Monday, September 20, 2010

Unattended Stations

From Tiffany:
One recent Saturday afternoon, I was exiting the Virginia Square Metro station. I was already outside of the fare gates and was walking toward the escalator out of the station.

The emergency light and sound on the station manager's booth started flashing and sounding. I know sometimes this is just because someone presses the wrong button when waiting for the elevator, but I looked around all the same to see what was happening. There was no station manager in sight.

At first, I was expecting them to come out of the back area, but when no one appeared, I started to wonder if they might be up at the top of the escalator. In the evenings, one or two particular station managers like to stand up there and chat with their friends. When I got to the top of the escalator, I still didn't see anyone around.

Then, I noticed a woman getting out of her minivan, parked beside the Metro. She was wearing the station manger uniform and was starting to put on her neon vest. Then, she started fussing with things in the front passenger seat, and when she stepped away from her car to lock it, her arms were filled with two McDonald's cups and a black bag that looked like it might be her cooler/lunch bag. I live in the area and know that the nearest McDonald's is at least 6 blocks away in Ballston.

At this point, I could still clearly hear the emergency alarm sounding from the top of the escalator. She was in no rush to get back downstairs. When I took out my cellphone to snap a picture, she was very aware of what I was doing. When she stood there staring at me, I said, "Do you know that the emergency alarm is going off down in the station?" She yelled at me, "Yes, I KNOW! What are you taking my picture for?!"

I replied, "because your emergency alarm is going off and you're just coming back from a trip to McDonald's." She stepped on the escalator and rode it down, sipping from one of her cups, in no rush to get downstairs.

I didn't want to escalate any confrontation with her, so I didn't go back down to see what happened, but no emergency vehicles ever responded to the scene or anything like that. I assume it was just someone accidentally pressing the wrong button at the elevator, but how would she ever know that from upstairs and blocks away at McDonald's?

Whenever someone presses one of the red emergency buttons anywhere in the station, it's my understanding that they first "ring" to the station manager's booth.

What if the station manager had been away at McDonald's when something serious happened?

Are station managers supposed to man their booth or at least the station at all times? What happens when they take breaks? I'm just curious about this in light of what I witnessed.
We asked Metro about its policies, giving them the specifics from Tiffany's observations, and this is what they said:
Station managers are required to notify central control any time they leave the kiosk/mezzanine area.

Based on the information you have provided, it would be difficult to speculate the exact situation. Was the station manager you mention returning from a break or reporting for the first time? Can't tell.
We followed up:

So just to clarify, the stations can be left unattended at times? Is there a limit to the amount of time a station can be left unattended?

We have yet to hear an answer.

Other items:
Task force meets to discuss Metro governance (WaPo)
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