Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Not Taking it Any More

From a former rider:



You’ve finally done it.

After just over two years of tolerating increasingly unreliable service; increasingly higher prices; the prospect that my health or life may be at risk for having relied on you to get to work; an alarming disregard for public safety; a shockingly low amount of transparency; your subpar efforts to police your own property against violence and theft; failing to perform maintenance which could lead to passenger injury; a series of shockingly stupid and shortsighted decisions related to a technology that is supposed to make using the Metro easier; rail and bus operators who clearly have little regard for public safety; pathetic attempts to fool the public into thinking you are running an efficient and competent system; malfunctioning equipment that leaves passengers in the dark about how long their commute will be; and your continued inability to ensure that old and relatively simple technology stays functioning, I’ve finally made one of the most satisfying and liberating decisions since I started working in Washington, DC:

I am quitting Metro.

Was it the combined effect of everything I mentioned above? Astonishingly no. When I look back over the 27 months I’ve lived and worked in this area, I can’t believe that for such a long time I repeatedly paid so much for so little.

It’s not that I was actually expecting things to get any better…I’m not that foolish. I simply considered it a good day if there were no major delays or inconveniences that made me considerably late for work. Maybe it was out of a sense of helplessness that I kept riding. I had somehow fooled myself into thinking I had no other option.

It wasn’t until several weeks ago that I experienced such shockingly rude treatment at the hands of a Metro employee that I realized I didn’t have to put up with this anymore.

To recap: Since moving to Baltimore in August, my fiancée and I would drive to the Greenbelt station and take it to Dupont Circle and Farragut North, respectively (before that, she commuted from Baltimore, I from Springfield).

A few weeks ago, we attempted to get through the gates at Greenbelt, same as every morning. We attempted to get through one gate and it didn’t work (the lights on this particular turnstile weren’t working to indicate if it was directing people into or out of the station, there was however a piece of paper taped to the turnstile with a green ‘X’ on it … this apparently meant the turnstile was not working). So we both tried a different turnstile.

This time the gate opened, but the LED display letting us know if our cards were read properly was not functioning.

In any case, the gate opened and we both went through.

Here is the interesting part: it turns out that my card was not read properly, but I was not aware of this because the gate didn’t close on me and, again, a malfunctioning LED display did not tell me my card hadn’t been properly scanned.

We kept walking towards the (out of service) escalator when we heard someone shout: “do you feel like paying your fare today?!?”

It turns out that this voice was coming from a Metro transit police officer that was accusing me of trying to steal from the Metro by not paying at the gate.

This was a shock to me in the first place that I would be confronted by a police officer like this, but to make matters worse, he continued to very loudly and rudely accuse me of trying to get in without paying.

I tried to explain to the officer that I had no way of knowing my card hadn’t been read, and also that I wouldn’t have been able to get out at my destination without having to take my card to the station manager at Dupont.

This made no difference to this individual.

He told me that he would give me a fine of $50 if ‘we have to have this discussion again.’

All this time other passengers are filing into the station under the assumption that I was no better than a common thief. I repeated that I didn’t know that my card hadn’t been read, but this officer continued to yell at me, and condescendingly explain how the gates work.

We finally walked away, and I took a fairly angry ride to work that day. I of course filed a complaint, and received the standard apology about how this isn’t how Metro employees are supposed to behave and that this person would be reprimanded. He may or may not have actually been reprimanded, but that’s beside the point.

The fundamental question is how dare anyone at the Metro speak to a customer in such a shameful manner? Metro employees collectively should be bending over backwards in their attempts to be friendly and courteous for providing such poor service to the public. If I performed my job the way that many at all levels of the Metro system do, I would be fired.

That experience and subsequent email was the straw that broke the camel’s back and after looking into the matter, I found a way to still get to work, and not have to pay an arm and a leg for horrible service and treatment.

As of Nov. 16, I am Metro free.

Now I know that this solution won’t work for everyone.

For some people, the (usually) bad experience of using the Metro is unavoidable, and for those unfortunate people, I am truly sorry. But for someone who commutes from outside of the District, there is hope.

Yesterday, my fiancée and I drove all the way into the District and parked in a garage close to our office buildings. It took us about the same amount of time to be in front of our desks as if we had driven to Greenbelt and taken the Metro in.

Here is the real kicker though. Between the two of us, our combined monthly Metro-associated cost averages out to about $457 per month. To park in a garage that’s right around the corner from her building, and a ten minute walk to mine, we’ll only have to pay a total of $215. That’s right. Less than half of what we pay to use the Metro.

For less than half of the money, we will no longer have to put up with the litany of horrors I mentioned above, and we won’t have to put up with an increasingly rude and agitated public (no doubt made worse by the realization that they are being fully and wholly fleeced by WMATA).

In the real world, a business is rewarded for competently providing or producing goods and services. Just in the same way that I would be fired if my job performance compared to that of all levels of WMATA, most other businesses that provide this level of service would fail. WMATA however can rely on the fact that most people have no other option to get where they need to go. If you are one of those people who truly have no other option than the Metro, I am again truly sorry. But thankfully, I am not one of those people. And I will no longer throw my hard earned money down the never-ending, spiraling pit of despair that is WMATA.

A liberated commuter
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