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So Metro throws money down a rathole once again…

October 28, 2008, 8:23 PM

According to an article in today’s issue of The Washington Post, Metro has announced that they will be doing random bag searches in response to security concerns regarding the upcoming election and presidential inauguration.

Based on what I’ve read about it, including the Post article and WMATA’s press release, what they’re going to do is set up shop in a station mezzanine or bus stop, and count off a certain number of people such as 15 (I selected this number and will use it throughout this entry), and then stop the person who happens to be that unlucky fifteenth person to search their bags. It’s kind of like an adult version of duck duck goose, except the one who is “it” has a gun. The idea is that these random searches are being conducted to search for explosives, and will take 15 seconds to complete – about as long as a train station stop lasts.

So let’s poke a few holes in this idea, shall we?

First of all, searching every fifteenth rider or whatever does NOT provide any real security. You see, for every one you inspect, you’ve let another fourteen go by. Thus you’re only inspecting roughly 7% of riders. And so when you’re letting 93% of your riders go through uninspected, all you’re doing is wasting the time of the other 7% who you are stopping.

Additionally, the 15 seconds to conduct the inspection is about as long as a train takes to make a station stop. Therefore, being pulled over for the inspection could make the difference between making your train or missing it. During the evenings when train headways start to run around 15 minutes, that makes a significant difference between making it home at a reasonable hour or not. Just thinking about my commute, if I leave outside of rush hour, I have to take the Y bus home. I’ve had to wait more than 30 minutes for Y buses at Glenmont at times, due to the poor service that Metro provides on that route. Thus for a commute that normally takes an hour, it can get stretched out another 45 minutes just having to stand around waiting for the train or bus because you missed your intended train due to their “security” inspections.

And so in the end, their intent is noble, but their execution is severely flawed. No one will argue that people should be allowed to bring explosives on trains and buses. However, when you’re inspecting such a small sample of the population, you’re not providing any security whatsoever. All you’re doing is providing the illusion that you’re doing something, while not actually providing any real security. It’s a feel-good measure that is there to placate the Joe the Plumber types who will support government officials, right or wrong, to make them think that the system is perfectly secure, even though it isn’t, giving these people a false sense of security. And having a false sense of security is dangerous – more so than any bomb could be.

If Metro was really serious about security, they would station police officers at ALL of the stations’ entrances, and inspect the carry-on items of EVERY passenger entering the system. Anything less, and you’re wasting people’s time, and invading people’s privacy for no real benefit. After all, you’ve verified that one person doesn’t have any bombs in their bag, but you’ve let fourteen others go through unchecked. And with there being no real security provided through these searches, Metro is throwing money down a rathole – money that could be better spent on other methods, such as an extra bomb-sniffing dog or two or something. So Metro is throwing money down a rathole on ineffective security measures, while we had to eat a significant fare increase back in January. Additionally, Metro is wasting money on security while at the same time complaining about what poor condition their facilities are in. Is it any wonder why jurisdictions don’t particularly like having to fund Metro, considering what they do with the money?

Benjamin Franklin once said, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” I don’t know which scares me more. Metro conducting these random bag searches and thinking that they’re accomplishing anything productive, or the people who fully support these boneheaded measures, and are willing to give up their rights like it’s nothing.

Web site: Washington Post online chat with Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn about the bag searches.

Song: "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen", sung like Princess Vespa did in Spaceballs.

Quote: This is also a first for me - usually, whenever Metro makes the news for something or another, I'm either neutral about it, or feeling bad for Metro. This is the first time it's made me angry about it, and every time I see the new "subject to inspection" sign that went up at Glenmont today, I want to rip it down. AND the fact that they decided to implement this all of a sudden with no warning with no chance for the public to comment or anything indicates to me like they wanted to pull a fast one on us with this, because they KNEW people would be upset over it...