Monday, February 4, 2013

Sorry Sarles

Metro GM Richard Sarles issued an rare online apology to Green Line riders in the wake of the Green Line meltdown last Wednesday. It's better than nothing, but I found a few things worth noting. They're not in any specific order.

First, why was it only addressed to Green Line riders? Yes, they had it the worst, but when a public service screws up that bad, I think all of us who fund it and have to use it should receive an apology from its leader. Wednesday night was just another example of how Metro is failing, and Sarles needs to acknowledge those failures to all riders.

Second, why weren't riders officially offered refunds? I know Metro gives them, but to depend on sporadic media reports to get the word out seems disingenuous. Metro should officially, through alerts, emails and on the website, announce it will give free ride passes to anyone who claims to have been affected. Yes, there will be some scammers, but it's worth to appear seriously sorry to riders. Better yet, why not have a free Metro weekend for everyone? The service isn't worth that much anyway, so why not engender some goodwill? Besides, the damage to the bottom line will probably be equivalent to what the Planning Department blows in a single day on Dr. Dre Beats earbuds and silly studies.

Third, where are the details? In typical Metro-ese, the whole thing is just so passive, i.e. the trains "lost power." Is that just another phenomenon? Trains just don't lose power. What happened? Also, there's no mention of the arcing insulator, which is what set this failball into motion in the first place. Level with us, Dick. I think you'd be surprised how much better Metro's image would be in the long run if people just felt Metro told the truth.

Fourth, why does the apology just say they're going to improve their response to these kinds of emergencies? Why is there not one mention about what he's going to do to ensure these kinds of incidents don't happen at all, or are incredibly rare? There's nothing about that. To me, the subtext is there are going to be lots more of these, so Metro's going try to raise the bar a little in how they react but will ignore the core problem. Of course, Metro said the same thing in July after a similar incident. Up your every day game, Metro. Then you won't have to worry about these things.

Fifth, the little nod to the D.C, Fire Department is because someone from Metro, likely the chief spokesman Dan Stessel, told the Washington Post that emergency responders (DCFD) had cut third rail power, implying much of the mess wasn't Metro's fault. From what my sources tell me, Metro is always charged with taking down third rail power for emergency responders. Sarles later admitted Metro turned the power off, but I'm sure DCFD bristled at the quote. I'm guessing this is the reason the apology was issued in the first place.

Finally, why was the mea culpa not on the front page of the Metro website? Why was it sent out as an advisory and not a news release? Why is it set to expire in a couple weeks? It should part of the permanent record.

It's not all bad though. During Thursday's afternoon rush, there was a report of Sarles at Navy Yard meeting and greeting passengers. That's a good move, and something that should be a regular part of job.

The day after issuing the apology, Sarles issued this memo to employees:
Yesterday I issued a public apology to our Green Line customers for Wednesday night’s service disruption. Although we’ve made improvements to the way we respond to incident trains, we learned that we have more work to do. I also heard stories about passengers helping each other, including one woman who graciously shared her cell phone with others so they could notify loved ones, child care providers and employers of their delay. Another customer assisted an expectant mother by carrying her toddler out of a train without power. While I have thanked the DC Fire Department and National Park Service Police for their effective assistance, I also want to thank our employees – especially bus operators – who helped customers find their way home. I received numerous customer commendations for the operator of one of the incident trains who kept his passengers calm with his reassuring tone and constant communication. This extra care for our customers is what I expect, and they deserve, so thanks to all who went the extra mile.

Have a safe and enjoyable Super Bowl week

Have fun with that.

Other items:
Watch those slippery tiles (Examiner)
More finger pointing over Silver Spring transit center (WaPo)

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