Talkin’ Transit: Pressing On

Photo courtesy of
‘Metro Emergency Call Sign’
courtesy of ‘[F]oxymoron’

I’m a fan of open and honest communication. It’s the best policy. You lay out your position, you let everyone know what is going on, you keep them informed. They might not be happy with everything that you do, but they will see that you are making an effort and that you are, at least, trying to keep them updated.

Metro seems to have a love-hate relationship with this concept. Last year, Metro tried for a little more openness. They invited bloggers into their HQ for a no holds barred talk with both the former General Manager John Catoe as well as his replacement, Interim GM Richard Sarles. We covered both events, and we were happy to see WMATA headed in a more clear and open direction.

But I’m beginning to think these things are flukes. Last week, WTOP’s intrepid transportation reporter Adam Tuss called out the agency on Twitter for not answering questions about the recent violence at L’Enfant Plaza. Metro eventually caved, but not until after he threatened to “slam them on air.”

Photo courtesy of
‘Easy Listening’
courtesy of ‘Rolenz’

Metro has a bad habit of trying to pretend that bad things don’t happen. Worse, they don’t have a good habit of getting out ahead of the story. It’s almost like they have no strategy to make sure that people are informed and that the folks responsible (in this case, Metro Transit Police brass) face the press and public alike.

What they are good about, it seems, is putting out press release after press release on how Metro is ready to fight the snow that’s [not] coming. Things we should be able to take for granted, Metro feels the need to shout from the proverbial rooftops. With barely a flake in the sky, they felt that it was imperative that we all know that rush hour commuting was going to be fine, but no press release about the L’Enfant incident (yes, they did a release, apparently in private, to some members of the press).

Photo courtesy of
‘footprints to the White House’
courtesy of ‘philliefan99′

Part of the job of being a public agency is communicating with your public. Metro seems less and less interested in that and more interested in not talking about bad things and bad policy. At a bare minimum, their Twitter account should respond and have a more “human” voice.

Even their press releases talking about track work seem to have a need to spin them into the positive: “To improve service reliability, Metro to conduct mid-day track work on the Red Line” one recent release says. It could easily, and more accurately, read, “disruptions on the Red Line due to mid-day track work to improve service reliability.” I don’t have a problem with trying to be more positive, but to obfuscate that there will be an impact on your travel isn’t really right, either.

And just in case you didn’t know, “Metrorail improvements planned for Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend,” really means, “Don’t bother trying to get to or from VA on Metro’s Blue or Orange lines unless you’ve got lots of time on your hands.”

I don’t want to tell them how to do their jobs, but perhaps a walk over to Metro’s data group can help them see that openness isn’t all bad.

Born in Lebanon, Samer moved to DC to go to college. A lot of good that did him. Twenty-two years later, he still lives in the area. When he’s not writing for a blog or tweeting incessantly, he wanders the streets (and the globe) photographing whatever gets in his way.

2 thoughts on “Talkin’ Transit: Pressing On

  1. Well said. For years I have thought that Lisa Farbstein and the Metro PR team need to get out ahead. Their defensiveness (or non-responsiveness) is indicative of the larger problem with the transit agency. They could really make people feel a lot better if they simply shared more information (and not in a fluffy “we’re improving for you!” kind of way).

    Maybe, just maybe, someone over there is paying attention…