Broken Escalators Show that DC Metro PR Has Run out of Steps

November 8th, 2010

We’ve commented before on the anemic media and PR strategy of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, a.k.a. WMATA or Metro, and how awfully tone deaf the agency is to public outcry.  That same press apathy is on full display again as Metro wrestles with two very embarrassing matters: yet another episode of total subway system overload, and ongoing subway escalator failures.

A disclaimer: as a DC PR firm, we ride Metro almost every day, so the Blog Aesthetic is definitely fired up on this issue!  To be fair to WMATA and Metro, the recent Comedy Central rally that set record subway ridership was not totally Metro’s fault.  Metro relies on large rally planners to provide anticipated crowd estimates, and the planners grossly underestimated attendance.  But what about the escalator failures, this time so bad that the machines actually sped up when people were on them?

Now, the good news is that Metro Deputy Chief of Rail Safety Robert Maniuszko at least speaks to the press regarding the recent escalator problems.  This is a vast improvement over Metro’s past insistence on not speaking to reporters.  But if you had to look past sporadic press quotes for what’s the latest with Metro, you’d be hard pressed to learn anything.

First, the WMATA site is, to put it kindly, a mess.  Here’s a screenshot of recent press releases, see how long it takes you to find the one about escalator repair status:

Further compounding this erratic messaging is the fact commuters really have nowhere else to get more information.  This is the only WMATA Facebook page we could find… and it’s got nothing.  Also, there are two different Twitter feeds, making people solve a riddle for which one is the actual authority for the most reliable WMATA information.

When an organization’s PR strategy is as disjointed and poorly prioritized as this, the best bet is to start from scratch – new messaging, new tactics, and new attitude.  If Metro doesn’t clean house soon, broken escalators will be the least of its PR problems.

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