Government employees

Why Is Washington D.C.'s Metro System Such a Disaster?

A toxic work environment, unaccountable staff, and managers focused on microwaves and uniforms.


Washington D.C.'s subway system closed down for the entire day on Wednesday so that safety inspectors could take stock of the system following a major track fire on Monday. In 2015, another track fire caused a train to fill with smoke, sickening passengers and resulting in one fatality.

Last year, the Washingtonian published a long investigative piece on the roots of Metro's problems. The story found that the system has a toxic work environment, and employees charged with keeping the system in good repair know they'll never be fired so they have no incentive to do their jobs well. Meanwhile, in the past, as dangerous maintenance issues were left ignored, managers stayed focused on petty issues, like making sure workers "wore their uniforms correctly and used Metro-issued microwaves to cook food instead of their own."

In 2012, Kennedy and I did a Reason TV story on the Metro's escalators, which are constantly breaking down and occasionally injuring riders. We found that the problem was rooted in part in a 1992 decision to stop using private contractors to repair and maintain the escalators because, the theory went, in-house staff could do a better job for less money.

It didn't work out that way.

Click below to watch the video: