Friday, March 29, 2013

Silver Spring Transit Center Shaped Like Failure

Via @jbhaber

To read more about this costly, misshapen boondoggle, click here.

Other items:
Board extends GM Sarles' contract for two years (Examiner)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cameras, Cameras Everywhere

At West Falls Church station on the Orange Line, eight cameras cover a small section at the end of the platform.

From CS:
In recent months, with no fanfare or notice, what must be hundreds of new surveillance cameras have sprouted in the Metrorail system. As a result, Metro is now, or is planned to be, one of the most heavily surveilled places in the region. A rider might traverse dozens of cameras on a single trip alone.
For example, at Metro Center, the ceiling of the downstairs Blue/Orange Line platform has been torn down for months, with no indication when repairs will be complete. But that hasn’t stopped the surveillance cameras from sprouting.



Installation of these cameras – especially on the heels of Metro’s highly questionable “security theater” bag checks – raises worrisome questions. Some (but, in the interest of disclosure, not me) might welcome the cameras as a necessary concession to security, much as some thought the bag checks were OK.


But even if you buy the security argument, that doesn’t mean a plethora of new cameras is necessarily the best use of scarce funds or the most productive or appropriate way to protect people. For example, the cameras raise issues such as:
  • How many of these cameras has Metro installed thus far, and how many are ultimately planned?
  • How much are they costing, and what is the funding source?
  • What are the specific objective(s) for which they are being installed?
  • How will the imagery be managed? In a central location? At individual stations?
  • Will the imagery be monitored in real time, or stored for later viewing?
  • Are the camera coverage areas fixed, or will there be operators who can move and direct camera coverage? (Like, as has happened elsewhere, to zoom in on attractive women.)
  • How long will the imagery be maintained?
  • For what other purposes will the imagery be used?
  • Does Metro plan to apply other technology against imagery that is captured, such as facial recognition? Allow others to do so?
  • What safeguards and operating procedures have been adopted to prevent abuse?
  • Has Metro considered constitutional issues that this blanket surveillance might raise?

Metro has said little if anything about this en masse deployment. We wanted to find out answers to these questions. Metro’s response was typical:







Given Metro management’s perpetual dysfunction, there’s little reason to believe the camera installations have been well thought out, or their utility weighed against other options for providing a more secure system. (Have the Metro cops who hide out in driver cabs actually get out and be visible on trains or in stations?) More likely, it’s a familiar story of someone getting paid a bunch of money to put the cameras in, probably using some federal grant, and the cameras will ultimately make little difference in daily activities.

Meanwhile, the surveillance state expands yet again.

Other items: 
Google maps adds real-time transit info (Mashable)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pee on the Tracks

A couple of years ago, it was revealed that Metro employees had been using pocket tracks as lavatories.

Now, a source has revealed the mystery about why there are so many water bottles scattered around Metro that are filled with a yellowish fluid that resembles urine.

Turns out they are what the source called "operator droppings" and are indeed bottles filled with pee.

The source said operators usually wait until they're in the tunnels before they dump their "gifts."

"You'd think they would just take it with them to dispose, but they just litter the tunnels," said the source, who found three bottles near one platform the other day.

The source added that there are preferred places, like the pocket track in Grosvenor, where "they just open the doors and piss."

"There are quite a few piss bottles there," said the source, adding that the older operators are generally more considerate, while the "new ones think they are piloting the space shuttle and have a weird sense of entitlement."

Not only is dumping bottles filled with urine disrespectful to the many Metro employees who work daily along the tracks, but another source said it shows the tension between operators and management regarding the tight schedules that, according to operators, often leave no time for bathroom breaks.

"Dumping the piss like that is sort of a middle finger to management," said the source.

Other items:
Metro given cell phone extension (Examiner)
Concrete not tested at Silver Spring transit center (WaPo)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Employees Botch First Aid, Snap at Helpful Rider

From Zack:

I am writing to share a troubling experience I just had with a Metro station manager and a medical emergency.  Around 3:20 I was coming down the escalator at Rosslyn and saw an elderly man face down next to the bottom of the escalator.  Two people were standing by him, and he was slowly getting up.

I saw someone start to run up the other side of the escalator.  When I got down, I confirmed he was already going for help from Metro employees, and I went to give a hand to the old man as the people watching him seemed overwhelmed.  He managed to get up, but was stumbling.  Quickly, he leaned on a trash can and spilled his bag he was carrying.  I noticed he was bleeding profusely, although it was unclear from where.  He couldn't explain what had happened or where he was, and his pupils were dilated.

My first aid license expired more than ten years ago, but it was profoundly obvious that he was either had a fairly severe concussion and perhaps worse.  I only go into this much detail because I never had the opportunity to convey any of what I had observed to the station manager. Two employees came, asked him questions which he was incapable of answering, and, I wish I was joking when I said this, but the next thing said after "where did you fall?" was, "Let's go upstairs and do some paperwork."  They then started carrying him to the elevator. I was shocked by this statement, and I said to the man, "I'm almost positive he has a bad concussion, you need to call an ambulance immediately."

What did I get for trying to convey the severity of the situation?  The station manager immediately snapped back "I *KNOW* what I need to do."

Like I said, my first aid certification is expired, but I do remember this: the first step is assessment.  You calm everyone down and try to figure out as much about what happened as you can, so you can relay.  Common sense, instinct, and what remained of my training told me that if you suspected a serious head injury you should not move the person.  This was later confirmed by two medical professionals (a nurse, and nurse practitioner). By so quickly moving the patient, the station manager both lost a chance to do a proper assessment, and quite possibly put the man at further medical risk.

I have a handful of questions based off this incident:

1) Do all station managers have first aid training?
2) If not, why is it not a requirement for every single station manager to have it? 
3) If so, why was their first concern asking the man to fill out paper work instead of first aid?  Why did they not spend even a minute trying to assess the nature of the injury?  Why did they move someone with a high chance of a severe head injury?

Finally, I don't need to be thanked for stopping for a couple of minutes to help the man.  But the fact that they rushed to move him to "do paperwork" belies the station manager's claim that he knew what he needed to do.  To snap at someone who is simply trying to help is unacceptable.  It'd be great if the station manager offered an apology, but I'm not holding my breath. 

Other items:
As reported here again and again, emergency intercoms don't work (NBC4)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Source: Blue/Yellow Mess A Preview of Things to Come

The kind of hydraulic fluid spill that caused major delays on the Blue and Yellow lines on March 11, may not be a one-time event, according to a source.
The people in charge of purchasing the Prime Mover Drain Cleaning Vehicle that leaked hydraulic oil on the tracks were warned repeatedly not to purchase this equipment.

The head of Car Track Equipment Maintenance warned them [management] would have many problems like the one [that] morning. [Management] did not listen and bought them anyway.

He warned the bosses in the Track Department in several emails only to be told to 'pack sand, we are buying from a different company.'
The source said Metro had been buying prime movers from one company specifically "due to this hydraulic issue" with the other company's equipment. The source said that when a new general superintendent of the Track Department arrived three years ago, Metro began buying its equipment, including prime movers, from the company with what many at Metro saw as providing problematic equipment.

The prime mover that leaked "has been on the property since the summer, and there have been many many issues with it," wrote the source in an email. "Metro has probably procured at least 10 new machines from the same company, and they are beginning to arrive on the property."

The source added that the new vehicles have "other, costly problems that are not likely to be fixed any time soon."

Other items:
Delays with rail yard could delay Silver Line (Examiner)
Relief for 16th St. bus riders (Examiner)
Arlington boasts $1 million bus stop (WaPo)
Another reason the board needs to be totally rethought (WaPo)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Apologies, Apologies



The head of Toronto transit issued the above video apology to riders for some major delays recently experienced there.

Metro's GM Richard Sarles issued an apology after the Great Green Line Charlie Foxtrot of 2013 in the form of a Metro advisory. That advisory no longer exists on the Metro website, but here's a copy.

Which do you think is better, or is there any difference?

Other items:
Teen stabbed in Metrobus (WaPo)


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Problems Adding to SmarTrip Online?


Photo: mr_t_in_dc; shop: Andrew

From Barbara:
I'm really frustrated with the SmarTrip adding-funds-online system. I've been having problems with it for the last 6 months and was wondering if this happens regularly to other people as well.

My husband and I are infrequent Metro users. We work in the same building and commute to work in DC from Arlington together by car. But every now and then, my husband has to work longer hours, and I take the Metro home. I use the Metro about 5-6 times a month for commuting--sometimes more, sometimes less. On top of that, we both use Metro about 3 or 4 times a month when we go to the city at night or on the weekends. We both have a SmarTrip card, plus two more cards at home for guests.

I started using the online system for adding funds when WMATA introduced it and never had any difficulties. Now, however, we've had problems loading the online-added funds onto our cards for about half a year.

First, it concerned only my husband's card. I would put the funds on there and, sometimes, the period between me adding them online and him loading them onto the card (at the station) would be a week or even longer.

At first, this wasn't a problem, but after a while it turned out that the amount I added online wouldn't be preloaded at the station (although it was added a few days beforehand), so what he did was adding a bit of cash at the machine, use the card for entry, use it for exit at the destination station and only then, while exiting, would the funds be loaded onto the card.

Now, this week, both our cards had this problem. I had added funds online on March 4. I didn't use my card before March 18, and when I did, I had to realize that there was still only 20 cents on my card, and the $50 I had added at the beginning of the month were nowhere to be seen. Same for my husband's card, which I had taken with me because of said problems - I wanted to see if the problem with his card persisted.

Well, as it turned out, it did and, on top of that, my card had the same problem now as well. Now, I had two SmarTrip cards, one with 20 cents on it and one with $1.10 - both of which had preloaded funds of $50 and $20 respectively, but I couldn't use them for riding because the funds wouldn't load, and I couldn't even go through the turnstile with them.

So, what I did was use my credit card to add $20 to my card (I didn't have any cash on me), entered Foggy Bottom, exited at Ballston and: voilĂ ! there were $68 on my card all of a sudden.

When I checked my husband's card at the vending machine, his $20 were there, too.

How does this happen?

I called SmarTrip, and they didn't have a plausible explanation: All I learned was that this could happen "with infrequent use of the card." What the heck does that mean? It shouldn't matter how frequently I use the card - it's my money on there, it's just not in my bank any longer, it's on their card!

Right now, I have the same problem with our two spare SmarTrip cards - we'll be having visitors for the next two weeks, and I filled our guest cards up for them. The funds are added to the two cards, it says online that they are not loaded yet onto the cards and are "pending" and need to be loaded by Apr 17.

Well, I added them on Monday morning and tried to load them onto the cards on Tuesday night. No such luck - the cards showed up empty. Now I'm trying again tonight (Wednesday), and if it doesn't work I need to call SmaTrip again, wait on hold, explain the situation, only to hear again that the cards haven't been used in a while and it's all my fault.

Well, my lesson learned from this is that I won't use the "add funds online" function any more and will go back to adding money at the vending machine. It's not really progress but I don't want to experience this to and fro between the turnstile and the vending machines and the constant wondering "will the money be there?" any more.

But what I'd really like to know is: Do you hear of this problem from others as well? Is this some kind of bug that is quite common? My coworkers and friends all use their cars for commuting, most of them don't even have a SmartTrip card, so I cannot ask around here.

Other items:
Silver Line test train hits object (Examiner)
Metro could walk away from Silver Spring transit center (WaPo)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bus Driver Curses Mother in Front of Child

From Dorothy:
I live in Congress Heights. My daughter goes to a charter school eight blocks away, and we try to walk unless we're running late. The M8-M9 shuttle is an option usually runs about every 15 minutes.

The M8 turns about three blocks away from her school, so I prefer the M9, which stops across the street from it. The other day, the M9 was nowhere to be seen, so we decided to catch the M8 and walk.

While boarding at the station, I asked the driver if he had a guess on when the M9 might come. All he could answer with was, "After I leave."
There are no timetables, the app I use wasn't syncing, and there was a bunch of children standing at the shelter waiting for the M9 as if they'd been there for some time.

I asked him if that was his best guess, and he said, in a surly manner, "Yeah."

I commented to my daughter that this was the state of the District as it stands. She's 11, and very bright, and we often compare Metro experiences.

 My comment meant that, we've gotten to the point where drivers can't even guess when (or if) the next bus would show up, the schedules are so out of sync.

At this point, the driver said to me, "Why did you say to me what you just said?"

I told him, "I was talking to my daughter, not you."

He replied with, "Don't give me that bull***, y'all b*****s all the same."

We got off, because I'd rather show up 20 minutes late than show my daughter that disrespect from someone you've paid to provide a service for you is unacceptable.

Another time, when I caught the 92 bus on Alabama Avenue, when my card did the "add funds" beep, before I could get out my wallet the driver said, "You welfare b******s are all the same, you get on the bus knowing you need to add money and you don't."

I have been gainfully employed since high school. Why do we have to get this attitude from Metro? And on an almost daily basis at that?

I know drivers worry about getting pelted with rocks, etc., but honestly, I'm beginning to think that sometimes they bring this type of behavior on themselves. If the drivers are disrespectful to the adults in front of their children, how do they think the children will react to them?

Other items:
So long DC Examiner (AP)
Silver Spring Transit Center unsafe, unusable (WaPo/Examiner)
15% of Metrobuses don't have arrival-app technology (Examiner)
Two insiders tapped for key management roles (Examiner)


Monday, March 18, 2013

What to do About Other People's Music?

Since I listen to headphones the entire time I'm on Metro, this is not something I really gave much thought to, but I get a lot of email on this topic, so I figure it's worth discussing.


From Adam:
The other day I was reminded why I dislike riding public transportation: having to listen to other people's extremely loud music.

It's usually people with their headphones on, which is pretty annoying, but the most annoying is people who listen to their music through their phone's speakers.

What is the etiquette on asking people to please turn down their music?  Sometimes, I feel that if I sit down after them they had priority, or if there are people closer buy they should say something.

I know there are other issues WMATA has to deal with, but what can be done (I do) about this.

Thoughts?

Other items:
Anyone else think this article is strange?  (Examiner)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Caption Contest XVIII

Via @taylor_luczak: @unsuckdcmetro imagine how long these guys waited at a station for #WMATA to hand out checks #RedLine #OnlyOnDCMetro pic.twitter.com/AljKHXLTbE

Previous caption contests

Other items:
Metrobuses crashing more (Examiner)
Sequester will ding Metro for $8 million, says Metro (WaPo)
Silver Line tunnel settling (WaPo)
 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Silver Line's Dark Lining

The reality of how the Silver Line will further screw Blue Line riders and "Rush+" Orange Line riders west of East Fall Church is starting to dawn on people.

Blue Line headways will be 12 minutes all day, and Orange Line riders west of East Falls Church will see their service cut dramatically.

You can read the rosy side of the story here on Metro's planning (bad news) blog.

Metro has also targeted Blue Line riders with yet another survey, the subtext of which is "take the bus."

Here's the intro text:
Dear Metro Customer:
When the Silver Line opens, in order to create more space in the Rosslyn tunnel, Blue Line trains, all day long, will run 12 minutes apart. We’ve identified you as a Metrorail customer who may be impacted by the change to the Blue Line service. Will you take a brief 5 minute survey to let us know how you will be impacted by the change?

I'd give you a link to the survey but they're individualized.

Some Blue Line riders are outraged.

From Peggy:
The questions ask whether I'd be willing to take a bus instead. There was no way to indicate in the answers that I already take a bus to Farragut and am not interested in another transfer into street traffic.

As you know, the Orange line changes last year have meant that the Blue line is already running less frequently. You can imagine how frustrating it is to look up at the board and see that 3 orange trains are due, with no mention of a Blue in sight. This happens frequently! Twelve minutes apart --that's 5 trains per hour -- is unacceptable. They shouldn't charge a rush hour fee for that kind of service.
For the first time ever, I am considering driving to work. Please tell your followers to fight this!

From Albert:
More proof that they are screwing Blue Line riders. Note the confirmation of 12 minute delays, all day.

When you take the survey, you will see that they are trying to sell bus service as a Metro substitute.  Why not let people keep taking buses from Dulles, as they do now?

Please, have some hard hitting fun with this.  I also think they are gaming the survey by not allowing answers that many of us would give. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It's Not a Low Bar, it's No Bar

Via Terry:
Dear Terry XXXX:

Thank you for your email regarding delays in the Metrorail system.

We sincerely regret the inconvenience you have encountered with rail delays.

As a general rule, all Metrorail lines have a comparable frequency of service at any given time, with the understanding that stations traveling the inner core receive more frequent service because of heavier demand. Please keep in mind that occasional circumstances within the Metrorail system may cause a delay throughout the system. These circumstances include, but are not limited to: a sick passenger, mechanical problems, and safety issues. We understand that this may affect your connections in the Metro system and we sincerely apologize for that inconvenience.

Please allow me to suggest that you sign up for Metrorail eAlerts to receive notification of scheduled track work and/or delays greater than 10 minutes via email or web-enabled cellular device. The link to eAlerts is http://www.wmata.com/mobile/. Another option is to visit our website to check the track work schedule or service status here www.wmata.com.

We regret that we could not grant your request and hope you can understand that Metro is prohibited from providing fare adjustments due to delays caused by accidents, breakdowns, road or traffic conditions, severe weather or other conditions beyond its control, nor does Metro guarantee that customers will arrive at or depart from any point at any specific time.

The information you provided helps us to improve Metrorail service for every customer. Thank you very much.

Sincerely,
Lendy Castillo
Supervisor, Office of Customer Relations
Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority
6505 Belcrest Road, 5th Floor
Hyattsville, MD 20782
(202) 637-1328
www.wmata.com
Here's another:

Other items:
Metro workers nearly struck by train (WaPo)
Metro overtime spending nears $43 million (Examiner)
"Technical glitch" caused DST error (WaPo)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Is Rush+ Over on the Orange Line?

In the mornings in particular, riders are noticing longer headways and a lack of 8-car trains on the Orange Line.

Yesterday, during rush, there was at least a 15-minute headway heading into town from Virginia. The train arrived at East Falls Church with Japan-level crowding. A minute later, another, completely empty train arrived.

From Scott:

What happened to morning rush hour service on the Orange Line (New Carrollton direction) over the past month of so? Now trains are regularly 7-8 minutes apart and are extremely crowded (passengers unable to board) at the Clarendon and Courthouse stations. Also, 8-car trains have basically disappeared in the morning. I notice this during the 8:45-9:15 am period.

Has metro changed the Orange Line schedule, trains used to be 3-4 minutes apart. Also, did they abandon 8 car trains?



Other items:
Ridership down 6 percent after fare hikes (Examiner)
Metro botches Spring Forward, overcharges riders (WaPo)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Blue/Yellow Delays Open Thread


Via @kay55: @unsuckdcmetro pic of packed pentagon station. Thanks metro!! pic.twitter.com/JHcnfqaY4W 

Riders on the Blue and Yellow Lines were treated to extensive single tracking this morning. What was your experience? 

From Anonymous:

Wow! Ride from hell on the Yellow Line this morning. Nothing like starting the work week 45 minutes late! A 21 minute ride took nearly l hour 30 minutes with no cell phone notification.

 

What Fare Evasion Schemes Have You Seen?

From M:

Recently,  I at the Archives station, I approached the fare gate to swipe my Metro card, a young man was on the opposite side of the gate. He didn’t look to have a Metro card in his hand and looked as if he was trying to decide how to get around the gate.

At the time I entered the station, only one gate was open for riders to swipe their cards to enter.

At this time, I was the only one approaching to swipe my card.

When I swiped my card and proceeded to walk through the gate, the young man abruptly came to where I was entering. He said, “Excuse me miss” and quickly brushed by me as the turnstile opened and walked quickly toward the escalators to exit the station on Pennsylvania Avenue.

It all happened very suddenly and I was left speechless.

I looked around for a station manager and told them I understood there probably wasn’t anything that he could do about it since the guy had already made it to the escalators.

The station manager told me I was right he could do anything because essentially he had no real authority (ie: no weapon) to stop misbehaving passengers. He said he appreciated me telling him about the skipped fare.

I am female (and I am also petite), and my first thought was it could have been so easy for this guy to snatch my purse. (Believe me I was holding on to it for dear life). Or what if I were carrying my cell phone in my hand (as a lot of people do on the Metro), he could have easily snatched that out of my hand. Or if you have been out shopping and have bags in your hand. Someone could easily snatch your purchases away!

I write this message to encourage everyone who rides the Metro to be careful (AT ALL TIMES) when riding the train. Stay extra vigilant!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Metro's Wild 'n' Wacky Day on Twitter

@wmata shows off the Photoshop skills.




Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Be On the Lookout for this Scam

From Anonymous:
On Friday, Feb 22, at around 7 p.m., I got scammed by someone who claimed her name was Jennifer Matthews. I was just inside the  L'Enfant Plaza Metro Station. She told me she got in a car accident, missed the VRE and the slug lines, and needed to get back to Stafford to pick up her kid from daycare. She was new in town, just moved from Atlanta. She was good, had tears and everything.  She even had me call her number so we both had each other's numbers. I gave her $80 so she could go to the airport stop and catch a cab from there.  She wanted me to get money out of the ATM machine, but I refused.

I've been here for twenty years and never been scammed. First time for everything.  The one number I call, 202-727-1800 just rings and rings and rings. And the number 571-296-3544 is turned off. Just call me a sucker. My friends are going to tease me for some time about this one.

I did an internet search on the number and got these two stories from this site.
Stupid in Ballston
15 Oct 2012
The woman 'Adele' pretended that she got into a car accident, was from Atlanta, was a social worker, and needed money to go back home to her daughter. I gave her $160 for a cab ride home. I was leaving my office in Ballston when she got a hold of me. She even asked if I would go to the ATM for her. I called her today because we were going to do an exchange and the phone is turned off. I feel stupid but I was trying to do the right thing by helping a stranger out. Sucks that I was just being naive and there are some people out there who just are scammers. AVOID!!!!

Stupid in Metro Center replies to Stupid in Ballston
19 Nov 2012
Exact same thing happened to me except in person at Metro Center. Said she was pregnant and got into a car accident etc. etc. Luckily just dropped her a $20 before running away. I spent an hour with her looking for cabs and asking people at hotels how she can get back to Stafford.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Metro Sucks Even if You Stop Riding


Illustration from this Flickr

From Max:
In January, my wife and I moved from Virginia to DC, which allowed me to stop using WMATA and instead start jogging to work. But now, instead of dealing with the Orange Crush, I have to start worrying about reckless bus drivers.

Almost daily at the intersection Columbus Circle NE and E St. NE (part of the Union Station circle) WMATA buses will run red lights and come plowing through the pedestrian crosswalk.

And we're not talking a second or two later or trying to catch a yellow, it can be up to 10-15 seconds after the light has changed and pedestrians have the crosswalk signal.

It also shouldn't come as a surprise that the drivers feel that it's our fault that we're in the way of them breaking the law.

One encounter about two weeks ago involved a driver who came through about 10 seconds after the light had turned and promptly gave me the finger, which I returned.

Unfortunately, I wasn't about to get the bus number. However, the same situation happened the morning of March 1, with two buses running the light and the second bus was #2340 at around 8:00.

One of these days, if it hasn't happened already, these drivers are going to hit and kill someone and currently WMATA's response has been (again, not a surprise) that they'll "look into it."

However, I did seem to notice after one complaint that there was a group of people standing around in WMATA-like safety vests watching the intersections so maybe there was some action taken but if it was them, it hasn't done anything.
Other items:
Two suicides averted as trains stop in time (Examiner)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Warning: This Cannot Be Unseen

Via the Onesie Bar Crawl Facebook page: It's not every day a man in a onesie and a horsehead rides a WMATA bus.

Other items:
Sarles in negotiation to stay two more years (Examiner)
Metro making doomsday predictions regarding sequestration effects (WNEW)
Metro board approves Greenbelt land deal (WaPo)
 
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