Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, noted frenemy of Senator Barack Obama and one-man distant early warning system of the Coming Lesbian Panic, wrote an op-ed in yesterday's Washington Times roundly criticizing, of all things, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. In it, Coburn makes it clear that he is only recently coming to grips with the existential and entropic dilemmas posed by train stations.
Metro riders themselves are all too familiar with the system's problems. When trains are late, riders are left standing on the platform not knowing when, or if, it will ever come. Little effort is made to keep escalators working. In 2005, there were typically more than 50 broken escalators on any given day. According to Metro, it would take several months to fix an escalator, forcing people to walk up huge flights of stairs instead while they were inoperable.
One sort of wonders when Coburn visited the DC-area subway last, because A) there are displays that inform riders when late trains will be pulling into the station, B) most escalator outages are backed up by elevators and additional escalators, and C) as of this writing, only seventeen of the thirty-nine escalator outages are the result of some unscheduled problem.
But Coburn is incensed by the systems lack of perfection, and as DCist's Sommer Mathis puts it, believes that "continuing to allow WMATA to get federal subsidies only removes any incentive the agency has to provide better service." From his op-ed:
The biggest problem facing Metro may actually be too much federal funding. Like most rail systems around the country, Metro has grown accustomed to the huge subsidies it gets every year from federal taxpayers. In the last five years alone, Metro was given over $1 billion -- hardly a small amount.
The difference between Metro and other municipal transit systems, however, is that other systems are both accountable to and better supported by their local users and governments. Keeping Metro on life support primarily through ever-increasing federal subsidies will only exacerbate the problems the system already faces and insulate Metro from meaningful...reform.
Naturally, it's somewhat exciting to hear Coburn stand up for taxpayer consideration, wasteful government spending, accountability, reform, and how too much government largesse can de-incentivize systemic improvements. If only Coburn would apply this same concern for the craptastic quagmires presided over by Nouri al-Maliki.