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Blog

    In which I consider a career as a Metro conductor

    01/01/2009

    As I've written before, the Washington DC Metro is not my favorite form of transportation.   Indeed, I dream of the day when I have a job with a driver who will daily pick me up at my apartment and deposit me at work.  Often I have to take a second to collect myself outside our building to suppress the anger that wells up during the course of my ride each day.  The ride for which I pay ever increasing fares in an ever more cramped car where actual air temperatures have no bearing on the use of heat or AC.  Suffice it to say, we have a swell system.

    And, as I wrote earlier, the Metro had been looking for a bailout.  It is easy to see many examples of waste during the course of an average ride, but now the Examiner is reporting on some of the behind-the-scenes costs at Metro. The entire article details how, even as service is being cut, and rates are being raised, Metro employees are enjoying nice pay raises in the current economic slump.

    Metro’s Approved Fiscal 2009 Annual Budget includes large pay hikes for salaried management employees, as well as hourly workers such as bus drivers, rail operators and maintenance workers. But the numbers take on added significance when compared to previous years.

    For example, in the section entitled “Multi-Year Operating Cost Comparison,” we see that salaries for Metro managers in the Bus Services section have more than doubled since 2006. Next year, Metro’s top bus executives expect to be paid twice what they made just three years ago, and this when almost every economic indicator is steadily heading south.

    ...

    In 2007, an exclusive Examiner series highlighted the excessive overtime payments that pushed more than a hundred bus and rail operators into six-figure territory – almost double the median income of the Washington, D.C. area.

    Too many generous pay hikes over the past three years have pushed the base pay of Metro managers and unionized bus drivers, supervisors, train operators, and other employees significantly higher than it would otherwise be had the raises been tied to some rational measure such as the rate of inflation.

    And the higher pay levels also push up the cost of Metro employees’ future pension benefits. Any way you look at it, it’s a sweet deal for Metro employees.

    Meanwhile, Metro’s “customers” have to contend with broken escalators, defective subway cars, increasing crime and decreasing system reliability even as they continue to pay the higher fares and parking fees imposed on them last year when most Metro employees were getting yet another raise.

    In other news, apart from the whole "Bailouts are a Bad Idea" principle, this recent Reuters article brings up the fact that letting the government bailout newspapers and other media outlets might kind of influence their objectivity.  A little.

    Relying on government help raises ethical questions for the press, whose traditional role has been to operate free from government influence as it tries to hold politicians accountable to the people who elected them. Even some publishers desperate for help are wary of this route.

    Providing government support can muddy that mission, said Paul Janensch, a journalism professor at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and a former reporter and editor.

    "You can't expect a watchdog to bite the hand that feeds it," he said.

    But ethical problems haven't stopped any bailouts before, so I don't see why anyone should lose any sleep over a problem like that.