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WMATA’s chief gadfly is leaving town. Chris Barnes, the man behind the apoplectic FixWMATA blog, announced this morning that he’s headed to Houston in the fall.
Barnes gained a certain notoriety through his tweets, which were uniquely rageful even by Twitter standards. (Sample from the past 24 hours, commenting on the news that WMATA was reducing the price of a SmarTrip card from $5 to $2: “Congrats—you just ‘saved’ $3 to have a heart attack and die because the AED isn’t checked or accessible. #WMATA.”) An IT guy for a TV station by day (he declines to say for which station he works), Barnes was relentless in his criticism of Metro. Leadership, pricing, wait times, safety, crime—no aspect of the organization escaped Barnes’ watchful eye. Being blocked by WMATA on Twitter seemed to only increase the intensity of his rage spasms.
He even waded into media criticism, making pointed remarks about some reporters’ tendency to unskeptically reprint WMATA press releases. (“Forget Twitter and blogging – I’m going to start issuing press releases – the only thing DC media knows how to ingest.”)
In addition to his blistering online footprint, Barnes leaves behind the Metropolitan Transit Advocacy Group, which he co-founded this month, and a lengthy goodbye note on his blog in which he quotes Gandhi and slams his usual targets: D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser; WMATA General Manager Richard Sarles, spokesperson Dan Stessel, and social media manager Brian Anderson; the media; and the Riders’ Advisory Council, whose members he calls “jokers.”
In an email exchange, Barnes explains how his advocacy in D.C. began and what he actually likes about Metro. (Spoiler: nothing.)
Barnes says his disgust with WMATA started the same month he moved to the region more than three years ago, during his commute from Ballston to Silver Spring, though he says his transit advocacy dates back to his college days when he’d take MARTA to Georgia State’s campus in downtown Atlanta. (“[I] remember being furious as Hell that the suburbs were fighting tooth and nail to keep rail out of their counties.”)
He doesn’t recall a specific incident that ignited his passion for fixing WMATA, but he does remember “when I first realized there were serious problems, and that was when I noticed HotCars being reported on Twitter and decided to start writing them down. The list was eye-opening. That’s when I decided to start a Twitter account to start tracking them.”
Barnes is unable to name one thing he thinks WMATA is doing well and says he does not have a Metro station that he likes (though Gallery Place earns his ire as the worst “simply because of the layout of the Red Line platforms and the lack of pedestrian tunnel between there and Metro Center to relieve congestion on the platform”).
Barnes’ one hope? Councilmember Tommy Wells. “[He] is the only one that’s given riders the time of day on WMATA concerns,” he says.
The minor irony of Barnes’ move to Texas is that his destination, Houston, isn’t exactly known for strong public transportation.
“Texas is a car state,” he admits. “There’s no doubt about it. But at some point the major cities there will reach a critical mass and mass transit and hopefully high-speed rail will be an important discussion. The good news about most towns in Texas is that since they are just now at the beginning of investing in mass transit they have the opportunity to learn from others mistakes and do it right with newer, cleaner technology.”
Lest you think Barnes’ rage at WMATA was so strong it pushed him out of D.C., he explains that the reason for his departure is far more mundane.
“I want to buy a house and can’t afford one here,” he says. “That’s really what it comes down to. I’ve been priced out of D.C.! This is a tough town for someone on a single income!”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery