Friday, February 26, 2010

Happy Fare Increase Day

Starting Feb. 28, it will cost you a dime more per ride.

Let us know if it was 10 cents better.

Progress or Another Metro Illusion?

Metro announced yesterday that they will increase the number of at-will employees from 75 to 253. At-will means "either party can break the relationship with no liability, provided there was no express contract for a definite term governing the employment relationship and that the employer does not belong to a collective bargain."*

Maybe this will be a good step toward greater accountability among "all mid-level supervisors, such as superintendants and front-line supervisors," but it only represents an increase from .75 percent of employees to 2.5 percent. A LOT more accountability needs to in instilled up an down the Metro culture. Metro needs a lot more than tinkering at the margins.

Unfortunately, the union has a very different view of how things should go. In an article in today's Post, union president Jackie Jeter said "There's a lot of discipline . . . punishment instead of trying to find out what the problem is."

This must be the punishment Jeter is talking about.

It should be noted that the District, Maryland and Virginia are at-will states. Also, were these employees under some kind of contract? If so, when do they end? If they're union people, how can Metro declare the jobs at-will? Mysterious.

Also yesterday, new Board chair Peter Benjamin issued "incoming remarks." It had some good points about how Metro needs to focus on customer service, increase safety and better communication.

However, he should have nixed this graph:
We also need to have a better understanding by our customers of Metro’s limitations. We have a 34-year old rail system, which is not like it used to be when it was new. It has old rail cars, track bed, power equipment, and communications. Some of our bus garages are 100 years old and some buses are 15 years old. As the equipment and facilities age they become less reliable, break down more often, and need more maintenance. We will have more service disruptions and delays than when the system was new.
Customers will not and should not be understanding of more service disruptions and delays.

Metro began service in 1976; the New York subway in 1904. So by Benjamin's reasoning, it should suck approximately THREE TIMES more than WMATA. It doesn't.

We're glad to see Benjamin's focus on the immediate issues of safety, customer service and communication, but there are big picture issues behind WMATA's poor performance, and those need addressing, too.

Among those are funding, the outdated compact the governs WMATA, labor agreements from a bygone era, and perhaps most importantly, political infighting on the Board itself.

Now is not the time for more excuses. DC area commuters need leadership and vision.

Other items:
Metro to install rollback protection on some cars (WMATA)
Metro to fix door controls on half of fleet (WMATA)
Woman sues Metro for $2 million (Examiner)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Will Metro Ever Run Out of BS?

"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore."

There was an interesting tidbit in today's Washington Post article about the mixed signaling equipment.

The Post reported in September that internal Metro documents showed the decision [to shift the 1000-series cars to the middle of trains] had been a public relations move. Metro officials said their decision was justified by an 11-year-old outside study involving a different kind of train and posted a detailed "correction" to The Post article on the agency's Web site.

In sworn testimony Wednesday, Metro engineer Mike Hiller said he disagreed with Metro's use of that study. "I could not conclusively agree that this information would support a decision on engineering to place a car into the center" of a series of rail cars, Hiller said. NTSB investigator Rick Downs asked, "Would that be a fair paper to utilize to rebut that point?" "No," Hiller responded. Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein apologized to The Post after the testimony and retracted the rebuttal.


We all knew moving those ancient 1000-series cars to the middle of the trains was a PR stunt. However, when the Post actually ran an article saying so, Metro's PR department feigned outrage.

In the rebuttal, which is full of a Farbsteinesque 'tude* (and a boatload of typos), Metro said "The idea that there will be less damage to a 1000-series railcar if it is placed farther from the impact of a collision is common sense."

Actually, Metro, common sense would be to listen to your engineers and level with the public.

When an agency will turn a blind eye to its own internal experts and go on to say anything or do anything just to cover its own behind without any regard for safety, one can only shudder at the thought of other lurking nightmares Metro is trying to bullsh*t its way out of.

And we still haven't heard a good explanation refuting the notion that putting the 1000-series in the middle of the trains might actually be more dangerous since those are often the most crowded cars.

*"Our expectation was that the reporters would take the initiative to contact other transit agencies to ask if they were bellying railcars. Metro officials are responsible for knowing how Metro operates, not how other transit agenciesoperate [sic] their fleets. If a reporter wants to know what another transit agency is doing, they need to contact other transit gencies."[sic]

Cop's Drawn Pistol Terrifies Rider

In light of Metro's simulated "active shooter" exercise, we thought this post appropriate. In all of 2009, at Metro's 10 most dangerous stations, there were 19 reports of assaults.

From Spike:
On Feb. 15, at 5:15 p.m., on the Green Line toward Greenbelt, the train was held at Shaw station for about 15 minutes while a blue-clad man with white "police" on his shirt back very purposefully walked through train cars with a pistol drawn, pointing it at the ground.


Of course, there was no explanation from Metro other than "we're holding for a few minutes."

Imagine the carnage of a shoot out in a Metro car or on a subway platform?

Not content with terrifying riders with routine mechanical failures, Metro now allows police with guns drawn to walk through cars looking for ... what? Coffee drinkers? Cheetos eaters? Weapon toting gangsters?

Everyone in the car sat there, eyes wide open, mouths agape.

Is Metro going for its own reality TV show?

Could we expect Virginians with permits to carry concealed weapons to join in the posse and shoot out?

What's the policy on this?

Other items:
Metro ignored warnings about mixed brand signaling equipment (WaPo)
Weather may have halted repairs before crash (Fox)
Tri-State Oversight Committee has possible conflict of interest (WAMU)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Bottom of the Transit Death Spiral

Mike Licht

Last week, we brought you what we thought was sophisticated revamp of the current Metro system map. However, given Metro's budget woes, "safety" record, likely service cuts, and terrible customer service, we feel this map more correctly portrays the Metro your kids will ride unless things are dramatically turned around.

Other items:
Bus driver fired, wait no. (Fox News)
NTSB documents regarding 6/22 crash (NTSB)
Post's take on NTSB hearing day one /Examiner's take/FoxNews take
Post picks up raccoon story (sorta makes it sound like they broke the story, no?)
Bad luck

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

NTSB Report Questions Brake Timing

According to the NTSB's "Rail Collision Vehicle Performance Study," released Jan. 26, it would appear the operator of the colliding train had an opportunity to avoid a collision on June 22, 2009.

As can be seen in figure 10, the case where brakes are applied at the first of partial view of train 214 [the train that was struck] results in a stop short of the point of collision even with minimum brakes.

Figure 11 shows the case where nominal brakes are applied with a 3 second reaction time after the first of partial view of train 214. Again the train would have stopped short of the point of collision.
The report also reveals that "there was no communication between the operators of train 112 [colliding train], the stopped train 214 or the Metrorail operations control center before the collision."

(h/t anonymous tipster)

One for Us ... Maybe

Update: And so it begins. From Ron Holzer at WMATA:

I just learned Fox 5's report was false.

Our bus department is investigating the case involving the photo on the blog. The investigation is in its very early stage.

We believe, after talking with the head of Local 689 at today's NTSB hearing, it seems that Fox 5 misinterpreted a union news release regarding an employee's dismissal as being the one from yesterday's photo. It was from the conclusion of a previous investigation.

Read the new Fox report just to see how even WMATA can make a serious situation laughable

After we published photos of a bus driver apparently texting while behind the wheel, Fox News is reporting the driver has been fired.*

Heard that before.

While the union can still file and grievance, which could save the operator's job, at the very least, it's more deserved egg on the face for Metro and the union.

We'll see if the firing sticks. If past is prologue, the driver will be back behind the wheel or at a desk at some point, but let's hope not.

Seriously, it's not like the policies aren't clear and well publicized.

In the meantime, chalk this one up as a victory for riders, who have been doing Metro's job for them by chronicling the sad deterioration of our public transit system.

All of the pressure seems to be bringing the numerous issues at Metro to a head, as the Post is reporting the U.S. Senate is threatening Metro with a federal takeover if certain safety measures aren't met. Maybe Metro can stave off the feds with another classic smoke and mirrors shake up.

Certainly, Metro needs dislodging from its dysfunctional safety of culture.

What a federal takeover would mean remains very unclear. We're not sure the most innovative, efficient or deep pocketed entity could run Metro well without a serious house cleaning of the dead weight that brings Metro down.

In the meantime, keep up the vigilance. Metro riders voicing their concerns provide the best chance at the kind of complete, utter, top-to-bottom reform Metro desperately needs.

*If you watch the video on the Fox site, notice the interesting lack of credit to this site. Apparently Fox doesn't like to say "suck" on air.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Jst Let Me Fnsh My Shft CU Soon :)

WMATA has a zero tolerance policy regarding the use cell phones and texting devices while on the job. It is also illegal to text and drive in DC.

That some WMATA employees continue to do so, despite the clearly stated rules and laws, could easily lead one to conclude that these employees feel above the law. Wonder why?

From Matthew:
The route was one of the 90 buses (either 90,92,93 -- definitely NOT 96). It was Feb. 19, 2010 at around 3:30-3:45 p.m. The bus, number 2134, was packed, hence me standing so close and taking the picture. And yes, she was driving at the time!

She drove to 14th and Florida U. St., where she was relieved by another bus driver.
Read more about Metro's zero tolerance policy here. Another distracted driver.

Other items (added 2/22):
Suggestions for improving Metro (WaPo)
Metro's downhill slide (WaPo)
West Falls Church yard about to get busier (WaPo)
NTSB to hold hearing about 6/22 crash (WaPo)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Masked Hoodlums Spotted at Ft. Totten

From Scott:

A Metro maintenance worker in the orange suit was feeding a raccoon that had sneaked in through a hole in the wall next to the Exitfare machines at Ft. Totten.

Yesterday, on Twitter, allyson_wilson said there was a family of raccoons at the station.

Other items:
GM candidates not lining up (WTOP)
Are Metro's safety moves working? (WaPo)
Duh. (WaPo)/ Examiner take
NTSB says subway cars should be safer (WaPo)
Some very ugly budget numbers from Metro (WMATA)
Feb. snows cost Metro $18 million (WMATA)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Finally, a Worthy, New Metro Map

Click for larger

Graphic designer Cameron Booth has come up with what we think is an excellent redesign of the Metro system map, Silver Line included. If this map were ever to be adopted, we just hope they'll get metropolitan spelled correctly.

From Booth's post about the current Metro map:
If there’s one thing I love, it’s a good Metro/Subway/Underground map. Some of them are design classics and really shouldn’t be messed with (London especially). Others have flaws, but are mostly tolerable (Boston not naming all stations on the Green Line really annoys me, but the rest of the diagram is quite well done).

And then there are the diagrams that I simply can’t abide.

And, at the moment, foremost amongst those is that of the Washington, DC Metro system.
Check out the full post on his site, which includes more analysis of the current map and more detailed looks at his creation.

Is Farragut West Haunted by Businessmen?

The Metro Board approved public artwork for the Farragut West and Takoma stations. We're wondering if the glowing, cratered orbs will also come with the ghost businessmen depicted here in the mock ups of the Farragut West art.
Read more about the art, if you want to, on this Metro press release.

Metro Hires Another Consultant

Gunn, right, will no doubt be making this gesture a lot during his stint advising WMATA.

Update: Metro says they will be paying Gunn $20,000

The Washington Post is reporting that Metro will be "contracting" with transit "guru" David L. Gunn, once a GM here in the '90s. The compensation amount was not disclosed in the article.

According to Metro Board member Mortimer Downey, one of the new federal members of the Board, "It's like calling in a specialist: 'Give the system a physical, and tell us what you think.' "

We thought Downey would be able to do that. He's new, he's got a long transit background. Why bring in this guy?

Gunn has an impressive resume (though he was fired by ... Amtrak!) and, according to the piece, "does not use e-mail or own a cellphone or computer, has a back-to-basics management style that emphasizes setting clear goals and empowering employees, down to supervisors and foremen, to solve problems themselves"

Sounds, uh, great, but we can't help but think this move is nothing but another in a long line of Metro gimmicks. Remember those high-priced communications consultants? They really earned their keep.

Yet most importantly, how many ways does Metro need to hear that they suck? Just pick up the paper, watch the news, read the blogs and the tweets. For crying out loud, just ride the damn thing.

Is Gunn supposed to deliver, at last, that sobering slap to the face that will snap Metro out if its malaise? One would have thought June 22 would have done that.

A little less conversation, please, and a little more action.

But just in case all of the deaths, accidents, broken down trains, delays and entitled employees don't paint a vivid enough picture of what is wrong with Metro for Gunn, why don't you tell him what you think.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Communication Breakdown II

From Russ:

I was returning from a business trip, waiting with my boss at Metro Center in the direction of Shady Grove when my partner called to tell me a train had derailed.

We left the station and got a cab, with the intention of dropping my boss off at her home in Dupont, and then continuing in the cab to my home in Kensington.

My partner called again while en route, and said they were running trains on both sides of the derailment, so I decided to reroute to the Dupont Metro, which is two blocks from my boss' house.

As I was on the long Q street escalator down, I began to notice a torrent of people coming UP the escalator. Every one of the 250 people coming up told me the station was CLOSED due to the derailment.

I got to the station manager, or someone I thought was the station manager, and he said "station closed, no trains coming..." which I found to be suspect, and, as if on cue, the "Voice of God" system wide announcer lady comes on and said there was a derailment, but trains were running, and the next train to Shady Grove was at Metro Center. She provided other details.

So I asked station manager, "okay, which is it, what you are telling people, or what she is saying?" At which point he said what you generally don't hear from Metro folks: "I just don't know. I am only repeating what they have told me."

I asked another question: "If a train comes, will it be on the regular Shady Grove side?" He said "yes, definitely." He then stopped counseling people to not come into the station, so lots of people started to accumulate on the Shady Grove side. (There was an empty train to Glenmont on the other platform.)

The lack of communication in the system is ridiculous. Between management and other personnel, and between employees and riders, it's just crazy bad. They always say the key to a good relationship of any kind, business, pleasure, what have you, is communication. This would explain why Metro's relationship with everyone, employees and riders, just plain sucks.

One more item illustrating this: The train I did catch to Shady Grove 5 minutes later kept changing final destination, it was White Flint, then Grosvenor, then Shady Grove, then White Flint.

The operator of the train was getting a kick out of it, saying things like, "welcome aboard folks, well, this is a Red Line train now to White Flint again. We're just playing this by ear guys, sorry for the repeatedly changing destination..."

There is absolutely NO transparency in the Metro system. The whole organization is run like a dictatorship. There are very few who have the information, and they control all the news and communication within the system. This might just be a product of a system that was constructed in the '70s and '80s, and have never had the money to update the communications technology. I dunno, the whole situation is just sad.

As a footnote, I should mention they changed the destination of the train on the other platform and the station manager made an announcement, saying "if you are headed in the direction of Shady Grove, please board the train on the Glenmont side."

So we all wound up scurrying up the escalator and running across and down the other side.

Just poor communication all around.

Communication Breakdown

Metro's communication abilities are already suspect, particularly at the front line level, and the snowy mess hasn't helped things.

From JG:

Saturday night, my girlfriend and I were planning on going to a late dinner and drinks in Chinatown/Gallery Place. I saw Metro was closing rail service at midnight instead of 3 a.m., since it was clearly posted in stations and on their Web site.

Metrorail is the best way for me to get home to Silver Spring, but there are plenty of bus options.

But the press release made no mention of buses. Not wanting to get stuck downtown late at night, I decided to call Metro and ask their customer service agents to clear things up.

The employee I spoke with was friendly, but didn't seem to know the answer. She reasoned that if it wasn't posted on the Web site, then the buses must be running normally. At best, it sounded like an educated guess, so I figured I would ask the station staff on my way downtown.

At Silver Spring, the people in the kiosk seemed genuinely annoyed I had interrupted their conversation. They opened the door, told me they didn't know the answer, and closed the door to resume their conversation.

I had never seen a Metro employee smile so wide, and they seemed to take real pleasure in their inability to answer my simple question.

Maybe they were just having a bad night, I thought, and decided I would ask the Metro staff when I got to Chinatown.

This time, the person in the glass booth told me they 'figured' if Metrorail was closing early, the buses would close early as well--the opposite of what I'd been told before.

Again, it sounded like a guess, so we decided not to take any chances and ended up taking the train before midnight rather than hoping for a bus that may or may not have come.

Closing early wouldn't have been a big deal had they been able to give me an answer or even treated me decently if they couldn't answer the question.

Imagine if they had said something like "I'm sorry, but I don't know. Let me call headquarters and see if I can find out ..." or "I'm not sure. Why don' t you try..." instead of making up answers and/or being rude.

What a novel idea!

Going home a few hours early was hardly a tragedy, but lately I've found myself taking extra steps to accommodate Metro rather than the other way around.

Oh, and I never did find out about the buses.

Other items:
Snow deepens Metro budget gap (Examiner)
Metro's e-communication could be better, too (GGW)
Many Metro parking lots still snowed in (WaPo)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

This Offload Brought to you by Tostitos

The Consumerist ran an interesting piece about how some American mass transit systems are looking into selling station and/or line naming rights to corporate sponsors.

Imagine giving public transit directions to your urban home in the future. "Oh, yeah, you take the Target Red Line, transfer at Comcast Station to the Apple Gray Line headed Fox Sports Westbound, and finally get off at Taco Bell Station." Seem crazy? Well, you have to name transit stations something, and both Metra and the Chicago Transit Authority are exploring the idea of selling naming rights to stations. They're not the first city to do this.

What do you think of this? Would any company even want to be associated with Metro? If so, what would be some good matches for Metro? What would be some of the station/line names should this happen? Is this a good idea or another case of corporate encroachment? Could WMATA sell the rights to other things, like offloads, door malfunctions, derailments?

(h/t Frank)

Other items:
It's not just Metro (BBC)
What really derails Metro (WaPo)

Friday, February 12, 2010

You Can't Film in Here

Snowmageddon IX: The First Commute

UPDATE: Report of Red Line Derailment. no 3 minor injuries reported.

Excellent coverage here (WaPo)

There were a few positive reviews of Metro's performance today, but for the most part, the impressions were decidedly negative. For those readers not on Twitter, here's a sampling. This list could have taken up page after page.

How was your commute this morning?

@Silvio_Marcacci getting on a metro train this morning is like getting on a helicopter during the fall of saigon #wmata #fail
@mccanner 10 minutes from union Station to metro center. Had a seat. Metro center is fine. #wmata
@samerfarha RT @volcanojw: Can't even get *on* the platform at Pentagon City #wmata
@wendilott 1 hour from union station to federal triangle #WMATA
@pbaxter #wmata trip was surprising pleasant this morning. Go Metro!
@dan_munz Reporting live from Metro Center: If you can stay off #WMATA, do. It's a fustercluck.
@timothyoconnell #WMATA reports of Red Line Metro service, it seems, have been _greatly_ exaggerated.
@jakemcintyre Metro may be useless today, but buses seem reasonable, at least for an NW-Downtown trip. #wmata
@alykat Ballston platform so full they've closed the gates, only letting ppl in after train comes. 'Next train' board is useless. #wmata
@RusynHokie Federal government open + 20 minuter interval on metro = wmata epic failure.
@trying_brevity All told, about two hour for the commute (ride on + metro). I guess that's not too bad. #wmata #rideon
@dan_munz 25% of feds at work. 10% working from home. Remaining 65% trapped together in same #WMATA car b/w Farragut West & Foggy Bottom.
@welovedc: Reading reports from Metro riders & wondering if Director of OPM is proud of himself for opening govt before WMATA was ready.
@TallPaulDC Eastern Market Metro platforms packed similar to a Nats game finishing. Waited for 4 trains and gave up.
@markalves Can't even get into Ballston station on Orange Line. Crowd is packed to bottom of outside escalator
West Hyattsville parkjing lot is only 30% plowed!! #wmata

Via email:

From MP:
Ride in this morning was relatively smooth, arrived at East Falls Church with 10 minutes before the next train, platform was packed. Trains were single tracking from EFC to Court House because they were storing trains on the opposite track between Virginia Square and Clarendon.

Took about an hour, 15 minutes longer than normal. I give Metro an A- for the effort.

From Steven:
Arrived at Potomac Ave. station at 7:45 - no trains til 8:25--and then one car was shut off, and a Metro staffer was sleeping on a seat - there were chemicals in that car- the platform is packed and so are the trains!!!

Another train arrived packed to the gills at 8:35.

The train arrival board has been off--when I arrived at 7:45, it said next train 15 minutes: No train arrived til 8:25. Trains are sitting here for at least 5 minutes. And trains keep changing arrival times or disappearing completely.

The next train was due to be in the station in 4 minutes. That was 10 minutes ago, and the train from 8:35 is still sitting here.

A Metro Valentine Photo Frames

From JB.:


I've been offloaded, delayed, jerked around and abused by your employees. I've been late to work, dates, interviews, appointments, brunches, lunches, dinners, movies, concerts, meetings and even a funeral thanks to you. For as long as I've been a regular user, I've pretty much hated you.

Yet despite our rocky history, over the past few days, I've felt butterflies, almost giddiness, whenever I hear your name in the news.

Why? Because you're not operating, well barely anyway, and that means no work for me!

Your epic ability to fail, has bequeathed me five and a half bonus days off and counting!

Your incompetence, to this point, has been infuriating, but over this past week, I've felt a wave of forgiveness wash over me. I am completely confident in my lack of confidence in you.

I don't know how to start thanking you. I temporarily take back every bad thing I ever said about you. All your bumbling, all of that pain in the bank, is finally paying off, and in a big way!

In any other city, I'd have been at work, stuck behind my desk. But thanks to your ineptitude, I've been at home, smiling, feet up, in my PJs, sipping wine, catching up on old movies, and working on that novel I promised myself I'd one day write.

Consider us even--for now.

And as a small measure of my gratitude, I ask simply for you to be my Valentine.

Keep on suckin'! K?

Let's see if we can work some closures out for April showers!

Your newest, biggest fan (for this week anyway)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

2009 Most Dangerous Stations

The top 10 stations for Part 1 crimes.
Click for larger (source)

MTA v. WMATA v. Snow

Thanks to SE for pointing out this New York Times article about today's blizzard. Here's the key excerpt:

"... New York would see 12 to 15 inches — a lot, to be sure, but less than had piled up in places farther south during the storm last week. In New York itself, the worst was expected later in the day, potentially creating a nightmarish commute home. Some transit lines planned extra service for early afternoon, figuring that workers who made it into the city in the morning would abandon their desks before the regular quitting time."

Can you IMAGINE such a thing? Transit officials looking ahead to bad weather from the passenger's point of view?

On Sunday, I waited an hour for the single Green Line train that was running to take me from Navy Yard to Fort Totten, where I walked 3 miles home to Silver Spring. The walking is fine; I understand they couldn't run above ground.

While I was at Navy Yard there was not a single sign or employee to tell us when to expect a train.

Signs like the one in the photo were the norm.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fourth of July IN a Metro Car

This sounds very scary. Reader Mia provides an inside account of a Metro train hitting a "communication" wire:

I am one of the unfortunate non-Federal workers who had to come in to work Feb. 9. I knew it would be a crapshoot as the trains are only running every 20 minutes. Fine. I can deal with that.

I boarded at Potomac Avenue to begin my journey to Dupont Circle. I sat down at my usual spot--second car, on the right side of the middle of the train, next to the window, and started reading my Express.

When we left L'Enfant, and as we started getting up to speed, there was a loud pop, the train shook violently, and sparks as big and bright as fireworks started spewing across the right side window. I gasped, the girl next to me stood up, and we all ran for the door that connected us to the car in front.

The train stopped.

The car began filling with smoke, with popping noises still going on, and sparks still flying outside the train.

People were crying, screaming. The people on the front car were trying to get into our car, and we were trying to get into their car. People were yelling, "fire, fire!!" Both of the front two cars were full of smoke, and no one knew what was going on- it was chaos.

We heard nothing over the intercom. Nothing. What were we supposed to do? Open the emergency doors and get out on the side of the track? Was the train on fire? Were the sparks from our train or from the track? Was the conductor unconscious? What was happening??

"Stand by, customers, stand by." That was it. That was all we got (two times) over almost 20 minutes.

At one point, the conductor (or someone in Metro gear) walked through the train and said, "we aight, we cool, we gonna be aight," and he walked through each car on the train.

Then we got another announcement, "Customers, we hit a wire, please stand by."

Okay- so after almost 30 minutes, smoke, sparks, hysteria, we find out what happened- we hit a wire. WHAT?? HOW??

Okay, so another man in Metro gear walks through, asks us to get our belongings together because they have an empty train at L'Enfant that is coming to evacuate us.

So the new train inches up to our train, and they open all the doors between all the train cars, and we evacuate out of our train into the new one. The new one backs up to the L'Enfant Station platform, and we offload at 9:01 a.m., after being told that "the train is out of service and trains are single-tracking around the disruption" so we'd have to get to the other side of the platform to get the next train.

My problems with this:
  1. sparks and smoke
  2. obviously unsafe tracks
  3. NO communication or information given to the passengers until 30 minutes of sitting in a smoke-filled car
  4. nothing like, "We're sorry," or any sign of condolence to the people who are obviously freaked out and crying

I just wanted to share this RIDICULOUS story with you, because I am now traumatized at being underground, trapped, for 40 minutes, with sparks and smoke, and no communication about what was going on.

Several people were saying this was the last straw, and one lady even said she'll never ride the trains again, she didn't care that she has to ride 3 buses to get to work, after this, she wanted nothing to do with Metro.

I plan on sending a complaint to Metro asap. Not that anything will be done about it.

WMATA v. SEPTA v. Snow

How long does WMATA deserve the benefit of the doubt?

It certainly was an epic storm, and the decision to close above ground service during the peak of the winter blast was certainly prudent, but it has now been almost 72 hours since the snow stopped, and things are still severely hampered.

The front page of the WMATA site says the Red, Yellow, Orange and Green lines are operating at "full" service as of this morning, but when you actually click through, "full" turns out to mean quite limited and, in some cases, smokey. Parts of the above ground Blue Line remain closed.

Today, Metro announced they had 300 buses running routes, when on a normal day, there would be 1,400, a fact omitted from the release.

Metro says they have up to 20 trains "equipped with de-icing equipment to combat snow and ice on the electrified third rail." That's four per line.

Something just doesn't make sense, so we thought we'd check with Philly (love your sports fans!) to see how their mass transit was dealing with snowmaggedoncalypsegasmomg.

We spoke with a very friendly official from Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA), the WMATA of the Philadelphia area. Unlike here, public transport in the Philadelphia area was not nearly as impacted (brought to its knees) in the wake of the blizzard of '10, and they even got a little more snow than we did.

When asked about DC's 3-day mass transit virtual lockdown, the official, simply responded with an incredulous "wow," as if to say "you're kidding, right?"

SEPTA did suspend operations during the worst conditions, but today, the SEPTA Web site reports no delays, bus or rail, that appear to be connected to the weekend storm.

But Philly gets a lot more snow than DC, so they're better prepared, right? Not really. According to NOAA, they get about 4 more inches a year.

However, to be fair, comparing WMATA to SEPTA is, in some ways, like comparing apples to oranges--except for the buses. For one, many of SEPTA's regional rails--a large part of the system--use catenary (overhead) lines for power sources, which are less susceptible to the snow than a third rail like Metro. SEPTA's subway uses a third rail for power but runs underground and is protected from the snow. SEPTA does, however have something called the Norristown High Speed Line, which is powered via a third rail and runs above ground. That line, according to a SEPTA official, was affected "somewhat" on Saturday from this most recent snow.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Nice one

Updated image: "groud" Thx nitin

Friday, February 5, 2010

The White Stuff Already Falling at WMATA

@dannylyon Holy crap! I almost got it hit by a ceiling tile at the Pentagon Metro!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Quick Q&A with Marcel C. Acosta

New Metro Board Member Marcel C. Acosta was nice enough to answer a few questions via email.

Here's a brief bio from the Metro press release: "As an Executive Director for the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), Acosta has extensive knowledge of the Washington Metropolitan region. Prior to joining the NCPC, Acosta served as an executive of the Chicago Transit Authority, where he successfully oversaw initiatives to reduce operating costs of the bus and rail systems and to increase system ridership. Acosta is a District of Columbia resident who rides Metro to work daily."

Here's the Q&A

What are three shortcomings of Metro from the riders' perspective?

a) Concerns about system safety: I ride Metro daily and have done so since moving to Washington in 2001. While working at the Chicago Transit Authority, I was well aware of WMATA’s good reputation and leadership in the transit industry. Unfortunately, recent tragic events including the Red Line accident in June and subsequent incidents have raised serious questions about our ability to deliver the basics: a safe and reliable service. If we want to keep customers and restore the public’s confidence, we must work hard every day to make safety our top priority. This will require a culture of safety at all levels of Metro—from the Board, the management team, to the front line employees.

b) Dependability: Transit is a vital service that the public relies upon regularly. Our customers need to depend on Metro to get to work, to school, and to other destinations of choice, on time. As a daily rider, I know what it is like to stand in a packed train and have to exit the car because of door problems, or to wait at a bus stop for a long time only to then have two or three buses arrive within minutes of each other. For Metro to remain the transportation option of choice, riders must have confidence that they can rely on the system to deliver them safely, comfortably, and on time.

c) Customer experience: We must continue focusing attention on providing a first-class experience for riders—from the moment travel begins, to the moment a rider departs a Metro station or bus. This includes everything from cleanliness of the stations to friendliness of Metro staff. While riding Metro over the years I have had the good fortune to meet many exceptional frontline employees. But I’ve also been frustrated by poor customer communications and dirty trains. We have to learn from our best employees, raise our standards, and make sure that there is a consistent, top-notch customer experience throughout the system.

What do you plan to do to improve these shortcomings?

There is no silver bullet given the financial situation that WMATA faces today. While I plan to bring a rider’s perspective, I also understand the difficulty at hand because we faced many of the same issues while I was at the Chicago Transit Authority in the 1990s. Frankly, the situation in Chicago was even more dire because of the system’s poor physical condition and the lack of capital investment in our fleet and facilities over the course of decades, not just years. We had elevated train structures that were literally crumbling before our eyes and a bus fleet that should have been retired years earlier. We had the same operating budget problems that WMATA faces today. My board colleague, Mort Downey, inherited a similar situation when he served as the executive director of the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority in the 1980s.

That said, WMATA faces serious operating budget deficits and a lack of capital funds to keep the system in a good state of repair. Right now, we have an opportunity to avoid some of the big mistakes that we’ve seen in other cities that dealt with similar problems a generation ago. While we have to ensure that we have the best possible safety procedures and that management accountability structures are in place, many of the frustrations that riders experience today are in part a result of portions of the Metro system reaching middle-age. This means modernization and repair are inevitable. While we also have to deal with a projected $190 million operating deficit in fiscal year 2011, and possibly more in the future, I am also concerned about the prospects of transferring a portion of our capital funds to cover operating budget gaps.

While transferring capital to cover operating deficits may be the “path of least resistance” in the short term, I also know from personal experience that it will just lead to enormous problems within several years. It also will undermine our ability to deliver a safer and more reliable system today and in the future because we will not be able to fix the underlying track, signal, equipment, and facility problems in the long term. However, this means that we will have to make some difficult short-term decisions regarding fares, service levels and other important administrative initiatives while we try to find other sources of operating funds for the system.

To do this, we need to talk with riders to hear directly about what works and what doesn’t work, and to help us make these important short-term choices. At the end of the day, our customers will feel the brunt of the Board’s decisions. I was very impressed and heartened by the thoughtfulness of the public testimony at the recent budget hearing. Many understood that we had to make a choice between four undesirable options and that that our ability to provide a safe and dependable service is directly related to our ability to fix the system.

I am confident that as a board we can overcome these challenges. Given the situation, we must work cooperatively with each other, Metro’s leadership, staff, and the public. My job and that of the rest of the Board is to create a high level of accountability, oversight, and support for Metro management and employees so they can do the best job possible. Our most immediate decision will be choosing an interim and permanent general manager who can balance daily operations with inspirational leadership and renew confidence in the system.

How important do you think not having veto power will be?

Given the situation at hand, the Board needs to work towards solutions. A veto is only used to block action, and I understand that it isn’t used often. Frankly, I am more concerned that we work together to resolve tough issues quickly and effectively. To get the job done, board members must establish common ground and common purpose. I believe that I can help find this common ground by trying to help focus our decision around the needs of our customers and refocusing on the system as a whole, since I bring a regional perspective to the table.

Do you agree with Mr. Downey [the other federal appointee] that Metro is in "serious disorder?"

This is a critical time for Metro. I know that the board, employees, and our customers are fully aware that there are serious problems today and that we face serious hurdles ahead. We must address current problems while building upon Metro’s assets and sustaining affordability and access for all. As stewards of the system, we face making tough choices to overcome an operating deficit of $190-million and $11.4 billion in unfunded capital improvements that are needed to bring the system to a good state of repair. To restore confidence and provide a service that is safe, reliable, clean, and affordable our immediate goals should include finding the right leader to move the agency forward, resolving Metro’s operating budget deficit, and preserving capital funds for maintenance and modernization.

What are steps you and Mr. Downey can take to push the Board to adopt a more regional view?

First, it’s important to note that this region has greatly benefited from the introduction and growth of Metro over the past 33-years. The system has created a more walkable downtown, cleaner air, and reduced road congestion for those who drive. As our region’s largest employer, the federal government has facilities throughout the region—in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia and our workforce is traveling from various cities and counties throughout the National Capital Region. Therefore, the federal government has a critical interest in ensuring that we have an effective transportation system that meets the needs of area workers, residents, and visitors.

More than 40 percent of rush hour commuters on Metrorail are federal employees, and at the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), more than 90 percent of the agency’s employees commute daily via Metro, including me. I am personally committed to helping create a stronger, healthier transit system that will better serve this region and be a showcase for the nation. NCPC oversees federal planning throughout the region, so I understand and appreciate the value of a regional discussion.

Every board member brings a valued perspective to the table. At the end of the day Mr. Downey and I are here to help ensure Metro’s success; to make decisions that will foster a best-in-class system; and to provide our citizens with reliable, safe, and on-time transit service that will get them where they need to go. It’s a challenge, but one that I’m looking forward to tackling.

What role can the ATU 689 take in improving Metro?

I see the role of all Metro employees as a very important one. Everyone at WMATA, from Board members to management, to frontline staff must work together and commit to making Metro consistently safe, reliable, and affordable. It’s what our riders rightfully expect, and it’s what we all should be working toward day in and day out.

How Can You Help Me?

Unmarked, non-working faregates are something we've noticed many times.

From reader MS:

The King Street Station has five ticket gates for exiting the station. Four exit gates are on one side of the kiosk and the handicap gate also functions as an exit gate. On Jan. 15, it only had three functioning gates, including the handicapped one.

Of course the nice thing about the gates is that the Metro user usually does not know it is not functioning until they try to use their smart card/ticket.

This sort of slows things up as people behind you see there is a problem and merge into the operating gates. So, it sort of becomes a bottleneck if you have four lanes of people trying to merge into the ones that are working.

If Metro had top notch employees, they would monitor the flow and promptly take action to clear the non-functioning gates.

Of course today, A. Di*** was chatting with a roving Metro policeman in the warm kiosk. After being fooled into going to one of the non-working gates, waiting my turn to go through one of the two regular operating gates, I walked over to the window and simply said, “Why don’t you go clear those gates?”

I got a blank look, so I’m not sure the look was for “Why are you interrupting my conversation?” or one of “What do you want me to do about it?”

I turned and walked away.

I then decided to write a complaint and went back to the kiosk. There were no comment forms outside of the kiosk.

After ignoring me for about a minute while continuing to chat with the police officer, I asked for a complaint form. She handed it to me, and as I walked away, she and the Metro police officer were laughing. And of course, the gates were still not functioning.

I have to admit, I guess it was funny. I was the foolish one to expect the Metro employee to take any active interest in returning non-operating gates to functioning status or to expect the Metro police officer to do his job and not be shooting the breeze in the kiosk during rush hour.

Do I begrudge people chatting in a warm kiosk? No, but it should be secondary to keeping the operation flowing, including clearing the gates when they malfunction.

Perhaps they should change the logo on their vests from “How can I help you” to “How can you help me? After all, we Metro riders are there to serve the Metro employees, right?

A co-worker told me that the two gates were still not working when he came through about 15 minutes later.

Good Job Metro.

According to Metro, "station managers are equipped to reset a faregate as well as remove a jammed fare card. If this does not remedy the problem, the station manager needs to call for assistance.

If a gate is taken out of service, the red do not enter light should be lit on both sides, eliminating the need for any further signage."

Other items:
Add this super fail to the budget deficit (Famous DC)
The bar is very low for some (WaPo)
In the dark (WaPo)

Photo: M. Hoek

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Thanks for the Great *cough* Commute

@metroopensdoors Red Line: Trains sharing same track btwn Farragut N. & Judiciary Sq. Smoke on tracks at Gallery Place-Chinatown. Delays in both directions.

From Matthew:

I got to experience the fun at Gallery Place this morning.

When I got there on the Yellow Line, there were about 12 DC firemen on the scene on the Glenmont side of the platform.

A Metro Police officer told everyone who was coming upstairs to go to the other side of the platform.

When I got over there, it became pretty apparent that no one knew what was going on. Several Metro officials kept assuring us that a train was coming despite announcements that there was no train service to Metro Center or Gallery Place, and shuttle bus service had been requested.

After about fifteen minutes of waiting for the trains that were never going to show and the shuttle bus service that was still being requested, several of us, decided it was bus time.

After asking the station managers if they knew what buses would run from Gallery Place to Union Station, it became apparent it was time to walk it.

Then, there is a entirely different problem with DC sidewalks not being shoveled, ever.

I understand these issues happen but there has to be a better response, especially during rush hour.

And reader Chris adds the following experience:

I just wanted to relay my horrid experience from this morning's Red Line debacle.

I was on an inbound Red Line train and had reached Rhode Island Avenue when the reports of the smoking train began to filter through the system.

We held at the station for quite some time before the driver came over the speakers and said that due to the issue at Gallery Place, the train would be offloading, and Metro would be forming a "bus bridge" to connect us.

We dutifully shuffled off the train and out into the snowy parking lot assuming that Metro employees were hard at work to direct us to the "bus bridge."

However, no busses nor employees were anywhere to be found. No station manager was in the booth, no one was there to answer our questions, just a couple hundred cold and angry people waiting in a cold parking lot.

After 15 to 20 minutes one of the riders, NOT a metro employee, came out and announced that the trains were running. Again, we shuffled back up the stairs and into an already crowded train. Then we moved on as if nothing had happened.

Great coordination Metro!

Metro's Underground Economy

Metro has, from time to time, considered putting retail outlets in some of the stations in an effort to make money. So far, the plans have all been shot down, but there is still an economy, of sorts, centered around Metro.

There are the flower guys, the souvenir guys, the hot dog stands, the buskers, the panhandlers, the drug dealing bus operators,
the "free" newspapers, the newspaper machines, and who knows what else?

One reader commented that someone tried to sell them a toothbrush on a bus, and @richdevans made the following tweet recently: "Dude just tried to sell me a Hot Pocket* on the Green Line."

Wonder how they warmed it up.

Anyway, that takes the cake so far. Have you had any interesting dealings with Metro's underground economy? What are some of the scams you've encountered?

*Unsuck DC Metro does not endorse the consumption of Hot Pockets under any circumstances.

Other items:
Man jumps from Shady Grove Metro garage (Examiner)
Metro notification process under review because they screwed up (Examiner)
Metro defends not reporting accident (WTOP)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

First Gen Purple Line Sighted

Red ... er ... Blue Line to National Airport! (Click for larger)

We love this poster for many reasons, but had never noticed the most hilarious part of it until several readers pointed it out.

Hope the union folks are a little more observant when repairing trains.

Thanks to Brittany for getting the detail shot.

Does Metro Really Need to Create Fake Terror?

So Metro held this costly (They're getting the money through a grant.) anti terrorism drill this morning at Union Station. We suppose it's good to be prepared, but perhaps they should focus a little bit more on every day policing so that near riots, as seen in this video, don't happen. We think it's much more likely riders will find themselves in this kind of terror as opposed to a Madrid or London style bombing.

We have no more information about this video other than what is posted on Youtube, which is: "Trap Boys vs. Fly Money at Morgan Blvd station 1-23-2010 after the LaPearl GoGo event. Welcome to Prince George's County, MD. "

Strong language/violence warning. (h/t Byron)

Other items:
Another near miss for Metro's culture of safety (Examiner)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Metro Unveils Delay Alert Rainbow

Metro delays are so ... what's the word ... omnipresent now, and the way WMATA communicates about them so often makes the "situations" end up sounding so similar that it's hard to tell the major "incidents" from the minor "disruptions."

Maybe this little rainbow chart will do for delays what it did for terrorism.

Thanks to reader "K" for the idea and most of the words.

Other items:
Finding a way to put Metro back on track (Baltimore Sun)
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