Thursday, December 17, 2009

Doors Yet Again!

From reader Charles:

I was in the back car of an inbound Red Line train that arrived at Gallery Place around 8:35 a.m. on Nov. 24, right at the height of rush hour. The platform was packed with people transferring from the Green and Yellow Lines. The train was full, but not packed.

The operator opened the doors briefly, long enough to allow about half of us who wanted to exit to get off. As the doors closed prematurely, people on the train threw themselves, their bags and their extremities between the doors in an effort to hold them open. This did not work, of course.

The operator opened the doors long enough to let people remove their arms and legs, but not long enough to exit.

There was no way that I could make it off the train, so I went to the intercom at the back of the car. I pushed the red button and said, “I’m in the last car and people are trying to get out. Please open the doors.” There was no response, so I called again with more urgency.

Me: Open the doors! People are stuck in the back car.

Operator: I don’t copy you.

Me: People are stuck in the doors and trying to get out. Open the doors.

Operator: I don’t copy you.

Me: Well, I ‘copy’ you, and I’m telling you to open these doors.

By now, the doors were presumably closed and the train was rolling out of the station toward Metro Center. I got back on the intercom.

Me: What is your name? I’d like to follow up with your supervisor.

Operator: This is the operator.

Me: I understand that. I’d like to know your name.

Operator: Just ‘Operator.’

I exited the train at Metro Center and made my way to the kiosk. Another passenger from this train was already complaining to the station manager. I asked the station manager if he could help me identify the train operator. I told him that I was in car 5125 on the train that had just left Metro Center for Farragut North.

The station manager said, “That car number helps tremendously.” He spun his chair around and looked at the kiosk computer, which shows a live picture of all trains in the system. The station manager told me that the train operator was one Mr. Willy Love and that the Train ID was 208. The station manager suggested I call in my complaint to 202-637-7000.

That’s exactly what I did when I got to my office. I waited on hold for 17 minutes before someone transferred me to voicemail. I left an incensed message and demanded that somebody call me back immediately.

I then started to fish around for any Metro phone number that would be answered by a human. After a few dead ends, I found the hotline for the Metro Office of Inspector General (OIG). I called the OIG on 202-962-2400. A human answered the phone and took a detailed report on the incident.

As I finished up with the OIG, a Metro customer service person called me back. She apologized about my 17 minutes on hold. She told me that there are only two people who take these complaints. I told this woman I had already filed a report with the OIG, but I would be happy to file it again with her.

In both of my reports I emphasized that this is a safety issue. Either the intercom was genuinely broken, or the train operator showed poor judgment by choosing to ignore a passenger’s attempt to contact him. I also expressed concern that this train operator declined to give his name.

The Metro customer service person agreed this was a problem and told me she would do two things: First, she would ask maintenance personnel to test the intercom on this train. Second, she would forward my report to the train operator’s supervisor.

I requested that the supervisor follow up with me so that I could be sure that this was being taken seriously. The customer service rep said that supervisors generally do not follow up with passengers. I said, “That’s the problem with Metro. You are not accountable to the passengers and you need to be.”

The rep promised to make a note of my concerns.

Nobody has followed up with me.

Original photo: charliepinto

Related posts:
Doors ... again
Doors closing
This will bite Metro in the last car one day
Mixed messages on non-working intercoms
Another emergency call goes unanswered
Anyone home?

Other items:
Metro whistle-blower honored (WaPo)

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

You were praiseworthy diligent in your efforts!! But wow, does it really show the instituionalized entrenchment of the "Metro Mentality" even at the higher levels...Shameful and demoralizing. Whither thou goest, metro...?!?

Anonymous said...

Don't use the intercom unless it is an EMERGENCY, please.

Anonymous said...

You want to know what they real emergency is? Operators sacrificing limbs for their frustration that they are falling behind schedule running their train.

Anonymous said...

@anon@9:23
Umm ... how are doors closing with people in them not classified as an EMERGENCY in your world?

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many complaints metro receives if 2 operators were kept busy for 17 minutes. Good work, Charles, on doing the hard work necessary to keep people accountable.

Metro needs to get their act together. Odds are, once they read this post, you'll get a call back. Then, once the attention dies back down, they'll go back to ignoring their customers yet again.

Anamarie said...

It is an emergency when you are STUCK.

Anonymous said...

Just had something like this happen at Gallery Place on a Red Line last night too - operator pulls up, lets maybe 80-90% of people get off, almost nobody gets on, then zooms off with a near-empty train after yelling over the intercom at people to stop holding the doors.

And just to add that extra dash of fun, it took probably 15 minutes for the next train to show up, about 10 of that with no announcement whatsoever from Metro and the board steadily counting down on all the listed trains.

Anonymous@9:23 - do you really think it matters? Between this and the other such incidents lately, I have a very hard time believing that they would respond properly even if it was an emergency.

Anonymous said...

Nobody was stuck in the doors. Not an emergency.

Steven Schwark said...

Happened to me once on a Yellow line headed to Huntington during the evening rush. I boarded at Gallery Pl headed to Pentagon City and at every stop the female operator got on the intercom and was very stern about people not trying to hold open the doors. Sounded like the regular schpeal to me, but when we got to Pentagon City (a popular place for folks to get off) the doors closed after about 10-12 seconds when not even half of the people (myself included) on the car were able to get off. A whole group of us had to practically storm off the train at Crystal City (and then ride back to Pentagon City) just to get off the darn train.

Now I understood why everyone at every station between Gallery Pl and Pentagon City was blocking the doors and "holding up" the train.

I also find myself rushing to get off trains at busy stations during rush hour just so I don't get stranded on the train again. So frustrating.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That is ridiculous. Good for you, post writer, for going to so much effort to notify WMATA of a very bad and dangerous employee. They had better follow up with you. I'm afraid all they'll end up saying is that he was protected by the union and he'll end up getting a raise instead of being fired.

ANONYMOUS:
People not being able to exit a train at their destination is an emergency. Don't be surprised if people start acting like Brazilians and setting trains on fire after they have had to break out of a car.

Anonymous said...

This is extremely disturbing, and incidences like it make me do everything in my power to avoid Metrorail.

Anonymous said...

Incidents such as this happen much more frequently than these few comments would indicate. Most people don't bother to complain given Metro's complete lack of communication and follow-up. Train operators have been closing the doors much more quickly than in the "olden" days when station stops were longer. One of these days someone WILL lose an arm or a leg and what will Metro do? Yak, talk, promise change and then .... nothing.

Anonymous said...

Someone should forward this to Senator Barbara Mikulski...she has taken an interest in metro lately...

the dude said...

You know, this blog should set up some kind of online complaint email thingy where readers could send form emails to the relevant offices (hell, get cat-man's email, the mayor's office, the union, and a newspaper) on specific issues like this. I'd like to see Willy Love sanctioned for this.

Unsuck DC Metro said...

@dude

sorta have one:

http://unsuckdcmetro.blogspot.com/2009/07/dissatisfied-with-metro-board-and-gm.html

jared hautamaki said...

ill say what i said on the FB page. we don't need remarks, we need accountability.

Anonymous said...

make it a requirement to announce train # at each stop - that might add a little (just a little bit) accountability?

Anonymous said...

What a great idea! Shame that most cars I am in I can barely hear a mumbled announcement... ;)

Elizabeth said...

The same thing happens in the last car at Union Station (going toward Shady Grove) every morning. About 1/3 of the people make it off the train before they announce that the doors are closing, and no one's made it onto the train yet. Either they need to hold the doors longer, have someone be aware of the rear of the train, and/or make some kind of marker on the platform that indicates the end of the 6 car trains so that people know how far down the platform to go. It's just ridiculous, and it does not encourage the people trying to get ON the train to wait for people to get OFF the train if there will be no time for them to make it on the train. If this keeps up, no one will be able to get out of the train because the people boarding will just ambush as soon as the doors open.

MetroFAIL

Charlie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charlie said...

Charles here. I wrote this post.

Thanks for all of the great comments.

Is it an emergency when you cannot get off at your stop? No. That is just an inconvenience.

Is it an emergency when people are stuck in the doors? Yes. And that is what I reported on the intercom.

Is it an emergency when people are stuck in the doors and the train starts to move? Absolutely. This did NOT happen, but that’s what I was afraid of.

As a former first responder, I trust my judgment on what is an emergency and what is not.

It’s been almost a month and Metro has not been in touch with me. This fact is more troubling than the incident itself. I’ve seen a lot of Metro employees walking around with Supervisor badges on their uniforms. What would it take for one of those people to call me and explain the situation?

I grew up with Metro. I remember when the Red Line smelled new. It makes me sad to see how far our system has fallen.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, you did exactly what anyone who has this experience should do. Get the car #, the (exact) time, location and the direction of the train. Make the call to customer service.

A friend of mine deals with these complaints. He said that because it is a personnel issue, the managers can't tell you what action was taken. But, he assured me that complaints are taken seriously. He also said that progressive action has to be taken (the whole union thing).

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