Friday, June 29, 2012

Happy Fare Hike!

Starting Sunday, Metro fares are going up yet again.

A fare hike would certainly be more palatable if accompanied by a commensurate rise in Metro performance, but I just haven't seen that with past fare hikes.

Will the new fares change your Metro usage, or will you just grin and bear it?

Oh, and if you were hoping an increased federal transit benefit might take the edge off, you can forget about that.

Previous fare increases:
Feb. 28, 2010
August, 2010

At the current rate, you have to think another hike won't be far off.

Note: I'll be off next week. Happy 4th and keep your stories coming.

Other items:
Will federal oversight make a difference? (Examiner) Here's the legislation. Relevant language starts at page 313.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Who Gives Delay Estimates?

Metro rarely advertises delays of longer than 15-20 minutes, but a lot of the time the delays are, in fact, much longer.

I asked one source, a front line employee, about where those estimates come from.
No one out here gives estimates. I really do not have a clue whose ass those numbers come from. They are coming from people who are not working on the line in any capacity. Not us, not OCC. I am guessing PR.
Another source agreed with this, adding "the gap between what's really going on and what the downtown people think is going on is huge."

What were the actual delays on the Red Line last night? Twitter traffic indicated they were significantly longer than 20 minutes.

In general, are the delays you experience significantly longer than what Metro advertises? I know they are for me.

Other items:
Interesting WMATA debate (CSPAN)
Group plans to protest fare hikes today (Facebook)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Where are the Police?

Friday before last, I was heading home from Federal Center SW around 6:30 p.m. The station was pretty quiet, but I walked up toward the front of the platform where I usually get on the first car. There was a man with a cast on his leg and a cane waiting there as well.

As the train pulled in, I let him go on first. It was obvious that he was having a hard time and was in pain.

I took a left inside the first set of doors and sat down on one of the back-facing seats next to the operator's cabin in the little walled off area, and zoned out.

A few seconds later, I could tell something was brewing in front of me. I turned off the music only to hear a fairly normal looking middle aged woman in the first row of seats facing me hurling incredibly obscene abuse at the man with the cane.

The seats on the other side of the aisle were occupied, and he needed the leg room for his bad leg, so he was asking the woman to move her bag from one of the seats so that he could sit. She was refusing despite he pleas.

As the train pulled out of Federal Center, he was still standing. It was obvious he was exasperated and getting very angry that the woman would not move her bag.

She continued to insult him in every way possible, even going so far as to say he was faking his injury and calling him a sick pervert.

Finally, as the train sat for about five minutes in the tunnel on the way to L'Enfant, the two women on the other side of the aisle realized what was going on and moved.

The man with the cane hobbled over and with a very relieved look on his face, plopped down. I thought it was the end of the story.

But the abusive woman continued to insult him--really mean stuff about his looks, how he was dirty and a liar.

Politely at first, he told her to be quiet. She continued to harass him. He raised his voice and asked her to please stop. She continued and even took out a baby wipe to disinfect her bag "because he'd touched it."

Finally, he said "if you say one more thing, you're going to be sorry." You could tell he was about to boil over.

She called him a liar and continued to clean her bag and berate him.

He then stood up, yelled at her to shut, and drew his can up over his head like someone might do with an axe and took two steps toward her.

For a second, I thought he was going to bash her head in. It was a very tense moment.

I braced myself for the worst, but instead, he slammed the cane down hard on the bag she wouldn't move and told her that she was a horrible person.

She continued to lambast him as he hobbled off.

Mind you, it had been about 10 minutes since we'd left Federal Center, and we were not yet in L'Enfant. She then began to start in with me. Then she said something about her shoe size, which is finally when it dawned on me that she was very mentally ill.

When the train pulled into L'Enfant, I stepped out, and told the operator that he should call transit police. He said he'd seen what had happened and had called them.

I was relieved.

At Smithsonian, no cops. At Federal Triangle, no cops, At Metro Center, no cops. At McPherson Square, no cops. At Farragut West, no cops. At Foggy Bottom, no cops. At Rosslyn, no cops. At Court House, no cops. At Clarendon, no cops.

Finally, at Virginia Square, the woman who'd insulted pretty much everyone in the car the whole way, got off.

When we got to East Falls Church, where I get off, I asked the operator what had happened. He said he'd called the cops and shrugged his shoulders.

After I realized how ill the woman was, it was clear she did not present a physical threat to other riders, but she certainly was putting herself in a lot of danger as her illness was not readily apparent.

For a moment there, I thought she was going to get beaten up or worse, and I think it was only a matter of time until someone else took real offense at her insults.

I wonder if the operator even called the police, and if he did, I wonder why the cops didn't at least come to assess the situation.

Other items:
DC looking at private firms to run buses, streetcars (Examiner)
McDonnell presses Loudon to OK Dulles rail (Examiner)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How Long until Someone Falls off a Crowded Platform?


From Rob, who says he has an M.S. in safety management and "16-plus years of experience in addressing safety and health issues, dealing with a wide variety of public safety issues on a daily basis."

This was addressed to Metro customer service.
I wanted to alert you to a troubling situation on the Red Line [yesterday] morning, where my personal safety as Metrorail rider was compromised. An overcrowded Metro train experienced mechanical difficulties and was offloaded at Dupont Circle, quite possibly the smallest platform in the system.

Here is the troubling part. The escalator at the top was still operational with hundreds more passengers being forced by the moving escalator onto the already overcrowded platform.

I (and several dozen other passengers) almost were pushed off and onto tracks after the train experiencing mechanical difficulties left the station. I believe this is a very serious safety situation that Metro needs to address immediately.

I expressed my concerns, in a pretty vehement manner (as I was understandably upset when my own personal safety is threatened), to a Metrorail employee who told me he would have me arrested! (He stated I touched him, and I never did.).

I suggested that the train should have been offloaded at a larger platform, and he told me that Metro “did not know” that the train was experiencing mechanical difficulties. Say what!?!

As a 16-plus year Metrorail rider, I could tell several stations prior that the train was having mechanical problems (It was starting/stopping “herky-jerky” style.).

This situation was totally avoidable and very troubling—especially in light that the three-year anniversary of Metrorail’s worst passenger accident was just last week.
Other items:
Barry ends opposition to street cars (Examiner)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Rush+ Avoidance Guide

Riders aren't the only ones who don't like Rush+. Metro sources tell me a lot of front line employees aren't big fans either.

The reason? One employee said in an email "I think Metro really screwed up counting how many people ride the Blue Line." Another said that has led to Blue Line riders "piling up" from Metro Center to Rosslyn. This has led to offloads because of overcrowding. This reduces already reduced capacity and cascades problems onto the Orange Line.

They called Rush+ a "clusterf*ck."

Yet another said, "I don't know why Metro promised such a big deal when they were just robbing Peter to pay Paul. They set everyone up to be disappointed."

Have you found any tips to avoid Rush+? Share them in the comments.

Here's Metro's tip:

Via @KittiesSleeping: @wmata @unsuckdcmetro this is a joke right? Do you people even ride the metro? tried this, doesn't work.

Other items:
Metrobus stabbing (WaPo)
NTSB head opines on Metro (WMAL)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Three Years Later: Are there Any Silver Linings?

It has been three years since Metro killed nine and injured 80 at Ft. Totten. The event has remained a huge cloud over the transit authority.

Over these past years, there has been a lot of Metro news, nearly all of it negative. There have also been a lot of promises and self promotion about how things are getting better.

To Metro's credit fatalities and are down, but there have been A LOT of close calls, and there is still no meaningful oversight.

Have you seen anything change for the better at Metro three years after its worst day?

Other items:
Excellent Toles cartoon slams Rush+ (WaPo)
Final lawsuits filed in wake of crash (Examiner)
VA withholds NoVa transit money (Examiner)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Communications Still Failing

Via Jessica

Amid all the hoopla surrounding the apparent failure of Rush+, another Metro problem continues to chug along with no remedy in sight--poor communication with riders.

Sure, the Metro Twitter feed has been better when it's not being snarky, but riders using Twitter represent a small percentage of overall Metro users.

Even on Twitter, the information is often misleading:

From Anna (with WMATA cc'ed):
I thought everyone was focused on communicating better with passengers! What on Earth happened on the Red Line [yesterday] morning? I was late in getting into the mess, and there were no alerts on the boards or the WMATA website.

Sorry - I'm not a Twitter user, so only posting info there (if it was done) is useless to me.

Nothing by email, nothing by text, nothing from the station managers - really? We've been talking about this for years, and it's not that hard!

Things go wrong, and I get that, but by 9:30, there should have been some kind of information that everything was a mess. (I was standing on the platform then, so no help for me, but still.)

There's a transit cop stationed at Dupont, yet no one told passengers things were a disaster until you had gone through the fare gates.

And, of course, you had to be charged to leave to prevent people from giving up and taking cabs or walking.

At a station with only one working exit that's insane and ridiculous. I'm not sure I could have gotten off the platform back near the entrance.

When I schedule meetings before 11 a.m. as "WMATA willing," you know the system has issues.

From Rachel:
Undoubtedly, I am convinced that you have heard about [yesterday] morning's disaster on the Red Line. My daily commute is from Grosvenor/Strathmore to Dupont Circle.

Here's the gist:

[8:30 a.m.]: Arrive at Grosvenor/Strathmore Metro station. See way, way too many people on platform. Finally check, notice trains are single-tracking between Van Ness and Dupont Circle. Groan and roll my eyes, but stay positive -- website indicates only 15-20 minute delays.


[10:20 a.m.]: Arrive in Bethesda. Have made it approximately 1.5 miles in almost two hours. Have had better days.

[10:25 a.m.]: Still holding in Bethesda. Finally, conductor has the courtesy of informing us as to why we're holding: "Um. There's some sort of emergency downtown. Holding indefinitely." Look up to see I am not the only one who is slightly alarmed. Then ponder the thought process that Metro conductors must have to say "emergency downtown" to people who are tired, hot, agitated and live in the nation's capitol.

[10:35 a.m.]: Finally depart Bethesda.


[11:35 a.m.] Arrive in Dupont Circle.

[11:38 a.m.] Metro has the nerve to charge me $3.90 for a three-hour commute that should have taken no more than 25 minutes.

Shame on you.
Other items:
Another friction ring falls off (WaPo)
Metro cop involved in strange shooting (Examiner)
Can it get any worse? (Examiner)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rush Hour Reinvented

Rush-plussing your world!

Other items:
Metro keeps falling apart (WaPo)
Number of hot cars in "low single digit percentage" (WTOP)
Drinking water is OK today and tomorrow (WMATA)
DC streetcars face new hurdle (Examiner)
Dulles rail faces more hurdles (Examiner)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

State of Denial?

Via @Nemesisgal: Blue line off-loaded at Arlington Cemetary @unsuckdcmetro

This whole thing made me laugh.

From Steven:
I was just starting to like the new WMATA twitter until I saw [their tweet about the crowds at Arlington Cemetery]. I know it's not the end of the world, but really? They can't see? They don't believe there's overcrowding?

I think Metro platform overcrowding is one of the most under reported safety issues there is, and they seem to have their heads in the sand.

Isn't admitting you have a problem the first step in overcoming it?

Step up WMATA. You have a problem that marketing and shuffling a few trains around won't fix.

(Shakes head in disgust.)

Other items:
Silver Line will use old cars initially (Examiner)
McDonnell tries to remove MWAA board member (WaPo)
Navy Yard closing earlier on Saturday (WMATA)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sound Off on Rush+

So the big day is finally here.

After all the hype and $400,000 spent in marketing ("reinventing rush hour," "rush+ing your world") how did Metro do?

Other items:
Metro worker dies from work-related injury (Examiner)
Riders get creative with SmarTrip registration (Examiner)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Service Reptile?

Via Pacific

Other items:
Do you really want to take Metro this weekend? (WMATA)
Emergency exit problems remain (Examiner)
Arlington, Alexandria compromise on transit corridor (WaPo)
Metro thieves sentenced (WJLA)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Perfect Storm Leads to Horrible Injury

Click for larger. It still sucks, but that's what Metro published.

Apparently, Metro has a 50-page report on what happened at the Shady Grove yard late last month when a Metro employee was struck by a train and severely injured.

Metro has made only two pages of that report public, but it would appear they're going to talk about it at the safety and security committee meeting today.

Here's what I've been able to put together based on several Metro sources, two of which were there.

Boiled down, sources say the tragedy was a perfect storm, combining a careless employee and failure by management at the yard to consistently enforce fundamental safety rules.

The employee was struck inside a car washing facility. The area outside the car wash served as an unofficial smoking area for car mechanics because there wasn't an officially designated smoking area for them, sources say.

For the mechanics to leave the smoking area and return to work often required crossing live track. The route through the car wash, which involves entering live tracks, was a commonly used shortcut, sources said.

According to Metro rules, any employee entering live track must request permission. This rule appears to have been loosely enforced at Shady Grove, if at all.

The employee did not request permission to enter a live track area from the yard master, say two sources. But this was a common practice, they said, and management turned a blind eye.

"It was not a good area to have people smoking," said a source. "The way they crossed the tracks like that, it was only a matter of time. No one ever said anything. If you bring stuff up like this at Metro, you risk becoming a black sheep. There's too much go along to get along."

Further complicating the situation was that trains were entering the car wash from the opposite direction from which they normally do. Sources conflict as to how long that had been going on, but all said it was widely known that trains were flowing differently from the norm because of work in the area.

"This guy should have known," said a source.

Adding to chain of events that led to the injury is that the area around the door the mechanic used is a widely known structural blind spot.

Another potential issue is that signs on the door the employee used to enter the car wash, which warned of moving trains inside, had been removed and had not yet been replaced, said a car mechanic at the yard.

"I don't think that's a big deal," said one source.

Once the impact occurred, the employee was dragged 38 feet, according to Metro's own diagram (above).

One source familiar with the case said "we all cannot understand how a train going at less than five miles per hour would have this effect. Even if he stepped into the path of the train, at that speed, he should have been able to either get knocked back or into the pit between the rails. Most of us suspect the train was traveling at a greater speed than five miles per hour."

To add to the horror of the incident, at some point, while the employee was pinned under the train for over an hour as rescue workers tried to free him, "750 volts was energized on the rail he was pinned against," confirmed two sources.

Those there said he "let out a loud deathly scream when the voltage came back up," said a source.

They didn't know if third-rail power was inadvertently restored or was gapped (gapping is when third rail power is dropped in one place, but the train picks it up from another section that hasn't been dropped and bridges the "gap" to re-energize it.) from the rear of the train.

The injured employee remains in critical condition.

After the incident, Metro issued a "safety stand down." I asked a source what that means.

"Considering all the stand downs we've had--nothing," they said.

Sources added that since each new Metro regime comes in with new rules, the rules all pile on top of one another, often conflicting and "after a while you tune them out."

Other items:
Rush+ will force agency to recalibrate on-time metrics/spent $400k on Rush+ PR (Examiner)
Is Red Line graffiti more than vandalism? (WTOP)
Columbia Pike light rail faces hurdles (WaPo)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Metro's Broken Promises

So Metro announced a "revamp" in customer service. Nothing really says "we got nothing" quite like revamp, but let's take a look at what they promised:

First off, the "we're going to improve safety and reliability" meme has been going around the Jackson Graham building forever. Here it is in its 2008 GM Catoe-era form. Sounds positively Sarlesian, doesn't it? Six months after this release, things didn't work out well for Catoe and those killed and injured on the Red Line crash.

Here are the rest of the rejiggering promises:

"More customer service training": Been there in 2004. Remember this from the following year?

"New electronic information displays in Metrorail stations": Sound familiar (2008)?

"Focus on security and youth behavior": They were going to do this in 2009.

Metro also promised "remote temperature monitoring" as part "station improvements," presumably in response to the hot station "phenomenon." Sounds a little bit like the infamous "Operation Cool Breeze," which never happened. No word on remote odor monitoring caused by organic brake pads.

One thing that strikes me about "temperature monitoring" is that like most of Metro's initiatives, it doesn't really scream action.

To be fair, as the press release states, Metro has improved SmarTrip. It was a long, hard struggle to cross into the new millennium, but in 2012, Metro did it. Way to go guys!

(A station manager tells me the SmarTrip card purchase machines (not the fare machines) at the stations won't accept credit or debit cards for the next three weeks because of some kind of computer glitch. The one at East Falls Church only accepts cash for now.)

Of course you'd expect Metro to spin all this stuff, but you'd also expect the "watchdog" media to do a little more digging. Maybe searching Metro's press releases for "customer service" would be a good start.

Yet despite Metro burping up the same old stale stories year after year, and Metro slogging pitifully on with unreliable, unsafe and ever more expensive service, the local media just laps up the Metro press offload as if it's all a done deal. (No offense WJLA, you were just the first to regurgitate Metro's cud.)

The whole thing reminds me of the proverb, "a promise is a comfort for a fool."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rush+: No Problem! We're Metro!

Via Jeff on Facebook: Because nothing helps a car load full of confused tourists like a newly installed metro map that is missing the blue, orange, and yellow line colors! Someone not only approved this to go out, another Metro employee installed it!

In a huge bureaucracy like Metro, no telling how many departments and people this map had to pass through before being placed in a car.

That a map so obviously missing crucial elements made it through all of that is scary and makes you wonder about safety critical stuff, too.

Many of my sources have sent me photos of slipshod work permeating car maintenance, ATC and other critical areas of Metro. Unfortunately, I can't publish them without implicating them, but there's no doubt Metro has a bad case of half-assery (and here).

Oh, and you just gotta love Metro's response, too. Reminds me of the "phenomenon" of Orange Crush.

That's it. The sign just jumped up off the printer, wandered out of the door and "made its way," not onto a Metro car, but onto the Internet. Couldn't be helped. Just happened.

Sneaky map. Maybe it was just bucking for for some paid time off for misbehaving.

Other items:
Safety theater bag searches net no arrests (WTOP)

Monday, June 11, 2012

"None of your G*d D*mn Business"

From Frank:
Dear Mr. Sarles,

On Saturday, June 9th, a WMATA employee illegally parked a WMATA vehicle (number 18020) in a handicap space located in Arlington County at the Virginia Square Metro Station (see attached photos). To be specific, this handicap spot is located on the northern part of North Monroe Street near Fairfax Drive. As the driver of the vehicle got out of his car, I simply asked the gentleman if there was a reason he had parked in a handicap spot. He did not reply. As he was heading toward the elevator, I mentioned that I have a brother who is handicapped and frequently is unable to find handicap parking because people think, "I'll be two minutes" is acceptable. I asked him if he was going to move his car; he stated, "its none of your G-- D--- business".

Aside from his behavior and use of language, I take this very seriously. As stated, my brother is a paraplegic as well as an aunt who is a quadriplegic. For them, it is nearly impossible to find handicap parking because people "run in and run out" leaving their vehicle unattended. A quick two minute stop can mean the difference in them parking or having to look elsewhere.

I highly doubt in the WMATA's operating manual(s) does it allow vehicles to park in handicap spots.

I know as a tax paying citizen in Arlington County, if I were to park in this spot, I would get a ticket.

This is unacceptable to me. In this certain situation, I am not looking for an apology letter from anyone. I believe it to be reasonable for this individual to pay the maximum fine according to the sign. I am also requesting a response as to further disciplinary action(s) that will take place. His behavior and conduct also needs to be addressed.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Other items:
Metro spending $25K to show recruiting video at local theaters (Examiner)
Metro wedding! (PoP)
What happened to DVD vendors in stations? (Examiner)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Headways Out of Hand

Via @lowercasejames: Hey @wmata why are you even open on weekends? ‪#wmata‬

Via R:
I'm a regular Metro rider, and one constant annoyance is the uneven headways on Metro. Why can't Metro maintain "policy headways?"

When I worked for the New York City Transit Authority 25 years ago, we had "gap stations" at which trains would be held until their scheduled departure times. This is important not only to ensure even loading of trains, but also to avoid delays at junctions.

My regular commute involves a trip from the Pentagon to L'Enfant Plaza, where I change to the Green Line and ride two stops to the Navy Yard. The other morning, there must have been some sort of problem, since the platform at the Pentagon was very crowded. A Yellow Line train arrived, and sure enough, some of the crowd couldn't get on.

Behind him in the tunnel, the lights of a Blue Line train were visible. The Yellow Line train departed, the Blue Line arrived and left, and behind him was another Yellow Line train (less than a minute behind). I boarded this train, we headed off for L'Enfant Plaza, and, true to form, were held in the tunnel south of the station for a "Green Line train in the platform."

Now, since the running time from the Pentagon to L'Enfant is known to within a few seconds, why can't the Yellow Line train simply be held briefly so it doesn't arrive at L'Enfant while a Green train is working the platform? This is hardly rocket science.

More to the point, if Metro made more of an attempt to maintain consistent headways across the system, these delays at junctions could be eliminated, train crowding would be reduced, and passengers would have faster trips. (By the way, my trip this morning, involving a bus and two trains, took just over an hour. When I make all the connections, it can take as little as 45 minutes. I should also note that the total distance is 6.5 miles, and takes 15 to 20 minutes by car).

Metro's service quality sucks.

Here's a marker for you. The U.S. government offers a "transit benefit" program -- up to $125 per month to pay for Metro rides, on top of salary.

That's right. We Feds can ride for free.

How many do?

Less than 25 percent of the people in my building even use the transit benefit.
Other items:
Metro may be better at Twitter, but deep down, they just don't care (GGW)
MWAA may get a watchdog (Examiner)
Sarles to Bethesda riders: F you! (Examiner)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Lurching: a Created Danger?

This happens all the time. I've seen people fall, nearly fall and one woman get slammed into a pole.

I'd say the operator announces an impending lurch about one out of five times.

What have you experienced?

From M.:
The other day, I was on an Orange Line train toward New Carrollton, heading to work. The train stopped at Farragut West, and everyone started making a move for the door. This is where a lot of people get off.

Out of nowhere and without warning, the train suddenly jumped forward, throwing people against one another. One poor older woman fell hard to the floor as the contents of her bags scattered all over the place.

People were stunned and trying frantically to grab onto anything.

Then the doors opened, and we all did a double take and those who were getting off did.

The woman who fell looked completely scared, and a kindly man offered her a seat.

I don't think she was injured, but still.

The train couldn't have moved more than a foot or two.

For what?
From JC:
I wrote Metro Customer Service this morning because my girlfriend nearly smashed her face into a pole because the train lurched forward again after it came to a complete stop - after we got up.

I think they're missing my point (especially since they didn't address my point in their response below) that stopping and then lurching is far more dangerous than just being off their stop mark by a few feet.

This is a perfect example of bureaucracy placing an arbitrary rule above common sense.

They should just teach drivers (or have drivers skilled enough) to stop within a few feet (give or take) of the mark, and if they're within that zone, just stay there. I can see if they miss it by twelve feet, but having a train begin to move beneath your feet as you begin to stand and move is REALLY dangerous.

It's very real danger they've CREATED. I'm not sure what freak accident they're avoiding by pulling up that extra three feet avoids, but I'm sure the chances of it are minuscule.

Instead, Metro is putting riders at risk of injury every day.
Metro's response to JW:
Thank you for contacting WMATA's Rail Transportation Customer Service Department and sharing your Metrorail experience with us. Metro sincerely regrets the negative experience you have encountered while riding our rail system. Your complaint has been registered and made available for review. Due to trains being manually operated the rail operators must pull both six and eight car trains to the front of the platform to ensure they are birthed properly at the same time, our operators are instructed to ensure the safety of passengers at all times. It is our procedure that rail operators make an announcement to the passengers that the train will move. We are listening to our customers and will continue to strive to provide reliable service. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us as your comments help us to identify where additional improvements are needed.
I've written about this issue before. Basically, the operators are afraid of getting dinged for being off a few feet, so they inch the train up. The Tri-state Oversight Committee offered their take, but after being jolted many times by trains inching up, I'm not sure the means justify the ends.

Other items:
Bravo! Metro opens emergency door, Stessel masterful as ever (Examiner)
Aiports authority drops labor agreement for Silver Line (WaPo)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


I understand Metro's need to get information out about Rush+. It's going to confuse a lot of people.

But making these very slick, and no doubt expensive, five-panel brochures seems over the top for a transit agency that's perennially "broke."

Couldn't this information just have been put on a regular piece of paper?

Then there's the Rush+ marketing one reader called "asinine."

Metro's even ponied up the dough for yet another survey about Rush+ marketing and promotion.

And they're raising fares--again.

At least the fancy brochures are good as stylish and very expensive coasters:

Via @citygirldc: Hello @wmata. Had a great idea for your new brochure: bar coasters. And yes, I'd love a job in your marketing dept.

Other items:
They're playing with our lives (WaPo)
Man fatally shot at Southern Ave. bus bay (WaPo)
Metro secretary sues over religious discrimination (Examiner)
Officials spar over NOVA transit money (Examiner)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Another Point of View on Broken Escalators

Via @ Graffiti on the metro. "What's going on here? Sheer incompetence!"

This is from a group of private escalator and elevator contractors with skin in the game, but since we usually only ever hear Metro's side via their massive PR machine and much of the local media, I think it's fair to hear the other side as well. Remember how Metro handles escalator problems.

What do you think?
Metro elevators and escalators are often in the news but never for the right reasons.

Decisions were made years ago for WMATA to maintain 100 percent of Metro's elevators and escalators by WMATA's own mechanics. This is the primary reason for today's dire state of repair. Decisions are again being made that will either signal WMATA's decision to recover the public's trust and safety or to continue down a road to even less dependable elevators and escalators. WMATA needs to ultimately put 100 percent of the elevator and escalator maintenance out to bid to private contractors.

Recently, WMATA showed an interest in making a shift to private contractors as they were accepting proposals to maintain approximately 250 elevators and escalators. The request has devastatingly changed to around only 80 units. This represents a small fraction of the total number of elevators and escalators in the Metro system and is not an acceptable start to correcting this vexing problem.

The reasons for the continued reliance on Metro's own mechanics is clear - more jobs and bigger budgets.

WMATA currently has over 200 full time positions dedicated to the Elevator/Escalator maintenance program and maintain availability rates of around 85 percent. Prior to the early 90s, private contractors took care of all of Metro's elevators/escalators with fewer than 70 mechanics and frequented 97 percent availability.

Private contractors performed better with less manpower while costing riders and taxpayers less.

When private contractors work for WMATA they are given incentives for proper performance and disincentives for poor performance. Contractors who repeatedly perform poorly get replaced. Financial incentives are given to contractors for escalator reliability over 90 percent and elevator availability for over 97 percent. These are benchmarks that WMATA's own mechanics will never obtain and honestly, they have no incentive to do so. WMATA mechanics are handicapped by a number of factors that will prevent them from ever performing as well as private contractors regularly do.

Mechanics for private contractors that don't perform get fired. Big Incentive. Mechanics for WMATA that don't perform keep working. No incentive. Additionally, WMATA mechanics under the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) contract have what is called a “pick system.” Every six months senior mechanics get to pick the stations they work in while displacing less senior mechanics that have potentially worked hard to keep their units running. This leads to a culture of unmotivated senior mechanics that rotate from station to station while removing incentives for mechanics that have a desire to perform well.

Private contractors have no seniority and no “pick system.” The best jobs go to the most qualified and hardworking people.

These qualified mechanics work for the companies that research, develop, design, build, install, service/repair and maintain all of the elevators and escalators around the world. Before working on elevator and escalators in the field, each mechanic completes a nationally recognized elevator/escalator education program, the National Elevator Industry Education Program (NEIEP.) This is the elevator/escalator education program that 100 percent of the contractors who design, build and install elevator and escalators in the USA rely upon.

Years ago WMATA started its own elevator and escalator training program. WMATA probably told us something about how “Metro escalators” are different than in the mall or airport because some are really long. Well no, no they’re not. There are many different manufactures and various different installations of escalators across the country but there are also people trained to work on them. In fact, there are about 1,200 people who do this work in the metro DC area everyday.

WMATA's training program is on timeout right now. Why? We don't know. But don't worry they are going to get it started again. Along with this comes a need to hire more staff and increase budgets. This will be the next official “solution” to fix Metro's elevators and escalators. What have they been doing for the past 20 years? Let's now offer job advancement to ATU members and train them to be entry-level elevator and escalator mechanics. We'll just throw some more money and more members at it and “one day” the problems will go away. Magic!

Let's not, the NEIEP training program is privately funded, provides results and already has a workforce in place.

WMATA has a prolonged history of continuing to present the next big “solution.” They started with an availability rate of up to 97 percent and gave us a “solution” of creating an elevator and escalator maintenance department for their ATU members. Now we frequently have less that 85 percent reliability and numerous high profile accidents.

WMATA then has a “solution” called increased staffing. More jobs and bigger budgets but of course without better results.

WMATA again has a “solution” named capital improvement. The public is told that parts are unavailable and therefore elevators and escalators need to be replaced. Interpret this as an inability to keep their elevators and escalators in good working order from a lack of proper maintenance and a lie as elevator and escalator parts are readily available from numerous sources.

WMATA uses capital improvement as an opportunity to bring in private contractors to install new or to refurbish units where they have failed to maintain them. This is nothing more than an attempt to get the public off their backs for a while as they are throwing a bunch of money at their mistakes and promise that “one day” the problems will all be solved. Magic!

After private contractors finish rebuilding Metro's elevators and escalators the cycle will repeat. Poor maintenance, reduced product life-cycle, more excuses and expense for the public. Not a solution.

Over 1,200 experienced mechanics are employed in this area and are immediately available to go to work properly maintaining and repairing Metro's elevators and escalators. This is the only real solution.

Do we want WMATA do continue to hire people who are guaranteed a job for life in a department with a losing track record? Do we want to be told about more “solutions” on top of past “solutions” when we have already seen the success produced when private contractors took care of WMATA's elevators and escalators?

We encourage the WMATA board and General Manager Sarles to do the right thing and increase the amount of elevator and escalator maintenance that is going out to bid to private contractors. The “next solution” propaganda needs to stop and Metro needs real solutions with real results. It's time to again have qualified elevator and escalator mechanics maintaining Metro's elevators and escalators.
Other items:
More fraud, waste and abuse (WTOP)
Metrobus use surges, rail lags (Examiner)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Bad Radios Strike Again

Metro's dysfunctional radio system contributed to the death of two Metro workers and the derailment of a train, according to National Transportation Safety Board reports released Friday.

In the death of two Automatic Train Control workers on Jan. 26, 2010, the NTSB concluded the following:
Had the Operations Control Center (OCC) operators provided the crew of striking hi-rail vehicle 15802 with the cell phone number of the first automatic train control technician and instructions to coordinate their work, the accident could have been prevented.
The cell phone number the NTSB refers to is a PERSONAL cell phone number, sources said.

Sources within Metro say that in many cases, the PERSONAL cell phones are the primary means of communications because the radio system is so bad.

Metro has a multimillion dollar radio system that doesn't work, and they are depending on personal cell phone coverage, in many cases, for the safety of their employees. That had disastrous results that January night at Rockville.

Screwed up radios also played a role in the Farragut North derailment, according to the NTSB, which concluded "the probable cause of the accident was the train operator's failure to follow proper operating procedures, which resulted in her operating the train past a red signal and over the interconnected derail."

But when you read the details, poor communications surely added significantly to a very stressful situation in which an operator, who'd been out on worker's comp for nine years, had their decisions clouded by spotty communications with OCC.

Here's what the NTSB had to say:
The operator of train 641 stopped the train and called the OCC for permission to proceed, as required. However, the operator experienced difficulty communicating with the OCC; she reportedly was "calling and calling and calling." Moreover, the train operator reported that she heard the OCC controller respond to train 156, but the radio messages were garbled and she could not understand the instructions.
The bottom line:
Radio records show communications between the OCC controllers and various train operators. Radio transmissions from train 156 to the OCC were weak and garbled at times. The operator of train 156 had a train-mounted radio and a portable radio; neither radio was reported to be malfunctioning.
According to several sources within Metro, the radio problems are only getting worse.

Time and time again, EVERY SINGLE Metro worker I talk to says the radios (here, here and here) cause or compound all the delays, accidents--everything. They can't communicate among themselves, which makes it hard to communicate with us.

Several employees have said Metro knows the radios are wired incorrectly yet management does nothing about it. Specifically, the wires don't have the capacity to handle the information passing through them.

"It's like trying to suck a golf ball through a garden hose," said one employee.

Said another, "It doesn't make sense to rely on personal cell phones at critical times. How's your personal cell phone coverage in Metro? I bet it's better than Metro's radios. That's not comforting to me."

There's so much in these reports to latch onto, and I recommend anyone with an interest in Metro read them.

For example, in the $9 million collision at the West Falls Church rail yard, the NTSB concluded "the failure of the train operator to control the movement of his train as it approached the standing train, possibly due to his fatigue" was the cause.

Amazingly, despite two killed and millions of dollars in damage, the NTSB issued no recommendations for Metro despite compelling evidence that the faulty radios contributed to two of the three incidents.

Another little tidbit about the reports that may only be of interest to me as a journalist is the timing of their release. As anyone knows, if you want to release bad news, do it on a Friday afternoon. Why the NTSB would, in essence, help Metro by doing that I couldn't say.

Think about that next time you ride.

As the bodies and wreckage pile up, there's still no one watching Metro. Quite the contrary, by issuing damning reports on a Friday afternoon, the NTSB may actually be enabling Metro by shielding it from the spotlight.

Other items:
Metro blocked, locked emergency exits (Examiner)

Friday, June 1, 2012

What would Metro Whiteboards Say?

In a post the other day, a contributor wondered why Metro continues to be unable to provide timely information about service disruptions before riders pass through the fare gates.

One commenter suggested the London Tube model as a possible solution.

In London, most Tube stations have whiteboards, onto which the Tube equivalent of station managers can provide information about service outages, etc. If there are none, they sometimes try their hands at being witty.

One commenter offered suggestions about what a Metro whiteboard would say:
Do Not Disturb

Do Not Disturb
(posted all day)

call 202-637-7000

My number is 555-555-5555
What else might you see on a Metro whiteboard?

Other items:
Metro throws party for itself for taking a year to build a staircase (Patch/Examiner)
Weekend track work: Red, Orange, Green, Yellow, Blue (WMATA)
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