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It is time to put WMATA’s knowledge of its own photography policy to the test…

September 9, 2011, 8:02 PM

Let me tell you… tomorrow is going to be fun. I’m heading into DC tomorrow for a Wikipedia meetup. On the way over, I’m going to be doing a little railfan photography.

The railfan photography is going to look something like this, I’m sure:

Gallery Pl-Chinatown station

Glenmont station

Yellow Line train at Greenbelt station

Breda 3225 doing Red Line service

However – and you may have heard about this – this weekend is also the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 9/11 was a very tragic day in our country’s history, with the loss of several thousand innocent lives. The after-effects of that day have been quite tragic as well, as we have watched our government increasingly spy on us, and as various public employees have attempted to equate photographers with terrorists, as they wrongly tell photographers that they are not permitted to photograph certain things in plain view from public rights-of-way and public facilities in the name of “security”.

One agency that I have repeatedly butted heads with is Metro itself, as all too many WMATA employees have made up their own rules, telling me that photography is not permitted on Metro, despite that Metro’s own policies explicitly state that there are no regulations concerning the type of photography that I like to engage in.

The policies at Metro concerning photography within the system are outlined in a document called “Regulation Concerning The Use By Others Of WMATA Property and Related Board Resolutions“. Specifically, see section 100.8(a)(2) in Subpart D. The relevant portion of that section states (emphasis mine):

Still photography that does not require a tripod, special lighting, film crews, models, impair the normal ingress/egress or operation of Authority services and can be accomplished by a hand held camera by one person is not regulated.

In addition, see section 100.8(b) (emphasis mine):

(1) Each person who requests and is granted authorization to undertake “commercial” or “not-for-profit” filming or photography activity on WMATA property shall enter into a contractual agreement with WMATA in accordance with section 100.3, Contracts.

(2) Each person except as stated in Section 100.8(a)(2) who requests and is granted authorization to undertake still photography or hand-held camera filming shall be issued a permit issued by WMATA in accordance with Section 100.2, Permits.

In addition, Metro’s own officials have explicitly stated in the past that photography is most certainly permitted on Metro. For instance, take this WMATA LunchTalk chat with then-General Manager Richard A. White on April 15, 2005 (emphasis mine):

Question from Donovan: Is it against Metro rules/regulations to take photographs using a still camera while on the train or in the station? If so, where is this particular rule displayed? I have been asked not take pictures.

Answer from Richard A. White: Metro has regulations regarding photography, but the regs don’t cover the type of photography you described. It is unlawful to take photos on Pentagon property and Pentagon Police do enforce that regulation at our station. Post-9/11 law enforcement officers nationwide do contact people who are taking photos to determine if this is a suspicious activity. Bottom line is that visitors/tourists who want to take some snapshots in our system are welcome to do so.

That’s pretty explicit right there. And thus I find it amazing how many times I’ve been harassed for photography on Metro in the past. So let’s see how much smoke these Metro people are prepared to blow. I will be following the publicly available policy to the letter. As there is no similar regulation that says there isn’t a regulation about filming, I’m going to be taking still photographs only. I will only be photographing things in plain view from public areas. I will not be standing in such a way as to obstruct or disrupt the flow of traffic through the system. I will not be using any ancillary equipment such as lights or a tripod (I’m not going to use the on-board flash, either). And I won’t have any assistants with me. I’m also not going to be a dick about what I’m photographing, i.e. I’m not going to shove a camera in someone’s face (unless I get confronted), or photograph directly into the kiosk, or something similarly obnoxious. So theoretically, I should not be bothered by WMATA personnel – but we all know better than that.

I personally think that the real reason that many Metro employees don’t like photography within the system has nothing to do with concerns over “security”, real or imagined. I believe that the real reason is because it is possible that we might inadvertently catch a Metro employee engaging in improper conduct on the job. After all, I’m pretty sure it’s against work rules to be sleeping on the job, texting while operating a train (or a bus), reading the newspaper while operating a vehicle, having a soda while operating a train, or smoking in the right-of-way, and if caught, the involved employees would likely face disciplinary action. It would seem reasonable that in a very public job, working with the public, in a system that is also considered a tourist attraction in and of itself, that Metro employees would simply follow the rules and do their jobs to the best of their abilities. But that would apparently be too much to ask, for people to actually – heaven forbid – do their jobs. When Metro employees see a camera, I have a feeling that they’re most worried about being caught doing something that they’re not supposed to be doing, as the public has noticed in the past, with reports of misconduct publicly documented on sites such as Unsuck DC Metro and the like. I have no sympathy for employees who are caught engaging in misconduct on the job and who are subsequently disciplined for it.

So for Metro: You now know my plans. I am going to be riding the system on Saturday to go to a Wikipedia meetup, and taking my camera in tow. I will be using my camera to take photographs on my way down because I’m a nerd about transit photography. I am also a daily rider. I know the rules, even the obscure ones like the photography policy, buried deeply in a 100-some page document. Let’s see how well versed your staff is in their own system’s photo policy. Remember that photographers, like 99.99% of the people that ride the system, are harmless, but while everyone is busy harassing the photographer, that just might be the distraction that a real terrorist intent on doing real harm would need to smuggle some very bad things into the system. So remember to watch out for the real security threats that might actually do some legitimate harm to the system, and leave the photographers alone.

So I suppose we’ll see how many times I get confronted over photography on Saturday. I plan on making a couple of unnecessary transfers on my way in, because I need to improve my photo coverage in a few spots. Transit Center always needs better photos of Metro, as does Wikipedia. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Web site: WMATA photography policy, linked from WMATA's site

Song: My song tomorrow will be "Show me the rule that explicitly says that I am not permitted to photograph." Recall that the CTA employee lost his temper and became belligerent because he couldn't produce the rule that satisfied his argument when I had the rule in writing that satisfied mine. I'll post results.

Quote: I also wonder how many times WMATA employees will cite 9/11 as a reason for harassing me. I wonder if I'll need to remind them that the policy as written does not indicate any dates or times where photography is restricted. We'll see what happens, I suppose.

Categories: Photography, Security, WMATA