Friday, September 28, 2012

Brand Ambassador

Via @MeganBlake: Nice parking job Metro work truck! Not cool. @wmata

So Metro launched yet another, very expensive looking marketing campaign called "Momentum."  Metro won't say what it cost.

The agency is fast becoming a PR firm pushing the idea of transit rather than actually moving people around in an efficient, safe and economical way. It's like they're in campaign mode full-time now.

But thanks to brand ambassadors like the one above, and all of the other Metro high-jinx, none of this incessant campaigning will work. Nor should it ever be needed.

When will Metro learn that good service, a safe ride and polite employees are all the marketing it needs?

Until Metro is accountable from the top to the bottom, I don't think much will change.

As a marketing footnote, Metro was heroic in accepting money from Living Social to stay open for possible late-night, post Nationals game service. I don't think I've ever seen any organization try to glom onto another's good deed quite like Metro did.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Metro Continues to Bleed Parking Revenue

Metro is bleeding between $40,000 and $50,000 a month just on parking meters, a Metro source claims.

The source said the reason is twofold. First, there is not enough enforcement at the lots and second, Metro has tolerated defective meters for the past 10 years and is just now getting around to fixing a problem they've known about for a long time.

"The spent $140,000 within the last few months to fix the old, defective meters," the source said. "You've got two crews working 12-hour shifts seven days a week replacing all the locks in the defective meters. It'll take three to four months to replace them all."

But despite the effort to fix the meters, the source said Metro is "spending good money after bad" because there's little or inconsistent enforcement of parking rules.

"Seventy to 80 percent of those who park in the metered areas just don't pay," the source said. "They know they can get away with it."

Metro parking lot enforcement is a shared obligation between Metro and the jurisdictions. Any revenue generated by parking tickets goes to the jurisdictions, not Metro.

The source lamented that Metro was spending so much money fixing all of the roughly 3,500 meters in the system, saying they're antiquated and that other agencies are using more customer friendly meters that allow credit card payment systems or even payment via smartphone.

"This isn't like the guys who were stealing," the source said. "But it's still a lot of money Metro is losing."

Other items:
Auto load for SmarTrip is now available (WMATA)
Metro launching "Momentum" survey (WaPo)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Do not Question Metro

During yesterday's Orange/Blue meltdown, Metro decided to offload some full trains onto already crowded platforms.

It was confusing for a lot of passengers,  as the trains were heading into the core. I got a lot of email asking why Metro would do something like that.

I thought perhaps there was a good explanation, so I emailed Metro's chief spokesman Dan Stessel saying I'd received a lot of rider questions about it.

Here is the response he gave:

Other items: 
Board member concerned about Metro's lost and found webpage (Examiner)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

VRE Apology Shames Metro

Last week both the VRE and Metro had meltdowns.

Metro's public response, delivered via Dan Stessel, was:
"There's no question this was a very, very difficult morning for Red Line customers. But people could still get where they needed to go." 
VRE's response, delivered by its director of rail operations, was quite a bit better:
First of all, let me apologize to all of you who were caught up in last night's delays on the Manassas Line. It turned into a very long commute for many, and we regret the inconvenience this incident certainly caused. Secondly, I would like to thank all of the passengers, families of passengers, and local law enforcement officers, who offered assistance at both Burke Centre and in Clifton as we were transferring passengers to buses. This was greatly appreciated. 
They then gave quite a few details about what went wrong, named actual people at the organization, and explained what measures were taken to get things moving again.

Finally, and most amazingly, they said they'd reimburse customers who'd taken cabs because of the incident.

Metro, on the other hand, said they'd "rectify" the situation to riders on the Red Line that morning, but I called for a refund and no one from Metro called back as they said they would.  It has been several days.

I've yet to hear from anyone who has gotten any sort of rectification.

Other items: 
Metro still denies fishy brakes (Examiner)
Getting around NOVA in 30 years (WTOP)

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Truth about the Fish Smell?

Anonymous says they wrote the following to Metro:
As the Orange line train entered the station this morning, the smell of rotten fish was overwhelming. The smell was not there prior to the train arriving and stuck with the train for the entire trip. I boarded car 5091 at 8:47 am ET on 9/17/12 at Ballston Station towards New Carrolton.

 I know that Mr. Stessel has stated that the problem is sewage gas leaking into the station, but that is simply not true as the smell comes and goes with trains and lingers on the trains. As UnSuck DC Metro reported, the problem is organic brake pads. Why is WMATA continuing to use the organic brake pads that make riders sick to their stomachs with the horrible smell on the trains and in the stations? Thanks.

Here's the reply they say they got:
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, Sep 18, 2012 at 10:13 AM
To: **********


The fishy odor is the result of organic brake pads. Our stock should be depleted soon. We have selected another manufacturer who does not use that material causing the strong odor. I apologize and thank you for your patience.

Marjorie Strother
Rail Transportation
Customer Service Representative
Case number 732538
Other items: 
Metro adds real-time alerts to planner albeit with bugs (Examiner)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Glimmers of Hope?

From T.:
A few weeks ago, I was on my way to a meeting and attempted to get out of the Metro system via the New York Avenue station. I live in Virginia and am served primarily by the Orange Line (which, for what it's worth, has a whole litany of problems) but I always cringe twice as hard when I find out I need to use the Red Line. This time, the ride went pretty smoothly but I experienced a minor setback when my DumbTrip card balked and asked me to solicit some help from the station manager.


The last time I sought help from a station manager to resolve an unrelated matter, it didn't go well. This time, however, the manager on duty that day in the New York Avenue station could not have been nicer. She promptly recused herself from a conversation with a coworker and opened the kiosk door to ask me what was wrong. Her responses were friendly and she didn't show signs of exasperation, even after I had to go up and bug her again twice more because the card was still so uncooperative. When all was said and done, she smiled, saluted me and wished me a great day. I thanked her profusely and proceeded to go about my business. Had some thoughtless young girl not spilled part of her mocha latte on me as we approached Gallery Place on the way back, it would have been a perfect ride. This is why I keep a spare clean suit in my office.

But, wait, there's more!

After a year and a half of heavy usage, I decided it was time to replace my aging DumbTrip card, given what happened at New York Avenue. It always helps to have a backup on hand (friends don't let friends be seen in public with paper fare cards) and, plus, there's a commuter store right above my home station in Ballston. The woman inside was on the phone when I approached, but she placed the other party on hold when she saw me park myself in front of the glass, which was very refreshing. I've been "placed on in-person hold" more often than I'd like to admit as the person behind the desk prattles away on the phone. She even waived the $0.25 "convenience fee" for me when I told her I didn't have an extra quarter. Class act, madam!

So, station manager and commuter store attendant, I commend you both for reminding me that there's a reason why I use public transportation. I wish I'd have thought to ask for your names so I could sing your praises all over the Internet. As for you, coffee girl, the fact that you were so sincerely apologetic made it impossible for me to hate you. You might be a little clumsy, but it was early and you may have been still waking up. You're probably not a bad person. I still stand by my statement that it's my biggest pet Metro peeve and, since you were actively drinking it while the train was in motion, I'm still not sorry for reporting you to the train operator. I doubt he ended up doing anything about it, anyway.

In closing, the Metro's been straddling the line between maddening and FUBAR for some time now. I've been subjected to countless sardine trains, stuck in a tunnel for nearly an hour and I even came close to getting robbed at L'Enfant once. (Thankfully, the nature of my employment requires that I maintain a permit to carry a concealed weapon. I'm not afraid to smack someone with the butt end of it.) In spite of Metro's shortcomings and caveats, of which there are many, the best I can do is to try to keep an open mind while riding the rails. Sometimes, it pays off.

Other items:
There really isn't anything Metro can't screw up (WaPo)
Group sues Metro for postponing anti-jihad ads (Examiner)
A brief interview with his Sarlesness (FixWMATA)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sarles to Meet Riders?

UPDATE:  Apparently, due to a broken escalator at Rosslyn, the time for Sarles' visit is now 4.

Looks like the Wizard of Sarles reads this blog.

Metro employees tell me the aloof GM is actually, incredibly going to come out from his cave and get out there and rub elbows with the riders who pay his $350,000 salary.

Sources say the Metro honcho will be at Rosslyn later today.

He'll even hold court behind a special table, they say.

Odd thing is, Metro has reallocated manpower to scrub and polish the station for what one employee called "his highness' appearance."

Wish they'd do that for us riders.

"The custodians are scrubbing and mopping the floors,"said one source. "The back steps up to Ft. Myers Dr. were scrubbed spotless. They dropped off a couple scissor jacks today so they can change all the light bulbs in the station as well. I am sure they will have additional fare card techs, ATC techs, etc., around just in case. They are doing way more than needs to be done, and way less than deserves to be on a daily basis."

The GM lives in a bubble it would appear.

The source was not sure what time Sarles would make his first public appearance in some time, but added "someone needs to bust his balls about sh*t that actually matters."

As of print time, the best guess for Sarles' greeting of the unwashed was from noon-2 p.m.

Stand by for updates as they become available.

Like most Metro public meetings, Sarles' appearance comes at an inconvenient time for most riders.

What would you say to boss Sarles if you had the chance?

Other items:
You still got where you needed to go (Examiner)
Replace Metro with goats (WaPo)
New bus maps (GGW)
Rude bus driver (WTOP)
Amputee veteran challenges escalator (VIDEO)
Operator thwarts suicide (Examiner)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

More on 5-second Rule


I've set up a Red Line meltdown thread on Facebook if you'd like to share your story.

Other items:
Nats, Metro still still at impasse (Examiner)
$5 giveaway botched (Examiner)

Monday, September 17, 2012

New Policy Builds in Delays

Via @FixWMATA: On the platform at Takoma. #WMATA cc @kurtraschke

Several readers have reported hearing train operators announce a policy of waiting 5 seconds to open the train doors after pulling into a station.

A Metro source confirms the new policy.

They said the policy was implemented after an operator opened the doors off the platform.

"Instead of dealing with that issue, the company made the new policy," they said.

According the source, operators are now instructed to stick their heads out of the window and, with their hands at their sides, wait 5 seconds to activate the doors.

"The operators are pissed," the source said. "I saw a new supervisor giving operators grief for having their hand on the wall of the train instead of at their side."

The source said the scheduled run times for the trains has not been changed.

Riders will likely be pissed, too.

If it's Yellow...

After all the money spent marketing Rush+ as "rush hour reinvented," Metro is now going to spend even more money directly bribing riders to change up their commuting habits by offering some $5 farecards.

I asked riders if $5 would get them to make the switch to the Yellow Line, and below are the responses.

Other items:
Cell phone coverage completion not until 2015 (Examiner)
Late-night service after Nats games still unresolved (WaPo)
Another triumph regarding SmarTrip (Examiner)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Autumn will Fix AC System

From anon:
Date: Sep 13, 2012 2:05 PM
Ms. xxxxxxxx:
This is a follow-up from our earlier conversation. According to my research, equipment has been reset to cool the lower level of our Crystal City Station, which will do away with the humidity. We will correct the air conditioning system after the summer season is over. Again, thank you for your patience and ridership.
Marjorie Strother
Rail Transportation Customer Service
When responding to this email, please perform a reply with history so that the following conversational identifier "[THREAD_ID:XXXXX]" is included in your response.
Other items:
Metro says they've closed some NTSB recommendations (WMATA)
Metro just doesn't get how people use transit or how bad L'Enfant is (WaPo)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Reliability: NYC vs. DC

I thought people would have gotten a little more ticked off after Ron's excellent post showed Metro is missing its fleet reliability goals by a whopping third.

A third! Where's the commercial media on this? Come on guys!

Perhaps some perspective will show just how poorly Metro performs.

As of April:



Other items:
NoVa to study transit options on Rt. 7 (Examiner)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

It's the Trains, Stupid

Via @aretting: Metro car on fire at the McPherson Square station. Plenty of smoke in here.

From Ron:
I was bored at work, and looked at the latest Vital signs report. I stumbled on what I think is really telling about what's really going on at Metro. I wonder if the board members will ask about this at the upcoming meeting. I kid. I know they won't.

In the report, the pretty pages highlight "better maintenance practices," but if you look closer at all the charts, it's ugly, really ugly.

Metro has a goal of 60,000 miles between breakdowns (delays) for each rail car.

According to the report, here are the average number of miles each series of car in Metro's fleet goes before they break down and cause delays:

1000s (26 percent of fleet): 40,671 miles
2/3000s (32 percent of fleet): 33,559 miles
4000s (9 percent of fleet): 26,581 miles
5000s (17 percent of fleet): 47,640 miles
6000 (16 percent of fleet): 67,421 miles

The fleet average is 40,275 miles!

They're missing their goal by almost 20,000 miles per car in the fleet, and only one series of car meets the goal. The rest are way off.

I would also imagine that since the trains contain different series of cars now (dumb), the bad cars' effects are even more widespread when whole trains are taken out of service because one car has a problem.

I'm starting to think Metro should lay off the track work for a while. It's the trains, stupid.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Wizard of Sarles

Metro boss Richard Sarles' notion that Metro puts riders first is pretty funny.

Just look at the fare machines for proof that riders rank pretty low in Metro's eyes. Then, once you've done the calculus and handed Metro a ton of money, you only need ride Metro a few times to see it's really not at all about the riders.

Worse yet, if you judge the aloof GM by his actions, he doesn't even seem to care what the people who pay his $350,000 salary think.

He doesn't make himself, or any senior staff, available in the stations during rush hour to answer public questions or just listen to riders' concerns. Other transit managers do this regularly. Sarles could learn a lot through a little personal outreach, but I guess he thinks he knows it all.

Moreover, he doesn't hold public, online chats as former GM Catoe and other Metro GMs used to. He did once hold a Google hangout with the supine Washington Post where one hard hitting question was why some platforms are in the middle.

Sarles even killed off the blogger roundtables Metro hosted, holding just one over two years ago while he was interim GM.

He rarely even gives interviews and seems to only makes public appearances at carefully scripted escalator parties or when Metro wheels him out before the know-nothing board to give the regular spiel they all lap up without question.

Instead, Sarles has chosen to communicate with riders almost exclusively via increasingly out of touch op/eds, press releases, surrogates and ghost written advertorials in the Express newspapers that line the Metro floors.

In those missives, he touts how well Metro is doing when in fact, Metro can't meet the standards Sarles himself lowered!

Oh, and it's not just riders Sarles shuns. Metro employees say he's nowhere to be seen. They remember Catoe and other GMs at least showing up regularly to rub elbows with the front line workers, but Sarles, they say, communicates largely via an electronic newsletter and memos.

"I never really had high hopes for Sarles because this is Metro," said one employee. "But he doesn't even make a gesture to try to make us think he really knows or cares what's going on out here. The guy is totally out of touch and dependent on his downtown yes men. If you ask me, he's got the easiest job in town. No one looks over his shoulder."

Sometimes I picture Sarles as the Wizard of Oz locked away in some small, highly oxygenated room in Metro headquarters relying solely on self serving Metro staff for information from the outside world while, at the same time, being totally dependent on a massive PR machine to form his public image.

The Post once wrote that Sarles is shy. If true, he needs to get over it.

He's the head of a huge, multimillion dollar taxpayer-funded agency that a lot of people in the area depend on. He should be accountable to us.

For the entirety of the Sarles regime, Metro has been in crisis and is seen by many, including me, to be failing on a number of levels.

Sarles' much vaunted MetroForward campaign still has years to go. Frustration with weekend closures, long headways and track work is growing.

Furthermore, all the past work and inconvenience doesn't seem to be making anything better.

It's going to take more than a press release to get the public on Sarles and Metro's side.

For starters, Metro's GM needs to show--not tell--riders firsthand that he's in this with us. We want to like Sarles and Metro, but they've got to show they don't see us only as clueless revenue sources.

Speaking of, Metro is now running at a $28 million surplus shortly after they raised our fares.


Other items:
Metro projects $27 million budget gap next year (WMATA)
Nats-Metro standoff continues (DCist)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Rush Plus Update: Basics Botched

From anonymous:
This Blue Line rider is just loving Rush+. Every morning at Franconia-Springfield is a wonderful adventure.

When you get to the platform, there are often two trains waiting for you. On really boring days, both trains have the correct signage on them, and there is no confusion about which train to board. But who wants THAT?

Fortunately, Metro has recognized that throwing a little whimsy into our mornings will make us much sharper in the day ahead, so the boring scenario described above hardly ever happens.

Usually, the trains bear no signage at all, so one has to either make an educated (and most likely incorrect) guess as to which is a Yellow Line train and which is Blue.

Sometimes, there is a station manager or train conductor voice “clarifying” the issue over the intercom, but it’s often hard to tell to which the train the voice is referring.

Occasionally, a WMATA employee will walk down the platform pointing out which train is which, but if you’re not around for that, you’re just clueless and completely dependent on your fellow travelers (who may have gotten conflicting or incomplete information).

A third scenario has the trains (or electronic signs on each side of the platform) bearing the name of either the Yellow or Blue line, making the rider think s/he is in the right place, only to have this switch shortly before the train leaves. I can’t count how many times I’ve watched would-be Yellow Line riders gape in surprise as the train they thought was theirs pull away.

I have heard that sometimes it’s difficult to get the signs on the trains (I forget the terminology) correct. If that’s the case, WMATA needs to have an employee on the platform pointing people in the right direction.

It would seem to me that getting the signage correct is the most basic and easy thing to accomplish to make Rush+ work smoothly.

Of all the things I feared coming into this change, never did I expect this sort of confusion. (I know, my mistake.) I expected crowds, of course, and increased distances between trains far beyond the planned 12 minutes. But I didn’t think I’d have to play a guessing game each morning. Yes, all this Blue liner needs to do is transfer if I accidentally find myself on a Yellow Line train, but my concern lies more with the folks who keep missing their Yellow Line trains for no good reason.

Oh, and I did email Metro commenting on this issue several weeks back. I received a form response, and if anything, the problem has only gotten worse.
Other items:
Sarles says this, riders say that (WaPo)

Friday, September 7, 2012

Rider Hall of Shame: Hail to the Redskins

Via Michael on Facebook

Complete Hall of Shame

Other items:
Major weekend disruptions (WMATA)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Suicide Prevention Awareness Program Launches

At Shady Grove

According to the Examiner, Metro paid $70,000 to a consultant and budgeted $250,000 for a suicide prevention program, which was supposedly launched in 2009.

Metro says they've trained some station managers, but this sign is the first evidence of the "awareness campaign."

There have been four suicides on Metro this year. Think this program will be effective?

Other items:
Metro being coy about headway standards (PlanitMetro)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sarles Puts Employee Pensions in Firing Line

The current contract negotiations are going to be extremely interesting.

Maybe Sarles could make a goodwill gesture and take a slice off his $350,000 a year salary. Metro employees do not contribute to their pension plans.


From anonymous:
I am a current employee at WMATA and also a member of Local 2. We do contribute to our retirement account, there is no pension for Local 2, there hasn't been one since the early '90s. It is Local 689 that does not contribute to their pensions. BTW, Local 2 has approximately 700 employees in it.

Local 689's last contract has been settled through arbitration, and their cost of living increases and salary increases have been awarded. Local 2's contract is still being fought by Metro, which, by the way, asks for exactly the same cost of living increases and salary increases as 689's. Local 2 employees have not had any cost of living increases since 2008.

090412Message to Employees

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What are those Expensive Displays for?

The digital display at East Falls Church.

I've gotten several emails about the flat-screen displays being installed at the station managers' kiosks around the system.

The only reference to them on the Metro website was this, which says there will be 75 of them installed but has no explanation about what they'll display.

I emailed Metro chief spokesman Dan Stessel, and his response was:

Here's a sample of the emails I've gotten.

From Robin:
For the past month there has been a flat-screen TV or display installed at College Park.

My first beef with them is that they cover up the clocks, but that's not really a big deal.

What I'm really wondering is what they are going to display that couldn't be displayed on a dry erase board like they have in London.

I also don't think they're in a very good place to attract attention. If they're going to put these in, but them where the PIDs are near the fare gates so people can see them as they swipe in.

Furthermore, why can't Metro just have the already overpaid station managers stand outside their booth and warn passengers of any delays?

I think these displays are a total waste of money and were dreamed up by someone who never once rode Metro in their life.
From Stacy:
I've noticed this summer that all the clocks in Metro stations (at least the ones I've been at, mostly on the Green Line) have been covered up with what look like flat-screen TVs or computer monitors. But the screens aren't on.

Having clocks in the station is really useful. If a train isn't coming for a while and the fare is about to change, I like waiting to go through the fare gates. Not everyone has cell phone or watches. I wouldn't mind if the screens covered the clocks if they actually displayed something (and, ideally, showed the time) but right now there are just expensive screens serving no purpose.
Other items:
What if Metro put riders first? (WaPo)
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