Metro scraps rider panel that offers suggestions for improvements

Across all Northern Virginia stations in June, average weekday ridership rose 5 percent from the year before, when Metro’s first round of 24/7 work zones were just wrapping up. (WTOP/Amanda Iacone)

WASHINGTON — Metro is set to disband its Riders’ Advisory Council that is meant to offer riders’ perspectives on service and potential changes.

“Hello y’all, and, for most of you, this is also goodbye,” disappointed RAC Chair Katherine Kortum told the Metro Board Thursday.

“As board members are aware, because they’ve decided, the RAC will be dissolved next month, 13 years after it was created. The Accessibility Advisory Committee and the Youth Advisory Committee will both continue,” Kortum said.

“WMATA is undoubtedly doing better, operationally speaking, than it has in previous years — there are fewer fires, fewer offloadings, better trains, all of that is definitely positive. But you have a serious credibility gap with the public, and you have not yet begun to fix the image of a secretive agency that is opposed to transparent,” Kortum added. 

Metro has not always listened to the feedback from its advisory groups or provided them with significant amounts of information beyond what is already public.

“We have often felt that we were shouting into a void. Questions and requests went unanswered and recommendations were ignored,” Kortum said.

For example, at the September meeting, Metro Transit Police summarized data on more than 8,000 fare evasion citations issued this year. Transit police said Gallery Place is the most common location for rail citations, and Route 90 is the most common line for bus citations.

The RAC asked for more demographic details and information about whether fare evasion is connected to any other crimes in the system.

“But, nearly a month later, we haven’t received any of it,” Kortum said.

The Accessibility Advisory Committee, meant to address issues for the disability community, has been more involved but still raised similar concerns over the years.

That includes issues the committee warned about with 7000 Series cars posing a risk to visually impaired riders, and an issue AAC Chair Phil Posner raised Thursday: a lack of first-aid kits on MetroAccess vehicles.

“We’re told it’s a liability issue. I think if it’s not a liability on bus and rail, it shouldn’t be a liability issue on MetroAccess,” Posner said.

The RAC has shrunk over the past year as the Metro Board has failed to appoint new members to fill vacant spots.

The Metro Board still must vote next month to formally dissolve the council. Kortum and several board members spent months working on a detailed plan and effort to improve the panel, only to see it scrapped in favor of online surveys that are sent to a limited number of Metro riders.

“Eliminating the only direct rider connection that you have, instead of trying to fix that connection, is shortsighted and only reinforces this public perception that you’re not to be trusted,” Kortum said. “Relying exclusively on an online feedback system won’t help this region feel that they have a voice or any insight into your decisions.”

Arlington County and Metro Board member Christian Dorsey participated in the monthslong review.

“This is not an outcome that I intended … but, certainly, the direction of the board has been very clear,” he said. “I felt it was prudent to advise the RAC of that direction so that they would have an opportunity to come and speak about it and to express their opinions without the board taking action in a way that appeared to be less than transparent.”

Multiple times, Metro Board members, including Chairman Jack Evans, had said there was no plan to dissolve the RAC.

“We are disappointed in this decision, especially as we’ve been told both in public and in private meetings in no uncertain terms — including here at board meetings — that there were no plans whatsoever to disband the group,” Kortum said.

“The RAC has never been as effective as it could be, and we acknowledge that. That’s what this operational review over the last several months was for,” she said.

The final meeting is scheduled next week at Metro headquarters. It starts at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Maryland Metro Board member Michael Goldman urged Kortum and supporters of the group not to give up yet. “The RAC has not been disbanded … that would require a vote of the board … and that can’t happen until Oct. 25 next month at the earliest,” Goldman said.

He asked the remaining members to continue to serve and not to predict what might happen, despite the board’s intent.

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