Friday, February 27, 2009

You Never Know What You'll See on Metro

Particularly like the assault on Santa Claus toward the end. Have a great weekend.

Oh, and if you wanted to read Jim Graham's rather soporific "do more with less" priorities, by all means, click here. We see why they waited until Friday afternoon to announce that, but the wireless thing? Come on, get that out early!

Not Just Verizon Anymore!

If you've always wanted more people talking on their cell phones inside Metro, you just got your wish. Metro just announced:
"riders will be able to call home from any cell phone, access the Internet from any Web-enabled cell phone and eventually have Wi-Fi access in the rail system, under an agreement approved Thursday by Metro’s Board.
Four major cell phone companies -- Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, AT&T and T-Mobile -- will build a new wireless infrastructure in the underground rail system during the next four years."

According to the release, the wireless contract will generate a minimum of nearly $25 million during the initial 15-year term and an additional $27 million during the five, two-year renewal terms. We hope that's the case. Let's also hope they don't half ass it like NYC tried by allowing service only in the stations!

Good job Metro! You were a trailblazer in 1993, and this is certainly promising.

We thought the timing of this announcement was interesting since we just asked Metro yesterday about why Verizon had the monopoly. This is the answer delivered just this morning:

Thank you for your inquiry concerning cellular phone service and Metro. Verizon is the only current cell phone provider in the tunnels because Verizon was the only firm which decided to make the considerable investment necessary to provide that service. Other cell firms would be welcomed to establish service in the tunnels. WMATA is currently working to implement a procurement process which will, in due course, establish the infrastructure to carry cellular service by all major providers. We hope to be in a position to award a contract soon. Please be advised, however, that this will be an enormous, and very expensive, construction project which will probably take several years to complete. Thus, while the process to expand cellular service is well underway, it will be some time before customers will be able to utilize those expanded services. I hope this information helps to address your inquiry.

WaPo wasn't asleep after all.

Privatize Metro?

Here's a very thought provoking op/ed in the DC Examiner arguing why Metro should be privatized. Our experience in Japan would lead us to believe it's an idea with merit. Many of the commuter train lines there are, in fact, privately held, and the difference between how they're run and how Metro runs is shockingly flabbergasting. To say the Hankyu line was a Lexus compared to Metro's more Gremlinesque nature doesn't do Gremlins justice.

It's an amazingly efficient and utterly reliable train system and, you can read more about it here. We shudder to think what Japanese riders here in DC must think of Metro.

While Metro probably won't be privatized in our lifetime, it seems to us the creaky system could use some kind of radical shake up. The status quo simply doesn't work.

From the column:
For example, the 2000 census revealed that the Washington, D.C. urban area had gained more than 100,000 new jobs since 1990 and that virtually all those commuters drove to work. Moreover, more than 21,000 commuters who took transit to work in 1990 switched to driving by 2000. You won’t hear that from Washington Metro officials. Nevertheless, Congress opened the floodgates of federal funding for new rail transit lines, and the number of urban areas with expensive rail transit climbed from 10 in 1980 to nearly 40 today. To cover the high costs of rail transit, many transit agencies ended up cutting bus service, contributing to declines in per-capita transit ridership.

Photo: John Morris

In other news:
Metro issues pink slips (DC Examiner)
Metro confident it can close budget gap (WaPo)
A nice rundown of yesterday's meeting (WTOP)
There's a new Metro audiocast! YAY!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Free Rides Go Unclaimed

ALERT: Yellow Line service outage this weekend

This was a funny little piece in the Examiner. Apparently, some 2,800 former Metro bigwigs and their hangers on have the right, in perpetuity, to ride the Metro for free.

"As of this week, Metro said it had 2,796 users of such special farecards on file, including 2,739 retirees, 28 former executives and 29 former board members ... The transit agency does not track how much the free ride-for-life cards cost the system in lost revenue. But if a quarter of those who have the cards used them for five Metrorail round trips a month during rush hour, that could cost as much as $377,460 a year in lost revenue. If all used the cards each weekday, that could mean more than $6 million."
What's hilarious and telling is the response from Metro and a former employee to has the lifetime perk.
Metro: "Just because they get them doesn’t mean they use them." The former board member says she's used the perk two times in the past year and a half.
Now we already know that many Metro big shots don't even use the system, and now we know former honchos don't either.
If Metro is not good enough for them even when they get to ride it for free, why should we accept a system riddled with as many problems as this one?

In other news:
Live Blogging from the Metro Board meeting this morning (WaPo)
Extending Metro to Fredericksburg? (scroll down)
DC to bear the brunt of Metro's service "tweaks?" (GGW)
Transit benefit increase (WaPo)
Another analytical GGW piece on the all you can ride concept
Photo: John Morris

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Brutal Truth About Retail in Metro

Metro has issued this presentation to be given at the Feb. 26 Board of Directors meeting. For the most part, it contains nothing that hasn't been discussed at length here and in other outlets about bridging the budget gap, but we did find it interesting that in 2006, WMATA explored the idea of allowing retail in some of the stations. It went so far as to issue RFPs for potential retail locations in 12 stations. Mind you, this was June 2006, when things were still booming economically. The response?
Only three (3) unsatisfactory responses were received for the highest ridership stations, and staff subsequently rejected them. One proposal was for a shoe shine stand at Gallery Place-Chinatown station, one was for a newsstand at Rosslyn station and one was for a newsstand at Metro Center station. Both newsstand proposals included the sale of packaged food and beverages.

In 2007, Metro again investigated the idea and issued a Request for Expressions of Interest (REOI). This time around there were eight responses, "four of which were from large, national operators of newsstands and retail kiosks." However, these operators said "newspapers and magazines account for less than 30% of the newsstand business. Newsstand operators advised that they would not propose for retail sites offered in an RFP unless the current prohibition on food and beverage sales was lifted."

Furthermore, the operators said that the traffic required to make installing a kiosk worthwhile can only be found at eight Metro stations.

Still, according to a WMATA survey, "57% of respondents said they would likely patronize newsstands and 53% said theywould shop at a convenience store with items such as souvenirs, flowers and light groceries."

We'd love to see Metro's stations livened up with retail. Metro's architectural style is "brutalist," and while interesting and perhaps even attractive to casual users, for the everyday rider, you begin to see why this style of architecture is named such. Terry Gilliam should have filmed the mass transit segments of his dystopian masterpiece "Brazil" in DC's Metro.

Metro seems to concur about the difficulty in installing retail locations in its unwelcoming atmosphere, writing "based on the information provided above, Metro staff views a mobile vending program as potentially feasible for WMATA. Some potential retail uses as part of this program could include florists, dry cleaning drop off/pick up, and take-home packaged gourmet dinners.

Another factoid we found interesting in the report was that "between $450,000 and $500,000 additional advertising revenue could be generated if Metro allowed for alcohol advertisements on Metrobus and Metrorail."

We wish them luck.

Other news:
DC readies for streetcars?
Congestion is getting better?

Photo: John Morris

How Many Stops?

How many stops between East Falls Church and Federal Center SW?
On most subway systems, you'd count the little circles on the map that represent stations and come up with a number. If you did that on the map of the DC Metro, you'd be tempted to answer that there are 13 stops from East Falls Church to Fed Ctr.
However, this apparently straightforward system of counting doesn't work on DC's Rube Goldberg-esque subway. In fact, today there were 29 stops! For a few of the unexpected ones, the driver announced the reason was there was a train in the station ahead, but there were many that just went unexplained. What is wrong?
We've ridden extensively on subway systems in New York, Madrid, Brussels and Osaka, not to mention tourist visits to several others, and we have NEVER encountered this irritating phenomenon. Have you?

Other Metro news:
Let Metro hear your suggestions (WaPo)
GGW has a post about parking
Examiner piece on possible new Alexandria station
Funny post on Wonkabout about Metro's Facebook page thought this chart was "nifty."

Also of interest:
The importance of infrastructure (NYTimes)

Photo: John Morris

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Week That Was April 15-22

39 for the work week. Right in Line.

Click here for the entire list.

Should Metro Charge More?

Is Metro too cheap?

We did a little number crunching and found that in 2007 dollars, Metro, in some ways, is cheaper now than it was in the '80s. Back in 1983, the maximum fare on Metro, in 2007 dollars, was $5.14. Today, the max you can pay is $4.50. See a legible version of the chart here.

Granted, we are mathematically challenged, and we only looked at the "max fare" column from this chart, but it does seem odd that Metro hasn't increased their fares more based on this cursory analysis. Maybe there's a psychological barrier around the $5 mark.

The same situation exists in NYC, where the nominal fare has been going down. NYC is a little easier to figure out since there's a $2 flat rate, no matter how far you ride the system.

Would you pay more if the system would become more reliable as a result?

We did our inflation adjustments using The Inflation Calculator. Below is the raw data. If you more mathematically inclined people have something to add or want to point out a gross error in my calculations, please feel free.

Year Fare 2007 Equivalent
3/29/1976 0.55 1.98
3/21/1977 0.55 1.86
7/1/1977 0.7 2.37
7/2/1978 1 3.15
7/1/1979 1.5 4.23
6/29/1980 1.95 4.85
1/1/1981 2.15 4.85
12/5/1981 2.25 5.07
4/16/1983 2.5 5.14
6/30/1984 2.4 4.73
7/1/1989 2.55 4.21
6/29/1991 2.85 4.29
6/27/1992 3.15 4.6
6/24/1995 3.25 4.38
6/20/1999 3.25 4.01
6/29/2003 3.6 4.05
6/27/2004 3.9 4.25

Our First Dispatch From the Red Line

Thanks to Tim.

Metro's perpetual repairs continued this morning. At Wheaton Station, two of the three escalators are down; one has been for weeks due to repairs and entirely closed off, the other consistently breaking every other day. In a seeming effort to piss off riders further, the elevator decided to go out as well. You'd think at one of the deepest Metro stations such as Wheaton, working escalators/elevators wouldn't be too much to ask. But then again considering half the Metro board declines to take Metro regularly they probably don't even notice.

Weekend Roundup

Monday was shaping up to be uneventful on the Orange Line, but starting at Smithsonian, the doors began to act up. At L'Enfant, we sat there nearly 5 minutes as the doors opened and closed repeatedly. I watched one rider mutter the f-bomb under his breath while several others rolled their eyes and looked rather disgusted. Still, considering last week's fun, it wasn't that bad.

Here's your weekend roundup:

Photo: John Morris

Friday, February 20, 2009

On the Lighter Side, Another PSA

Notice how the train doesn't move? No wonder her footprint is so small!

Metro's YouTube channel.

You Put the Orange Line In, You Take the Red Line Out...

From a Metro press release:

Red Line Track Maintenance

Metrorail customers traveling between the Silver Spring and Forest Glen Metrorail stations should add at least 20 minutes of travel time for their trips because personnel will replace rail fasteners that stabilize the rail tracks. Trains will share one track between these locations from 8 p.m., Friday, February 20, to closing (midnight), on Sunday, February 22.
Definitely tune in to the Red Line Twitter feed Monday to find out all about it. Here's the full release.

Nice piece on GGW about Metro's budget woes.

Does Catoe Ever Use Metro?

After reading this, you may come to the same conclusion that we did: that he never has.

The Washington Post has an article summarizing some ideas WMATA has for saving money. Basically, it's the same stuff Dr. Gridlock talked about yesterday--fewer buses, fewer trains--but what really struck us was this quote from Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr.
"This is the first time we've recommended service cuts," Catoe told the board yesterday, talking about the current budget cycle. "We don't want to do any of this," he said. "But we have a shortage of revenue and we looked at what could we do that would have a minimal impact on service."
Service? What service? Metro can't even get us to work on time, and we think that has more than a "minimal impact" on many riders' lives. He's starting to sound like the train conductors one reader mentioned who tell you the train will be moving "momentarily" knowing full well there's a major delay down the track. Metro would do well by leveling with its customers.

Also mentioned in the article is how "managers outlined how they had found more revenue and expense cuts to shrink the gap from $73 million to about $29 million."

Where did that $44 million come from? According to the article, "finance officials readjusted their estimates by budgeting more revenue from such measures as eliminating paper transfers. They reduced operating expenses for items such as preventive maintenance, relying on capital funds instead."

Metro's financial arrangements would be hard enough to understand without the smoke and mirrors games Metro seems to like to play.

We LOVE the caption on the photo here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Yellow Line Hit by Derailment Bug

News Channel 8 is reporting yet another derailment, this time on the Yellow Line.

And we thought, for a moment, that the name of this blog was too harsh! Ha! I'm thinking of replacing the "s" with an "f."

At least the Yellow Line Twitter feed is a little more current.

I wonder if the Orange Line Metro tweeters were out shooting a cool new PSA today!

Kiss and Ride

After today, we think it might be better called "grin and bear it."

Luckily, we weren't stuck on the Metro home bound this evening, but we stopped by the East Falls Church station and got some very mixed messages. The station attendant said the trains "were a little delayed," but the complete logjam of cars in the parking lot in addition to the eerie lack of people walking around said otherwise.

We spotted a train about a quarter mile east of the station just sitting there.

Great day, Metro. Really, we thank you.

Would love to hear from some folks who experienced what one reader called "the worst day ever" with regard to Metro.

Twitter update: The Orange Line tweeted us at 7:31 p.m. to let us know there were delays. Gee thanks!

Oops They Did it Again

ALERT: WTOP is reporting that the Orange line is again experiencing delays because the same vacuum truck that derailed this morning has derailed again.

" Riders who travel past the East Falls Church Station are being told to expect major delays through the early part of the evening rush."

Atta boy!

No update on the Orange Line Twitter feed.

UPDATE Here's the text from the Orange Line's last Tweet:

Disruption at Court House. Orange Line trains are sharing the same track between Foggy Bottom-GWU and Clarendon stations due to emergenc ...
Metro's press release on the incident

Has anyone out there tried "slugging?" How would you compare it to Metro, taking into account that today is a particularly bad day, even for a dilapidated system like Metro.

Let Me Count the Ways

Dr. Gridlock has a good piece in the Post about the potential measures WMATA is considering to save money. For Metro, this could mean:

  • There could be fewer trains in service between 6 and 7 a.m.
  • In the evening, the gap between trains could be widened from 12 to 15 minutes between 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. and from 15 to 20 minutes between 9:30 p.m. and midnight.
  • The gap between trains could be widened on all lines from 9:30 3 p.m., using eight-car trains.
  • On Saturdays, the gap between trains could be widened from 12 to 15 minutes between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
These certainly sound far more reasonable than some of the original ideas Metro recklessly bandied in recent days such as no trains after 10 p.m. on weeknights and decreased service on weekend nights. There are some other good ideas in the comments. Check them out.

What we'd really like to see--yeah, we must be smoking something--is Metro keep to a published schedule of its trains. If they're going to only run every 20 minutes, wouldn't it be nice to time your arrival at the station when a train is about to get there? Sadly, we have no faith the service can do something so utterly basic. None. Zilch.

Photo: John Morris

It's Surreal

UPDATE: According to the Orange Line Twitter feed, service on the line is apparently still disrupted. While we imagine that's no longer the case, it'd be nice if they tweeted that they'd fixed the problem!

We haven't been keeping this blog for very long, and we don't use Metro every day, but over a very short span of time, we've already had the pleasure of three major delays or problems on ONE line, the Orange Line. Here's one, and here's another.
Today, it was because "a piece of track equipment derailed before the rail system opened this morning," according to a Metro press release we got once we were at work nearly an hour late! Missed an important meeting to boot. Thanks Metro!

We also thought, well, perhaps we should have joined Metro's Orange Line Twitter feed and perhaps that would have saved us some headache. We, along with a whopping 241 other people who follow the feed, would have known something was wrong, but not the extent. Metro doesn't seem to realize there is a limit to the number of characters allowed in a "tweet." Nothing about delays mentioned--at all!

It's beyond the point of ridiculous for a major metropolitan mass transit system to have this many failures.

Just look at the past four work days:

Then add Metro's good cop/bad cop routine about how great they were over the Inauguration and then trial balloons about possible service cuts, and you get a picture of a transit system in crisis and woefully mismanaged. At this point, you have to wonder if funding given to Metro is just money down a rat hole.

Aren't there any other people out there who' d like to help us document stuff like this? Personal stories pack so much more punch! Doesn't have to be long, just a sentence or two about something that struck you on your commute.

In other news:
Gotta love GGW's optimism on a day when Metro can't even get the basics down. Check out their "fantasy" Metro map.

Photo: John Morris

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bashed Light at East Falls Church


Posted by ShoZu

Details of Stimulus Usage Emerge

The price tag: $230 million.
Some of the projects:
  • Replacing Metro’s oldest buses
  • Replacing crumbling platforms
  • Enhancing bus garage security
  • Replacing the Metro Center Customer Sales Facility
  • Updating the train arrival signs on platforms and mezzanines
Not particularly impressive.
Here's We Love DC's take.

Read the entire press release here.

"Shovel Ready"

According to this report on NBC4, Metro is going to present a $325 million list of projects it wants to undertake with the stimulus money it expects to receive.
We don't know if these are Metro's words or just the way the article was written, but the piece says the projects will focus on "safety, security and infrastructure."
In that order? While we certainly agree that safety and security are concerns, we wonder if Metro is too obsessed with safety. Many of their self promotional YouTube videos, audiocasts and press releases tout the safety of the system. We don't doubt it as last year, there wasn't a single fatality among Metro workers.
We hope to see this list focused overwhelmingly on infrastructure. The decrepit system needs so many fixes, it's hard to list off here, but we think remedying the decaying infrastructure will take care of many safety and security concerns.
Here's one idea that couldn't cost that much. On the stairway leading up from the south parking lot at the East Falls Church station, there are eight lights embedded in the walls. Two of them work. The rest appear to have been smashed out LONG ago since many contain garbage. First, it has to be a safety concern, and second, it's embarrassing for the capitol's subway system to look so shabby.
By the way, the article says the money will not be used toward new stations.

What are some projects you'd like to see on the list?

GGW with a good piece on why Metro needs to cultivate a better image, especially in Va.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What's the Etiquette?

This little item in the Examiner got us thinking about certain Metro etiquette, the dos and don'ts, if you will. Obviously, as in this case, urinating on the platform or in the train is a definite don't, but the other day we had an experience we wanted to get your view on.

We're perfectly happy to give up our seat to a handicapped person, an elderly person, a pregnant woman, but the other day, on a very crowded train, there was an incredibly obese person who got on. There were no seats left, and this person was having a hard time with Metro's signature stops and starts. Now, we'll admit it, we have "fattist" tendencies but are fully aware that for some people, obesity is a disease, not a lifestyle choice. It's hard to tell.

We opted not to give up the seat in this case. Nor did anyone else, for that matter. Were we wrong?

In other news:

The Week That was April 8-14

36 disruptions. Right on track Metro!
Click here for the full list.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Quick Hits

Seems like an uneventful weekend on the Metro front. Here are a few nuggets culled from various sources. We hope to be back on our soapbox soon.

Unusual shooting in Metro station.

Looks like the closure of the Pentagon station went fairly smoothly.

For you iPhone fans, here are a couple of recommended apps courtesy of The Washingtonian.
DC Rails and iTrans

Photo: John Morris

Friday, February 13, 2009

Have a Great Weekend

Here's a little something that to us kind of sums Metro up.

Check out
The Transit Coalition to Oppose Service Cuts

Metro is NOT Looking at Service Cuts

Reminder: avoid Pentagon this weekend!

According to this Adam Tuss story on WTOP, Metro is not looking at service cuts--yet. Last night the board held a meeting to discuss its $154 million budget shortfall. Here's the key quote:

"We are not talking about service reductions yet," Metro Board member Peter Benjamin said. "What we are doing is trying to find out how much might be needed, and see what other reductions might be made first so that we don't go out and say to the public that we need to make a change that we really don't need to make."

Say wha? Didn't Metro just spend the last couple of weeks getting everyone worked up over possible cuts? I guess the game plan was get everyone in a tizzy to rally support for the ailing mess of a transit system. That might work, but instead, we think it undermines broader support for WMATA in the long run, making Metro look repeatedly incompetent and mismanaged. It's especially dumb, we think, to play this strategy after almost non-stop boasting about how well the record inauguration crowds were handled.

According to The Washington Post story on last night's board meeting, "Metro staff workers have compiled a $325 million list of "shovel-ready" capital projects, including bus priority corridors, rail cars, buses and maintenance. Metro expects to make the list public next week at a regional transportation planning board meeting." This comes in anticipating of stimulus money the service could receive.

Quick hits:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Metro's Drunken Pole Dancers

Does Metro really want to cut late night service?

As many of you know, Metro floated the idea of shutting down service after 10 p.m. on weekdays and curtailing some late night service on the weekends as a way to save money. While we think a total cut of these services would certainly be bad for the service's image, Metro might want to take a look at what shutting down service could unleash on our roads.

For the ladies:

And for the men:

More drunken Metro shenanigans:
"Spider Monkey"
Yet another pole dance

Now we know why there are so many poles on Metro!

Quick Hits

It's a slow day so far.

Does anyone out there know what chat room they're talking about?

Again, if They're Looking for Cuts

Was this really necessary? Isn't there already enough information available about train directions, etc., without sending some poor guy down to the train platform with a bullhorn? This guy may very well be one of the most valuable employees Metro has, but giving him this task it ridiculous, we think. If they need to provide extra help on July 4 and other "big" days, maybe the system should invest in a better PA system. Sending a guy down to the platform with a bullhorn is probably humiliating to him, annoying to most of us, and a huge waste.
By the way, this doesn't really look like a July 4 crowd to me as the video claims.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stuck on the Orange Line Again

Just eight days ago, we were on a train that suddenly went out of service at Rosslyn causing a major human pile up, and today we got to enjoy another Metro foul up. This time, we got to spend about 12 minutes stuck in the tunnel between Smithsonian and Federal Triangle because a train was out of service at Rosslyn. When that train was "recovered," we moved along, and while there were certainly built up crowds, it wasn't the worst we'd seen.

We're not saying this is the end of democracy as we know it, but this number of major delays is simply unacceptable for a mass transit system, and it undermines crucial support this Metro needs among many would be financiers. We wonder how many people on that train went home tonight bemoaning how Metro sucks. We bet they used that very word. Sorry Greater Greater. We know you don't like that word, but Metro, all too often, sucks. It sucks in many ways for many reasons.

At least on this particular train, we had the dulcet tones of the DJ driver to soothe frayed nerves. You know him. "The next station is Rrrrrrosslyn, the firrrrst station in the Commmmmonwealth of Virrrrrrginia."

As you can see in yet another Metro YouTube effort, the system prides itself on being "safe, clean and reliable." I guess two out of three ain't bad.

Speaking of this video, they say that Metro offers one of the "smoothest" and rides around. I'd say that's true on the Y (left and right) and Z (up and down) axes, but on the X axis (forward and backward), we've never been on a more jolting subway system.

Where are you Red Line riders? We know you have some good stories!

Photo: John Morris

More Metro Hilarity

Yes. This was made by Metro.

Of all Metro's problems, cleanliness isn't one of them. It's one of the cleanest subways we've ever been on. Enjoy another Metro PSA.

More on Bridging the $154 Million Gap

The Washington Post has an article today talking about the possibility of Metro charging for weekend parking and other service cutbacks that have been in the news. Metro board Chairman Jim Graham said it was too early to talk specific cuts. Here's the key graph:

"This has needlessly agitated our riding public," he said. The board must first continue "extensive scrubbing" of expenses and get a "full understanding" of how the pending economic stimulus package could help Metro's budget.

Of course it has agitated the public and further tarnished Metro's image.

In other news, the Examiner has a great piece about Metro's failure to capitalize on increased usage. Among the possible reasons cited is the changing habits of riders who are using Metro more on offpeak hours to save money.

An entertaining article on

MSNBC weighs in

Anyone out there have any ideas for Metro?

Oh, and as free Metro reading fare goes, we think the Examiner is vastly superior to Express yet you hardly see anyone reading it.

Photo: John Morris

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Another Trial Balloon

There certainly are appropriate times to float trial balloons, especially if you're going to be eventually giving some bad news, but Metro seems to think it's the smart thing to float out every negative idea for saving money given the dire financial straits in which it finds itself. First it was cutting service, and now it's charging for parking on the weekends.

We think the problem with this PR approach is that now everyone is going to remember the uproar, further deepening the negative image Metro has among so many, particularly those who would pony up real money, like say the Virginia legislature. Even if tomorrow someone were to magically put Metro's books back in the black, many people would still be irate that it was even considering service cutbacks or charging for parking on the weekends.

At least Metro seems aware that charging for parking could deter many from even riding. How much revenue would really be generated from charging for parking on the weekends?

Do you think these "nightmare scenario" trial balloons help or hurt Metro?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Gotta Love Toles

Click cartoon to see legible version on the Post site.

Dr. Gridlock's service cuts Q&A from earlier today

Some standout statements:
Does Metro simply hate its riders?
Accusations that Metro was already cutting trains on the Orange and Blue lines

Overall, it's a very telling piece about how the system is perceived.

Customer Service Test

Several readers have inquired about stories involving customer service--or lack thereof-- of Metro employees, and this piece by Adam Tuss on WTOP points out the good and the bad. We've not dealt with Metro employees enough to really have a sense of what level of service is typically out there, but we do know there there is a VERY verbose driver often on the Orange Line who is very concerned about the doors.

In our experience this is the only attempt I've ever seen Metro make to assess riders' opinion of the service.

We'd like to enlist your help. Next time you think about it, ask a station manager a simple question like 'how do I get to so and so' or if you can use the bathroom. Keep it simple, and report back to us what you find.

Avoid the Pentagon this weekend!

Photo: John Morris

Can We Fit More In?

We've always thought there was a lot of wasted space on Metro. Those half glass partitions by each door, the two by two seating as opposed to bench style seating and vertical poles stuck here and there come to mind. Compared to other countries, there's also the American notion of personal space, which keeps people from really cramming in. Ride a subway in Japan during rush hour, and you'll get a whole new feel for "crowded." The DC Examiner touches on some of this in a blog post today, and Metro is currently studying new configurations like the 7000 Series. There is more information and some photos here.

Since we're faced with the very real notion of fewer trains, even at rush hour, what would be your suggestions for increasing the capacity of Metro?

--Entertaining piece on birds in the Metro from The Washington Post.

Friday, February 6, 2009

If They're Looking for Cuts...

As we learn more about Metro, it keeps getting more interesting and bizarre. Did you know that they produce "audiocasts?" Did you know they have their own YouTube channel? These can be worthy avenues for getting across a message, but are these really wise choices for Metro? For example, the "elimination of paper transfers" audiocast was issued in Mandarin, Vietnamese, Korean, Cantonese and English. Was that really necessary, and if so, what about Spanish? Does anyone really download and listen to Metro audiocasts anyway?

Today, there's a new audiocast that summarizes delays and detours, elevator outages and even offers up some suggestions for "Getting Some Culture" like the National Museum of African Art or a sporting event.

Do you listen to Metro audiocasts or watch their YouTube videos? Do you think they're useful?

Photo: John Morris

Metro Board Chairman Interview

Prepare for Drunk Drivers

If you've ever been grateful to Metro for getting you home safely from a night of a little too much celebration, prepare to for over fork a cab or take your chances behind the wheel. According to this WTOP article, Metro is considering stopping service at 10 p.m. on weeknights and "cutting back" late night service on weekends. Also on the table is reducing the frequency of trains during rush hour. I don't know about other lines, but for Orange Line riders, this must sound like exactly the right way to go!

For a system that has to fight three public relations wars at once, in the District, Maryland and Virginia, these moves would add to the perception that the system is fundamentally mismanaged or flawed and just unworthy of funding. That perception may or may not be correct--we think it is, but think the solution is more funding and better service--but these days sadly, perception is what counts, and money is scarce. That said, there do seem to be a lot of empty, late night trains during the week, as this photo demonstrates. What was the per rider cost on this guy?

Metro realizes the bind it's in, according to the article.

"All of the possibilities are unpleasant," says Metro Board member Chris Zimmerman, who represents Arlington. "We have more people riding than ever before, and we are providing a higher quality (of service) than ever before, but we may have to tell people that service is being cut. It is a heck of a thing to do."

We might have gone with something stronger than "heck," but you get the idea.

It should be noted that transit systems in Chicago and New York City are facing even larger budget gaps than Metro and are considering fare hikes.

Examiner story
Washington Post story
Greater Greater Washington
Does WMATA need a bailout?

Do you think these proposed service cuts are a step in the right direction?

Photo: John Morris

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Documenting its Shortcomings

This should have been our first post, but we're learning.

Metro actually does a pretty good job, at least it would appear, of documenting incidents. Here's the summary for Feb. 2:

--Six trains were taken out of service that day
--McPherson Square station was temporarily closed due to reports of smoke.
--Ridership, according to Metro's stats, was up about 35,000 over the same day last year.

Feb. 3

-Five trains taken out of service

Feb. 4

--Four trains taken out of service

Do you think the number of trains taken out of service in a day is on par with comparable mass transit systems?

**Thanks to reader "Michael" for answering this question with a great piece of research.

Photo: John Morris

Blue vs. Red Virginia

Now that DC has approved $50 million in funding per year over ten years, it's up to Maryland and Virginia to chip in the same. When that happens, the Feds will match the funds, totaling $3 billion for Metro. As we've said before, Maryland will almost certainly do their part, but Virginia remains a wild card. As this MSNBC article states:

"[Metro] got a huge publicity boost by handling the big crowds for the Obama inauguration. But we’re not sure that will impress downstate Virginia legislators, who view Northern Virginia with disdain despite its economic power (or maybe because of it)."

Can Virginia deliver?

Other items of note:
Addressing "bus bunching"
Apparently, the Red Line Twitters
Funny Red Line Video
Metro's "quiet" $25 million payment

Photo: John Morris

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hilarious Metro Ad

Metro's Youtube channel

What's In a Name?

Looks like some of the folks at Greater Greater Washington, which is a fine site, don't like the name of this blog.

Here's an excerpt: "'Improve' would be an accurate word. "Unsuck" is a bit harsh and a bit childish. ... I will not say that it "sucks". [sic] That's what a Slurpee with too little syrup does. Our Metro does not. Grow up and learn to use language that is appropriate to the situation."

Full post here.
And our response here.

GGW does have a great, well reported post today on Metrobus performance.

Photo: John Morris

Will Va. and Md. Follow?

DC is on board to provide Metro with a much needed, dedicated source of funding. The DC Council approved $50 million per year--over 10 years--for the ailing transit system. Now, it's up to Virginia and Maryland to do the same. We put money on Maryland passing it but are less sure about Virginia because of this. What do you think?

Other Metro news:
WMATA settles discrimination case.
USDOJ press release on the case
Does WMATA need a better lost and found service?
Free bus rides?! (Wash. Post)

Photo: John Morris

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"Out of Service"

Gotta love it when a train goes out of service at the peak of rush hour. An absolutely packed train 5162 leaving Rosslyn at 6:02 p.m. made about 15 very jerky attempts to leave when the dreaded “this train is out of service” announcement was made. It sat there empty for another 5 minutes before finally pulling away.

Many people were upset, and you could hear them relating stories of other times that had happened to them or just generally bitching about Metro.

We had to wait for about four trains before finally shoehorning ourselves into another Orange Line train bound for Vienna.

If you’re interested in how Metro operates, hang out for a few on the platforms near the front of the trains, and you’ll see what an amateur, anachronistic operation it really is. For one, no train stops even close to the same place, which is strange because in Japan, the location of where each door on the entire train will stop is marked on the platform--and that's where they stop. Yes, you read that right.

Anyway, with our own clunky system, the doors seem to be the main focus of what goes wrong, but you’d think that would have been solved long, long ago.

Mass transit didn’t win any fans on that train, but my main question is how does a train that’s “out of service” then pull away normally? I’m not saying Metro is pulling a fast one (har har), but perhaps Cal could explain.

Who's Bringing Our Bacon?

Looks like Sen. Schumer is trying to bring home the pork to his constituents. According to Progressive Railroading, "The Senate version of the stimulus bill currently proposes $8.4 billion for public transit. Schumer wants to boost funding to $14.9 billion by increasing the transit capital pot to $10.4 billion, and adding $2 billion for rail modifications and $2.5 billion for New Starts." Many of the projects cited are, of course, in New York. Who's lobbying for WMATA? How much money do you think Metro will get from the stimulus package? Will it help?

A good column in the NY Times about infrastructure in general

Looks like that's not happening.

Photo: John Morris

A Collection of Thoughts

Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post has collected several readers' opinions about Metro here. The gist is that Metro is crazy to be cutting back services at a time when ridership is up. Several suggest trying to increase ad revenue, but when you look at a typical Metro car and station, where would much more advertising go? One reader suggests cutting back escalator services. Seems to us that many of them are de facto cut. What are your thoughts?'s view

Photo: John Morris

Telling Perception

In this "Dispatch from the Inauguration" published in yesterday's Washington Post, Adele Levine gives what I think is a telling insight into what many Washingtonians think of Metro:

"After envisioning myself caught in a malfunctioning Metrorail car and trapped in a dark tunnel with several hundred strangers, I decided the best way to get to the inauguration would be to ride my bicycle the 13 miles from Wheaton."

Does that sum up how you feel about Metro?

Photo: John Morris

Monday, February 2, 2009

Some Very Good News

According to this DC Examiner story, Metro reported no worker deaths in 2008, something hailed as a "major shift" for the system. We didn't realize the past had been so deadly, but certainly this is very good news.

Metro Transit Motorcycle Officer Struck

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