Your Views: We have no public transportation

Your Views: We have no public transportation
A WMATA bus. (Photo/WMATA)

To the editor:

Whether you commute to work by WMATA, DASH, carpool, driving or even by bike, WMATA service affects you. The region used to depend on very high frequency mass transit service. Very high frequency mass transit service made roads more usable for all. Businesses were located adjacent to WMATA rail stations and hubs, and much of the region’s real estate investment map relied on the WMATA map as a where-to-site tool.

For decades, WMATA has mattered. That’s why it also matters that there simply is no more WMATA service, especially to, from and within Alexandria.

We have seen WMATA shut down all service to and from Alexandria because of claimed platform defects at Braddock Road. WMATA made its typical promises to the effect that the fix would be expeditious. It was eventually completed, many months late. We have seen WMATA dramatically reduce both peak and off-peak service over a five-year period, preceding COVID-19 by substantially over a year. Every inquiry led to promises of service restoration, and soon. There hasn’t been any.

We have seen WMATA announce a Yellow line service shutdown, scheduled to start soon, that WMATA claims will take eight months rolled-in. All WMATA-watchers well know this will take infinitely longer.

We have seen our City Council blindly defend WMATA for years, and we have been deafened by the absolute silence of our city’s weakest council member, who sits on WMATA’s board and who shares in personal and political responsibility for the continuing mess. And we have seen WMATA’s board vigorously defend the prior WMATA GM, who I believe consistently lied to the public.

All that is prologue. Just this month, WMATA admitted that half of its rail and many of its bus operators are not certified to lawfully, safely, do their jobs. During the various COVID-related WMATA slowdowns and shut-downs, when personnel were widely available to be re-trained and certified, WMATA fell down on the job completely. WMATA did not even track its own training and certification records.

Now that service simply must be restored, personnel are being taken out of service. As a result, what little WMATA service we still receive will be sliced down even further, for the convenience of WMATA and its personnel.

True to form, WMATA made the latest announcement of service reductions on a Sunday afternoon. This provides commuters – those who use WMATA and those who do not – with absolutely no means of making alternative arrangements. This costs revenue. This will cost people their jobs.

And the WMATA service area selected for the latest cutback? That would include Yellow, which will be completely shut down to Alexandria starting in several weeks anyway – first for switch-installation work at the Potomac Yards station – work that a capable railroad could easily complete within two to three weeks – and then for bridge reconstruction work. And we all know perfectly well that the switch work will wind up taking three months, and it’s a reasonable bet that the bridge work will take two years.

I used public transit for my commute for more than 40 years. I relied on WMATA for my commute, on rare occasions supplemented by DASH, for 24 years. I have been on trains that were diverted without announcement, in stations that displayed completely inaccurate arrival and departure information and on buses that were crowded with vagrants harassing female passengers riding alone. And I stuck to it. And it became impossible.

Now I am a former WMATA commuter. Just over two years ago, I made the wisest commuting decision ever: I bought a car. I commute, normally with one passenger, by car. It’s the only way to reliably reach work because we have no more public transportation in the region.

If you don’t have, and drive, a car, you are out of business here. As we bring tens of thousands of additional residents to Alexandria, while we simultaneously reduce vehicle capacity, we promise to physically strand our entire community.

It is long past time for the City of Alexandria to exit the WMATA compact. Alexandria can, and should, seek a state law ruling as to whether the Constitution of Virginia permits the city to continue to be bound to funding and other obligations under the WMATA Compact.

It is also long past time for the city to quit assuming that public transportation will somehow appear to serve our imprudently exploding population. Public transportation isn’t here now. It won’t be here in the future. There is no longer any such thing in this region.

-Mark C. Williams, Alexandria