The Post has long been a champion and cheerleader for Metro. That it is now expressing such despair is telling.
It may be hard to imagine how bad a system can be that still delivers passengers to destinations daily. I am well-situated as a rider: I can walk to a station served by two lines, both of which directly connect to a station from which I can walk to work. Yet I rode my bike every day last week, and intend to do so whenever the weather allows.
Some of the original 1000-series cars delivered in the 1970's are still in service, and show their age. Since a 2009 crash, Metro only uses them in the middle of trains, away from the crumple zones at the ends. Later cars have upgrades like digital displays which can display upcoming stations, but frequently show only the name of the line.
Electronic platform signs showing arrival times were a long-demanded upgrade, but when they show approaching train times it is often bad news, and they often don't show train times at all, rather information about elevator outages, a static PSA like the website address, or stupid see-it-say-it security reminders.
The escalators are notoriously unreliable; it is noteworthy when all the escalators in a station are running. Many were built to exit a station into open air. This was a somewhat magical experience when it was snowing, rather less so in the rain. Eventually glass canopies were installed over the exits. Same with elevators; I once saw a man give up waiting for a broken elevator and take his wheelchair down the escalator.
The farecard system is complicated, fares are charged based on distance (requiring turnstile interaction at entry and exit) and there is usually a queue of confused tourists at the farecard machines on weekends. Station managers, when present, are helpful, but the fare variation, difference in paper vs. plastic RFID fares (paper farecards were recently discontinued), and primitive vending technology are challenging for newcomers.
Even a seasoned commuter must stay alert. Approaching a turnstile, the heavy jaws of the gate are likely open to admit the previous rider. You wave or wiggle or drag your SmarTrip card over the reader, and once it registers, a tiny green electronic display, appropriate for a 1980's pocket calculator, updates showing your balance. You can't read this without stopping, so you proceed through, only to have the jaws close, bruising your thigh and destroying any smartphone in your pocket. Turns out the tiny display actually showed a low balance in the same tiny green letters. Only recently were you allowed to exit a station with a negative balance of a dime or two (you can enter with a low balance because your fare is not determined until you exit).
On board, the lack of good information displays on any but the rarely-sighted 7000-series trains oblige the operators to make high-volume, low-clarity announcements about upcoming stations. These are mixed with automated warnings about the doors. Metro doors are especially touchy, and frequently require several attempts to close. (Annoyingly, they also require several seconds to open, upon arrival at a station, as the operators have to stand up and look out a window before operating doors.) Operators will sternly warn passengers of the need to offload a train if a door jams. This happens to me once or twice a year, and when a loaded train unloads onto an already-crowded platform in rush hour, it is an ugly scene.
If I am leaving work between 5 and 6, I sometimes take the train in the wrong direction, further downtown, so I can turn around and catch a less-crowded train going my way.
Official IT tools are unpolished and clunky, so most riders rely on third-party tools that depend on an API. MetroHero is a recent arrival. You can look up historical data on performance of individual lines and see that most airlines manage better performance. I don't know if WMATA has a slogan, but they might want to adopt Delta's old underachieving promise: We Get You There.