WASHINGTON — The head of Metro’s union had some tough words about management and the overall situation at WMATA, telling the Board of Directors that “we need a miracle.”
Jackie Jeter, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union 689, said on Thursday that she understood why riders are frustrated with Metro.
“We need something to change about what we do and how we do it. The union is always here, even though I question and wonder sometimes whether you really want our suggestions because they’re not taken, and I don’t feel that it’s taken seriously,” Jeter said.
She told the board that it was frustrating to offer suggestions and have them not taken, adding that she felt like no one was listening.
The statement did not sit well with several board members.
“The most troubling for me was when you said you felt as though it was falling on deaf ears. I will tell you it doesn’t fall on deaf ears with me,” said Malcom Augustine, a board member from Maryland.
Other board members agreed with concerns Jeter expressed about Metro management.
“I’m becoming frustrated with this organization myself, in terms of an inability to follow up on things and take care of things. All we do is provide lip service, and we get report after report,” said Corbett Price, a board member from D.C. “Now is time for us to take some steps to truly bring about some improvements. The new general manager will not be the panacea for anything.”
Jeter said Metro was too bureaucratic and that it took too long for things to be accomplished. In the background, Metro Interim General Manager Jack Requa nodded his head in agreement.
Jeter also complained that supervisors and employees were not sufficiently trained in their respective fields. She said there was a lack of organized classroom training. Jeter also wanted more employees to get continual training, rather than be targeted when something goes wrong.
On Metro safety issues, she said too many frontline employees still don’t feel comfortable expressing their concerns without supervisors retaliating against them. Metro has been working on an anonymous reporting system for employees, but Jeter said employees were skeptical of it.
The biggest safety issue that Jeter addressed was assaults on Metrobus drivers. Metro reports that assaults on operators have increased 37 percent over the past two years. About half of all operator assaults result from passengers disputing or evading the fare.
Metro wrote about 4,500 tickets for fare evasion last year, while many other riders received warnings.
“I think being spat upon is something that probably brings out anger in everybody. I don’t think there are going to be too many people that turn the other check, although that is what bus operators are expected to do,” said Jeter.
In February 2014, Metro Transit Police said a 26-year-old woman from Southeast D.C. pepper sprayed a Metrobus driver. In January 2015, police said a 14-year-old boy zapped a bus driver with a stun gun. In June, undercover officers pepper sprayed a passenger, whom they alleged had failed to pay the fare and had become combative with officers.
“Many of the operators acknowledge that it’s a normal part of life. It’s become, unfortunately, so normal that some of them don’t even report it anymore. They should never feel like they should not or cannot be in a position to report it because nobody is going to do anything,” said Jeter, who added there will never be enough police to cover every bus route.