Wednesday, July 19, 2006

An Environmentalist's Secret Shame: I Don't Love Metro

As an environmentalist, I love the benefits public transportation brings to a community. Primarily, public transportation gets cars off the road, leading to reduced air pollution.

There are
other benefits, too. Riding a bus is 79 times safer than driving a car. And public transportation saves 855 million gallons of gasoline a year, reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

And beyond that, riding Metro certainly can be a more civilized experience than driving. I see a lot more of my neighbors & neighborhood than I did when I drove. I get to read the paper in the morning and a book on the way home. I probably had read two books for pleasure in the two years prior to Metroing to work. I've read four in the last three months (right now I'm working on JFK's
Profiles in Courage). I also get a lot more exercise, walking about 45 minutes a day to & from Metro stations.

But even with all those benefits ... I don't love Metro.

Oh, those environmental benefits are so tantalizing! Much like
Eminem repeatedly marrying Kim Mathers or George Steinbrenner repeatedly hiring Billy Martin, I keep coming back no matter how many times I get burned.

But trains slow to a crawl in
severe weather -- high temperatures, heavy rain, or any kind of snow. Even routine train breakdowns send shockwaves through the system, turning station platforms into mosh pits. When it comes to homeland security in DC, the elephant in the room is that if Metro ever suffered a terrorist attack against its infrastructure, the city would grind to a halt for weeks, if not months.

The Metro station workers are
surly, one even accusing my 64-year-old mom of being a turnstyle-jumper.

The longest, eight-car trains are unwieldy, lurching through tunnels and often making jarring stops in stations. It's not quite the
rollercoaster at the county fair, but it's not pleasant.

Even when I'm not commuting, I often end up wondering if I'd have been better off driving. On late nights and weekends, waits can run up to 20 minutes. After a while, you start to feel like the grailkeeper in Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade. You chose ... poorly. And late weekend nights are miserable. It once took me an hour and a half to get from U Street to Virginia Square, making a $20 cab ride seem like a bargain.

On balance, I suppose a little waiting here and there is a small price to pay for improving our environment. But I wish it didn't have to be a tradeoff. Can't we clean the air and get a smooth ride at the same time?

Everyone seems to agree Interim Metro General Manager Dan Tangherlini has taken steps to improve service. But unfortunately, our region's elected officials have shown little stomach for taking tough political stands to provide sustainable funding for the serious, long-term upgrades Metro needs.

If you're interested in learning more about working to improve Metro, you can visit the Metro riders' lobbying group.
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