It was a long day at work, and I climbed aboard the Orange line Metro train at about 8 p.m., thankful to get a seat. And then the torture began.The train started up and headed into the tunnel, momentarily coming to a complete halt. We’re used to this in DC. Despite what should be a smooth operation, Metro trains here run as if they’re all stuck in bumper to bumper traffic full of aggressive drivers who hit the gas as hard as they can for one tenth of a second and then slam on the brakes as hard as they can so that your net progress is about three feet of track and a chronic case of whiplash. My train was stopped because of a train that was unloading at Foggy Bottom (two stops ahead) because it was in need of maintenance. (Note that the down train might have been at Court House, but the announcements varied).
We finally got to the next station, Farragut West, where we dawdled with the doors open. Waiting. The train operator was courteous and humorous, trying to make the best of a typical Metro situation — hurry up and wait. He informed us that Metro was moving the broken train out of Foggy Bottom since it had just finished unloading its miserable passengers who would be anxious to fill up my train. Again, this is typical.
Then our driver announced that not only was there a broken train trying to move off the tracks, but that there was also another problem at Foggy Bottom. A bad switch! Uh oh. That sounds similar to the same problem that killed nine people on the Red Line not too long ago. Metro is obviously going to handle this with care (i.e., worrying about liability), and that meant handling it for possibly hours. The Red Line, since the accident there, has been notoriously slow, and some trains have been stalled between stations for long periods. I didn’t want my train to nudge up into the tunnel and get stuck there. I wanted to go home.
As soon as the driver announced the issue, half of the people on my train stood up and left. It was then that I started contemplating my options. My only real option was to cab it home, and that’s rather expensive. After our driver informed us that maintenance personnel had been contacted and were on the way, I thought maybe I could just sleep through it all. After about five more minutes, he updated us, letting us know that the maintenance people were still on their way. I figured this could literally take all night, and I sighed as I grabbed my bag and made my way to the turnstiles.
As I approached, I saw a young lady with her bicycle who had been in my car on the train, arguing with the station operator regarding how to get out of the station. There were other disgruntled passengers there, as well, and the gist was that there were to be no refunds given at the station, we’d have to use our cards (i.e., “pay”) to leave the station, and that we could ask about refunds after contacting metro directly.
It was then I decided to cover my ass by filming the train situation. I figured that it was logical that I’d bear the burden of proof that I was at the station, on that train when the incident occurred, since there are no “tickets” (although I believe that the SmartTrip card that I use does record station entrances and exits). I used my Blackberry Storm to show the train just sitting at the station (and if you look to the opposite side, you can see the crowds of people standing on the platform that would be typical for rush hour, but not 8pm — there were no trains coming or going).
Then I walked back to the station operator, and I was intending to have her tell me (i.e., “the camera”) what the train situation was so that I’d have further proof (they were announcing it on the intercom, but it was weak and I wasn’t sure the audio would pick it up; I really should have thought to record everything starting when I was in the train, but … hindsight), and that is when she accosted me, spouting out gibberish that reminded me of many stories I had read on BoingBoing and the like regarding entirely made-up camera and video “policy,” especially coming from security guards, police and other types of people who supposedly work “for” the people (while, of course, feeling free to monitor us with constant surveillance). I didn’t want to push the issue and get arrested for asserting my rights. Again, I wanted to go home, damnit. So, I left the station, paying my way out, and then I took the only alternate transportation I had available, a cab. For $25. Sucks!
Here’s the relevant part of the video I took:
Here’s the brief conversation:
Station Operator: “Excuse me sir, are you taking my picture?”
Me: “No.” (I wasn’t really lying. I was taking video. I consider it an important distinction, especially since Metro deems it important to have constant camera monitoring all over its stations, and also since I was pretty sure there was no policy against taking pictures of Metro employees)
Station Operator: “Okay, because I was going to say you can’t take my picture without asking me first — ’cause I don’t know what you’re going to do with my image.”
Then she snubbed me, as she had everyone else there trying to get answers.
This morning, I went to the Metro Web site at to look for two things. First, to find some way to get a refund — no luck on that, so I merely sent a complaint form asking how I can get a refund without spending more money (my guess is that they’ll want me to travel (via Metro, of course) to the Metro Center office where I’ll get a refund that will equal the amount of money it costs for me to go to the Metro Center office to get a refund. I could do that all day!).
Second, to find Metro’s policy on photography. Is it in Metro’s FAQ? No. Any other logical location? Hell, any location reasonably accessed via Metro’s internal linkings? No. Of course not.
So, I did a search for “photography” on their Web site and got a bunch of stuff about media photography requests, and this:
Did Metro employees not get this message?
Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn will respond directly to questions about Metro-related security and policing issues during an online chat this Friday, Sept. 12, when he hosts “Metro LunchTalk Online” — a live chat from noon to 1 p.m. Taborn welcomes questions about security and policing the Metrobus, Metrorail and MetroAccess systems during this special online chat for National Preparedness Month….
Washington, DC: Mr. Taborn, there has been recent Congressional scrutiny of Union Station security targeting non-commercial photographers in public areas. While Section 100.8(a)(2) of WMATA’s use regulations affirms the legal rights of photographers on WMATA property, I have heard many anecdotes of WMATA employees incorrectly telling photographers that their activity is not allowed. Would you consider communicating to your staff that individual photography conducted in a safe manner is legal in public areas, and that photographers can actually be a security asset to the agency? Other transit agencies that have attempted to stifle photography (either by regulation or arbitrary enforcement) have found themselves on the wrong side of First Amendment-based legal precedent, and I would hate for WMATA to be in such a position.
Reply: Hello photography fan. People are permitted to take photos in our rail system. We do not “own” Union Station. That’s Amtrak.
We see our rail system as a tourist destination, and I’ve seen some beautiful photos of our stations, especially the ceilings.
The main restriction we have on photographers is that they are not permitted to use tripods. Why? It’s a tripping hazard. Someone else may not realize they are standing so close to your tripod and we can’t have people tripping–especially in a station environment where there is a lot of danger with trains and high voltage electricity.We have no intention to regulate photography other than by restricting tripod use.1
Here’s what I’m going to do today. I’m going to print out Mr. Taborn’s comments as well as the applicable section of Metro’s policy (which can be downloaded here) on some handy sheets of paper, and I’m going to carry them with me. The next time I find some Metro employee trying to assert some false authority, I’m going to hand over a copy.
Meh, I give up. I also don’t foresee getting a refund.Other items:
Metro Says It Plans to Work With Md. Firm on Backup (WaPo)
House to vote on Metro funding today (WJLA)