Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Doors Closing: More Metro Extortion

Illustration. Via @monicaarpino Nothing like the breeze of open metro doors - while moving. Red line b/n Van Ness & Tenleytown. @unsuckdcmetro http://pic.twitter.com/Knkteaxu

 From CS:
Anyone who rides Metro knows the numerous issues Metro has with its subway doors. They are forever getting jammed, stuck, or otherwise disabled, throwing trains out of service and delaying untold thousands of people. On a crowded train, the moment of greatest anxiety comes when the door-closing chime sounds, and hundreds of riders catch their breath. Did that door sound funny while closing? How many times will the operator try closing the doors before giving up?

With an automatic system out of service, the doors also open on the wrong side of trains and in tunnels outside stations – is it malfunction or operator error? The doors even open sometimes when trains are hurtling along the tracks. Fortunately, no one has been killed yet.

There can be little doubt the doors are one of the main causes of Metro’s poor service reliability, and that they raise serious concerns about safety, too.

What does Metro think of the door problems? 
First, that there’s nothing urgent about them, and what information that needs to be public is already out there.
Second, that if riders understood why the car doors are so dreadful, that wouldn’t do anything to boost public understanding of Metro operations. 
However, the agency will deign to take a look and see if it can find information it might consider releasing – for $28,066.15.

That’s all according to a recent Metro ruling on a public information request UnsuckDCMetro filed with the agency. Although Metro policy calls for handling requests within 20 working days, the agency took a week shy of two-and-a-half years to deliver its decision. This follows a similar years-in-the-making ruling on another Unsuck request, on the safety of “bellying” older railcars in the middle of trains. For that request, the agency said it would release information for the bargain price of $1,818.

Given the deplorable performance of the doors, Unsuck’s specific request was for:

1. Any reports, studies, summaries, analyses or other records dealing with instances in which door problems have adversely affected regularly scheduled rail service. (Summary material only; for example, not any records dealing with only a single instance of a door problem.)

2. Records dealing with problems associated with Metro’s automatic door system, problems with which culminated in an April 2008 directive that train operators operate doors manually.

Unsuck is unfortunately well familiar with the games public officials play in order to justify withholding information from the public they ostensibly serve. Even by those standards, however, Metro’s response to the door request doesn’t pass the laugh test. Put another way, it’s our experience that some agencies can be clever as they seek to shut out the public. Metro isn’t one of them.

As a result, we’ll add the door request to the railcar bellying request, and ask Metro directors to use their oversight authority to obtain on our behalf the information sought in our requests. If anyone on the board has the chops to stand up to the staff that they’re supposed to be directing (and not the other way around), we’ll make the information publicly available here. (Unsuck also has a third request pending.)

Finally, it’s not clear whether it was intentional or not, but one particular part of the agency’s response to the door request stands out. Metro said it would take 249 hours of staff time to retrieve and review records before release.

If that’s true, and it really takes Metro the equivalent of more than six weeks of work time to scour about for information on door problems, then things are even worse than we thought.

 P.S. – We know that some have suggested trying to collect enough money to pay Metro’s demands. First, that’s a lot of money. But more importantly, all that does is enable them.
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