Though most of us dont stop to think about it, living our daily lives involves countless small steps of faith. We take for granted that there will be electricity to turn on the coffee pot. We assume that everyone will more or less obey traffic rules and we will get safely to and from the grocery store. We are confident that our able police force will protect us from those who would do us harm.
Recent events, however, have cast doubt on one important element in the lives of many Alexandrians: the safety of our Metro system. No longer can people just unthinkingly hop on the train or bus and confidently assume that they will arrive safely at work.
The recent spate of fatal Metro accidents, involving train crashes, trains hitting workers and buses hitting pedestrians calls into question the basic safety of a system that many of us rely on daily.
What is particularly worrisome is that these recent accidents are not isolated they are part of a long list of safety mishaps dating back several years. Daily revelations, such as the fact that the Metro bus driver responsible for hitting a pedestrian on September 3 had been involved in two previous Metro accidents and had received five traffic citations in January, call into question the competence of those running the system. Why was such a driver still behind the wheel of a Metro bus?
For Alexandria, the Metro issue involves not just the safety of riders and system workers, though that is paramount, but also economic and environmental concerns. Metro trains and buses are a vital lifeline for our citys economy, bringing thousands of people who live elsewhere to work for Alexandrias city government, in the U.S. Patent and Trade office and at countless businesses. Thousands more who live in Alexandria ride Metro into the District of Columbia each day. These workers and residents pump millions of dollars into Alexandrias economy each year.
Use of the Metro as an economic tool is a central part of Alexandrias strategic plan that relies on what it calls smart growth. In this plan, metro stations are considered catalysts for economic development. The Metro system also plays a central part in bringing tourists, who make up a key component of our local economy, to our city. The last thing our city needs in the midst of a recession is for tourists to become afraid to cross the river because of Metro safety concerns.
Encouraging Metro use is also an important component in Alexandrias effort to be more environmentally responsible. We need to continue to encourage people to leave their cars in their garages and ride trains and buses instead.
These serious and on-going safety issues point to a lack of strong leadership and oversight at Metro. Ultimate responsibility for Metros safety failures must rest at the feet of Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. Though Catoe has lengthy experience helping run some of the nations largest transit systems, experience alone is not enough. Thorough processes, that are made public to a nervous ridership, need to be put in place to ensure diligent screening of employees at hiring and consistent reviews of drivers traffic records. In addition, a thorough review of all Metro processes regarding track safety must take place. While the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the individual accidents, a comprehensive review of Metro practices is warranted.
Fortunately for Alexandrians, our own Mayor Bill Euille is a member of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board. Hopefully Mayor Euille can help provide strong guidance to the Transit Authority and can help them improve their screening and safety processes, and also help keep the citizens of Alexandria informed of progress made on these issues. Riding the Metro needs to return to the list of things that Alexandrians do, confidently, without a second thought.