Snow is no excuse

Our view: MTA administrator takes responsiblity

others should follow his lead

February 24, 2010

For those tired of all the excuses mouthed by elected leaders and bureaucrats over their handling -- and mishandling -- of this month's record snowfall, Ralign Wells is a welcome relief. The Maryland Transit Administration's new chief is willing to admit that mistakes were made, which means he and his agency can correct them.

Apparently, Mr. Wells didn't get the memo that must have circulated among county executives, mayors, highway departments and the like to never admit you goofed -- or at least to blame your front-line troops manning the plows and shovels when problems do arise.

In an interview this week with The Sun's Michael Dresser, the MTA administrator owned up to some bad choices. One of the biggest was failing to keep Metro's above-ground tracks clear by running trains frequently during the storms, a decision that shut down the subway for a week between Owings Mills and Mondawmin Mall after the latest snow because the third rail iced over and had to be cleaned by hand.

He also admitted that shuttle buses used to supplement the subway were hampered by lengthy delays and that the agency needs to communicate better with Baltimore County to get bus routes on streets like Old Court Road cleared of snow earlier.

Mr. Wells didn't throw his employees under the proverbial bus. As a former MTA bus driver who was appointed to the agency's top post just three months ago, he knows better. He thinks overall they did a good job; he just wants to correct some management-level problems that his customers have already brought to his attention.

Such candor is refreshing -- and quite a contrast to all the excuses offered by so many others in recent weeks. Baltimore may be enduring the snowiest winter in recorded history, but that doesn't relieve government agencies and school systems from taking responsibility for their failures.

Sorry, but heavy snowfall alone doesn't explain why communications with the public were so poor, why residents couldn't tell when their streets might be plowed, why more private contractors weren't engaged to deal with the mess or why some neighborhoods seemed to get bypassed altogether.

Every agency that reacted to this year's blizzard, from local fire stations to public works departments and the State Highway Administration, ought to be required to conduct an investigation of its performance -- including public hearings -- to explore how future severe weather can be handled better.

Nobody expects perfection. No doubt there were mistakes made in the private sector too. Clearly, a lot of folks didn't keep their sidewalks clear, left cars parked on emergency routes and were generally ill-prepared for the paralyzing storms.

But while snow may cover the landscape, it does eventually melt to reveal the truth of what's underneath. Government can't be made better if our elected leaders and agency heads aren't willing to shine some light on their failings.

That's particularly true for the MTA, where customer service is critical. Kudos to Mr. Wells for recognizing that and setting an example that others should follow.

Readers respond

These workers and leaders ought to be commended for having major streets clean by the morning after the record breaking storm, not chastised by the Baltimore Sun.

Five feet of snow fell in a five day period. Where's the editorial praising the state and local heroes for working throughout the storm and doing their jobs -- well beyond their jobs -- for the ungrateful public?


Kudos to Mr. Wells for his candor and willingness to acknowledge that there is room for improvement. This is a refreshing approach that perhaps should be modeled by other public leaders.


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