Reader questions on Metro bag checks
I just finished a lively online chat about the bag inspection program that Metro launched today, but there were scores of questions and comments left over. So I'd like to share some of these previously unpublished ones with you in this posting. Occasionally, I'll come in with a response.
Metro should be ashamed. This new policy is wasteful, silly, and will only further erode our liberties. The quote on the news this morning from Metro that all of the rider responses they received this morning were positive sounds exactly like the type of nonsense we used to mock from authoritarian regimes.
What rider would appreciate this type of wasteful intrusion that cannot possibly stop a terrorist? Several riders who were stopped and missed their trains and were quoted in news stories did not sound too appreciative.
Washingtonians, more so than citizens of almost any other city with the possible exception of NY, have to put up with far too many indignities in the name of security -- jersey barriers everywhere, overly aggressive federal security agents, demands for identification to enter public buildings, and now this.
Rider safety on Metro is increasingly in doubt but it is not going to be corrected by this type of silly security theater.
DG: This commenter went on to note some things that many riders were citing as clear and present dangers: "faulty escalators, malfunctioning switches, distracted bus drivers, or unruly passengers."
Role of the Metro board
I find it highly interesting that a federal agency, the TSA, is doing this, not the Metro transit police. Did the Metro board actively vote to allow this? Did any of the many, many liberals on the board vote no or express any concerns regarding possible violations of due process? Jim Graham, perhaps?
DG: Transit police and TSA officers are working together on this. The Post's Ann Scott Tyson reported this morning that TSA officers were at the tables at Braddock Road Station, applying the swabs to people's property. The Metro board has been all but invisible on this issue, even though the police inspections cross a major threshold in the transit authority's relationship with hundreds of thousands of riders. If you could hear what minutiae this "policy making" board sometimes gets into with the staff at public meetings, this lack of discussion would leap out.
Make Metro safer with officers on trains
If they really want to make Metro safer they should have officers on the trains and on the platforms. In the afternoons, there are often rowdy teens at Gallery Place making people uncomfortable.
DG: I'd love to see more officers on the trains and buses, and in the stations and parking areas. My complaint is with this particular security program, not with our transit police officers. When I talk to riders about security, the security they're thinking of is protection on the trains when school lets out, or when they walk from the stations to the parking areas. They'd like to see better lighting in the stations, and they'd like to have escalators with working brakes. But there's no Homeland Security grant for those things.
Does Metro just hate its riders? Bag checks, trying 2-car trains at night ...
DG: Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn gets a lot of respect from me, because I think he's completely dedicated to protecting riders. (Again, my beef is with the policy, not the police.) This policy should have been fully vetted by the Metro board, in consultation with the riders -- through the Riders' Advisory Council, for example. The two-car train idea died almost as soon as it was launched, but it's another example of Metro launching a program that affects lots of people without bothering to talk to them about it.
The Riders' Advisory Council plans to meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 3, to discuss the inspection program. David Alpert, a vice chairman of the council and founder of the Greater Greater Washington blog, says the panel wants to hear from riders and hopes to hear from a representative of the transit police.
What's the Fuss?
Dr G., How is this any different than going to the airport? There is 100 percent screening at the airport. So why are you so disturbed by this?
DG: You just told me how it's different than going to the airport. Instead of a check on all passengers and luggage, the Metro program uses a handful of officers to check a couple of stations. We have no reasonable expectation that this type of inspection will actually catch bad people.
When security people talk about this type of program, they tend to talk about the deterrence effect. It's designed to create a hubbub at transit stations. A would-be terrorist might see the commotion and turn away. In other words, it's designed to generate fear rather than actual security. Actual security is what you have at airports.
The Metro program might someday deter an actual terrorist. We'll probably never know. What we can know is that it generates tension and fear among riders. I think the transit program is unreasonable. We can't measure the reward, if any. We can measure the impact on riders and their civil liberties.
| December 21, 2010; 3:25 PM ET
Categories: Metro, Metrobus, Transportation Politics | Tags: Dr. Gridlock
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