Investigative Group

Exclusive: DC’s Metro Couldn’t Document Its Complaint Responses; Then It Could

Steve Birr/DCNF

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Ethan Barton Managing Editor

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) officials couldn’t find any documents showing their responses to customer complaints after a months-long search-and-review process, but found the records just hours after The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Investigative Group said it would write a story about the failure.

Metro officials, including three top executives, initially said the documents didn’t exist since they only verbally responded to more than 2,300 comments WMATA received in November 2016. Many of those were complaints about significant delays and rude and dangerous employees.

The transit authority suddenly found written responses after TheDCNF requested a comment on a forthcoming story regarding Metro’s verbal-only responses. (EXCLUSIVE: Here’s What 2,300 People Had To Say About Metro)

“It has just come to our attention that the records we produced … omitted some written external communications with customers that are responsive to your request,” Chief Counsel Sonia Bacchus told TheDCNF. About two weeks were needed to produce the records TheDCNF requested in December 2016. It’s unclear if those records will include information about how employees were disciplined.

TheDCNF previously highlighted examples of rude Metro employees swearing at senior citizens, mocking kids, endangering the public and complaining about delays and other issues with Metro.

One Metro bus driver screamed “at a poor elderly lady about 90 years old with hands full of grocery bags,” a commenter wrote. “[S]he obviously had visual problems and arthritis.” The driver “screamed … get off my bus.”

Another complainant claimed to have “witnessed an out-of-service bus … blow through a red light. I have seen this way too many times, so at least I knew not to enter the cross walk [sic] when I saw the bus coming. But someday, someone is going to be run over.”

Metro officials gave the more than 2,300 comments to TheDCNF May 30, 2017, but there was no documentation of responses to complainants or of disciplinary action taken against the employees involved.

“[E]mployees oftentimes have verbal discussions regarding resolving these types of issues, and therefore, in these instances, there would be no responsive records,” Bacchus wrote in June, adding that internal discussions were pre-decisional and could be withheld under Metro’s public records rules. The transit authority is not covered by the federal Freedom of Information Act or any of its state equivalents.

A board made up of three Metro executives – General Counsel Patricia Lee, Chief Operating Officer Joseph Leader and Assistant General Manager Lynn Bowersox – reviewed TheDCNF’s appeal of the denial and came to the same conclusion.

“[F]inal responses and actions regarding … customer comments … were oftentimes resolved verbally and, in those instances, there would be no responsive records,” Bowersox wrote in an Aug. 22, 2017, letter to TheDCNF. Officials were “unable to locate any recorded responses or documented actions taken to resolve the comments.”

Metro’s responses to complainants were contained in a column in a spreadsheet that also included internal communications, which are exempt from disclosure, Bacchus explained in her Wednesday email. That column was consequently withheld in its entirety.

Bacchus did not explain what caused the mistake, how the three Metro executives did not catch that oversight in the two months following TheDCNF’s appeal, and how it was identified just hours after a media request.

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