Unsuck DC Metro—the independent blog that serves as a running WMATA complaint tracker—says the latest Metrorail customer survey is bogus. On most questions, riders are expected to pick between the choices offered by Metrorail. Unsuck consults a pollster who responds: “It’s a very obvious push poll. Useable input from customers is not the goal here as every possible answer is clearly steered in one direction, and there are no chances for further elaboration. I would guess most of the data collected—if it really is—will be used for internal rationalization and politicking. It’s a charade as an outreach tool.”

The question that set off Unsuck’s “b.s. meter” was one that presented what the author called a “false choice”:

Which would you prefer?
*Metro should maintain its accelerated construction schedule to finish as soon as possible.
*Metro should slow down even at the risk that there may be more breakdowns and disruptions.

I don’t know if it’s actually a push poll, but the question that set off my b.s. meter was about funding Metro:

Metro’s General Manager has proposed balancing the budget through cost sharing between the taxpayers living in the supporting jurisdictions (those areas served by Metro) and riders who use the system. Benefits of Metro to both riders and non-riders include access to bus and rail services, traffic congestion relief, and economic growth for the community. The General Manager’s proposal calls for an increase of $53 million from the jurisdictions and $66 million from riders, via fares (net a projected decline of $3 million in rider revenue).

Today, the cost to operate Metro services is split 53% paid by riders and 45% paid by taxpayers in the jurisdictions and 2% other revenue (advertising, etc).

What do you think is the appropriate amount for jurisdictions vs. riders to pay for Metro services? (move each line to the percentage you think appropriate)

Underneath the question are two sliders that let consumers decide how they would like to see cost-sharing split between taxpayers and riders. But nowhere is there room for customer input for other suggestions on how to balance Metro’s budget—only GM Richard Sarles‘ proposal to balance the budget through taxpayers and fares. Riders, who often pay both taxes and fares, may want to see Metro try something else: Like become more efficient in its hiring and contracting practices. But based on the choices available in this survey, it would be impossible to know that. It’s pretty clear that the survey’s authors aren’t interested in riders’ suggestions so much as the Metro suggestions that riders hate the least.

The survey concludes with the cheery: “Thank you for participating in WMATA’s budget survey. We appreciate your input!!

Interesting, considering that aside from a single question, there’s nowhere in the survey for customers to submit their own input.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery