Thursday, August 27, 2009

Escalators-to-Stairs Idea 'Shot Down In Flames'

Broken escalators are a costly problem for WMATA and a near constant source of irritation for many riders.

Back in 2006, WMATA said it cost $51,000 per unit per year to maintain its 588 escalators.

Some have questioned why WMATA just doesn't rip out some of the escalators and replace them with, gasp, stairs.

Our first reaction to the notion that WMATA would ever consider something like this was 'yeah right,' but to our amazement we found that WMATA actually looked at replacing 23 escalators throughout the system back in 2006, going so far as to draw up a formal presentation.

Candidate escalators had to meet the following criteria:
  • Could be no more then 30 feet high
  • Locations with multiple escalators where one escalator would be replaced with stairs, and two escalators would remain; one up, one down (i.e. Crystal City)
  • Locations with three or more escalators side-by-side, two would remain and one would be converted to stairs (i.e. Federal Triangle)
The following stations had viable candidates: Ballston, Courthouse, Crystal City, East Falls Church, Farragut North, Federal Triangle, Foggy Bottom, Friendship Heights, Glenmont, L'Enfant Plaza, Potomac Ave., Rhode Island Ave., Stadium Armory and Vienna.

Many had multiple candidates for replacement.

WMATA estimated that by replacing 23 escalators, it would save $1.2 million in annual operating expenses. The cost of replacing the escalators was estimated at $13.9 million. Some of that expense would have been offset by not having to perform a mid-life overhaul on 18 of the candidates for a one-time savings of $4.5 million.

The bottom line, WMATA said, was that they'd recoup expenses in less than 10 years.

What happened to the idea? According to the minutes from the meeting of the Customer Service, Operations and Safety Committee:

"The Committee members posed several questions regarding the financial analysis presented. The Committee did not collectively embrace this proposal; however staff was requested to look at escalators shorter in height than was proposed, consideration of safety related issues and their impact on escalators versus stairs, demographics of our riding population, identification of the specific areas that would benefit from adding stairs and accessibility, as well as other cost-saving ideas."

A Metro spokesman put it more succinctly: "It was shot down in flames."

Photo: Thomas Wilburn
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Anonymous said...

"Back in 2006, WMATA said it cost $51,000 per unit per year to maintain its 588 escalators."

I find this hard to swallow. Yes, it may cost Metro that much, but I hardly think Macy's is paying that per escalator. Seems really high. Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Turn all the escalators to stairs, just get the AC working on the trains!!

Anonymous said...

shortsighted yet again. why only 23? should get rid of half at least.

Anonymous said...

Please be careful when you want to ditch so many. Some of us cannot walk those stairs and have you seen (better yet, smelled!?) some of those rickety elevators? Some are so small only a few can get in at one time. It can take up to 10 minutes at New Carrollton to get upstairs when the escalator is out, which is every other day for the past 6 years. Have mercy on those who are not as young as you (cause we wish we were! :)

J. Thomas said...

One day I was actually on an escalator at Metro Center when it malfunctioned. When I say "it malfunctioned" I mean "the douchebag standing in front of my boyfriend and myself was too busy texting on his phone to pay attention to the escalator, and as a result got his foot caught - ruining both his new shiny pair of Addidas and the escalator at the same time."

*That's* WMATA's problem with escalators: douchebags. I propose a Citizen Douchebaggery Watch.

Anonymous said...

I have always thought the number of escalators was excessive. As a regular user of Ballston, Federal Triangle, and Judiciary Square stations, I do think that some of the escalators in those stations could be replaced with stairs (actually, at Judiciary Square, it would be a matter not of replacement, but of adding stairways in the enormous and inexplicable wasted "dead space" between the escalators).
All the escalators should be maintained (and upgraded) at the deep stations (Rosslyn, DuPont, and many other stations), where it isn't feasible for most riders to climb stairs all the way out. And I agree with anon @10:00 that at least SOME escalators should be maintained at ALL stations for those who really need them. But in places like Ballston where there are 3 escalators (one of which is usually broken anyway), it would make more sense to replace the middle escalator with stairs. Clarendon has this arrangement (two escalators, with a flight of stairs in the middle) and I think it works quite well.

Anonymous said...

Anybody here has a neighbor who fixes escalators? friend? an aquaintance? Well, neither does Metro. And the few who are around in the area are plenty busy to want work for a pansy ass outfit like Metro.
Richard White went as far as Russia to try to lure escalator mechanics to the DC Metro with no success.
There is plenty of money from politicians for ribbon cutting photo ops (purple line, Virginia extension), something you won't get when you fix an escalator.
The escalators at Macy's are not exposed to the elements and to the heavy duty usage the Metro ones endure, and they probably weren't made by the cheapest contractor either.
I love how those canopies are supposed to protect the escalators from the rain and snow. Last I checked the rain doesn't come straight down!!

Anonymous said...

Too bad that in the planning of the Metro they didn't realize that there should always* be a stair alternative. Hiking up those broken escalators is a chore, and the more there are (and the more use they get because there is no stair alternative) the more there are to break. MORE STAIRS.

Kipp said...

I cannot believe that it costs $51k per year to maintain an escalator. That's like one full time employee working on the escalator every day all year round. I know that doesn't account for parts, but seriously, that much! That's insane.

Anonymous said...

Why do the laws of supply and demand make sense to us all, right up to the time when it affects a work we deem to be menial.
There are not enough escalator mechanics to go around, and the demand for qualified people to fix them drives their salaries.
Besides, it not as if you can go to the local Home Depot or Lowes to get parts for them. Metro is probably in competition with the rest of the country for parts from the probably few manufacturers who supply the escalator industry.

Anonymous said...

I lived in London for 6 months and I think I saw 2 escalators in the entire time that were not working. Part of that is that they put the escalators under shelter so there were fewer leaves, etc. clogging things up.

However, I wouldn't doubt if DC Metro bought escalators that need more maintenance so they can 'create more jobs'.

Anonymous said...

It truly is absurd. I lived in DC for a while and I live in Bangkok now and work often in Manila. I've been around to a few other cities with MRT/LRT systems and accompanying escalators. The only place I've ever seen more broken escalators is in Manila, where the city is in decay and the escalators are basically now stairs in many places. In Bangkok the escalators are rarely broken and are always fixed quickly.

I'm sure there are good reasons for escalators to break, but the DC escalators have to have some kind of quality issue to be as pathetic as they are. It's difficult to believe they couldn't just be replaced with something that works more than 180 days a year. Other than that, though, it's a pretty good rail system I do have to say (with the exception of some of the passengers).

Anonymous said...

Anonymous on Aug. 29 wrote. "I wouldn't doubt if DC Metro bought escalators that need more maintenance so they can 'create more jobs'.

Ding, Ding. Ding.

We have a winner here, folks.

Metro is a jobs program first and a transportation system second. Taking out escalators and putting in stairs would probably have violated some WMATA union contract.

If you love METRO, you'll love ObamaCare...

Anonymous said...

Mitch Hedberg has never ridden the Metro.

Anonymous said...

I love how Glenn Beck has so thouroughly brainwashed you that you can seemlessly turn a discussion about Metro escalaotrs into a reason to trash the idea of providing afforable health care to millions of suffering Americans. Jesus is not on your side.

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