all that’s good and true. That’s what Washington feels like today.

Letter from Washington: Public Servants, Not Trump Servants

President Trump is “locking down” government communication by public servants, including social media, at federal agencies. A crackdown is occurring at the Department of Transportation, HHS and other agencies. Press releases, tweeting and even public speaking is banned – temporarily, they claim. Trump loyalists are being embedded to monitor the work and communications of public servants.

Public servants are called that for a reason – they work for the public. It’s a service, paid for with your tax dollars. Federal employees do not work for a single faction. They serve all of us, no matter which political party we support.

They are public servants, not Trump servants. Their work belongs to us. They have an obligation to communicate to the citizens who pay their salary.

I worked as a contractor in the communications department of a large federal agency. Among my duties was updating the social media account. As long as I avoided certain hot-button issues (like climate change), I was allowed to write and post to Facebook and Twitter without review.

Was this because senior management was interested in more important matters? Or didn’t think social media was important? A little of both. Press releases went through rounds of reviews because they could be printed out, marked up and distributed. The ephemeral world of social media didn’t lend itself to such micromanagement so was left alone.

It’s also impossible to monitor, as the rogue Badlands NPS account revealed. While there are tools to manage social media, my agency didn’t have them. We didn’t know how many social media accounts we had, who ran them or what they were doing with them. Different components of the agency had set them up, without informing HQ. Passwords to social media accounts were widely shared and given to interns and even contractors, like myself.

I felt we should communicate more, not less. There were some fascinating stories inside the agency where I worked. Technicians developing tools to alert the public to severe weather. Scientists uncovering the secrets of the lightless deep ocean. Researchers helping farmers plan for drought.

There should be more government communication, not less. Every government employee should be allowed to communicate with the public on the subject of their work. Conservatives should demand this – don’t you want to know what your money is being used for?

Information wants to be free, wanting to escape its bounds and find its way to readers. Just look at the 2016 campaign, during which embarassing DNC documents were leaked by the Russians.

The Trump action will ultimately fail, the tools they used against opponents now turned upon them. Once the feds discover how easy it is to go rogue, an alternate universe of federal information will be established in cyberspace, outside the control of Trumpian minders, a Wikileaks of climate reports, scientific research and gossipy accounts of government life, ultimately achieving the aim of making government information accessible to the people.

For what better way to get people to read something then to tell them that it’s banned? 😉


Get Them to Open Your Email: Three Tips from GovDelivery

Email is the simplest of digital marketing tools and one of the most effective ways of motivating an audience. Of all the tools in the online suite, it’s been around the longest. It’s pre-web, people! The first email was sent in 1971, when the World Wide Web was nothing but a fanciful theory and social media meant communing over magazines with your friends.

It’s old. It’s not sexy. Yet, a good email list can drive traffic to your web site like nothing else.

But how do you get subscribers to open your emails? That was the subject of a recent GovDelivery talk, How to Design Great Emails. This breakfast talk offered tips to create engaging emails that resonate with citizens and drive results.

While geared for government communicators, the tips offered by Allison Hamilton, are applicable for anyone who manages an email list, no matter what technology they use.

How much of your email do you actually read? If you’re like most people, you scan the subject lines in your inbox looking for things you have to read or want to read. Everything else gets trashed, right? How else can you cope with the onslaught of electronic communication that all of us endure?

To get readers to open your email, you need to be clear, concise and direct. Remember: the average attention span online is 8 seconds. You need to capture readers before they move on to the next bit of online communication.

That means simplifying. Make things easy for the reader. Don’t make them think.

Use a compelling subject line, include relevant imagery and have a clear call to action – that’s how you get people to open your emails.

Here’s a slide from Allison’s talk on the anatomy of an email. She could’ve spent an hour just on these keys to getting readers to open your email.

Anatomy of an email1. Subject Line – Imagine writing the title of a book. How would you describe it in 5-7 words? What is this email about? What are you giving the reader? Look back on previous emails and check open rates. What words/phrases resonate with your readers? Don’t use your organization’s language – use that of your readers.

2. Relevant Imagery – Why do ads contain photos? Why don’t companies just spell out the benefits of their products in long blocks of text? Because photos work. They draw the reader into the page – particularly photos of people. Create/buy/acquire a photo library of relevant imagery to use for web and email. Relevant imagery means images that tell the story of your organization.

3. Obvious Call to Action – This seems, well, obvious, but it’s not. I’ve worked in organizations where the call to action is buried under paragraphs of text. Why? Because XYZ Agency wants to tell readers how wonderful they are. Or they want to explain how they developed this new thing and here’s a page of scientific explanation that you need to slog through. No. If you want reader to do something – download a report, sign-up for an event, lobby their Senator – then put that “above the fold.” It belongs at the start of the email, not the end.

We look down upon email. It’s an “email blast” in many organizations, which is a terrible term for such an important tool. Do you want to be blasted?

Email is simple and effective. It delivers results. And it could do more, with just a few simple tweaks to the “above the fold” content. To improve open rates on your emails, use a compelling subject line, include relevant imagery and feature an obvious call to action.

For more tips on successful email, check out the slide presentationsblog recap and photos from GovDelivery.


Making a U-Turn through the Stop U-Turns on Penn Protest

protest in front of the Wilson Building

Why doesn’t the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) protect the bike lane in front of the Wilson Building?

That was the subject of the recent protest, Stop U-Turns on Pennsylvania Avenue. Local cyclists (including me) created a human shield to protect those using the bike lane that runs down the center of Pennsylvania Avenue. While DDOT has installed “park-its” (little  curbs) to discourage drivers from making u-turns along most of Penn, it has declined to do so along the 1300 and 1400 blocks of the avenue.

DDOT says it’s studying the issue. Coincidentally, the 1300 block is home to the Wilson Building and a gaggle of DC Councilmembers, known for their reckless driving and park-anywhere attitude. They enjoy making u-turns on Penn, among other, greater offenses.

It’s dangerous to make a u-turn across a bike lane where people are riding in both directions. There have been three reported incidents of cyclists getting hit by cars just on this block.

The park-its have made a huge difference on the rest of Pennsylvania Avenue, where I used to see cars making u-turns across the bike lane every time I rode it. That’s largely ended, thanks to the park-its.

At the protest, we formed a human shield of about fifty riders to protect the unprotected blocks. We lined the bike lane where the park-its should be. Police officers on bikes and in cars were there to keep everyone safe.

Surely, no driver would attempt to make a u-turn through the protest, right? Hah! Crazed DC drivers aren’t going to let people on bikes get in their way, even with cops all around! I saw at least three illegal u-turns in just thirty minutes, demonstrating a shocking disregard for traffic laws and human life.

Someone even made a u-turn through the protest! There was a ten-foot gap between protesters so the crazed driver nosed his SUV through the line of people and across the bike lane. If you’re this reckless, you should not be allowed to drive in DC.

Stop U-Turns on Penn Protest

biking through the protest

S Claude Trumbull, protest organizer

No pictures! This cabbie was displeased that I took his photo while he got a ticket for making an illegal u-turn at the #stoputurnsonpenn protest.

making a u-turn through the Stop U-Turns Protest


Employees Are the Brand

Lincoln Memorial amid trees

Your employees are your brand, according to an all-star panel of communicators at the recent workshop, “Building an Agency’s Brand and Defining the Audience.”

The Federal Communicators Network (FCN) and the Partnership for Public Service sponsored this conversation on how to build a strong brand and better define your audience. This lively discussion featured real-world stories from professional communicators who have honed their organization’s brand and established a clear customer base.

Panelists included Danielle Blumenthal (NIST), Bill Walsh (AARP), Suki Baz (National Park Service) and moderator Dave Herbert (NGS).

Suki Baz began by describing the rebranding efforts going on at the National Park Service. They have a logo that’s iconic and instantly recognizable. However, the design of the NPS arrowhead is limiting, as it was designed before the needs of web pages and social media. As their 100th anniversary approaches, they’re reintroducing their logo with a fresh new feel that’s designed to appeal to millennials.

However, NPS recognizes that to appeal to younger audiences they need to do more than just change their logo. NPS is adding to their social media teams and encouraging their parks to actively engage with younger audiences, particularly online.

(An aside: of course I asked NPS about how they never respond to my tweets! Unsurprisingly, NPS is a large bureaucracy like any other one. Suki has little control over what local park districts do. So, how do you get in touch with a park if you have an issue? She suggested calling.)

Another organization that has approached rebranding is AARP. For most people, it’s an organization synonymous with senior citizens. The arrival of a letter inviting you to join AARP is like an official acknowledgment of old age. Bill Walsh of AARP hopes to change all that. AARP no longer stands for the American Association of Retired Persons. Instead, it’s just AARP these days. They’ve modernized their web, print and social media materials to reach out to Baby Boomers – you only need to be 50 to join. These efforts fall under a single banner: Real Possibilities. AARP no longer wants to be known just for travel discounts – they want to be seen as an organization that will help you reach your potential through career and life advice.

Employees are a key element in this transition. AARP has offices nationwide and a cadre of volunteers. Field offices have been provided with briefing materials and messaging guides so that the organization can speak in a single, consistent voice.

Danielle Blumenthal underscored this point with examples from her career in federal government. Her experience is been that most people don’t read the employee newsletter. The way to reach busy employees is through short, concise, valuable content. Instead of doing a newsletter, she suggests sending out a daily email with the three things that you need to know for the day. You need to focus on value (the things employees care about) and be real (speak as a person, not an organization). After all, the first people you need to sell your brand to are your own employees.

Employees are brand ambassadors. The public builds impressions of brands based upon the experience they have with them. New logos and redesign efforts are only part of the solution to modernizing a brand. Employees are the key element in any transition for they embody the brand.

For More Information

WABA Honors the Best in Local Biking

Shane Farthing addresses a packed house at the WABA Awards
Shane Farthing, Executive Director of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. addresses a packed house at the WABA Awards.

The tension was palpable at the 2015 Bicyclists’ Choice Awards. Washington area bike riders had nominated and voted on their favorite bike stuff in DC, MD and VA –  but who would win?

All was revealed on Friday night at the Thurgood Marshall Center in an action-packed evening put on by the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA).

On a night when the temperature was in the teens, I wondered if people were going to show up for this. In fact, it was a packed house.

And people even biked there, despite the weather and the streets slippery with ice and snow.

Bikes parked outside the WABA Awards
Bikes parked in the snow outside the Thurgood Marshall Center in Shaw.

The City Paper’s bike advice columnist, Gear Prudence, aka Brian McEntee, was the host for the awards ceremony, which kicked off after everyone had a chance to mingle and get a drink from Port City.

It's @SharrowsDC, emcee of the WABA Awards
Gear Prudence rolled into the ceremonies on his Brompton.

But who won? These were the winners of the Bicyclists Choice Awards:

Best New Bike Infrastructure in the District of Columbia in 2014:
Winner: M Street protected bike lane

This surprised me because I think the M Street bike lane is a poorly-designed death trap. But there wasn’t a lot to choose from – the development of new bike lanes stalled under Mayor Grey.

Best New Bike Infrastructure in Maryland in 2014:
Winner: MARC train Bike Cars from DC to Baltimore

Now this is exciting! MARC is a cheap and easy way to get to Charm City and now I can take my bike there. Moreover, the MARC official who accepted the award revealed that they have plans for MARC train Bike Cars going out to West Virginia. That means you could take the train out to Harpers Ferry and bike back on the C&O Canal.

Best New Bike Infrastructure in Virginia in 2014:
Winner: King Street bike lanes in Alexandria, VA

The transportation officials who fought to get this done against a tide of wealthy NIMBYs deserve a hundred more awards.

Bike Friendliest Neighborhood or Business Improvement District
Winner: DowntownDC BID

Bike Friendliest Bar, Restaurant or Coffee Shop
Winner: District Taco, various locations in DC and VA

District Taco is good but I voted for Swings, since it’s home to Friday Coffee Club, where bike people meet every Friday morning.

Bike Friendliest Developer or Property Manager
Winner: Nationals Park

Best Bike Shop
Winner: BicycleSPACE

Bike Friendliest School
Winners (tie): School Without Walls High School, DC and the Washington & Lee High School, Arlington, VA

Bike Friendliest College or University
Winner: University of Maryland at College Park

Best Shop Ride
Winner: BicycleSPACE Hills of Anacostia

Best Use of Biking Data
Winner: Bike Arlington’s Freezing Saddles 

I voted for Bikeshare Visualizations, which is a fascinating look at how people use Bikeshare.

Best Media Coverage of Biking
Winner: Martin DiCaro for WAMU

Martin DiCaro covers the people who bike in this city like they’re real people, not a fringe group to be mocked or relentlessly trolled (I’m talking about you Washington Post).

Best Social Ride
Winner: BicycleSPACE’s 7th Street Social

What? DC Donut Crawl didn’t win?

Biggest Advocacy Win of 2014
Winner: Snow Removal on Arlington County Trails

Plowing the bike trails for the local citizenry doesn’t seem like a radical notion but the fact that Arlington County does it makes them unique and remarkable among local governments. Arlington County is innovative and amazing. They not only cleared their bike trails of snow they have cool videos and the best scarves.

I want to move to Arlington for this scarf
Bike Arlington believes in looking good while doing good.

Best Overall Trail or Bike Lane (anywhere in the region)

Winner: W&OD Trail

It’s easy to overlook this amazing trail, which stretches some 45 miles across urban, suburban and rural Virginia.

WABA also handed out special WABA Awards to honor bike advocates. See the complete list on their site.

It was a great evening, like the Oscars but without all the awkward patter (okay, there was some of that). They should call them “The Bikeys”next year.

And as someone who works in government myself… trust me, awards matter. If you’re a local official, being honored by the people you serve provides a cachet that you cannot get in the office. It will motivate you in the future. It’s a big deal. The WABA Awards may be in their infancy but they will prompt the development of Washington as a biking city.

Innovate or Be Mildly Embarrassed

Tesla #strideby #collaborateDC #igdc
Tesla on display at the Collaborate conference in Washington, DC.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
– Peter Drucker

Dr. David Bray, Chief Information Officer, Federal Communications Commission, mentioned this quote in “Innovate or Die,” a panel discussion on governmental innovation at Collaborate. His point was the leaders must do more than just develop a grand vision for their organization – they must build an innovative culture if it is to survive. That means encouraging mistakes, providing support for risk-takers and fostering a belief that innovation is everyone’s job.

Collaborate was billed as “Where Innovators in Entrepreneurship, Government, and Technology Converge.” It was two days filled with keynote speakers, panel discussions and workshops at the Ronald Reagan Center in Washington, DC. These events always remind me of SXSW – there’s weird furniture, space-trip lounge music and freebies galore. But what’s great about this free exchange of ideas is the sense of optimism that, yes, we can change everything, even the federal government.

However, the debacles of the past few years, from the Iraq war to Obamacare, has revealed that government is broken. It just doesn’t do things very well anymore. Why?

It comes down to culture. The panelists at “Innovate or Die” all had great ideas, some of which they’d been able to implement in their agencies. But it’s been a long slog.

The reason for the resistance is that there’s no “or die” part of the equation. There’s no “or anything” for governmental innovation. “Innovate or Be Mildly Embarrassed” would be a more accurate panel description. That the FCC has streamlined paperwork is wonderful – but other government agencies haven’t, without punishment. No one dies. No one is punished. In fact, Obamacare website developer CGI Federal, “the poster child for government failure” was just awarded a new contract by the IRS.

Who’s on the other end of the “or die” end of the equation? You and me, as the recent Metro fire demonstrates. Their organizational culture expresses nothing but contempt for passengers. Our safety comes second to the jobs program that is the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

I’m a cog in the vast federal bureaucracy, a contractor tasked with helping the feds out with communication. I recently had to obtain approval for an all-hands message. This meant printing out the message, putting it in a red folder (no other color, please), printing a routing slip and then walking the folder around from office to office to get senior execs to read the memo and initial it. Nothing about this 19th Century process struck anyone as unusual or exceptional. That’s the power of culture.

How do you change culture? “Forced retirement” is the answer you hear from a lot of younger feds. They’d love to see a lot of their older coworkers out the door. And I think they’re right.

But it’s also changing the incentive structure. If you want government to be innovative and responsive to citizen needs, then you need to reward and encourage innovators. That means money, promotions and accolades. It also means that we, the people, need to demand governmental reform. You get the culture you encourage. If you want innovation, reward it.

Metro and the Culture of Organizational Indifference

Silver Spring Transit Center, doomed to never open?
The empty Silver Spring Transit Center. Total cost: $125 million. And rising.

Every morning, I walk by the empty shell of the Silver Spring Transit Center. It was supposed to be a glorified bus shelter, where people could transfer from one bus to another. Construction began in 2008. Six years and $125 million later and it’s still not open.

Why? Because it’s unsafe. The concrete in the structure has started to crack and crumble. Who is responsible? Montgomery County blames the contractors; the contractors blame the subcontractors; the subcontractors say they just followed the Montgomery County specs; and so on. It’s a perfect circle of blamelessness, where no one is at fault.

On Monday, there was a fire in Metro, the subway system for Washington, DC. Smoke is not uncommon in the aging system.

I ride the Metro every day and can’t imagine a more nightmarish scenario than being trapped in a train car as it filled with smoke. People waited as the train operator assured them that help was on the way. They waited patiently for 45-60 minutes, in a tunnel, as smoke overwhelmed them. One person died; 83 others were sent to the hospital.

At the time, I tweeted:

Why won’t anything change? The people who manage, operate and oversee Metro have no incentive to change. General Manager Richard Sarles is retiring with a generous pension. Senior Metro executives will receive bonuses. The rich provisions of union contracts will continue to be honored. The Board of Directors will meet and chat. No one will be fired and everyone will find someone else to blame for this tragedy.

The attitude of this elite class of public sector professionals reminds me of Tom and Daisy from The Great Gatsby, after they ran someone over in another transit-related tragedy:

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

Except no one will clean up this mess. Fires, derailments and other safety hazards in Metro will continue and get worse.

Nothing will change at Metro until we make individuals accountable. That means firing everyone associated with Monday’s fire, including:

  • The Train Operator.
  • The Station Manager.
  • The Manager in Charge of Track Maintenance.
  • The Manager of Operations Control Center.

This should be done – at a minimum. It would be a small step to demonstrate that Metro takes this seriously.

Metro does not need to wait for the NTSB investigation to do this. Someone died in the system that they manage. There needs to be an immediate consequence for this tragedy.

Metro will say, “But we can’t fire anyone – they’re in a union.” Then the union should be abolished. Passenger safety is more important than organized labor. You cannot institute individual accountability with a labor union controlling hiring, firing and work rules.

Train arrives in Silver Spring #igdc #wmata
A train arrives in Silver Spring

Over the next few months, the familiar cycle of blame will set in. Metro will say that the accident is because the Board didn’t give them enough money; the Board will say that they did all they could; union will blame management; management will blame union; Metro will blame passengers; and on and on as everyone remains in their jobs. It will be business as usual – unless we demand better.

Washington is supposedly the land of the “best and the brightest.” And we have no want for resources – we literally print money in this city. If Metro is The Great Society Subway, then the failure to make it safe for riders is an indictment of the entire idea of big government.  Walter Olson at the Cato Institute nails it:

If the cream of the nation’s political class, living within a 50 mile radius in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C., cannot arrange to obtain competence from their elected local officials in delivering a public service that’s vital to their daily work lives, what does that tell us about their pretensions to improve through federal action the delivery of local government services – fire and police, water supply and schooling, road maintenance and, yes, transit itself – in the rest of the country?

Big government and other large organizations need to be made accountable. That means punishing people. To break the cycle of organizational indifference, then we have to ensure that there are real penalties for screwing up.

Metro must be reformed. Our lives depend on it.