MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Up next, seeing the writing on the wall because, well, you're the one who put it there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE SPEAKER
Well, when I started, a long time ago, I would be, like, so amazed because it looked so good at night and because there's rarely any light out. And I pass through it in the daytime by Metro or whatever and it would look awful or, like, it'd look like I did some mistakes.
That and more is coming your way on Metro Connection, here on WAMU 88.5.
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today, we're getting the message with stories all about language and the messages we send to the people around us. Well, speaking of messages, Metro is trying to send a very clear one this week. June 22nd marked the anniversary of the 2009 train crash on the Red Line, the one that killed nine people and injured dozens of others.
Since then, Metro says it's made safety it's number one priority. And even some of the transit agencies harshest critics in Congress are now saying Metro is making pretty good progress. But that doesn't mean Metro riders are any happier. You hear people complaining about Metro all the time, at bus stops, in train stations and especially, especially within the blogosphere.
So would it be accurate to say, Metro might have an image problem? Here with us to answer that very question is WAMU's transportation reporter, David Schultz. Hi, David.
MR. DAVID SCHULTZ
So, David, it's been two years now since the Red Line crash. Tell us how Metro has changed since then.
Well, Rebecca, this crash was a total transformational moment for Metro. If you're looking back at the history of Metro, you can pretty much define two separate eras, before crash and after crash. It was that dramatic. Speaking at -- in the memorial service for the victims, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray says before the crash, the local jurisdictions would always debate about how much funding they should give to Metro.
MAYOR VINCENT GRAY
And, frankly, the debate went on and the money was never fully committed by, you know, some of the partners in this. And this tragic accident did one thing, it did, in fact, cease that debate.
Now, with safety on the minds of everyone, the money is flowing. Metro is now spending $60 million to replace the faulty track circuits that caused the crash and another $300 million to replace its oldest set of railcars. Those were the cars that crumpled during the crash and introduced us all to the phrase, telescoping.
Ah, yes. I remember that.
Yeah, although it should be noted that federal safety investigators demanded that Metro replace both of those things after their yearlong probe into the crash. And in fact, they had been asking Metro to do that well before the crash, too. So, you know, just saying.
Okay, so Metro's replacing a lot of its old equipment. It's putting a lot of importance on safety. What about Metro's critics? How are they responding?
Well, Barbara Mikulski represents Maryland in the U.S. Senate. And after the crash, she was one of Metro's fiercest critics. But last week at a hearing with Metro's top leadership, she said she was pretty pleased with the changes they've made. Riders, on the other hand, are not as pleased. There are still lots of problems with Metro that have little or nothing to do with the fallout from the crash.
A few days ago, Metro's employee union held a town hall style meeting, ostensibly to talk about changes in the system since the Red Line crash, but that topic hardly came up. Instead, the people there wanted to talk about other problems, like a spike in crime and broken escaladers.
Right. So with all these problems, is Metro actually doing anything or trying to do anything to improve its image?
Well, it's embarking on a new $200,000 marketing campaign called Metro Forward. It's designed to let riders know about all the work Metro is doing to improve its infrastructure.
MR. DAN STESSEL
Metro Forward is our way of keeping the public up to speed about those efforts, not only about the impact of them and what sort of disruptions may occur on certain weekends as we do this critical work, but also to communicate the why behind it.
That is Dan Stessel. Metro brought him in about a month ago as its new Director of Communications. Stessel is a relatively young guy who's very, very focused on social media. He's on Twitter practically 24/7.
I sleep very quickly, but I try not to tweet when I'm sleeping. It's disruptive.
I'd imagine it would be. But what about all those online Metro watch dogs? You know, the bloggers we profiled a few months ago, like Unsuck D.C. Metro, fixWMATA, what do they think of them?
Well, it's pretty remarkable, actually. Stessel's been responding to them publicly and they've been having a pretty lively back and forth. There's still a lot of griping going on about escaladers, the budget, the police department and things like that. But by engaging people online, Stessel seems to have really changed the tone of the discussion.
Well, do you think that will really change the way people here view Metro?
I don't really know. I think Metro and really public transit in general is one of those things that people are always going to complain about. You know, buses will be late, fares are going to go up, station managers will be rude. Every transit agency in the country deals with these things on a daily basis. And you just have to hope they deal with them effectively.
What I think is really telling, though, is that a lot of the complaints you hear about Metro today have nothing to do with the Red Line crash or maybe they're tangentially related. Back in late 2009, a lot of riders felt like Metro had become just fundamentally unsafe. They were afraid to ride the trains. You don't hear that as much today. And I think that might be a sign that Metro is finally beginning to move on from what happened two years ago.
All right, David, well, thanks for coming in and chatting with us today.
David Schultz is the transportation reporter here at WAMU. For more of our coverage of the fallout from the Red Line crash, visit our website, metroconnection.org. And if you have any questions about local transportation issues, we want to hear them. In a few weeks, we'll be doing a show all about mysteries, puzzles and enigmas in the D.C. region. So if anything about our planes, trains and/or automobiles is an enigma to you, send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We just might answer your question on the air.
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