-- Frustration with the Washington, D.C. metro system has been boiling over after last month’s smoke disaster inside a downtown station that claimed the life of one woman.
Routine delays, single tracking and breakdowns have only added to the ire of residents of the nation’s capital, many of whom believe that a first-rate city has been saddled with a second-class public transportation system.
In this city of more than 650,000 people, one man has become the unofficial ambassador for all of that anger. He doesn’t have a name – at least not one that he is willing to reveal -– but he does have a Twitter handle: @unsuckdcmetro.
The account, which now boasts nearly 30,000 followers, has turned into a popular place for riders to vent about their not-so-pleasant commutes.
ABC News spoke to the man behind @unsuckdcmetro about how he has become the voice for riders fed up with the DC metro. Below is an edited transcript:
What inspired you to create a space on social media to highlight all of the DC metro’s problems?
I actually started back in 2009 with a blog page, which is still out there. That’s when I became a regular metro rider. I got a job in D.C. and moved from Arlington. I was just appalled by the service. It felt like a creaky carnival ride that would break down at any moment. Soon after, the big red line accident in 2009 happened. It felt like an inevitable thing. It felt like something was going to go wrong.
We seem to be in the midst of a particularly bad time for the DC metro. Do you have a theory about what’s gone wrong lately?
No, and it’s all the more surprising because we’re well into this thing called “Metro Forward.” It’s a $5 billion rebuilding plan, and boy you’d think we’d be headed in the opposite direction. Things are getting worse. I don’t really know where the money went and what’s improved.
Your Twitter page, Facebook page and blog have become a rallying point for frustrated riders. What’s your goal?
I don’t have any mass transit experience, but my main focus has been to try to get some accountability with Metro. The board of directors and local politicians are not holding them accountable. We can hold them accountable and shame them, although it doesn’t really seem to be working. Lots of people have died and there have been lots of near misses. The “Metro Forward” catch phrase is “a better ride for you.” But where are those improvements?
We just recently experienced one of the biggest metro crises in recent memory -- one person lost their life. What was your reaction when it happened?
The reaction to the event was just horrible and led to somebody dying. The fans weren’t working or were turned the wrong way I think and there were communication problems. It’s the reaction to the problems that’s really sort of shocking. It’s obvious that death isn’t dramatic enough to change. That’s just crazy to me.
Your Twitter page has nearly 30,000 followers and your Facebook page has over 8,000 likes. Have you been surprised by the response?
It’s surprising, but also indicative of how many people are frustrated.
What’s it like to be at the center of all of this anger and frustration?
I try to inject a lot of humor into it and a lot of the D.C. people who tweet about metro are hilarious. It’s partially information you might use to avoid metro, but it also has an entertainment factor.
If you ran DC metro, what would you change?
First and foremost, we have to figure out some way to make the system accountable. It’s a difficult thing, but I think it can be done. So, first I would instill accountability, I would renegotiate the contract with the union because it’s a big drag on metro’s finances. Not a lot of people know this, but when you get a job at metro driving a bus, operating a train, etc., you are automatically a member of that union. It’s not a choice. And lastly, I would be more communicative and open with problems. Metro seems to go into this bunker mentality when things go wrong. I think if they were to be more forthright, people might be more patient with them. But, that’s the great part about social media. If metro says there’s a ‘track problem,’ there’s going to be people there with cameras on their phone showing what’s really going on. Then they look stupid for not being honest.
You asked to remain anonymous, but you’ve become sort of a folk hero for DC metro riders. Why not come out of the shadows?
It’s always been about the community and not so much about me. I don’t crave any kind of spotlight or attention. I sometimes used to wear an “Unsuck DC Metro” cap but it usually went unnoticed. The Twitter page is curated from other people, and although it’s got my voice in there, it’s very much predominantly a retweet machine and the Facebook page is the same sort of thing. I felt like I didn’t want it to be about one person.
Five years from now do you think things with the metro will improve?
No, not without some of these really hard decisions that have to be made. And I don’t see them being made. This is probably just about what metro is capable of. Some of the new cars coming might marginally improve things, but the organization is not well-run, accountable or competent. Unless there’s what’s called a ‘transit death spiral’ where fares go up and people leave, leading to an en masse departure from the metro, nothing is really going to change.
ABC News reached out to DC Metro and they refused to comment.