Metro to Update Prince George’s Council on SafeTrack, Agency

Anthony Garland (standing in center), international representative with the Amalgamated Transit Union, talks about Metro during a Prince George's County Council meeting in Upper Marlboro on June 13. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Anthony Garland (standing in center), international representative with the Amalgamated Transit Union, talks about Metro during a Prince George's County Council meeting in Upper Marlboro on June 13. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

Metro’s leader plans to brief Prince George’s County Council Monday about the future of the beleaguered transit agency and make another pitch for jurisdictions to offer financial support.

Although residents and others in attendance won’t be allowed to ask questions and comment at this session, members of the Amalgamated Transit Union will come to the county administration building in Upper Marlboro.

“How do we build a robust transit system … moving forward?” Anthony Garland, international representative with the Amalgamated Transit Union, told the county council Tuesday. “Public transit has to be a very serious conversation of how we can fix that dealing with dedicated bus lanes, bus route transit and other initiatives.”

The agency’s largest union, ATU Local 689, and Metro officials have butted heads on how to improve Metro, especially since the current contract expired last year.

Council Chairman Derrick Davis (D-District 6) of Upper Marlboro advised union leaders to work with Metro officials and other leaders in D.C., Maryland and Virginia and the federal government.

“This issue is one of the most important issues in the region,” he said. “I want to encourage you to continue to participate and make sure that … everyone … hears your voice.”

ATU Local 689 and its representatives released a report (http://bit.ly/2oCqF6D) in March with several recommendations to improve Metro, including taxing land near stations, create a joint union-management committee to identify and resolve safety issues and have front-line employee empowered to restrict or stop operations due to unsafe conditions.

Meanwhile, the agency’s board of directors voted 14-1 Thursday to approve a plan from General Manager Paul Wiedefeld.

The resolution outlines how the agency remains the only system in the nation with no dedicated source of revenue.

The document also pushes for federal money and reiterates Metro’s need for about $15.5 billion over 10 years to keep the agency safe and reliable.

Because the agency doesn’t receive dedicated revenue, Wiedefeld has said the agency must change its business model and save money that include cost-cutting measures and contracting for certain services.

Malcolm Augustine, who represents Prince George’s County, cast the lone vote against Wiedefeld’s proposal.

Although Augustine appreciated Wiedefeld’s work and support for a long-term financial commitment from places such as Maryland, he still voted against the plan partly due to concerns about how it would affect Metro employees, nearly half of whom reside in Prince George’s.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III released a statement that echoed Augustine’s concerns.

“In addition to identifying the broad conditions in his plan, Mr. Wiedefeld attempted to outline specific actions to achieve the goal of long-term health,” Baker said. “These proposals deserve consideration but require additional study and consultation … with regard to their impact and overall viability towards achieving our goal of a safe, reliable, affordable and efficient Metro.”

Reliability, Performance

Metro officials claim once the agency’s SafeTrack maintenance program ends June 25, the agency will conduct more preventive work that will improve performance and arrival times.

On that same day, the new hours of operations go into effect, include the elimination of rush hour-only service on the Yellow Line and Metrorail stations closing at 11 p.m. on Sundays and 11:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

During this fiscal year, Andrew Off, Metro assistant general manager for transit and engineering services, said this will allow crews to replace crossties, grout pads and conduct other work outside rush hour and on the weekends.

“Our intent in [fiscal 2018] is to limit daytime track work,” Off said during a committee meeting Thursday. “As we’ve learned through the end of SafeTrack, we’re doing this massive shutdown to run better, reliable service … and also to provide better quality work.”

Customer satisfaction has been a problem for at least the past year. A quarterly report released last month showed customer satisfaction fell at 74 percent, well below Metro’s goal of 85 percent.

The target is the same for satisfaction among rail commuters, but rates even worse at 69 percent.

Some of the reasons for dissatisfaction cited in the January-March report are late-arriving buses and trains, comfortability, bus collisions and railcar malfunctions.

However, officials said reliability for Metrorail has shown improvement this year.

For instance, 91 percent of the 14 million Metrorail trips made in May arrived on time, or within five minutes of a destination. A Metro spokesman said the calculations are based on riders entering and exiting fare gates.

“You will see on-time performance improve, [but] how quickly and what the measure is, I can’t tell you right now,” said Metro Chief Operating Officer Joseph Leader.

Several board members said they’ve noticed a difference in service and reliability.

Robert Lauby, who represents the federal government, praised SafeTrack as a way “to make things better, more efficient. I feel the difference.”

“We know that we have brought the system back to a much better performance by the large amount of time we’ve invested … with the level of shutdowns,” said Catherine Hudgins, who represents Fairfax County on the board. “As a result, [commuters will] see a safer and more convenient and reliable system.”

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About William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer 286 Articles
I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com
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