This Metro Deal Literally Smells

As the General Assembly debates the state’s contribution to the bailing out of the Washington Metro system, Virginians are continually reminded of the company’s history of dysfunctional management. The latest news from the Washington Post:

An investigation by the agency’s Office of Inspector General has found that the grimey, orangey-brown, 1970s-era carpet installed in Metro trains are the product of “exceedingly stringent” requirements likely written to favor one supplier. The 100 percent pure virgin wool specification is no longer in use in the industry.

The recently concluded investigation found Metro’s standards for its carpeting were unchanged for two decades and that no other vendor could plausibly compete for the contract.

Moreover, the carpet lacked a required coating to prevent fungus and mildew, according to Metro Inspector General Geoff Cherrington — though it did meet standards for being fire-resistant and mothproof.

Further investigation found the carpet’s compliance testing was not being performed by an independent facility, as Metro requires, but by a laboratory with ties to the carpet manufacturer.

“The director of the lab used by the vendor is married to the Chief Financial Officer of the company that provided the vendor a line of credit” for the carpet order, according to a synopsis of the investigation included in a report to the Metro board.

Over the years, the WaPo reports, the carpet became known for collecting dirt and grime. “Riders are especially put off by the way it soaks up liquids — be it rain, slush, spilled beverages or um, other fluids — and smells.”

Meanwhile, back in the General Assembly, Republicans are far less amenable than Democrats to providing Metro the $150 million a year in additional support the ailing mass transit agency has requested to work down a maintenance backlog that has contributed to safety incidents, schedule delays, and declining ridership.

The new version of a bill sponsored by Del. Tim Hugo, R-Centreville, has been unanimously approved by the House Transportation Committee and will serve as the basis for negotiations with the state Senate over a final Metro funding bill, reports WTOP. Hugo’s proposal would provide Metro $105 million a year, less than the roughly $150 million requested, and provide the funds only if Metro limits operating spending increases to 2 percent per year.

Further, the bill requires studies and reports on Metro’s governance, labor agreements and the federal law that outlines arbitration rules. “Reforms have to go hand in hand with the money,” Hugo said.

Unlike the proposal recommended by former Governor Terry McAuliffe, the Republican proposal would not immediately require changes to Metro’s Board.

Bacon’s bottom line: This is Virginia’s one opportunity to hang tough and demand long overdue managerial, labor and governance reforms to Metro. Once legislation is passed and the money starts flowing, the Commonwealth loses all leverage over the mass transit system. While the current senior management appears to be more competent then its predecessors, the mal-governance of the system has been spectacular, and it costing Virginia taxpayers (especially Northern Virginia taxpayers) dearly. Without fundamental reform, Metro will remain a festering, oozing, pustular sore that will continue to drain Virginia’s scarce transportation resources.

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20 responses to “This Metro Deal Literally Smells

  1. Dear Jim,

    Yes, based on daily experience, I can testify that those Metro train carpets are definitely nasty! Yuck.

    Sincerely,

    Andrew

  2. Dunno about oozing and pustular, but those carpets have definitely festered! And, yes, as the Sainted Rahm Emanuel has said, ‘never let a crisis go to waste’, if we don’t pounce while Metro needs our assent, we will never get the reforms the system needs!

  3. “The director of the lab used by the vendor is married to the Chief Financial Officer of the company that provided the vendor a line of credit” for the carpet order, according to a synopsis of the investigation included in a report to the Metro board.”

    Lol. By our state government’s standards of corruption that’s a couple of notches below jaywalking.

    The lab tests the carpet against Metro’s specifications. Metro hasn’t changed the specifications in twenty years. My bet is that the carpet supplier hasn’t changed anything about the carpet either. Guess what? If you don’t change the specs for twenty years and you don’t change the product for twenty years the lab is going to find that the product meets the specs. No wonder the lab director’s spouse was willing to extend a line of credit.

  4. Next time I hear TMT / DJ harrumphing about NoVa subsidizing RoVa.. I’ll remind them of this 150 million !!!

    so … keeeerisst… METRO has yucky carpets and some questionable practices regarding buying them.. and for this we’re going to bring the hammer down?

    what the…..

    You know what..??? If METRO had half a brain.. they’d “support” this blog like Dominion does.. and get Dominion-quality PR..!!!!

  5. Hells Bells.. VDOT had folks taking bribes and messing around with cocaine..

    where is THAT hammer?

    oh wait… roads are good.. transit is bad… got it!

    • The FBI investigated that VDOT scandal and some people went to jail. There’s your hammer.

      Has the FBI EVER investigated ANY WMATA scandal?

      • Has the FBI EVER investigated ANY WMATA scandal?

        Yes, the FBI has. And what they uncovered was very ugly.

      • I don’t really know if METRO is that much worse than VDOT except that Conservatives love to hammer on Transit while letting the road agencies skate far more often.

        For instance, VDOT has spent BILLIONS of dollars on NoVa roads and yet congestion and gridlock still rein… not that different from the myriad complaints about METRO service to include – now – the carpets – OH THE HORROR!

        but check out this report… which has gotten short shrift in the often, anti-transit blogging world of Conservatives and Libertarian types.

        ” A recent report shows that Virginia has nearly 6,500 bridges in need of repairs and more than 800 structures rated structurally deficient.

        The cost to fix those spans has an estimated price tag of $8.5 billion, according to the report by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, which gathered information from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2017 bridge database.
        ……..
        In Virginia, 829 bridges—5.9 percent of the state’s nearly 14,000 spans—are listed as structurally deficient.”

        or this:

        ” VDOT supervisors accused of accepting bribes to award snow-removal contracts”

        or this one a couple of years back:

        ” State rest-stop contract steered to procurement team’s former employer?”

        I’m not out to impugn VDOT nor the Govt here but to point out that neither of them are perfect and they do have their problems – which are not really inherent to just govt… it’s the nature of human nature. People who work in organizations – public and private .. sometimes do the wrong thing.. and those wrong things reflect on the organization.

        I just think Conservatives tend to “use” those failings far more often to impugn METRO as a “dysfunctional” agency .. in part.. because it is “subsidized” rather than fully funded by user fees… but heck, no more or less than fire and rescue, schools or police or myriad other ‘subsidized” govt services – to actually INCLUDE VDOT which now gets MORE funding from the general sales tax than gasoline tax.

        And here’s the thing – METRO is not going to go away and it DOES need improvement and reforms but what exactly is accomplished by tearing it down at every opportunity – even to a point of being “guilty” of having “smelly” liquids in it’s outdated carpets?

        I mean Geeze Oh Man – and when we get done with the regular recurring routine of beating up Metro.. we’ll rotate to the evils of Higher Ed then to the evils of Richmond Schools, then to State unfunded pensions, then the MedicAid “disaster”.. LORD!

        But then we get one “explanation” after another why Dominion – a private sector , non-govt entity is , of course.. a noble enterprise serving the needs of citizens…and “misunderstood”…and unfairly attacked by NIMBY’s .. liberals.. and other armpits of society.. etc.. they’re just trying to be “good” corporate citizens providing needed services to mankind and they got all this unfair criticism…

        Sometimes the “tilt” here in BR … is … pronounced !!!! 🙂

  6. I’m surprised at how prominent the carpet issue is in this shallow argument against Metro funding. Surely there are benefits to Metro’s funding that need to be weighed against dirty carpets? Traffic, pollution, whatever? Metro needs to be subsidized like the invaluable European mass transit systems.
    Meanwhile, go after the carpets, with funding!

    I can only add my deep disappointment with the post decision to eliminate virgin wool carpets, as a sheep-for wool farmer facing mighty low prices per pound of wool!

    Malcolm

    • I disagree, but see where you are coming from. What a beautiful place you have there in Lovettsville, Va. But wool there in the Northern Virginia Piedmont has a wholly different and far healthier lifestyle than a stinking wool strip of carpet in a Washington DC region subway car.

      Here, closer in around DC, the key to gauging the depth and depravity and sheer utter waste of this transit corruption is to determine how many millions of dollars Washington’s Metro wasted of our dollars over its lifetime by paying rug merchant kin to “Clean and/or replace” those chronically stinking carpets. Most likely we would be astounded at the dollar value of this fraud and how it came from the highest levels of Metro Authority. This corruption is on the scale of the waterworks gig in the movie Chinatown, and it has been for decades.

      History has proven time and again that the people running the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority first stuff your money into their own private pockets and then throw whatever is left over of your hard earned money into bonfires of waste and incompetence. These folks at Metro just don’t give a damn, beyond their own corpulent lifestyle built around their greedy feeding at the public trough. Take for example, Arlington County’s million dollar stop. That wastage was laundered through Metro’s cooked system designed to dump most of that million dollars into Metro’s pocket.

    • Yep… every wart of Metro gets sandpapered over and over by the anti-transit crowd who were fine with the billions spent by VDOT to pave over NoVa and still have congestion out the wazoo not to mention the snowplowing bribe scandal.

      The thing is that no institution funded by govt is nirvana. they all have their issues… and need to be tended to.. reformed.. etc.. it don’t matter if it’s our Prisons, Medicaid, Public schools, Higher Ed…storm water runoff… electric powerlines, etc, etc…

      I have no clue what kind of carpeting is used in other transit systems but I truly suspect that the problems with dirt, dog-poo, and all kinds of “liquids” are fairly common issues.. perhaps there is some magic carpet that is better than wool… so advocate for that – rather than use it as the latest anti-transit cudgel to whack on whatever it is the favored thing to whack on at the moment.

      The real world is a messy place – both govt and private sector… it’s a constant struggle to operate and maintain and keep things going. It’s the nature of the beast. I’m betting for each of us… as the days goes by – some piece of equipment.. our cars.. stuff in our homes… etc.. “fails” us.. in some way… and has to be dealt with.

      Such is Life. Suck it up and deal with it .. getting rid of your fridge or car permanently because it breaks… is not a solution…

      There is no question that Metro falls solidly in the category of “needs work”… but you’re not going to get rid of it .. and tearing it down again and again over every sin – accomplishes what?

      It’s part of the Washington Metro area …and it needs some work… what else would we do instead?

      • Every wart of Metro gets sandpapered over and over by the anti-transit crowd who were fine with the billions spent by VDOT to pave over NoVa and still have congestion out the wazoo not to mention the snowplowing bribe scandal.

        Who’s fine with the billions spent by VDOT to pave over NoVa. Not anyone who comments on this blog.

        But you can’t beat Metro for organizational dysfunction. By comparison, VDOT is a smooth running machine.

        • VDOT Annual budget: $5.4B in 2018.

          $150m / $5.4B = 2.7%

          How much less does VDOT have to spend on roads because of Metro?

          As for organizational dysfunction, I’d say a bribes and cocaine scandal is pretty dysfunctional too.

          http://www.virginiadot.org/about/vdot_budget.asp

          • well.. if you listen to TMT – the Fairfax School system is pretty dysfunctional…and egregiously wasteful …to boot.. and heck.. if you listen to Jim and Cranky talking about Richmond schools.. and then there’s the cheating and dysfunction with Roanoke and Lynchburg….schools..

            it’s EVERYWHERE!! GAWD HELP US!

            and geeze..listen to the litany of higher ed “abuses”.. I mean ..LORD… it’s a seething cabal of liberals…as bad as pay day loan lenders.. sucking poor students and parents dry and forcing feeding the little darlings with rancid leftist ideology…

            but I digress… and my behavior is under review these days…

            and how about the tobacco indemnity fund or the State’s Economic development guys…

            Hospitals ripping off people left and right because of COPN..

            and the state .. “unfunding” it’s pensions… KEEERIST!

            I mean… just about everywhere you look there is scandal and dysfunction.. and Bacon is johnny on the spot to “expose” it – EVERY TIME – as yet further proof that govt .. as an institution.. just plain sucks…

            right?

          • RE: 2.7%… Here’s a more realistic approach.

            5.4 billion / 8.4 million (pop of va) =$642.80 per capita
            times 2 million (pop of NoVa) = 1.29 billion

            so VDOT spends a billion dollars a year on NoVa.. right?

        • METRO is no paragon of anything “good”. I’ll agree .. but it’s got lots of company in the bigger scheme of things.. as has been “highlighted” in this blog itself.. over the months/years!

          But Hey… did you hear about that US 460 project or the VDOT snowplow bribery scandal?

    • As Malcolm says, orange carpet is a shallow argument against Metro funding. Here is a more in-depth look at the WMATA decision-making making process.

      First, management must consider the length of the pile. It’s possible that deeper pile would be better for barefoot passengers, and as they are evidently an underrepresented minority among riders, diversity enhancement regulations mandate measures to encourage more of them, such as deeper pile in cars to massage sore feet, as well as subsidized fares to attract more barefoot riders, with dedicated foot-cleaning stations on all platforms with an adequate supply of foot-towels, and heated platform sections to keep those bare feet warm. But, God Forbid there is a dispute over the temperature at which to set those footwarming sections, or whether it is the station manager or a roving team of podiatric specialists who is authorized to change the settings, or whether each jurisdiction should have Home Rule over the matter, since the only way to resolve an interjurisdictional dispute is a simultaneous Act passed by the Maryland and Virginia General Assemblies, the DC Council and Congress; therefore the parameters for decision first should have been run by the chief executive of each jurisdiction, coordinated by the Chairman of the Council of Governments and the federal Secretary of Transportation. Then the joint decision of these bodies would be subject to union arbitration. So let’s not consider deeper pile carpets.

      Second, management will consider whether orange is permissible any longer. Why, everyone knows that orange is merely the new black, and putting black on the floors implies the very meanest of mean spirited racial slurs, so orange cannot remain. Except, what other color? Why, every color offends some portion of the Rainbow. One interim remedy the Board might agree on is to remove all carpet immediately and leave the surfaces bare metal. But cars cannot be removed from service to do this except on a rotation of 1 car every three weeks, due to the over time pay required to separate pairs of cars. So let’s submit a request for a test removal of orange carpet from one of the 1000-series cars slated for the scrapyard and if all goes well we will consider submitting an expanded de-orangification for next year’s budget. This presumes, of course, that Amazon in fact selects a location in the Washington area, boosting ridership income sufficiently to pay for it all.

      Your Metro bureaucracy at work!

  7. A scathing and frank article in the Washington Times about Metrorail/Metrobus management, and hostile, reverse racial and gender discrimination, from back in 2012. And I imagine that employee salaries have probably increased since that date. Sorry, I can’t locate the other 2 follow-up articles.

    https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/mar/26/metro-derailed-by-culture-of-complacence-incompete

    As for the train carpets, the brown/orange ones on the older rail cars have been filthy for decades. The red/ blue ones on the newer model rail cars, are cleaner.

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