Metro Employee Parking (Part 2) [Update Saturday, April 16]

A former coworker wrote me today about this issue and related an experience he had recently:

“During the last snow storm, I was assigned to Medical Center for 16 emergency hours. There is no other way to get to that station
carrying all my tools and lunch other than to drive to the station itself. There is no parking at Medical, other than the kiss and ride
metered spots.
Naturally, I came out to a 40 dollar ticket and an icy ride home.”

That, in a nutshell, is why Metro employees need designated parking spots.

Hate on Metro employees all you want, but it is outrageous that anyone should have to pay parking tickets in order to do their job.

I agree that employees should not be parking in the prime spots near station entrances and I realize that parking is a huge issue in and around D.C. (and all major cities) but if a business (any business) is to function, its employees must be given _somewhere_ to park.

There are a few such spots around the system.  There are (or were) a couple of these signs posted at Silver Spring (B08):

Of course, this doesn’t help the majority of workers who are not supervisors.

If this can be done at B08 — a very busy station with limited parking — it can be done anywhere.  So far, WMATA has just chosen not to designate adequate employee parking.

In my experience over 27 years at Metro, the parking regulations were not routinely enforced — whether the vehicles belonged employees or passengers. People (both passengers and employees) knew this and would take advantage of the situation. That’s just human nature.

It’s no secret that many people do what they can get away with, especially when it comes to traffic laws and parking regulations. There are also some that simply do not care if they get caught or are issued a ticket. I recall one passenger at Grosvenor who whipped his Range Rover into a metered Kiss & Ride spot at about 3:15 pm and started dropping quarters into the meter. Trying to be helpful, I pointed out that there was no parking in that area of the lot after 3:30 pm (some people honestly did not know this and were thankful when I pointed it out). I suggested that he might want to park at one of the ‘red’ meters (same cost) about 100 feet to the south. His haughty reply went something like this:
“Parking tickets are just a cost of doing business”, then he turned and walked away.
I realize two wrongs don’t make a right. I tell that story to point out that there are plenty of people out there who flaunt the law and/or have a sense of entitlement and/or are arrogant. Only a small fraction of them wear a Metro uniform. Many are wealthy and because fines aren’t tied to income they can go through life breaking laws left and right. Sure, they get caught once in a while, but the fine is pocket change to them. Where is the outrage over people like that?
All I’m saying is we should be even-handed in our criticism and not just pile on one group of people (Metro employees in this case). If illegal parking at Metro stations is a problem then the police should enforce the regulations, simple as that.
The main point I’d like to make is that employees must have someplace to park. Not on the sidewalk with velvet ropes, but somewhere. In my opinion it should be free for on-duty employees.  After all, they’re working, not going on vacation.  I understand that some people must pay for parking, but generally that is because their employer does not have their own parking lot. All across America, the vast majority of people are provided free parking a their place of employment, that’s just a given.
As for the stereotyping of Metro employees, it is no better than stereotyping minorities. Are there lazy, rude, incompetent Metro employees? Sure, there are employees like that everywhere. There are also rude, obnoxious passengers. But majority of passengers and Metro employees are decent people. Most Metro employees don’t deserve the criticism and hatred that is directed at them.
One person who commented on the Unsuck DC Metro blog post said that Metro employees are overpaid.   That is a common complaint.
It may be that some Metro employees are overpaid. Others may be underpaid. Metro is currently having a hard time recruiting competent employees to work in my former dept., Automatic Train Control (ATC). Apparently once most of the qualified applicants are made aware of the working conditions they decide the pay is too low — or they would not do the job for any amount of money. It is very dangerous — several Metro employees have been killed in the last few years. The most recent fatal accident in January of 2010, killed two of my former coworkers, both were veteran ATC techs. Employees who work on the wayside (the tracks) are in constant danger from the 750 volt third rail, trains, and often Track dept. equipment — not to mention the more common slips, falls, cuts, and broken bones. They are expected to work outside in all conditions -15 degree wind chill, blizzards, pouring rain, 100+ degree heat with 90% humidity. Most of the underground train control rooms (TCRs) are saturated with ‘tunnel dust’ (as are the stations BTW) and there is a constant 60 cycle hum from the electrical equipment. Upon entering a TCR for the first time, many people will say, “How can you stand this noise?!” An ATC tech has to be a jack of all trades — electronics tech, grease monkey, mechanic, custodian, delivery person, etc. Many technicians simply do not want to work in the conditions Metro subjects their employees to. They’re looking for a Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 job in a clean, air conditioned environment.
What most people do not realize is that the pay for all members of ATU Local 689 is tied to the “top operator rate” — the highest base pay for a bus driver or train operator. The starting pay for an ATC tech (and other techs and mechanics) is 90% of the top operator rate. If Metro needs to raise the starting salary for certain positions, they must give _everyone_ a raise. That’s obviously not possible so management is pretty well stuck trying to convince people that the job isn’t that bad after all.
The same person also mentioned that some/most of the vehicles shown in the video were expensive SUVs.
The oversized gas guzzlers are usually purchased by those employees who practically _live_ at Metro. They work huge amounts of overtime (OT) to afford those toys. To be honest, when I was still at Metro I was often surprised by some of the vehicles I’d see parked in the lot — luxury cars, high-end sports cars, and SUVs. The majority of the cars were ordinary commuter cars — Civics, Corollas, etc, but there were some expensive ones mixed in. In addition to working a ton of OT to afford the fancy cars, we don’t know how the employees got those vehicles. Maybe some are from police or wholesale auctions or were otherwise purchased used. Also, from talking with other employees over the years I got the impression that many of them really couldn’t afford their mortgage and/or car payments and/or kids college tuition. I don’t expect them to get any sympathy. All I’m saying is that just because a person is driving a Lexus it does not necessarily follow that they are independently wealth or even in good financial shape.
While I agree that the reaction of the Metro employees was poor, most of us can’t predict how we would react if a TV news crew ambushed us and pointed a camera and a mic at us and started asking questions.  Something else that may factor in exchanges between the press and Metro employees is the feeling many have of being persecuted and unfairly criticized — of being made scapegoats for everything that’s wrong with Metro and beyond (budget problems, etc).
I recall a “48 Hours” (or similar show) episode in which they clocked cops with a radar gun (using a certified radar operator) and then followed the ones that were well in excess of the limit. Most were not on a call — they were just going home, or shopping. When they stuck a mic in their face most of them reacted very similar to the way the employees acted. They were belligerent, pissed off. I half expected one of them to say, “You must respect my authoritaaay!!”. 😉 Many cops seem to think that they are above the law — at least traffic laws.  In fact, a few years back I had two cops on two separate occasions say that to my face.  One (a MSP trooper) said, “If you go to the academy, you can break the law too.”  The other (a MoCo police officer) told me he was shot in the leg and (quote) “That gives me the _right_ to break the law.”  I’ve seen police cars parked illegally at Metro stations. Chances are they weren’t on “official business”. You know they didn’t get a ticket.
It might sound like I’m defending the illegal parking by the Metro employees. I’m honestly not, but I think we need to put it in context. Most people do what they think they can get away with. When I was commuting up and down I-270 it was typically not rush hour, so the cops weren’t restricted by traffic. The MoCo police would almost always drive 85 to 90 mph+ and tailgate (as in 4 or 5 feet from their rear bumper) anyone going slower.  That seems a bit more serious than some Metro workers parking in the Kiss & Ride lot, but there are never any ‘gotcha’ exposes involving that issue.
There’s no defense for parking illegally, but the fact is that WMATA management was certainly aware this was going on. Many of them benefitted also. The police (both Transit and local) usually looked the other way. In that situation, if employees have no other place to park, most of them will take advantage of the [unwritten] perk. I think most people (if they are honest with themselves) would admit they would also.
This problem could be resolved with two actions:
1) Enforce the parking regs equally, for _everyone_, including cops and administrative personnel.
2) Provide someplace for employees to park (at least at locations that already have parking lots).  These could be the least desirable spots on the property.
If an employee has a parking spot provided for their use and it is available, they have no excuse for parking anywhere else and should face disciplinary action if they do so.
A final note:
It is depressing to witness the recent attacks on unions — particularly public employee unions — police, fire, teachers, transit workers, etc.  It is part of a divide and conquer scheme being implemented by wealthy special interests — CEOs, the Wall Street ‘Masters of the Universe’, etc.  After reading some of the more vitriolic comments over on Unsuck DC Metro, I can’t help but suspect that some of that anti-union feeling is involved.  Yes, most if not all of the employees that were ambushed by the camera crew were parked illegally.  Granted, many of them had a poor attitude about it but it’s not exactly the crime of the century.  What if cops were doing the same thing at the barracks or the court house or city hall?  Would people react the same?  Somehow I doubt it.  Why is that?  Aren’t we all (Metro workers, police officers, civilians) supposed to play by the same rules?
I know a lot of people are hurting out there and it’s natural to look for a scapegoat, but most Metro employees are just regular folks trying to make a living and provide for their families.  In my 27 years at Metro I had plenty of run-ins with ‘less than friendly’ coworkers.  Every large organization has people who are surly and rude, but I’ve also witnessed innumerable instances of Metro employees going out of their way to help people, not because they had to but because they wanted to.
I hope that those that have a negative opinion of all Metro employees will reconsider and look for the positive as well as the negative.  Most of my former coworkers sincerely want(ed) to make the railroad as safe and efficient as possible, but that can be tough when you have to deal with the dysfunctional Evil Empire.


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