By Ryan Romano
For Unwind magazine
One of the advantages that the University of Maryland provides is its close proximity to Washington, D.C. A job or internship in one of the country’s most powerful cities, as well as great nightlife and sights, are just a short Metro trip away.
For a while now, though, those rides have featured their fair share of bumps. The past year alone has seen inconsistent and often unsafe conditions, defined by everything from a derailment and a fatal smoke leak to numerous and recurrent delays.
Events such as these have become so common that frequent riders have adjusted their behavior to account for the irregularities.
“If you leave a few extra minutes, you can still make it there on time,” sophomore criminal justice and criminology major Daniel Wolf said.
The Metro’s board took the first step toward remedying these problems Nov. 19, officially naming Paul Wiedefeld as its new general manager. In a subsequent press conference, he promised that he would combat the lack of dependability that had plagued the Metro.
“I’m going to hold weekly meetings on all reliability issues, and I want to know what happened, why did it happen, and what are we doing to correct it,” he said.
For sophomore biology and genetics major Mathavi Sankar, the Metro’s inconsistencies haven’t been anything more than an occasional nuisance. She nevertheless welcomed the “helpful” fixes, which she said would especially benefit “people who ride the Metro often and rely on it as their sole method of transportation.”
Wiedefeld, who was previously the chief executive of Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, reassured those passengers during the press conference that he would follow through.
“I can’t undo what’s been done, but I can start to move in a different direction, and that’s what I’m going to do,” he said.
Many of the Metro’s troubles stem to the bottom line. In March of 2014, The Washington Post reported on an audit by the Federal Transit Authority, which concluded that the Metro had garishly misused much of its federal funding. Earlier in the month, an anonymous official told the Post that “put[ting] their financial house in order” should be the Metro’s top priority.
Despite that, Wiedefeld also said that he doesn’t want to raise fares until the Metro has progressed past its current difficulties. Instead, he proposed that the Metro should look into “opportunities with the private sector, particularly the development sector” to make up for monetary shortages.
Some of the problems might not have solutions. Graduate student Russell Garing cited the two-track system as an inherent cause of the Metro’s issues.
“There’s two rails, going any direction, and therefore they’re stuck with that problem,” Garing said. “They can’t do major overhauls while also running consistently.”
Wiedefeld acknowledged that some obstacles would inevitably arise. He didn’t use that as an excuse, though, saying that he would do his best to minimize any potential problems.
“Things are going to happen, with a huge organization like this,” he said. “But you can get that to the point where it becomes invisible to the customer.”
Wiedefeld takes office on the Nov. 30, and no one yet knows what his tenure atop the organization will bring. Wolf, a Metro veteran, didn’t show much optimism about the transportation system’s future.
“You can never be too certain, when D.C. says they’re going to improve something, that it’ll actually get improved, but it would be nice,” he said. “It’s possible, but I don’t have my hopes up.”
While this university’s students could certainly have it worse — not many schools are located next to a worldwide hub of business and culture — many facets of the Metro still require repair. As 2015 comes to a close, students can only hope that 2016 will bring a better Metro.