Following a week of terrible Red Line Metro service, WMATA is offering refunds to riders who were inconvenienced. That’s a nice gesture, and perhaps it’s appropriate as a special measure when the same customers are hit with so many unexpected delays in such a short time. But in general, refunds are not the answer to Metro’s woes.
Yes, customers deserve to receive the service they’ve paid for, and yes, it’s satisfying to hold WMATA financially accountable when it doesn’t meet expectations. Those are the arguments in favor of refunds, and admittedly they’re compelling.
But if WMATA actually gave refunds every time there was a breakdown (which as we all know is unfortunately frequently), what would the side effects be? As always, follow the money.
For one, it would slow Metro’s reconstruction efforts, by diverting funding away from maintenance work. This painful period of single tracking and service interruptions would likely last years longer.
That’s bad enough, but consider WMATA’s likely response the next time there’s an unexpected rush hour breakdown. Instead of allowing thousands of passengers to continue entering the system and paying fares after the breakdown starts, only to be due refunds later, Metro would probably start to simply shut down entire lines. After all, you can’t demand a refund if you were never allowed to enter in the first place.
So on days like Wednesday, instead of bad service Metro riders might be left with no service at all. I don’t think that’s better.
At some point WMATA does need to be held accountable, so perhaps it was appropriate to offer refunds this week. But Washingtonians should neither demand nor expect a refund every time we have to wait for single tracking. Ultimately, improving Metro service back to the point where these delays don’t happen so often is what we really want. Frequent refunds wouldn’t help that goal.
Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.