The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Failing DC Metrorail Opens Absurd Swag Shop

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


The Metrorail system in the nation’s capital has been in crisis for almost a decade.  It has been labeled, “the worst in the world,” and its financial situation has been characterized as a “death spiral.”  But the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has now unveiled a new plan to fix all of that: A swag store

If you’d like your very own metro car-themed stress ball, Foggy Bottom emblazoned leggings, train line-inspired lip balm, or even a WMATA lamp, you’re in luck.  WMATA’s General Manager/CEO Paul Wiedefeld called the store, “a great opportunity.”  Jawauna Greene, WMATA’s Senior Director of Marketing said, “M shop lets [riders] take the iconic Metro brand home with them” (As opposed to WMATA simply taking its actual riders home). 

Unfortunately, WMATA’s brand is more infamous than iconic. The beleaguered system has become notorious for train derailments, track fires, disabled trains, long delays, and even fatalities. 

WMATA has tried in vain for years to paper over its horrid track record of incompetence.  In 2009, eight passengers were killed and more than 80 were injured after two trains collided.  WMATA then embarked on “MetroForward” in 2012 promising new busses and improved rail service, only to see safety plummet.  Arching track insulators wreaked havoc on the system, causing fires and smoky stations.  The track fires caused the death of another passenger in 2015 from smoke inhalation.  Later that year, the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) took the unprecedented step of taking over all safety oversight.  In 2016, WMATA was forced to shut down large sections of track for months at a time in order to fix arching insulators.  The new taskforce was called “SafeTrack” and went on for an entire year. 

WMATA has now started on yet another PR offensive, unironically dubbed “Back2Good.”  Flashy ads promise the same new and improved service with better safety and reliability.  Even so, track fires rose in 2017, and 2018 began with a fire from multiple arching insulators that snarled the system on the morning of January 12, 2018.  Last year was also marred by the firing of a third of WMATA’s inspection staff because they were caught falsifying track reports for years.  On March 3, 2018, FTA inspection notes revealed that WMATA track workers were still reclassifying badly defective tracks so they would not have to repair them. 

This decade of malfeasance has chased thousands of riders from the system.  Fiscal year (FY) 2017 ridership was down 12 percent, creating a revenue shortfall of $125 million.  In June 2017, WMATA began cutting operating hours and raising fares.  Now WMATA claims it needs “dedicated funding” from taxpayers in DC, Maryland, and Virginia to stay afloat.

And yet, WMATA seems to have enough revenue for gaudy advertising, absurd PR campaigns, and now its very own swag shop.  The solution to WMATA’s death spiral is to regain rider trust and eventually their business.  The only way to achieve that is to focus on providing consistent, reliable, and safe service and nothing else.

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