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, firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.