Matt Hilburn, who criticized Washington transit pseudonymously as Unsuck DC Metro, has died. He was 54. Hilburn worked for Voice of America, which confirmed his death to Washingtonian.
Unsuck DC Metro began as a blog in 2009 but later took the form of a popular Twitter account. Hilburn initially organized his efforts around the idea that Metro and WMATA could improve with transparency and provided a safe haven for whistleblowers. In recent years, though, his accounts became more scathing and pessimistic.
As DCist reported in 2019:
Service updates are mixed in with hostility and public shaming. The targets of his attacks—often low-level Metro employees or the riders themselves—don’t have access to the same large social media platform.
In 2019, Hilburn, again acting pseudonymously, sued WMATA for records with the help of the conservative legal activist group Judicial Watch. Unsuck lost that case in 2020, and then an unusual and unsuccessful appeal followed. Members of the DC-area news media were a locus of criticism for Hilburn, who believed they tended to soft-pedal the system’s shortcomings. (He also claimed Washingtonian didn’t contact him for a story that was based on an interview we did with him.)
Unsuck’s often churlish behavior in later years tends to overshadow his accomplishments when he began his work. It was for a long time the best way to find out about problems in the system when Metro had not yet found its feet in digital media. As former Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney wrote in 2011, “The shortcomings described on his blog and others that follow Metro, although anecdotal, offer a damning portrait of flawed habits.”
Throughout his posting career, Hilburn demanded anonymity, though his identity was not exactly a secret. His LinkedIn page referred to the account in barely veiled terms, he gave his real name to journalists, and he was featured in a photo on a public Flickr account by his real name in 2010. He told Washingtonian that his primary concern with Metro was accountability but dismissed the idea that he might bolster his case by writing under his own name. “Do I have to be accountable?” he said. “I feel that I am accountable to readers. If they think I provide something valuable, they follow me and engage. If they don’t, they can not follow me/ignore me.”