Monday, December 14, 2009

Catoe: Show Us You Get It

From reader CS:

Metro's management shakeup announced last Friday is a welcome step, so far as it goes. But no one -- and I hope John Catoe is foremost among them -- should think it does anything more than start to scratch at the fundamental problems plaguing Metro.

Since the Red Line accident, the focus has understandably been on safety. That, of course, must be the bottom line concern.

But also happening, which hasn't gotten nearly the attention, is that Metrorail service continues to deteriorate on a seemingly daily basis. Trains now bunch up badly, meaning that there are either long intervals between trains (as long as 15 minutes during rush hour on the Red Line, for example!) or that trains must constantly stop or hold in position to adjust schedule or maintain intervals against the train ahead. At end-of-the-line stations, like mine in Vienna, trains pile up, so that the last few hundred yards into the station yawn like an eternity. It's kind of like the frustration of landing at the airport, only to find your gate isn't ready.

On my commute along the Orange Line, it now happens regularly that trains begin slowing and holding as far out as Ballston to account for the clog ahead. Not to mention, of course, that the ride itself has become gut-churning, including that jerky stopping and starting, and the phenomenon where, for some reason, it takes a train operator a half dozen or more tries to successfully put the train in motion and keep it moving for more than a few seconds.

It never used to be like this. And while the post-accident era of manual control certainly must be a factor, it's also true that it wasn't anything like this a number of years ago, when the system ran in manual mode for more than a year, following discovery of track issues. Back then, there was a brief period of choppiness, and then the issue was pretty much invisible.

So, something more is going on here, and that's precisely what Mr. Catoe and his (new) team must focus on. They need to acknowledge to riders what we riders already know, in order to demonstrate that they "get it." In his on-line chats, for example, Mr. Catoe certainly doesn't let on much that he gets it. He does little but provide PR-style, stock answers in this regard (for the questions he chooses to answer; we don't know the ones that get screened out and never see the light of day).

The bottom line is that through its actions, and through its employees' often disdainful handling of customers and their issues, Metro has utterly vaporized what had been an incredible reservoir of goodwill. Regaining that trust will take a long time, even in the best of circumstances.

Yes, certainly, Metro's top concern must be safety. But daily operation has suffered mightily, too. You used to be able to set your watch by Metro. Now, you're probably better off having a separate watch to track your delays.

And just so that there's no mistake, I say all this as a huge supporter of mass transit. I am by no means a transit-basher.

So please, Mr. Catoe, show us that you get it, and then show us that you're taking steps to fix the problem. Friday's shakeup should be only the opening move in much wider series of changes, and not be seen as any kind of solution by itself.

Also from CS:
Rules don't apply
Vienna's creepy tower
Doors Closing
Moving ... Backwards

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hear! Hear! Well said.

Anonymous said...

Metro helped the fire dept save a bird today. Yes, with the stuff mentioned above, it probably doesn't carry much weight. Then again, I like birds, I have unreasonable hope in mankind, and so... Metro - good one. Now Cato - you do a good one too!

Big bird gets talon caught in DC Metro escalator
December 14, 2009 - 3:19pm
http://www.wtop.com/?sid=1839810&nid=456

Anonymous said...

There was a time when people who worked the tracks would have to, as train weezed by inches away from them at 55mph, hold on for dear life to anything bolted to the side of the tunnel. Both management and union ignored the rules that would have forced to slow the trains down.
Now, trains HAVE to slow down to no more than 10mph when passing through an area where work is being performed. There are multiple work locations on a given line, and with a two track system, this creates a bottleneck. Compound that with a horrible communications system, a second bottleneck with the train dispatchers (permission to do anything done on a line goes through them), and a deteriorating infrastructure and you get the point.

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