Citing a botched response to a fire on Thursday, the Federal Transit Administration issued a series of emergency directives and threatened to shut down all or parts of the nation’s second-busiest subway.
Metro derailed by culture of complacence, incompetence, lack of diversity
‘Inept get promoted, … capable get buried’
Ninety-seven percent of the bus and train operators at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority are black, with only six white women out of more than 3,000 drivers, according to Metro documents — a lack of diversity at one of the region’s largest employers that has led to an acknowledgment of failure in affirmative-action documents and spawned a series of lawsuits.
The homogeneity, interviews with dozens of current and former Metro workers indicated, is a proxy to a clubby culture of favoritism in which merit has little to do with promotions, and accountability, such as noting safety violations, is a career death knell. In typical examples, court and Metro records show, a black man who spent eight years in prison for dealing PCP was promoted to a high-level management position soon after his release, and whites in the same positions as blacks with far less seniority are inexplicably paid less.
With Metro’s budget chronically strained and reports of mismanagement coming more regularly than trains, interviews and internal records depict a likely root: an environment in which hardworking employees are actively excluded and those who rise are those willing to do the bare minimum — never causing a stir by flagging rampant safety violations, reporting malfeasance or proposing improvements.
“When the accident happened in 2009, I called a supervisor and said, ‘Is this the one we all dreaded?’ The way workers do their jobs, we all knew it was a matter of time. … The inept get promoted, and the capable get buried. Smart people were put in the corner, ostracized and given nothing to do,” said Christine Townsend, who sued Metro for discrimination and won.
“The average rider wouldn’t believe the things that go on. There are so many easy things we could do to make the system better,” a station manager said. “But they’d never put me in charge because they know I’d make sure others actually did their jobs. They don’t want change. It’s go along to get along.”
Metro is a quasi-public agency that receives funding from the federal government, Maryland, Virginia and local jurisdictions to operate a regional bus and rail transportation system in the national capital area, but is not beholden to rules that apply to fully governmental entities. With a $2.5 billion operating and capital budget for fiscal 2012, Metrorail serves 86 stations and has 106 miles of track, while Metrobus serves the nation’s capital with 1,500 buses.
Metro’s affirmative-action plan notes that the 1.4 percent of its bus and train operators who are Hispanic and the 25 percent who are female of any race are “less than reasonably expected.” It does not make note of the 1.5 percent who are white.