On Board Members and Transit Ridership

Half of Washington Metro’s board doesn’t use the system.

The idea that six of the twelve board members of Washington’s Metro rarely if ever use the train and bus system they manage astonishes me. The Washington Post article reports this awkward exchange with Chairman Jim Graham, who is also a D.C. council member:

“Graham said that last year he rode ‘on various occasions, both bus and rail.’ His most recent bus trip was in December. Train? ‘Every time I went to a Nationals game, because it’s a direct shot from the Columbia Heights Metro to the uh,’ he said, fumbling for the station name. An aide supplied it. ‘Right,’ Graham said. ‘Navy Yard.'”

Mr. Graham, who plays a major role in running the Metro system, should be riding Metro more than simply “on various occasions.” As a board member, he also shouldn’t have to hesitate before remembering the name of a subway station named after the D.C. district recognizable to virtually everyone in the city. Even worse, his apartment, as far as I can tell, is less than a mile from the Woodley Park/Zoo-Adams Morgan Station on the Red line and very close to a number of bus lines. So why is he only an occasional rider?

But he’s not alone. Another board member, William Euille, is the Mayor of Alexandria. It just so happens that Mr. Euille’s office is located at 301 King Street, less than a mile away from the King Street Metro station. Here’s another coincidence: the Yellow line, which serves the station, heads directly to the Gallery Place-Chinatown station in downtown Washington, which happens to be immediately adjacent to Metro headquarters, where the board meets. What is his excuse for not riding?

Mr. Graham’s Red line, by the way, also serves Gallery Place directly.

Just one more. Board member Neil Albert is a deputy mayor in D.C. and lives less than a mile from the Silver Spring Metro Station – also on the Red line – and lives very close to the heavily-used 16th Street bus lines. And yet he, according to the Post, also rarely rides the system. Where is the outrage?

The fundamental point is this: we should expect our leaders to practice what they preach, especially if it takes very little effort to do so. Washington has a fantastic subway system and a relatively well-managed bus network, so these board members have no excuse not to at least ride transit on the weekends – supposing that their day jobs are so difficult to get to on the public transportation system more than a million people use everyday. If board members don’t feel like riding the very convenient Metro, they shouldn’t be on the board.

Washington isn’t alone, of course. Last year, New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Vice Chairman David Mack told the following to the New York Post:

“Why should I ride [the train] and inconvenience myself when I can ride in a car?”

Outrage.

12 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Kyle

    I’m pretty sure it’s the same way here in Boston. The Director of the MBTA, Dan Grabauskas, is supplied with an SUV to get to and from work.
    If the people on the T board actually took the train everyday, I guarantee that service would be much better than it is.

  • yeah the san jose mercury news had same article about a week or 2 ago. only few of VTA board member took buses while others drove. however it also states that they have excues to drive instead of riding the bus. they said one board member had to drop her children off to school (still not good excue IMO. that’s what school bus are for.) however other are better excue becuase some of their job schudle are unpredictable. (sorry for some typo)

  • Lee

    Kyle’s right on. Here in Boston, nine of nine board members do not take public transit. Some transit advocates are supporting legislation that requires all board members use public transit “regularly” and that some of them even be transit dependent (for more visit http://www.ace-ej.org). Our Governor and the legislature are facing the real possibility of reforming transportation overall and increasing revenue streams to transportation (thru a gas tax increase – we haven’t had one since 1991). No matter what happens, the solution has to include a board that better represents the ridership.

  • Dakota

    Is this really that surprising? It would be interesting to poll transit executives to see how many actually use the systems/networks they govern.

  • Allison

    I’m not sure whether or not trimet (Greater Portland, OR area’s transit)’s board of directors rides trimet – I know that the director of Trimet does – I’ve seen him on there. Our mayor bicycles to work and one of our Congressmen does a lot of his campaigning just riding the LRT back and forth across his district and talking to people on the train.

    The problem is that if transit is seen as “for poor people” and board members are necessarily positions of prestige and privilege, you’ve got yourself a disconnect. In Portland, at least for many destinations, it’s considered the most practical transportation choice – parking is in short supply, expensive, and it’s hard to get in and out of downtown Portland. And no one takes cabs here…

    I don’t think you can “require” people to “regularly” take transit – how regular is regular? What’s the enforcement mechanism? Who’s checking up on them? I think pubicizing the fact that they don’t ride the transit facilities they’re ostensibly advocating for is a good first step – you couldn’t get elected mayor in Portland if someone had a quote of you saying, ““Why should I ride [the train] and inconvenience myself when I can ride in a car?” You might be able to get appointed to a transit authority board – but it’d cause the governor all kinds of stupid problems he probably would rather bypass.

  • KansasNate

    “I don’t think you can “require” people to “regularly” take transit”

    True, but government can at the very least refuse to give transit officals SUVs to commute to work in.

    http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/politics/view/2008_07_10_MBTA_boss_touts_T_but_takes_SUV/

    I feel pissed every time I hear Grabauskas’ recorded voice over the loudspeaker on the MBTA.

  • When I lived in NYC you would have to be stupid not to ride the subway. It is easily the fastest way to get around Manhattan. In Portland tri-met is very easy to use, especially if you combine with cycling. I used it every day when I lived there. I live in the Seattle area now and use my bike for most travel. The transit options are weak in Seattle (compared to NYC and Portland)

    As a visitor to DC, I used the Metro on all my trips. I do think that board members should try to use transit as much as possible.

  • Kyle

    KansasNate

    That Grabauskas picture really pisses me off. I remember seeing that a while ago. You think with one of our former Governors (definitely not Romney) taking the T, we would have a transit inspired culture, but I think the Republicans were in power too long after that.

    I guarantee you would see a drastic change in T funding if MBTA board members were stuck in between Red Line stops for 10 minutes or so everyday, for no particular reason whatsoever.

    I think Grabauskas should be forced to take the Red Line or the “B” line all the way to the end once a week (during rush hour), just to keep his head in the right place.

  • Here in my area our correspondent showed up a clown from the Reason Foundation who made claims that people in the Transportation business didn’t ride transit.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Is there some distinction here between voluntary Board members who have to hold down full time jobs elsewhere, presumably accomplished people in other fields, uncompensated for Board service and time pressured and full time managers of the system, compensated and contracted to do so? Or is a broad brush all that is necessary here?

    Aren’t the organizational structures of these controlling boards very different location v. location? Do you posit some other form of organization that would weed out those who choose to drive to their board work, maybe elections or employing full time board members required to take the system by contract at whatever wage and benefits they had explicitly agreed to?

    These sort of pieces tend, in my mind, to rather shallow analysis of the organizational problems of regional transit boards. Sort of a tabloid piece worthy of Rupert Murdoch perhaps.

  • Michael

    I know here in Toronto the former Chair of the Toronto Transit Commission did not have a car. Now he did get caught spending a ton of money on cabs, but overall he still made transit his primary mode of transit, and I saw him a couple times on the subway just randomly. So he at least did try to use transit.

    One of the former directors of the TTC also did not own a car, as he said managers of a transit system should rely on their system to get around.

    It is a very touchy subject. I know transit planners here in Toronto who plan transit everyday yet live in far far far exurban areas with very little transit.

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