If you’re fed up with lackluster Metro service or even concerned for your life as a Metrobus or Metrorail commuter, a new WMATA Riders’ Union that launched this morning is promising “change” and looking for members.
Chris Barnes, who runs the @FixWMATA (formerly @FixMetro) Twitter account and who has given the transit agency some grief in recent memory, announced plans to create an organization for riders just before a board meeting at Metro’s headquarters regarding the Aug. 6 derailment at Smithsonian station. Though it involved a non-passenger train, the derailment produced major headaches for Blue, Orange, and Silver line commuters.
#WMATA Riders Unite! Coming soon: a union for riders, by riders who want WMATA to change and are tired of waiting!
— WMATA Riders’ Union (@WMATARU) September 3, 2015
“From a rider’s point of view, it seems like [Metro] is doing the bare minimum,” Barnes, reached by City Desk this afternoon, says. “This is something I’ve had on the backburner for a while. I want to channel the rider voice into a unified voice—and that’s not my voice or FixWMATA’s.”
On top of a new Twitter account, Barnes put up a website for the union this morning featuring a “feedback form” if people are interested in joining or want more information. So far, @WMATARU has more than 300 followers, and the site has received more than 20 responses, Barnes says. He notes that the union will not charge for membership, adding that New York’s Straphangers Campaign (among similar groups) could serve as a model. Although Metro already has a Riders’ Advisory Council consisting of 21 members, Barnes argues they have a “conflict” because they report directly to the transit agency: “They’re only there as a focus group for WMATA,” he says.
Barnes admits the union is still in the initial stages, but will be “a democratic group.” There are already two other core members—Roger Bowles, who is “very knowledgeable” about Metro’s technical issues, and Ashley Robbins, who “has a strong background in organizing riderships in other cities.”
“I foresee us doing web polls or getting feedback on Twitter and compiling that information,” he explains. “Ninety-nine percent of the D.C. area just wants to get to work—that’s all they want. Unfortunately, they get drawn into these other issues about why their train isn’t working, like single-tracking. More people know these WMATA terms like that than they probably should.”
A union would attend Metro board meetings and provide accountability for the transit agency, Barnes says, even if it wouldn’t call for something as specific as officials getting fired. “I want this group to be constructive,” he adds. “I’m just the one kicking us in the butt to get it going.”
Contacted late this morning, a Metro spokesperson said the agency hadn’t yet heard of the group.
The Riders’ Union will eventually send out an agreement form for members to agree to certain principles, Barnes says. The group will possibly use crowd-sourcing strategies like GoFundMe to raise money for meetings, refreshments, and donations: “Riders are already paying too much.”
“This is not going to be a next week we’re up and running kind of situation,” Barnes says. “We’re looking at a couple months down the road before we’re even close to being a somewhat effectual group.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery