Irene Ly: Metro officials must do more to ensure passenger safety

Everyone knows it’s been a rough year for the Metro. Apart from the usual track work and delays, the city’s main public transit system also dealt with a major train derailment last month.

Passengers who regularly ride the Metro put up with a lot, but it seems like the derailment was the last straw. According to The Washington Post, after that incident, officials revealed that the track defect that caused the derailment had been detected one month earlier, but wasn’t repaired. This has left many wondering whether passenger safety is really at the top of Metro management’s priority list.

But earlier this month, the Metro’s chief safety officer James Dougherty resigned – meaning we may finally see some change in the way the Metro operates. In addition to replacing Dougherty, the governing board has agreed to search for a restructuring specialist to reform the struggling agency’s finances and operations — but they haven’t officially agreed to hire anyone. And there’s some speculation that Virginia’s board members might veto a decision to hire that person.

Dougherty’s resignation was an important step, but it isn’t enough. It’s time to move past the blame game and plan a course of action. Therefore, it’s imperative that the Metro’s governing board finds and hires an outside specialist as soon as possible — someone who will review the Metro’s management, workplace culture and operations, and who will make suggestions to ensure better safety and efficiency.

An outside expert is essential to solving the Metro’s problems. An outsider will notice things current management and board members don’t, and can offer objective advice through a complete review. Or, he or she could recommend further action if necessary. For example, some people, like members of The Washington Post’s editorial board, are questioning whether the Metro may even need a complete overhaul.

Everyone who rides the Metro is putting their lives in the hands of the people who run it. And thousands of people ride the Metro everyday — from federal employees, to GW students who are interning outside of Foggy Bottom, to commuter students like me. And even though D.C. is apparently the most walkable city in the nation, the Metro is often the most efficient option.

On a typical day, I feel perfectly safe making my usual commute on the Metro. But of course, news of a derailment, violence or any other Metro-related problem makes me think twice.

While the majority of GW students live in on-campus housing and probably don’t need to use the Metro as much as faculty or I do, it’s most students’ ticket out of Foggy Bottom. Whether it’s for work or leisure, the Metro allows us to get where we want to go outside campus borders quickly and relatively cheaply, instead of walking for miles or spending money on an Uber.

As a result, the Metro’s governing board needs to pay attention to GW students’ and faculty’s opinions on this issue. We are all at least semi-regular riders of the Metro and contribute to its high ridership. The least it can do is listen to our concerns and take them to heart.

It’s obvious that the Metro’s top priority needs to be the safety of its passengers. But that may be easier said than done. Congress funds the Metro, and the House Appropriations Committee decided to cut Metro funding earlier this year, The Washington Post reports. But that doesn’t mean the Metro’s board should stand by and do nothing. They can demonstrate their commitment to the community by hiring an expert as soon as possible.

As someone who depends on the Metro to get to campus and to get around D.C., I don’t want to get on a train and hope that I’ll be safe. Instead, I want to get on the Metro and know I’ll be safe. With these proposed changes, I am cautiously hopeful that that day is coming closer.

Irene Ly, a sophomore majoring in psychology, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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