Today is the much disputed day when Metro made the feeble and long overdue attempt to compensate its ridership for their habitual mismanagement of everything from funds to physics with a free morning commute. Far be it for me to quantify the hours of my life I have wasted at their hand higher than $1.45, the gesture is sweet and a step in the right direction.
This sentiment, however, has not been as gracious as other generosities of the season, and has been hard won after months of hubristic hilarity. I recall not having to wear a coat the day I first read of this proposal in the Fake Paper, and how Metro authorities were concerned a free ride would cause pandemonium on the platforms. The above linked article even alludes to the extra 15,000 to 30,000 extra passengers the free rides are expected to attract.
If I may be so brusque, what the fuck do they think this is? Have 15-30,000 people in the Washington Metro Area managed to block out any and all information regarding the incompetency of the Metro system? Do they actually believe there are people who have been looking for a less reliable alternative but have been turned off by the maximum $3.90 fare? I honestly do not know anyone, nor can I envision a significant segment of the population that rides Metro for no other reason than they can not afford to park where they are going. If your work is paying for your parking, or you can afford to pay for it yourself, you're going to drive. End of story. "It's nice that I can decide when I leave and which way I take to get there, but I would really like to be at the whim of the public transportation schedule, and enjoy the cosmic humbling of knowing there is nothing I can do to avoid the inevitable Rossyln train jam. I like this whole climate controlled environment where I can experience the solace of privacy, but I would much rather connect with the public, at times directly, and take the exciting gamble of guessing who will smell, want to talk to me, push, prod, or every 17 seconds, sniffle." Hell, even the folks I know of for whom taking public transportation is more convenient take commuter buses, MARC, VRE, or even pick up slugs.
Predictably, I noticed no surge in the crowds today, and while Metro said they would be running extra trains to accommodate them, I doubt it. Not because when other cities tried the same experiment and reported no measurable increase of riders. That sort of "learning from the lessons of others" is not a DC trait. I don't believe they did that because I haven't believed anything Metro has published ever since those 8-car trains that are too cumbersome for the tracks without a significant overhaul of the electrical system magically ran during the Red Line Crash shutdown this fall.
As I recall, the initial plan was for Metro to sponsor today's free ride. Perhaps too much of the budget went to floor stickers for them to do it, perhaps that was never the plan anyway. The New Bank in Town, ING Direct sponsored it, and bought every piece of advertising space in the Metro Center station and put stickers on fare gates promoting free rides. Good for them. It's gonna cost them a bundle.
But remember, folks, this is DC, and there's no revenue-building project we can't find a socialistic reason to object to (hang on to those Washington Nationals future collectors items). WTOPNews even got their hands on someone who represents something called a nonprofit scenic conservation group who thinks the advertising borders on being unsightly and is degrading the experience. Nothing degrades the experience of standing in the armpit of a fellow rider whose standards of hygiene aren't quite up to par only because you weren't lucky enough to snag one of the benches that serve as anything from a bed to a toilet to anyone who can scrape up $1.35 in the "off peak" hours.
Perhaps I'm calloused to the reminders we live in a capitalist society, but if ING Direct is willing to paint the Orange Line in its signature orange colors and plasters a lion's head on the front of every train so that I can have a pleasant and punctual ride to work, go for it. Hell, they can paint the Blue Line Blue while you're at it. Paint enough things and I might start volunteering to ride Metro even when I don't have to.