The one-day shutdown of the Washington DC Metro is a useful call to arms about the dreadful state of maintenance in some of the US’s major rapid transit systems — a subset of a larger issue about deferred maintenance in all kinds of infrastructure. If it seems like this makes the US like the developing world, NPR reminds us that most developing world metro systems are in much better shape. (My Moscow correspondent Ilya Petoushkoff was also quick with an email reminding me that when even one Moscow subway lines go down, emergency bus lanes are created with Jersey barriers.)
The Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott is also fine on how the subway’s failure ties to great themes of US urban decay.
I have no opinion about the wisdom of DC Metro CEO Paul Wiedefeld’s decision to shut down the subway for a day to inspect faulty wires, except that it seemed sudden and left little time for preparation. Its attention-grabbing effect was unmistakable, and perhaps that was necessary to shock everyone into understanding the urgency of the problems. But it doesn’t appear to have been a PR stunt: the system’s faulty wiring had already caused a fatality, and sure enough, the one-day shutdown to inspect these wires turned up even more dangerous ones.
But do read this Vox piece by Libby Nelson on how transit agencies can be more honest with their customers, including on Twitter. Bravo to the Bay Area Rapid Transit for telling customers the truth about the problems facing the agency — which is to say, facing the region.