>Rider’s Advisory Council Chair: “Comments are welcome (but only at meetings)”


I attended yesterday’s WMATA Board meeting and provided public comment.  It was my first WMATA Board meeting, and I knew it would be likely that I could speak to some of the other people involved with WMATA.

I spoke with Nancy Iacomini, Chair of the Rider’s Advisory Council, about the need for the RAC to have some sort of email address or other method to receive comments from the public, and asked her about what the model for understanding the RAC’s role should be.

She did not see taking comments by email as something the RAC should do.  She said that the members of the RAC are all private citizens and this isn’t their full-time job.  They take time out of their busy schedule to attend RAC meetings, and if the public wants to provide comments, then the right place for that to happen is at the public meetings.

She said that it’s not really the RAC’s job to receive and respond to the kinds of emails that would be expected, i.e., “There’s too much trash in this station”, or “This bus driver was rude to me”.  That would be more appropriate to provide to WMATA staff through the customer service email address, csvc@wmata.com.  She did say that they talk to people in their community and when they ride Metro, and they get good customer feedback through those channels.  They look for patterns that indicate more attention needs to be paid in certain areas, like station cleanliness is degrading system-wide, for example.

She seemed concerned that receiving comments via email or other online channels would be “out of the public view”, and that providing public comment at a meeting would be a better avenue for those comments.

Here’s what WMATA has to say about the RAC:  “On December 15, 2005, the Metro Board appointed a Riders’ Advisory Council. This group allows Metro customers an unprecedented level of input on bus, rail and MetroAccess service.”

And part of the RAC bylaws:  “The mission of the RAC is to actively seek input from a broad range of riders on operational and budgetary issues that affect Metrorail, Metrobus, and
MetroAccess riders and organizations with an expressed interest in public transit”

The RAC is appointed by the WMATA Board, and is intended to represent a broad range of riders, from all modes of transit, from all jurisdictions, workers, students, retired people, etc.  Even so, I think that taking public comments only at public meetings doesn’t really fit my model of “actively seeking input” or providing the regular customers an “unprecedented level of input”.  I think if the Chair is concerned about receiving comments out of the public view, then an appropriate alternative would be to have a (moderated) comment box on the WMATA webpage for people to post their thoughts in public.

We discussed what the model for understanding the RAC should be.  Is the RAC supposed to be the rider’s representatives, or are members supposed to be representative riders?  She said instead that the best way to understand the RAC is that they’re an advisory group to WMATA, similar to Arlington’s citizen commissions.  Those commissions function almost like subcommittees of the Arlington County Board, have a staff member to help with administration, don’t have a public email address except to contact the staff member.  The commissions take public comment at meetings, publish agendae and minutes, and report to the Board.  That seems consistent with the way the RAC has been doing business.

So, if you have something to say about RAC business or WMATA and you want it heard by the RAC, don’t try to send it by email, go to a meeting.


About perkinsms

I'm an engineer and father interested in transit, parking and economics.
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8 Responses to >Rider’s Advisory Council Chair: “Comments are welcome (but only at meetings)”

  1. Tim S says:

    >I feel that this point completely illustrates that putting hard working professionals with great resumes (or connections) on these councils is bad idea. They are usually too busy with other concerns to actually do their jobs.She is right in the sense that the e-mail would probably get inundated with customer service complaints and requests – but I’m sure they would also gain great insight into what riders actually think. They can’t expect riders to show up to meetings, or randomly seek them out on the streets.I don’t know about anyone else, but I get really upset to hear something like this from someone who is supposedly representing my interests.

  2. Michael says:

    >Tim, who would you rather have work on these groups? I think the more qualified, the better. WMATA staff could help out by pre-filtering the mail and letting the RAC members know which mail has already been passed on to the customer service folks for resolution. That way, the RAC could see all of the mail but concentrate on the ones that customer service won’t be able to handle.

  3. Tim S says:

    >Michael, I completely agree that WMATA should provide staffing to help out the RAC, since this is not their full time job – and they can’t be expected to devote that much time to it.In the same respect, from what I read of your conversation with Nancy Iacomini, it seemed as though she felt as though she passively served on a board, the only decisions and interaction she had to make were within the boardroom, and that was enough.I also agree with you that more qualified people are often better – but if you are versed in transportation policy or urban planning, perhaps you would be better off serving WMATA in a full time role. I feel as though the RAC is supposed to represent the interests of normal riders, not those of a particular policy viewpoint.

  4. Michael says:

    >The RAC does have one staff member as far as I know. Nancy volunteers all over Arlington and as fas as I know has done a great job. I think that it would be better if WMATA’s RAC charter included these kinds of customer interaction suggestions.The tendency is for the RAC to be used as sort of a focus group, which the management can bounce ideas off of. That’s useful for WMATA because really terrible ideas can get the criticism they deserve, but it doesn’t really do anything in terms of oversight and pushing initiatives that WMATA isn’t bringing before the RAC.

  5. Tim S says:

    >I guess you are right, and my ignorance is in the fact that I think RAC (or some other body) should take on a more customer service riders advocate role. Much like the role of the Straphangers Campaign in NYC — which although isn’t sanctioned by the MTA there, is listened to. That said I think the RAC is a good start, and as you said – gives WMATA a good place to bounce ideas. But as a daily rider of metrorail and metrobus – I feel I need something more than a small council trying to help make WMATA better.

  6. thm says:

    >Anyone who feels the RAC isn’t working the way it should, now’s your chance:Metro seeks 8 new RAC membersapplications due November 7th.

  7. Paul says:

    >The North Rosslyn Civic Association has actively worked with WMATA for years focusing on service and maintenance issues, particularly at the Rosslyn and Arlington Cemetery stations.You can see what we've done at this URL: http://www.northrosslyn.org Look under "our activities" at the North Rosslyn Forum to find the metro threads.We would really like RAC members to look at community issues and efforts, such as those we have regarding METRO.

  8. Michael says:

    >Paul: Could you please email me at michael (at) infosnack (dot) org? I'd like to know more about your metro station inspections and WMATA's responses.Thanks,Michael Perkins

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