Monday, July 19, 2010

Why are Operators so Terse?

Riders often comment positively when they have a communicative operator. Riders seem to particularly like operators who inject a little humor into their announcements.

Anything that makes Metro slightly more tolerable, right?

But ... while these operators often make riding Metro a little more pleasant, a source familiar with Metrorail operations says some driver announcements may actually be dangerous because when the operator is on the PA, they are cut off from Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) and could potentially miss vital information about track or train malfunctions.

We reached out to Matt Bassett, the chair of the Tri-state Oversight Committee (TOC) to find out more, and here's what he said in an email:
In our discussions with WMATA, they have indicated that speaking over the public address system limits the operator's ability to monitor their radio link with the Rail Operations Control Center, and that while having a cheerful and talkative operator may improve the riding experience, their first priority is ensuring consistent and timely communication with the ROCC. Therefore, they ask their operators to limit their PA use to essential communications only.

ROCC is the 'air traffic control' of the Metrorail system. The control center could put out a warning about a potential hazard, the presence of workers in the track area, a change in the operating environment or even an order to offload the trains at any time. Therefore, a train operator needs to be linked up with Central regardless of whether they're moving their train or have it stopped.
We asked Metro about this, and here's what they said:
We want the Operator to inform customers of any delays (We Stop, We Tell) and to be cheerful sounding. We also want the announcements to be concise. All Metro train operators are required to carry a portable radio which is not affected by the PA system. Also, the console radio installed in the rail cars takes precedence over the PA system.
Bassett added that the TOC "is not aware of specific instances of discipline [for loquacious operators], but we do know that WMATA's supervisors evaluate train operators on a number of performance metrics, one of which is the quality of their passenger communications."

Only on Metro.

Other items:
Seat Hogs (WaPo)
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