As a non-driver, I am a frequent patron of Washington’s famous Metro system, and, as such, more than capable of providing first-hand information about the deterioration in service. (Try to remain calm, Charlotte.)

While I’ve found that the drivers are generally quite nice (the people in the subway information booths, on the other hand, can be nice or really, really rude), fares are going up and delays are becoming more frequent. Somebody selected a fare machine for buses that flatly refuses to take a dollar on the first three tries, unless it is crisp and new.

You are assaulted with inane recorded messages about not forgetting your “personal” belongings or given a law enforcement number to call in the event you are being assaulted in the Metro (can you please quit mugging me a sec so I can jot down that number?). Escalators don’t work, the Dupont Circle Station, where there is renovation, seems to have been a mess forever and shows no sign of being back to normal any time soon. There are lots of popular destinations the system doesn't go near.

Why is Metro such a disaster?

Michael Barone answers this question in two words: central planning. That would be central planning of the sort we will soon see in our health care. As Barone explains, central planning is likely to get things “disastrously and expensively wrong.”

Metro is still physically attractive because the designers had a great sense of aesthetics, but Barone notes a certain creeping shabbiness:

Deferred maintenance and failure to replace outmoded cars have taken a heavy toll. This isn't the designers' fault, but this sort of thing happens frequently in public sector agencies (and sometimes in private sector companies as well).

Metro has found the money to meet union demands, but too often it hasn't found funds to keep the system up to date.

In the wake of increased delays, and after a collision of two trains resulted in nine deaths in June 2009, ridership has fallen. In response, Metro has raised fares. Higher prices for worse service: not a winning combination.

Further adding to Metro's deficiencies, the planners didn’t foresee that the metropolitan area would expand and that a system radiating from downtown D.C. wouldn’t serve region well.

Barone quotes Joel Garreau, author of Edge City, a book on Tyson’s corner and similar suburban clusteres. When Garreau asked a Metro official why there is no station in Tyson’s Corner, the official said that they never expected growth there.

Metro wastes a lot of taxpayer money to serve people like me less well every day. But I want to move beyond complaining about Metro and propose that those who want to expand the role of government in our lives be sentenced to depend solely on Metro for a year.

Just want to thank Samuel A. Moore for commenting on this post and respond:

Mr. Moore informs us that a new station is being added at Tyson's Corner. This is good news for a non-driver such as myself, but I am not holding my breath. I hope it works out and will use it if it does happen (providing I'm still alive!).

Mr. Moore also suggests that I walk a few blocks to the Farragut station, since the Dupont Circle station is such a mess. Thanks for the advice. And Mr. Moore is right–the current state of the Metro system does encourage walking.