Friday, September 30, 2011

Radio Problems: More than Meets the Quote?

Metro's relatively new, $70 million radio system is a top gripe for Metro employees. Every one I've talked to derides it. The cops hate it, and so does Jackie Jeter, the union head.

So initially, yesterday's "system wide radio communication problem" wasn't really surprising.

But did anyone find the Washington Post quote from Metro chief flack Dan Stessel odd?
“It was a console in the rail control center where a foot pedal that is used to key the mike became stuck in the open position,” he said. “It wasn’t a problem with the network or infrastructure. It was a very simple issue.”
I found it interesting that he added the part about the network and infrastructure. He didn't really need to, and I sloughed it off until I started to hear from Metro employees.

"We have always had problems where certain areas are not covered, but this is system wide and today, across multiple channels. That is why the pedal thing doesn't add up," said one Metro source.

Three sources said the problem yesterday was over multiple channels. Apparently, one channel starting making a funny sound and was unusable, and they switched to another, which worked for a while, but then it, too, failed and started making the same sound.

One worker called me up so I could hear the sound coming from the radio. It was like something from the 1960s Star Trek.

That source added that usually, if there's a stuck or open microphone, you can still hear people talking or hear background noise. I heard none of that.

Metro's story may be true, but there is definitely something else going on with those radios.

Two sources also said there was a 15-minute outage the day before. Another said it was the third outage over the past few days and that the radios gave a readout saying "SOFT fail." They weren't sure what that meant.

The radios are so rife with problems, sources confirm, that certain workers still carry the old radios, the new ones, personal cell phones and pagers.

The subpar radios also led Metro to change the zero-tolerance policy regarding cell phones so that certain positions can use their personal cell phones while on the job to communicate when the radios fail.

"We use our personal phones all the time because the radios are so bad," said one source. "It's all done with a wink."

One source added that since all communication goes through central (OCC), when the radio system breaks down, "who knows what could happen," so everyone, for example, working on the tracks, has to leave the area where they're working and get out of the way since no one really knows what's going on in the system.

This leads to losing a lot of time and money, they added.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

U.S. Can't Do Transit

From Josh:
I was just in Europe where I rode the public transit systems in London, Brussels, Berlin, Prague, Paris and Barcelona.

No surprise, but they were all superior to Metro or any other American public transit system in almost every way. That's what happens when you have dedicated sources of funding and regular maintenance over the years.

What most struck me was in Brussels where they have motion sensor escalators. The escalators don't run until someone walks up to it and triggers the sensor. It saves a ton of energy and reduces wear and tear on the escalator because they aren't running the whole time the station is open.

Here is video I took in Brussels:

And here is video riding the escalator at the Swiss Cottage Underground station in London. What struck me about the European escalators is not only that they all work (I didn't see a single escalator out of service) but that they are fast, much faster than Metro.

Video of London Underground escalator:

I also visited Los Angeles this summer, and it might be comforting to know that Metro isn't the only American system with escalator problems. These were escalator repairs at 7th St./Metro Center in downtown L.A.
Been on subways in other cities? Leave a comment here.

Other items:
Board member skips station because of crime (WTOP)
Metro hires $15,000 leadership coach (WTOP)
Impasse over Board seat holds up transit funds (Examiner)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How Boycotting the Metro Changed My Life

Metro is suing its insurer for "turning its back" after a "a drastic drop in rail ridership and consequential loss of revenue" in the wake of the 2009 Red Line crash, according to the Examiner.

Rack up even yet more legal fees!

I guess this is Metro's odd way of finally acknowledging that people are fed up with the service and looking for other ways to get around. They'd always pegged the ridership fall off on the economy.

I'm curious to hear if others have gone Metro free or have sought out other forms of transport to reduce their Metro use--without resorting to solo driving.

From Chad:
I live in Alexandria, and used to take the Metro to work in northwest DC every day.

The majority of my commute was on the Red Line, which always seems to have the most delays, breakdowns and problems.

One day, about two years ago, while the train was stopped between stations for no apparent reason, I read the announcement about how fares would be rising. This was the time they put the green stickers up on the Metro gates.

I was spending almost $10 a day to get to work for sub-par service (That's putting it nicely). I couldn't handle the stress of not knowing if I would make it to work on time every morning any more.

Frustrated, and even angry, by how much I was paying and would soon have to pay for service that was so poor, something inside of me snapped, and I said to myself 'no more!'

I became determined to find an alternative to Metro.

I bought a bike, and a friend familiar with biking in DC showed me how I could get to work from my apartment in Alexandria.

It was a 30-mile round trip, and I started out only being able to do it once a week.

Slowly, I got stronger and upped the number of times a week I could do it.

Eventually, I was riding in five days a week and not spending one penny on Metro.

Two years later, I am so proud that I'm still not taking Metro and am in the best shape of my life.

The decision to make this change has led me to be happier, save quite a bit of money, get in great shape (I am 50 pounds lighter.), and motivated me to start swimming and running as well.

In fact, two days ago I completed my first IronMan distance triathlon.

I owe all of this to Metro's poor service and unfair price increases because they compelled me to say 'enough is enough' and boycott them.

I know that for numerous reasons what I did would not be a feasible solution for everyone.

I firmly believe in finding alternatives to Metro out of principle though and try to not to support the service with my money.

After reading this story, perhaps some of you will be able to send a message of your own by finding an alternative to Metro at least every once in a while.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Trapped in Metro

The other day, I entered Clarendon at rush hour. After going down the first set of escalators, I noticed a 50-something Asian man with a cane leaning up against the wall. It was an odd place to camp out. He was obviously handicapped in some way.

As I was descending, I saw him softly call out to several people, but they either didn't hear him or ignored him.

I went over to see what the problem was, and he said, with more than a hint of panic in his voice, he was "trapped" and asked "please help me."

In many Metro stations you have to use three escalators just to get in or out. Clarendon is one of those stations. There are escalators from the train platform to the mezzanine (where the station manager's kiosk and faregates are), then another long escalator to an intermediate area and finally, a shorter escalator up to the street. The last two sets have two escalators and one staircase.

For a moment, I thought the distraught rider might be missing a few screws, so I asked how he was trapped. He pointed to the set of escalators I'd just come down. One was going down, and the other was also a staircase. I hadn't even noticed the stopped one.

He dropped his head, looked at the ground, and sighed as he explained how he was unable to climb or descend stairs because he'd recently had an aneurism. He was embarrassed by his predicament and having to ask for help to simply get out of the Metro.

I asked him why he didn't go down a level via the long set of escalators and catch the elevator up to the street.

Still downcast, he shook his head and, using his cane, pointed over to them. One was coming up, and the other was blocked off "under repair."

Indeed, the poor guy was trapped in Metro and had been for at least 15 minutes, he said.

I went down to get the station manager who came up and tried, many times, to change the direction of the one working escalator on the outermost set. He wasn't able to. He shrugged his shoulders and said they often only go in one direction and if you try to change the direction, they stop working altogether. Who knew?

The station manager and I then walked over the next set. He said he wasn't hopeful, but he cleared the working one of riders and, after several minutes of trying, was able to reverse it. He looked relieved, as was I.

For a few minutes there, I was starting to think we would have to add to the poor rider's embarrassment by carrying him out of the station.

The handicapped man was overjoyed when he saw his escape route. We all rode it down where, I assume, he caught the elevator which would, at long last, take him to the street and out of Metro's clutches.

I don't know if the station manager was ever able to get the escalator heading up again.

Broken escalators have consequences beyond annoyance for some riders, and I can't really imagine how scared and helpless this rider felt.

Other items:
D.C. area traffic the worst (WaPo)
iPricey: $10K for 3 Macs (Examiner)
Metro to remove and destroy abandoned bikes (Examiner)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Wasn't Single Tracking a Thing of the Past?

Via @DebtHater Haven't seen this many ppl in the Metro since Obama's inauguration! Single tracking sux! @unsuckdcmetro

Metro pretty much gave that impression here.

"New approach" or not, Metro is nearly unusable on the weekends.

This Saturday, I knew there were going to be delays on the Orange Line, so I gave myself an hour--an hour--to get from East Falls Church to Rosslyn (5 stops), where I had to catch a bus to NYC.

I barely made it.

That's crazy.

Before leaving home, I checked the Metro website. Nothing. Flying blind.

Same at the station.

None of the PIDs at East Falls displayed anything useful, and Metro's mobile website was equally worthless.

I was frantically walking out of the station to try to catch a cab when a train finally showed up. It was rush hour (peak of the peak) crowded.

On the way home yesterday, passengers were greeted with acrid brake fumes billowing out of Rosslyn. On the steamy platform, it was an over 20-minute wait for the next train. In that toxic atmosphere, I really wished I had one of these.

What a mess.

New York's subway stations are disgusting, grimy hellboxes, but the train usually comes quickly and takes you where you want to go with relative efficiency.

The trains themselves actually are not very disgusting at all. In fact, they're quite a bit more modern and cleaner than Metro cars. (If you're familiar with NYC, or any other subway system, you can leave your impressions here.)

How was your weekend WMATA experience? Do you even bother any more?

Other items:
Metro falling short on cell phone coverage (Examiner)/Post's take
Track work (WMATA)

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Good Idea?

From Laura:
I get on and off at Greenbelt on the days I take Metro to work, and so I routinely see tourists or travelers going to and from BWI.

It occurs to me that WMATA probably makes bank off unused fare cards, i.e. travelers that put $20 on a card at the beginning of their stay, only use $10 of it, and then go back to their own cities.

So here's my question: Has there ever been an attempt to establish a program where tourists can donate their unused fare cards as they're leaving town to a program that will redistribute that money to, say, unemployed people going to job interviews, or another good cause?
We asked Metro since as, on the surface, it seems like a good idea and might help with the image problem.

Here's what they said:
This has not been an idea that has been formally considered.
Other items:
Metro embraces decade-old technology, city rejoices (WMATA)
Metro studying ways to decrease Gallery Pl. crowding (Examiner)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Escalator Dyslexia

Metro seems enamored of expensive technological solutions when so many of its woes could be fixed by free common sense.

From Lainy:
Can someone tell me - who is the brains behind the escalator operation at stations?

At Huntington, there are three very long escalators on the side going to N. Kings Highway, plus an elevator.

Earlier this month, the middle escalator had been out of service, and that's OK because there are still two.

But wait!

The two small (one lane) escalators on either side are controlled by morons.

Why? During evening rush hour, is one moving down for very few people coming into the station, and the other not moving at all forcing every commuter to trudge up that long set of steps?

The other day, the elevator was even out of service.

One woman had to keep stopping on the way up so she didn't go into cardiac arrest (which in turn ground the 100 people behind her to a stop).

Another man got into a verbal confrontation with a police officer because he was told the only way to get up to the exit was to walk until you faint, or to get back on the Metro, go to Eisenhower station, and take a shuttle from there, which would add another 45 minutes onto your already-completed commute.


Here's a simple solution - make one escalator carry people UP, and the other one stationary for people to walk down.

Do they need someone to have a heart attach to figure that out?

To add insult to injury, during the morning commute when everyone is going down into the station, one escalator was moving UP (and carrying no one, of course), and the other was stationary.

It's as if Metro is dyslexic when it comes to directional sensibilities.
Other items:
Sarles Q&A (WTOP)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Diligent Custodians of Your Resources

via Jessica: I boarded a Red Line train and saw this exposed piece of electrical wiring behind an ad on how Metro is moving forward. The unhinged door hit loudly against a pole whenever the train halted sharply.

via @ahosier It's ok, I didn't want to sit down anyway...MEGA @unsuckdcmetro #wmata

via @keirha This doesn't look right. Or safe. @unsuckdcmetro

via @leozh This looks safe (blue line car number 6018) @unsuckdcmetro @wmata

Via @FixWMATA (locked) open electrical closet on Red Line car 3040. @WMATA

Other items:
Goodbye bus discounts (Examiner)
Burglary at Metro station (WUSA9)
Metro to Woodbridge? (WaPo)
Metro police to hold public forum (WMATA)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bus Ignores Oncoming Ambulance

From Marshall:
I've witnessed some pretty unsafe driving by Metrobus drivers, but what I saw Sept. 8 was the most dangerous thing I've witnessed on the road to date.

My fiance and I were headed inbound on Georgia Ave. at around 8:30 a.m., when we were stopped at a red light behind five or six cars at the intersection of Georgia and Rittenhouse.

We first heard and then saw an ambulance, lights and sirens blazing, headed in the opposite direction toward Silver Spring.

The light changed just as the ambulance became visible to me, but all the cars in the inbound lanes stayed put as there was really nowhere to go.

I assumed that the Metro bus stopped in front of the bus stop at Family Dollar also headed in the direction of Silver Spring would stay pulled over to let the ambulance pass.


The driver actually pulled out into traffic ahead of the ambulance in the right-hand lane, forcing the ambulance to swerve into the left-hand lane.

There are only two explanations I can come up with for why the bus driver did this:

1. He saw the ambulance and just didn't care.
2. He was so distracted that he didn't see the flashing lights in his mirrors or hear the very loud siren.

In either scenario, this person clearly shouldn't be allowed to be behind the wheel of a bus, but per WMATA's policy, I'm sure if anything happens, it'll be two weeks of paid administrative leave.

I don't know much about bus numbers or routes, but the number on the side of the bus was 5313, and the number on the LED display on the back was 71.

Other items:
Could Metro stations be prettier? (WaPo)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Take Home Vehicles Just the Tip of the Iceberg?


It sounds like the $1 million spent on late-model, take-home vehicles by Metro during a budget crisis is just the tip of the iceberg.

Fraud and abuse, as reported in a recent Examiner article is rampant, according to several current and former Metro employees.

Said one Metro employee:
One should double, if not triple, the list of Metro vehicles being used dubiously.

I can tell you for sure that there are also plenty of other vehicles taken away from work crews by upper and mid-level managers.

There is one [manager] that comes and takes a car from our crew almost every day. That car is not covered by any of the recent articles on take-home vehicles.

He brings it back with an empty gas tank, and we have to pull someone [from our crew] to go fill it.
Another former employee said one Metro worker often used a Metro vehicle to go on fishing trips--while on duty.

That same employees said the Metro Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has known about this kind of abuse for a long time, but has done nothing about it.

Said another employee in a recent comment:
Metro also has a way to make sure all the superintendents work at a shop that is as far away from their home as possible. Then they get Metro vehicles "for emergencies." Now, the only real emergency I can think of is a snow emergency. Even then, some superintendents will not get into work. And yes, Metro pays for the gas and insurance. And NO Metro employee can use the vehicle other than the superintendent.

When Richard White was in charge, they had an employee every day take the vehicle to fill it with gas and wash it.EVERY DAY! And Richard White lived less than 10 miles away!
Another former employee said that even superintendents' cars are sitting idly, they can't be used, for example, to haul parts where needed, holding up repairs throughout the system.

Finally, yet another Metro employee confirmed the above and added "if you think the list of take-home vehicles is complete, you're crazy. They might not be officially 'take home,' but they are used for personal business all the time, including being taken home."

Other items:
Can McDonnell appoint Metro Board member? (Examiner)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rider Hall of Shame: Seatard II

Via @ReignOfApril There isn't enough Noxzema in the world to get that face clean. Three seats! .

Complete Hall of Shame

Other items:
Track work this weekend (WMATA)
Metro alters bus routes (WMATA)
Employee "fired" for taking home vehicle (Examiner)
Horrific bus stop assault (WaPo)
Woman claims assault by Metro police (Hollaback)
Paris experiments with phones as travel passes (Springwise)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Nearly $1 Millon Spent on Take-Home Cars During Budget Crises


Back in March, I PARPed (page 2) -- or FOIAed -- Metro about take-home vehicles.

You can read about some of those here and here.

What's missing in the Examiner articles is the comprehensive view of how Metro was spending your money on these cars.

Here's a near complete list (and here) of Metro's take-home car fleet.

If you don't want to scan the entire list, here's one little takeaway that might be of interest:

Metro spent nearly $1 million on 39 2010 model cars, many costing nearly $30,000. This was during a period when the "Authority" pleaded poverty and raised fares--twice.

Three more 2010s are leased at $500 per month, said Metro.

The average yearly maintenance cost for the fleet: $545 per car, said Metro.

According to the information provided by Metro, there are also 28 officials in the Metro Transit Police Department that get take-home cars. No make, year and price information for those was provided.

In all honesty, I don't pretend to know what Metro positions really "require" take-home cars (and here and here). I'm sure some do, and some don't.

One interesting footnote to this story is how sloppy Metro's response to the information request is.

They provided a list of 89 positions (not including cops) that get take home cars, but only gave the make and price information for 86 cars. Does that mean three lucky Metro peeps are rollin' in Benzos. Who knows? What are they hiding?

I also asked for information about which of these vehicles had been in accidents in which they were at fault, acting on a tip than a higher up had totaled two Metro cars in a relative short time. Metro balked, saying it would cost me $1,396 to cover the man hours needed to provide that information because "this request would exceed 100 pages."

So they won't provide information the public has every right to know for $1,396, but they will freely spend on 2010 Ford Explorers.

Bra-vo Metro.

Another interesting footnote to the story is that the day after the Examiner story came out, Metro finally provided me with the information I'd requested 6 months ago.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Is Metro Stealing?

Metro steals from us every day with ludicrous fares, but the story below reminds me of this.

I wonder if Metro is banking on a certain percentage of people just not bothering to get their money back.

Have you been ripped off by Metro in ways other than sky-high fares?

From Sarah:
On Sept. 7, I was on my way to work at the Silver Spring station around 6:15-6:20 in the morning. My SmarTrip card was empty, so I went to fill it up using one of the machines.

I had no cash, so I tried to use my credit card to add $20. I noticed the machine was taking a really long time to process the transaction. Eventually, it said “unable to process transaction.”

So I figured that particular machine wasn’t accepting credit cards and that the transaction hadn’t gone through. My SmarTrip still indicated it had a balance of $0.

I went around to the other side of the station to use a different machine and got the same error, but this time it was clear I wasn’t the only one having this problem – no one could get their credit/debit cards to load money onto a SmarTrip.

Every machine gave the same error – “unable to process transaction.” Again, my SmarTrip indicated that the balance was $0.

I gave up, and went across the street to CVS to use the ATM so I could put $20 in cash on my SmarTrip. I was a little late for work and irritated, as usual, at Metro’s inability to keep their machines running. But whatever, it wasn’t my worst experience with Metro.

Well, two days later I checked my bank account, and guess what? Two $20 charges on my account for Silver Spring station!


Somehow the “unable to process transaction” error translated to “we’re taking your money, but not putting it on your SmarTrip card.”

I was furious.

I called WMATA customer service. The woman checked my card, said that there hadn’t been any activity. (No sh*t, considering no money ever made it on my SmarTrip.) and I’d have to call Metro’s Credit and Debit Office.

I’ve called this office at least ten times in the last week DURING NORMAL WORK HOURS, and no one has ever answered the phone. The answering machine picks up every time.

The message gives no indication of their hours. You would think that calling periodically between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. that someone would eventually answer the phone.

I’ve left several messages, but obviously with Metro’s stellar customer service, no one has gotten back to me. I’m not sure who to contact next.

I’ve reached the end with Metro. I’ve dealt with rude station managers, constantly late trains, filthy compartments, and a generally mismanaged system almost every day for the last two years.

But essentially stealing my money is the last straw.

I will be driving to work indefinitely, and until I get some kind of response from Metro in an attempt to right this situation, they will not get another dime of my money.

Has anyone else had a similar experience? Does this Credit and Debit Office actually exist or is it a facade to placate angry customers?

Also wondering if any other readers were at Silver Spring last week and had the same problem?
Other items:
Metro execs get company cars (Examiner)
Alexandria to ask Metro to change King St. to King St.-Old Town (Gazette)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Anyone Else Witness the Woodley Park Brawl?

From Dawn:
It was around 10:40 p.m. or so.

The Red Line train toward Glenmont pulled up (I was waiting for Shady Grove) when all of a sudden, I heard a lot of yelling and saw a large group of teenagers (maybe 20 or so, guys and girls) running around.

At first, it just seemed like a large group had just come off the train and were being loud, but I then realized that at least two guys were fighting right by the escalator. They continued fighting and moving around the other side of the escalator.

The group cheered them on and were also running around the fighters to watch. They were also running up and down the escalators to watch from above.

They never seemed to move past the area around the escalator. I was closer to the entrance of the tunnel.

The whole thing lasted around 2 minutes, although it seemed much longer.

Finally, my train finally showed up, and I hopped on. When the doors closed, I could still hear all the commotion, so I assume they were still going at it when my train left.

One guy, who was waiting nearby, got on his phone and moved behind a column to make a call so I assumed he was calling 911, but I'm not sure.

I wanted to call, but honestly (and I feel embarrassed about this), I was afraid to be spotted by any of the teens.
Other items:
Metro employees take home vehicles (Examiner)

Monday, September 12, 2011

SmarTrip Pilot Invite Confuses, Angers

Photo: mr_t_in_dc; shop: Andrew

Several people have written about the following email that was sent out to some Metro customers:
Begin forwarded message:

Date: August 31, 2011 1:46:47 AM EDT
Subject: Pilot Invitation

To SmarTrip® Account Holder

You have been randomly selected to participate in a pilot of several new system functions.

We sincerely regret to inform our MTA customers that the MTA system does not yet support these new functions.
We apologize for any inconvenience this might cause our MTA customers.

These functions will enable you to use your credit card to purchase stored value and passes for your SmarTrip® card.
You will also be able to save your credit card information to use for future purchases, and to print detailed receipts.

The next time you log in to your SmarTrip® account, you will see several new links on your account pages. For example, on the page with the header "View Card Summary", you will see the following changes:

- A shopping cart icon on the left side of the screen
- A new group of links under the heading "Online Purchases" on the upper right section of the screen; and
- Within the text in the middle of the screen, there are links to "Add value" and "Add Pass".

Please take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the new functions, and the steps that you will need to follow to load your purchases onto your SmarTrip® card.

These new features are intended to make it more convenient for you to manage the balances on your cards and avoid the lines at ticket vending machines.

We encourage you to take advantage of these new features. If you have questions, or experience any problems when using these new features, please contact the Regional Customer Service Center at 1-888-762-7874.

Your SmarTrip® Account Team
From Rachel:
Great email from Metro last night.

Paragraph 1: I'm invited to join a pilot to test new functions.

Paragraph 2: Those functions are not yet available and they are sorry. Wait, what? Then why are you sending me this? Is this a joke?

Paragraph 3: Oh wait! Yes they are available! And finally, I learn what the aforementioned (twice) functions are.

What PR person wrote this? It's terribly written, confusing, and doesn't even contain a link to the website they are trying to get me to use.

Metro should not be surprised if this pilot fails.

Awesome as always!
From Scott:
Metro has selected me to participate in a pilot program dealing with (I think) Metro card purchases on line. The explanation is enough for me never to attempt to use the service, as the WMATA email does a very poor job of explaining what the new features are. Also, wouldn't it been more appropriate for Metro to ask me if I wanted to participate?

Also this line, "We sincerely regret to inform our MTA customers that the MTA system does not yet support these new functions. We apologize for any inconvenience this might cause our MTA customers." is so f'ing out of place - as they are offering me these services.

A good gesture, but lousy execution.
From James:
Wait, is this a Metro program or an MTA program? Are the new features available or not? Where do I go? Is this a cut and paste job? Did anyone give this a second read? Why are we paying hundreds of thousands dollars to the staff of Metro's communications team when they can't even put together a basic email?

We apologize for our fail.
Other items:
Metro workers receive pay raise this week (Examiner)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Rider Hall of Shame: Abominable Metroman

From anonymous

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Plainclothes Cops Reduced Dramatically, Pissed

Remember that great WMATA success story in which an enterprising, plainclothes Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) detective read about a pervert on the blog and planned and carried out a successful take down?

Well, stings like that are increasingly unlikely.

Unsuck DC Metro has learned Metro has drastically reduced its plainclothes patrols giving former plainclothes cops, uniformed patrol duties. The move has pissed off the plainclothes cops and demoralized even more of the force.

A source on the force who is not a plainclothes cop said "this just makes everyone else feel like we're PR cops and nothing more. It's getting harder and harder to do our job."

The plainclothes cops were only on the buses--about 20 officers, said another source on the force.

"Of course they are pissed because they put in to go to that unit because it has always been a plainclothes unit," the source said. "This is upper management's way of 'saying' police presence has been increased. It is simply robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Here's what another source familiar with the MTPD had to say:
I have to assume MTPD’s brain trust figured people (passengers, Board of Directors, politicians) would be more pleased to see more uniformed officers out there. Criticism of Taborn for taking this “make ‘em happy” approach would be only partly justified--as everyone knows, they need more officers.

Law enforcement geniuses will argue endlessly among themselves about how to strike the right balance between uniformed presence vs. plain clothes officers catching people in the act.

One entry level police officer costs WMATA about $100K per year. Add a million dollars onto the budget, you get 10 more officers out there. I think it’s worth, but politics is a beast.

Reducing the plainclothes patrols could be seen as robbing Peter to pay Paul, but some would say that it's robbing Paul to pay Peter. It’s not an easy problem.
Other items:
Metro's computers can't handle student passes (Examiner)
PIDs coming to bus stops (Examiner) Promises better Nextbus (WaPo)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Buses Skip Stops, Avoid Paying Customers

Abysmal bus service.

From Sarah:
Just writing to find out if this is a common and/or acceptable circumstance.

While waiting for the 90 or 92 running south in the mornings on multiple occasions I have been passed up by the Metrobus driver.

It is understandable for a driver to do this when there is another, less full bus traveling a few minutes behind, but this has also happened when NextBus shows the next one not coming for 20 minutes.

(Sidenote: If the driver would take the time to instruct people to move back there would be room for additional passengers. Once, I asked a driver to request passengers move back but he ignored me, but that is another issue altogether.)

When I was passed by the other day, the driver stopped to let people off at a corner one block away from the next stop so she would not have to let the waiting passengers at that stop board.

I have been a passenger on the bus when this is done as well. The driver gives riders a heads up that she will not stop at the marked spot but they should get ready to get off quickly so others cannot run toward the bus from the next stop in attempt to get on.

Have others encountered this? Is it acceptable WMATA procedure?
Other items:
The new, new escalator plan (Fox5)
Bus driver violently tosses man off bus (via Access the DMV)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Emergency Intercom Failures Explained?

Photo: nevermindtheend

A PR stunt aimed to make riders feel safer may have inadvertently made riding Metro more dangerous, according to two Metro sources.

We already know that bellying the 1000-series cars in the wake of the Red Line crash was for show. Putting them in the middle of trains does nothing to increase safety as anyone with simple understanding of physics would know. Those cars are apt to accordion on impact no matter where they are in the train.

But there was an unanticipated problem with mixing 1000-series cars in with the others.

Apparently, the emergency intercoms of the 1000s don't work well in mixed trains said two Metro sources. Specifically, from the 1000 car back, in many cases, there is often no ability to communicate with the operator via the emergency intercom because of an incompatibility glitch.

For example, in a 6000-6000-1000-1000-3000-3000-5000-5000 train, riders in the last four cars might not be able to communicate with the operator because of the glitch.

Both sources said the issue is sporadic, noting the intercoms don't fail every time, but they also added that the problem is widespread. They both confirmed Metro management has known about the problem for over a year, but nothing has been done to fix the issue.

Maybe this explains why there have been so many complaints from riders about not being able to contact the train operator in emergencies.


Other items:
Yet more on the new Metro map (WaPo)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Scary Red Line Pranks?

Has anyone else experienced this?

From J:
This incident scared the living daylights out of those of us on board. You could call it a morning heart attack.

It was on the Red Line between Brookland and Rhode Island Ave. heading toward Shady Grove. It was between 8:30 and 9 Wednesday morning in what seemed like a rush-hour commute.

To my joy and delight, the car I was on wasn’t overly crowded, and things were quiet, which made it even more disturbing when someone who was NOT the train operator (the voice was completely different) got on the train’s intercom and began screaming, “Oh my god! We’re going too fast! I can’t stop. I can’t stop!”

Startled, I looked up from my book and looked around. Other passengers were also startled, but we soon realized it wasn’t an emergency and probably some kind of prank.

The train continued to run smoothly, though the next times the real train operator made announcements, he acted as though nothing happened. Needless to say, my heart didn’t stop racing until I was off the train.
From Z:
I was traveling on a Red Line train in the direction Shady Grove Tuesday morning on my way to work when the train operator came over the loudspeaker a minute or two before arriving at the NY Ave. stop to shout, "I can't stop, can't stop, can't stop!" in what I assume he thought was a hilarious joke.

Needless to say, neither I nor any of the other passengers in the car were amused in the slightest.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Been to Bizarro Land?

From CS:
On a recent Friday, the western end of the Orange Line turned into Bizarro Land, with trains running backwards in what one long-time rider said was the most unusual thing he’d seen in 25 years on Metro.

The episode also featured what seemed to be at least dissembling, if not outright lying, by Metro, and showed once again that despite its big talk, Metro still hasn’t learned how to communicate with riders when something goes wrong.

Here’s how it went down:

Just short of Dunn Loring, my Vienna-bound train came to a halt. After about 10 minutes of sitting there, the operator came on, saying something about a disabled train. Vienna and Dunn Loring were closed, she said, and we were returning to West Falls Church, which we had just left.

That sounded odd – two stations closed because of a disabled train?

So the driver walked through the cars to the opposite end of the train, and we reversed course, heading for WFC, going inbound on the outbound track.

As we approached WFC, another train was headed outbound to Vienna, on the inbound track. It was an interesting sight, watching two trains pass by each other, moving in the wrong direction.

On the ride back to WFC, visions of an hour-long wait for the shuttle bus popped into my head. The operator said nothing about what we should expect upon arrival.

Up and down the car, the cells phones were humming, as riders broadcast the news to their rides, dates, etc.

Then, Metro miracle of miracles – after I had become resigned to losing my entire Friday evening to Metro hell, and just as our backward journey to WFC ended, the operator said we would reverse course again and resume our journey to Vienna. No need to do anything but sit still! And so we did, relieved, if not perplexed.

That was the bizarro part.

Next came the suspicious part, as reported by the Ms., who had been trying to get home earlier. For her, it turned into a three-offload commute (which, alas, was not her first). On the first leg of her trip, she got offloaded on the Red Line at Dupont Circle. After finally transferring to the Orange Line and reaching WFC, she got offloaded again. “Mechanical problems,” the operator said, even though there had been no evidence of anything amiss to that point.

Along came another Vienna-bound train. The offloadees piled on. Scarcely had the doors closed when, with no explanation, they were told to offload again. So they piled off once more. Next up, they hopped on my train, which was completing the return leg of its round-trip to almost-Dunn Loring. By this time, tempers were running hot. As the offloadees streamed onto my train, one of them did that incredibly rude thing where people take up residence at the doors and proceed to read a book. A shoving match broke out, and one guy went flying out the doors to fall face-first on the platform. I didn’t see how it ended.

Regular Orange Line riders will tell you that Metro seems to have been making an increasing practice of terminating trains at WFC, presumably so they can head to the nearby Metro barn. While this hasn’t happened to me, it’s a regular occurrence for the Ms. I can’t prove it, of course, but I suspect that Metro wasn’t coming clean Friday about those two WFC offloads. I think, as did my 25-year-rider seatmate, that Metro was just pulling the trains off the line, and there weren’t really any “mechanical problems.” Bolstering this theory is that last Friday was the start of a WFC-East Falls Church weekend shutdown for track work, and this incident happened only hours before the start of that project.

Finally comes the communication part. Not once through this sequence of events did anyone from Metro explain what was going on. I still don’t know why we pulled up short of Dunn Loring, and I never got any e-mail alerts on the problem at all.

We did finally get to Vienna. But before we pulled in, as so often happens, we had to wait for the platform to clear of other trains. So much for Vienna being closed.

Anyone else experienced a journey to Bizarro Land?
Other items:
Another Metro suicide (Examiner)
DC drivers ranked worst (WTOP)
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