(CNSNews.com) – Rep. John Mica (R-FL) told transit officials in Washington, D.C. that the Metro system they operate to serve the nation's capital is "unsafe for both passengers and employees."
Following the deaths of two passengers on Metro earlier this year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House grilled officials of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) who are responsible for overseeing public transit in Washington and surburban Maryland and Virginia.
“Right now the system, I would say, is unsafe for both passengers and employees,” Mica, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Transportation and Public Assets, said at a House hearing on Tuesday following the latest spate of service disruptions.
“The proper action to correct that has not been taken,” Mica noted.
“If this nonsense continues in the lack of management and the ability to get extensive management in place, I will work, and I think I can get support to require that the operations and management be put up for bid and be given to an operating company,” Mica warned WMATA officials.
The WMATA system received $516.9 million from the federal government for its FY2015 operating budget. It received slightly more than $1.2 billion from state and local governments.
“The D.C. Metro is one of the most important transit systems in the country,” Mica pointed out. “It not only serves millions of federal employees and other daily commuters, but it also helps our constituents move throughout the capital when they come to visit the center of business, commerce and diplomacy.”
Concerns with the system have centered on a January 12 incident in which a Yellow Line train stopped in a tunnel and filled with smoke, resulting in the death of one passenger and the hospitalization of dozens more.
Then on July 4th, 24-year-old Kevin Sutherland was stabbed to death during a robbery on a Red Line train while other passengers looked on.
Violence on the system continued on Tuesday even as lawmakers were meeting with WMATA officials on Capitol Hill. A 15-year-old boy was stabbed while waiting at a Red Line stop in Northeast Washington. A 17-year-old boy was arrested in the incident.
Critics took note, with “FixMetro” dryly stating on Twitter: “The Red Line now officially means Blood Line.”
“I’m old enough to remember our boasting of the fact that we hadn’t had a single crime on our Metro system,” ranking House Oversight Committee member Gerry Connolly (D-VA) said during the hearing. “Now we have a murder on a car in front of the public. How in the world could that happen on a well-run Metro in the nation’s capital?”
“There is a crisis in management and leadership,” Connolly continued, adding that top WMATA officials had inadequate experience running a large transit system....We need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time and we need leadership that can do the same.”
However, Interim CEO/General Manager Jack Requa said that WMATA officials would not go out of their way to find candidates with transportation management experience to fill the vacant top spot at Metro.
“The scope of the search” for a permanent general manager “will include candidates with extensive financial management experience and will not require that the candidates have government or transit industry experience,” Requa told the subcommittee.
Metro passengers have increasingly taken to social media to express their frustration with the WMATA system, using the hashtag “unsuckdcmetro” on sites like Twitter to share their concerns and provide updates on system breakdowns.
Social media accounts focused solely on problems with the WMATA system have achieved large followings, with one on Twitter called “UnsuckDCmetro” followed by more than 35,000 people and another called “FixWMATA” that has more than 2,500 followers.