Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mini Makeovers

Metro announced today (twice in the same release! ha! h/t dcvoterboy) that it would be giving mini and major makeovers to 42 stations as part of a $7.5 million station enhancement program.

Included in the makeover is "the cleaning of masonry surfaces, painting interior surfaces, repairing interior masonry surfaces, painting exterior surfaces, fabricating, installing or repairing signs, refinishing bus and station platform shelter benches and spot finishing bronze surfaces such as railings. A major station enhancement includes all responsibilities under a mini enhancement but also includes pressure washing the ceilings and walls, and painting interior surfaces."

Does your station need it?

1. Medical Center (major)
2. Bethesda
3. Wheaton (major)
4. Forest Glen (major)
5. Potomac Avenue (major)
6. Friendship Heights
7. Woodley Park-Zoo Adams Morgan
8. Smithsonian
9. Foggy Bottom
10. U Street (major)
11. Ballston-MU
12. Court House
13. Virginia Square-GMU
14. White Flint (major)
15. Franconia-Springfield
16. Brookland-CUA
17. West Falls Church (major)
18. East Falls Church (major)
19. Shady Grove
20. Rockville
21. Twinbrook (major)
22. Rhode Island Avenue
23. Fort Totten
24. West Hyattsville
25. Prince George’s Plaza
26. College Park (major)
27. Addison Road
28. Congress Heights
29. Southern Avenue
30. Pentagon
31. Glenmont (major)
32. Union Station (major)
33. Judiciary Square (major)
34. Gallery Place (major)
35. Metro Center (major)
36. Farragut North (major)
37. Dupont Circle (major)
38. Tenleytown (major)
39. Naylor Road
40. Suitland
41. Branch Avenue
42. Deanwood (major)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays from Metro

Thanks to Stacey Viera (StaceyViera.com)

He might be better off with reindeer! Thanks to Matt!

Friendship Heights Metro, near elevators to street... (original photo here) Thanks to @oknox for sharing!

davidrutledge The best snowman I've seen yet. Notice the metro employee hat on top. http://yfrog.com/4fwy4cj

And last, but not least ...
outtacontext Silly people wearing silly hats on Metro. If we could be so nutty rest of yr would make riding on #wmata bearable. http://twitpic.com/u2o2k

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"- - -" Trains and Fail Tools

It sucks to get to a Metro station only to realize you just missed a train and are going to be waiting there for 15 minutes or more. It sucks even more when that station is outside, and it's a cold night. It takes suck to a whole new level when you took all the measures you could so this scenario would not happen.

Metro's budget woes have been sliced and diced, analyzed and pored over, and there's a lot of talk about service cuts, including fewer trains at night (PDF). But we see something missing from all the discussion, particularly from Metro's side:

Are there any plans to make the subway run on a reliable schedule?

Imagine the delight in arriving at a station at the same time as the train you want! Imagine! It's not rocket science--other countries have done this for decades.

Sadly, the fundamental task of running trains on time and according to a published schedule seems like pie in the sky here in DC. If Metro could accomplish this seemingly simple, cheap objective, the bitter pill of longer times between trains would go down a lot more easily.

Now to be fair, Metro recently began utilizing NextBus, which helps riders know when to head out to the bus stop, and although we still hear a lot about unreliability, it's a big step in the right direction, and a lot of people seem very happy with the service.

However, on the train side, we have been giving WMATA's schedules and riders' tools a test.

Over the past few months, we've taken Metro at night (between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m.) 21 times. For 10 of those times we used Metro's published schedules (yes, they really do have these!) and eleven times we used the online next train tool. The accuracy rate of both tools to within 5 minutes? Four out of 21 times!

That's not even 25 percent, and usually, the train was early, which is even more of a nuisance because it often leads to more wait time at the station. More than a few times, the next train tool showed "-- -" trains as the next train, which hardly inspired confidence.

The other night is a perfect example. We were heading into Rosslyn. It was very cold, and we didn't particularly want to wait outside at East Falls Church for a long time, so we logged onto WMATA.com and saw that a train was arriving in three minutes. That wasn't enough time, so when the next train appeared to be 10 minutes away, we headed out.

Now, we've timed the walk. It takes no longer than 6 minutes at a moderate pace, but we were moving pretty fast, and got to the perimeter of the station in under 5 minutes.

As we got near the entrance, we realized a train was on the platform, we bolted as fast as we could but didn't quite make it. Sixteen minutes until the next one.

Thanks WMATA. You're going to engender a lot of goodwill and even fewer riders when those seemingly random headways are 30 minutes or more.

After basic safety, running trains according to a schedule should be task #1. It's sad that even has to be pointed out.

Other items:
Bathroom "galore" on Silver Line (WaPo)
Metro learned from 2003 storm (Examiner)
Catoe's year in review (Examiner)
How to get out of the transit death spiral (Examiner)
Look! A WMATA cookie. (GGW)

Monday, December 21, 2009


It's a strange day. A lot of people are off due to the snow, but a lot of you had to brave a hobbled Metro to get to work.
A surprising amount of you rode Metro over the past couple of days.
How'd WMATA handle things given the record amount of snow that fell?
From the anecdotes we've heard, it would seem Metro suffered mostly from--big surprise--a lack of communication.
What are your thoughts and experiences?
We tried to find some examples of what other mass transit systems had done in a huge snow. London, for example, shut down much of its mass transit early this year when it was walloped with a huge snowfall.
Reports from New York were that the MTA was running fairly normally, despite the snowfall, which was several inches less than here.
What feedback would you give WMATA?
If you don't feel like writing about your experiences, at least vote in the poll over there to the left.

Photo: daveweigel

Other items:
"Crazy" woman on the Green Line (YouTube)
Metro employee goes off (YouTube)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Club Metro

From P. Tatiana:

Red Line from Friendship Heights to Silver Spring on the morning of Dec. 17.

New service helps morning commuters ease into the day.

Does Metro roll out the dance floor and drinks at night?

Either that, or Metro's going green, cutting down on unnecessary lights. Looks like the formula is five working lights per train car, spread out randomly.

It couldn't possibly be that Metro inspectors and supervisors neglected basic safety and maintenance issues--again.

Other items:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Doors Yet Again!

From reader Charles:

I was in the back car of an inbound Red Line train that arrived at Gallery Place around 8:35 a.m. on Nov. 24, right at the height of rush hour. The platform was packed with people transferring from the Green and Yellow Lines. The train was full, but not packed.

The operator opened the doors briefly, long enough to allow about half of us who wanted to exit to get off. As the doors closed prematurely, people on the train threw themselves, their bags and their extremities between the doors in an effort to hold them open. This did not work, of course.

The operator opened the doors long enough to let people remove their arms and legs, but not long enough to exit.

There was no way that I could make it off the train, so I went to the intercom at the back of the car. I pushed the red button and said, “I’m in the last car and people are trying to get out. Please open the doors.” There was no response, so I called again with more urgency.

Me: Open the doors! People are stuck in the back car.

Operator: I don’t copy you.

Me: People are stuck in the doors and trying to get out. Open the doors.

Operator: I don’t copy you.

Me: Well, I ‘copy’ you, and I’m telling you to open these doors.

By now, the doors were presumably closed and the train was rolling out of the station toward Metro Center. I got back on the intercom.

Me: What is your name? I’d like to follow up with your supervisor.

Operator: This is the operator.

Me: I understand that. I’d like to know your name.

Operator: Just ‘Operator.’

I exited the train at Metro Center and made my way to the kiosk. Another passenger from this train was already complaining to the station manager. I asked the station manager if he could help me identify the train operator. I told him that I was in car 5125 on the train that had just left Metro Center for Farragut North.

The station manager said, “That car number helps tremendously.” He spun his chair around and looked at the kiosk computer, which shows a live picture of all trains in the system. The station manager told me that the train operator was one Mr. Willy Love and that the Train ID was 208. The station manager suggested I call in my complaint to 202-637-7000.

That’s exactly what I did when I got to my office. I waited on hold for 17 minutes before someone transferred me to voicemail. I left an incensed message and demanded that somebody call me back immediately.

I then started to fish around for any Metro phone number that would be answered by a human. After a few dead ends, I found the hotline for the Metro Office of Inspector General (OIG). I called the OIG on 202-962-2400. A human answered the phone and took a detailed report on the incident.

As I finished up with the OIG, a Metro customer service person called me back. She apologized about my 17 minutes on hold. She told me that there are only two people who take these complaints. I told this woman I had already filed a report with the OIG, but I would be happy to file it again with her.

In both of my reports I emphasized that this is a safety issue. Either the intercom was genuinely broken, or the train operator showed poor judgment by choosing to ignore a passenger’s attempt to contact him. I also expressed concern that this train operator declined to give his name.

The Metro customer service person agreed this was a problem and told me she would do two things: First, she would ask maintenance personnel to test the intercom on this train. Second, she would forward my report to the train operator’s supervisor.

I requested that the supervisor follow up with me so that I could be sure that this was being taken seriously. The customer service rep said that supervisors generally do not follow up with passengers. I said, “That’s the problem with Metro. You are not accountable to the passengers and you need to be.”

The rep promised to make a note of my concerns.

Nobody has followed up with me.

Original photo: charliepinto

Related posts:
Doors ... again
Doors closing
This will bite Metro in the last car one day
Mixed messages on non-working intercoms
Another emergency call goes unanswered
Anyone home?

Other items:
Metro whistle-blower honored (WaPo)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

If the Streetcars had Emotions ...

... this is what they would be feeling knowing they'd been uprooted from the idyllic Czech Republic--a country with damn fine public transport (and beer)--only to be sentenced to being "kept and maintained" (abused and neglected?) and possibly managed by WMATA.

Maybe the 1000-series railcar support group will give 'em some tips for survival in DC's harsh public transit climes.

Here you see one of the poor guys being offloaded from a ship in Baltimore this past weekend.

Other items:
Metro close to getting $150M from feds (WaPo)
Senate earmarks $3M for Purple Line (WaPo)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rider Hall of Shame: Your Move

@h45 shoulder to shoulder standing room on Red Line. She's blissfully ignorant. http://yfrog.com/be498jj

@s1ncer1ty http://twitpic.com/mn0eq #wmata redline at rush hour, dude needs three seats apparently

From reader Jared. "The nefarious inside bag. On the Red Line during rush hour this morning."

Designkitten Do you really need two seats, buddy? #wmata #metroannoyances http://twitpic.com/su68c

There's a whole Web site dedicated to these lovely folks.

Other items:
Metro looking for extraordinary people (WTOP)
VA bus route changes (WMATA)
MD Bus route changes (WMATA)
DC bus route changes (WMATA)
Md. Transit Admin. worker charged with stealing $400K in bus fares (WaPo)
MTA (NY) proposes big cuts (NYT)
Metro again promises Web management of SmarTrip (GGW)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Catoe: Show Us You Get It

From reader CS:

Metro's management shakeup announced last Friday is a welcome step, so far as it goes. But no one -- and I hope John Catoe is foremost among them -- should think it does anything more than start to scratch at the fundamental problems plaguing Metro.

Since the Red Line accident, the focus has understandably been on safety. That, of course, must be the bottom line concern.

But also happening, which hasn't gotten nearly the attention, is that Metrorail service continues to deteriorate on a seemingly daily basis. Trains now bunch up badly, meaning that there are either long intervals between trains (as long as 15 minutes during rush hour on the Red Line, for example!) or that trains must constantly stop or hold in position to adjust schedule or maintain intervals against the train ahead. At end-of-the-line stations, like mine in Vienna, trains pile up, so that the last few hundred yards into the station yawn like an eternity. It's kind of like the frustration of landing at the airport, only to find your gate isn't ready.

On my commute along the Orange Line, it now happens regularly that trains begin slowing and holding as far out as Ballston to account for the clog ahead. Not to mention, of course, that the ride itself has become gut-churning, including that jerky stopping and starting, and the phenomenon where, for some reason, it takes a train operator a half dozen or more tries to successfully put the train in motion and keep it moving for more than a few seconds.

It never used to be like this. And while the post-accident era of manual control certainly must be a factor, it's also true that it wasn't anything like this a number of years ago, when the system ran in manual mode for more than a year, following discovery of track issues. Back then, there was a brief period of choppiness, and then the issue was pretty much invisible.

So, something more is going on here, and that's precisely what Mr. Catoe and his (new) team must focus on. They need to acknowledge to riders what we riders already know, in order to demonstrate that they "get it." In his on-line chats, for example, Mr. Catoe certainly doesn't let on much that he gets it. He does little but provide PR-style, stock answers in this regard (for the questions he chooses to answer; we don't know the ones that get screened out and never see the light of day).

The bottom line is that through its actions, and through its employees' often disdainful handling of customers and their issues, Metro has utterly vaporized what had been an incredible reservoir of goodwill. Regaining that trust will take a long time, even in the best of circumstances.

Yes, certainly, Metro's top concern must be safety. But daily operation has suffered mightily, too. You used to be able to set your watch by Metro. Now, you're probably better off having a separate watch to track your delays.

And just so that there's no mistake, I say all this as a huge supporter of mass transit. I am by no means a transit-basher.

So please, Mr. Catoe, show us that you get it, and then show us that you're taking steps to fix the problem. Friday's shakeup should be only the opening move in much wider series of changes, and not be seen as any kind of solution by itself.

Also from CS:
Rules don't apply
Vienna's creepy tower
Doors Closing
Moving ... Backwards

Catoe, former leadership Paid Handsomely to Warn

So the "big" management shakeup happened late Friday, and as with most high profile games of musical chairs played by other large, failing organizations, it's not likely to make much of a difference.

One need only look to Metro's abysmal safety record or ride a delayed, creaky, stop-and-go train a few times to see that the system is rotting. From the upper echelons all the way down to the bus driver who--incredibly--thinks it's OK to leave a full bus parked along the side of the road while he saunters off for some KFC, it feels more and more like a transit agency that has lost its way.

During last Friday's excellent online chat with Greater Greater Washington's Michael Perkins, Metro Board member Chris Zimmerman was asked the inevitable question about whether Metro GM John Catoe should be fired. Zimmerman, like the Washington Post, supported Catoe and pointed out that Metro's problems run much deeper than the GM, and, we would presume if that logic is applied, a few reshuffled senior staffers.

"It is very important to recognize that the problems WMATA has are not new, they did not arise when Mr. Catoe arrived less than three years ago, and no one has credibly suggested that he has somehow caused them. On the contrary, the fundamental problems at WMATA are related to long-standing underfunding of its capital needs — inadequate maintenance and replacement, insufficient investment in new equipment, "stretchouts" of the capital program, etc. Every GM and the Board has warned the region about the consequences of this for years."
One such warning came in an eerily prescient 2005 Associated Press interview with former WMATA CEO Richard White, who said Metro was heading into a "transit death spiral" within three years.

"When that happens you can't get out of the spiral," White said. "You're going to have service everyday, but you're going to have many days that are going to feel like a transit day from hell."
Sound familiar?

So, what has Metro management and the Board been doing over the decades besides warning?

Catoe and leadership before him shouldn't be paid handsomely to merely to warn, kick the can down the road and stick their fingers into dikes. Instead, they should be working to build political support for WMATA, to tackle the big issues, to negotiate fair but sustainable deals with labor, to make safety the number one priority, to make tough calls, to say 'no' to politicians who want a bigger Metro but refuse to pay for it, to stand up those who may not have Metro's long term best interest in mind.

But instead it seems Metro is constantly examining, looking into, studying, and considering, but seldom acting. If they're doing more, it's certainly not being communicated.

This is a failure not only of Catoe and Zimmerman, but of the authority leadership for decades. They've all known very well the precarious funding purgatory in which WMATA exists, yet over the years they allowed a system to be created that is unsustainable in that atmosphere.

Where has the leadership been?

Zimmerman brings up a great example of Metro's inaction later in the interview when discussing the budget gap, which now stands at $175 million.

"Unfortunately, there isn't much in the good ole 'waste,fraud, & abuse' line to cut," he said. "And all the 'easy' stuff has been done the last two years."

Does Metro only do the "easy" stuff?

He then immediately said "a recent WMATA study indicates that improving average bus speed from 10 mph to 13 mph on a set of routes could lower annual cost by $40 or $50 million.
This of course depends upon cooperation from the highway departments."

They're just now studying this? What is WMATA waiting for? Get it done. Push, prod, cajole. Lead!

Zimmerman also stated that another possibility to save money "
includes proposals that would adjust MetroAccess to something closer to the federally-mandated level of service."

They've known MetroAccess was an exploding budget line item for a long time, and yet they still offer expensive service beyond what's required.

WMATA says curbing the service to federal mandates could save $2.8 million per year. That's not a huge amount compared to the $175 gap Metro faces, but we wonder how many other $40 million and $2.8 million items Metro is hemming and hawing about.

Acccording to News Channel 8, the Senate last night passed legislation that would provide the dedicated funding the authority has so long sought. If finally signed by the president, it will be interesting to see how Metro management conducts business without the dead horse of no dedicated funding to beat.

Other items:
Jackie Jeter letter to the editor (WaPo)

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Shakeup

Metro Musical Chairs. (WaPo)

Moving ... Backwards?

From reader CS:

Recently, I was coming home from the city on my usual Orange Line trip to Vienna. We were still underground, between stations, when the train came to a halt. Nothing unusual there, especially in the new era of manual control. We sat for a spell, then the operator released the brakes with their familiar "whoosh," and ...

...we started moving backwards!

Not the common coast-backwards-a-little-bit-on-a-hill-before-the-propulsion-kicks-in kind of backwards, but powered backward travel.

The operator quickly stopped the train (at least the brakes worked!) and tried again several times, all with the same result. Clearly unnerved, she came on the PA system and said something about "going backward!"

I suspect this was unintentional, and that she had keyed the mike while talking to central control about the problem.

As it happened, there was a Metro technician on board at the same time, and she called out to him over the PA, with some urgency, to quickly come to the operator's cab.

In fairly short order, the technician showed up, running down the aisle, and entered the cab. (I watched all this from my vantage point at the front of the first car.)

The technician and the operator engaged in some back-and-forth (couldn't make out what was said), with him evidently instructing her on some technique for dealing with the problem.

When he finished, the operator gave a loud and grateful, "Thanks!" (easily heard in the passenger compartment), and she was then able to get the train moving in the right direction again. We traveled without incident to Vienna.

But as was the operator, I was a bit unnerved, too:

-- Metro trains can go backwards without the train operator wanting them to?!

-- And if so, train operators themselves don't know the secret solution, without having to depend on a "fairy train-father" who just happened to be aboard at the time?

It's another example of why Metro isn't exactly inspiring confidence these days.

Also by CS:
Rules don't apply
Vienna's creepy tower
Doors Closing

Other items:
Mikulski tears Metro a new WMATAhole (Mikulski)
Management shake up in the works? (WaPo)
Federal oversight questioned (Examiner)
China has this, we have WMATA (BBC)

Photo: skewgee

Thursday, December 10, 2009

To the Moon and Back--Four Times!

We spotted this ad for Metrobus at the Clarendon station the other day.

The driver pictured is Lance Campbell, and according to the sign, he has driven 2 MILLION miles without an accident. That is the "equivalent of four round-trips to the moon," the sign says.

That's pretty effin' incredible, especially in a town where the roads are largely the domain of the most potent and vile concentration of a-hole drivers, seemingly hand picked from around the country for their prodigious a-holeian tendencies.

This guy Campbell is doing some serious unsucking!

Campbell's story made us curious about what WMATA does to reinforce super-mega excellence like this, since it seems they have a problem getting rid of the super mega failures.

We also wanted to know what Metro does to reinforce this kind of amazing dedication and what they do to try to get it to percolate throughout the operator culture.

So, besides personal pride and being featured in an ad, what sort of extravagant awards are bestowed upon the best WMATA has to offer? Jewel encrusted steering wheels? Working radios? Extra comfy seats with 100,000 thread count Egyptian cotton seat covers? Piles of cash money? Access to the velvet rope area of the WMATA cafeteria? Keys to the executive bathroom?

"It's Authority recognition, a patch and pin," said WMATA. Period.

Say what?!

"$500, $1,000 and $1,500 for 1, 2 and 3 million miles." Metro divulged after a little prodding. They added that it takes 10-12 years for a bus operator to achieve one million miles. So the awards work out to about 45 bucks a year.

Do you think that's too much, about right or a pittance?

Recently, we posted a story about a station manager who GOT ON THE TRACKS to fetch a rider's MP3 player. Metro contacted us to see if we could help them identify the manager so as to reward him, which we thought was impressive. (No word on if they were able to or not.)

The award for that guy, if they find him?

Recognition and 100 bucks. No ham. Possibly a plaque.

Depending on the MP3 player, the manager might have made out better refusing to retrieve it and going back later to get it for himself!

So, if not through lavish awards, how is this excellence highlighted and promoted throughout WMATA?

According to Metro, if/when" drivers like Campbell "decide to change from driving, the next logical step is training instructors. They also speak to new hires at training graduation."

Metro said Campbell still drives a bus daily.

If you see him, thank him. He truly delivers on the WMATA slogan, "best ride in the nation."

Other items:
Live chat with Metro Board member Chris Zimmerman (GGW)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


When you're on a wheezy Metro car that seems to think it can and too often doesn't, it sometimes feels like gerbils, mice, hamsters, rats or all of the above power Metro, but in NYC there appears to be an entire mass transit system for rodents. There certainly are enough of the twitchy creatures prowling the subway up there--some so big they might not fit into the above model.

Here's the scoop on the pic from Victoria, Edie's (the hamster) owner:

"I’m a photographer for the DA’s office and there is a women there who makes these models (trains, apts, buildings, etc) for court cases, as a visual aid for the jury. The train is perfectly hamster sized so I brought my super tame hamster into work yesterday for a little photo shoot. They came out better than expected. I’m really excited about them."

Check out all the pics here (VSFW). (h/t @campariman)

Other items:
Fed oversight plan could give "Federal personnel and approved state workers would have the power to conduct inspections, investigations and audits. They could test equipment, subway cars and train operators. They would be given subpoena power and could obtain restraining orders and injunctions, seek civil penalties and pursue criminal penalties of up to 10 years in prison for safety violations." (WaPo)

Monday, December 7, 2009

If a Tree Falls in the Forest ...

On Sunday, Metro GM John Catoe fired off an angry letter to the Washington Post, saying he was "profoundly disappointed" with the Post's coverage of the "elimination" of Emeka Moneme's position as Metro's chief administrative officer in charge of safety.

Yesterday, Metro issued a press release trying to bolster Catoe's charge.

The Post's headline and lede would lead one to believe Moneme was "fired" because he "oversaw safety when the transit agency banned safety monitors from live tracks in the spring."

Catoe has a point about the headline and lede, but Metro's high-priced communications consultants should realize the article doesn't represent the first time in journalism history that a headline and/or lede was sexed up for effect.

We read the whole article and came away with the sense that the job cut was for economic reasons--a whopping $500,000 on a $175 million budget gap, mind you, but mostly a penny pinching move nonetheless.

So, Metro scores a point point here, but the key is hardly anyone is listening to Metro. According to our poll, only 13 percent of you said you trust what Metro says. That's horrible even if you double it; it's still pretty bad if you triple it. It's not even very good if you quadruple it. Metro is losing the important battle of public opinion--in a big way, and letters to the Washington Post aren't going to turn things around.

In the current climate, even if Metro became a model of safe operation tomorrow, it would have a hard, perhaps impossible, time getting people to believe it.

What could Metro do to improve it's "rap gap" in your mind?

One idea for starters: Perhaps Catoe should let us all know that he's profoundly disappointed in how Metro has performed lately. We're not holding our breath.


With regard to the Tri-State Oversight Committee's ability to inspect the tracks or not, that has always seemed like a red herring to us. It does look as if Metro wasn't enthusiastic about letting the TOC conduct inspections at the very least, but even if the TOC had unfettered access, we're not sure they have the power to make Metro any safer. A more robust agency, the National Transportation Safety Board, can only make recommendations, which Metro can, and does, ignore.

We suppose allowing TOC officials on the tracks is a start, but it's a very tentative one, and much more strenuous oversight of Metro's practices is needed. Not holding our breath on this count either.

The Case of the Missing Ad

From Tim:

Call me a daredevil, but I always ride in the first car of trains. They're definitely less crowded, and I'd rather walk a bit further than feel like a sardine.

Besides, does putting the least safe, most likely to telescope, cars in the middle, where most people are, make any sense at all?

Anyway, this morning, as the train was pulling up at East Falls Church, I got a quick glimpse of a Charles Schwab advertisement facing me from in the operator's cabin of car 6006 as it was pulling up.

It was being used as a "privacy screen," probably to keep people from taking pictures of the operators. Considering they operators' cabin is already tinted, I'm not sure why they do this.

I didn't think much of it at the time, but a little while later, I realized I was in a car obviously sponsored by Charles Schwab. There were ads everywhere, and sure enough, one of the little square ads, the one closest to the operator's booth, was missing.

I'm sure advertisers don't appreciate this, and that can't be good for the bottom line.

Other items:
FFX Co. looks to buses. (WaPo)
5, no 3 percent of your fares will never be used (Examiner)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Metro Has a Sad

Metro is in deep financial doo doo.

This time, there's no simple answer. Service is likely to be cut, fares are likely to be increased and more worrisome, capital funding might be drained as an easy "out."

Metro management, the Board and the jurisdictions have kicked the can down the road so many times that politically expedient options are hard to see, and some unpleasant decisions are going to have to be made.

Metro places a lot of the blame on the bad economy
, which certainly is a factor, but it's not just that.

Unreliable and unfriendly service, unsafe practices and unwise spending, along with a bad economy, all form a perfect storm that is repelling passengers from what used to be among the prides of this city.

These days, it's stories like the one below that sum up the sad state into which Metro has fallen. The story is not catastrophic--in fact, Metro delivered them from A to B--but we think commutes like this are likely to become less the exception and more the rule.

From reader "Medea":

Yesterday morning, I was riding the Red Line to Silver Spring from Rockville. The trains were already backed up due to a problem at Bethesda, but when we got to Grosvenor, I smelled smoke and stood up and said "Fire!" just as the train operator told us to exit immediately.

We moved fast for sleepy people, and I saw that one of the rear cars was smoking. It smelled awful.

While we were waiting in Grosvenor, the station manager started bitching at us over the intercom for asking what was going on.

They pulled the crippled train into the switchback, and we got on the next train.

That one made it to Bethesda when the driver started asking passengers in one car to close the doors manually or he'd have to offload us.

But we made it, and no one even had to get out and push.

Best ride in the nation, indeed.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

You're Fired! Just Kidding ;)

Back in August, we asked WMATA to provide us with a list of union employees who'd been fired and later rehired (reinstated) in the past five years.

After filing a Public Access to Record Policy (PARP) request, we heard back rather quickly that the "request is burdensome" and that we should narrow it.

We did, immediately, asking for three years' worth of train and bus operators who'd gotten the chop only to have their careers be resurrected.

After a very long wait of nearly three months, we finally got an answer.

From Oct. 30, 2006 to June 15, 2009, 87 Metrobus operators have been terminated only to be reinstated at a later date. This is something the Metro operators' union, ATU 689, does very well.

That Metro fired 87 over that period seems high, but perhaps it's normal. We don't know, but keep in mind that a driver who left his full bus to get some KFC was only suspended, as was the train operator apparently texting at the wheel. Wonder what happened to this guy?

So, it would seem an operator would have to do something pretty bad to get axed, so that WMATA fired and reinstated that many seems like a rather large number.

There were no details about the reasons for the initial terminations, but the vague descriptions included rather serious sounding offenses like "violation of rules," "accident record," "attendance," "non-compliance with employee," "unsatisfactory performance," "disciplinary" and our favorite, "failure to return from leave."

How nice it would be to extend your vacation unannounced and slip right back into your old job?

Five "farebox pullers" got fired and reinstated, too.

Check out the documents here, here and here.

Other items:
TOC walks Metro tracks (Examiner)

*Captain Boomerang appears to indeed be a real comic book character or, at the very least, a cross dressing flight attendant. Who knew?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Hardly a day goes by without someone on Twitter crowing about how they got a free bus ride because the bus farebox was broken. Here's an example from the other day.

dmlaenker Woo free bus ride! THANKS #wmata AND YOUR DYSFUNCTIONAL SMARTRIP INFRASTRUCTURE. #metrofail

In our own, highly scientific poll, more than half of those who answered said they'd had a free ride in the past month. Even if the majority are lying and only 10 percent actually got free rides, that would be a considerable revenue leak in a "cash strapped" agency. Metro estimates that bus ridership is about 450,000 a day. Do the math.

You'd think WMATA would want to plug that leak, especially when it's considering fare hikes and service cuts.

We asked Metro a while ago to provide statistics about broken fareboxes, but they only said they didn't send buses out with broken fareboxes.

After hearing more and more cases of free rides, we went back to Metro to ask if they keep any kind of data about how much money they lose over things like this.

They said they don't keep the data. "This is data that would be helpful to us," they said, but they are, like many other things, "examining" tracking it.

And reader Russ offers up another example of easy money escaping WMATA:

I park at the Grosvenor station each day. Some days, especially if I am running a little late, the parking lot is full. I usually will drive in at that point, but some days, I will park in the "reserved".

About 50 percent of the time, I will get a $50 parking ticket from the Metro police. This has happened three times in about as many years.

The best part about it? The tickets are meaningless. In theory, I should be able to go onto the Montgomery County Web site to pay them off, where they are supposed to appear within 24 hours. However, and I think this is a lot more than a coincidence involving me, the tickets never appear. I can search using my tag number or the ticket number, and neither ever shows up.

So, not that I WANT to get charged the $50 for the ticket, but here is yet another example of Metro employees not following through on their job, and, losing a revenue stream because of it.
Other items:
TOC monitors to begin safety checks (WaPo)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Unsuck DC Metro Holiday Gift Guide

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, but it's not too late to give the gift of WMATA. Here are but a few suggestions.

Metro shower curtain: Contemplate delays while you get ready to face them. Available at B, B and B.

Yes, you are, and chances are you'll be on the Red Line for a long time, so you might as well be comfortable in this nifty Tee. Get one for all your favorite lines!

Still not sure? Why not try the WMATA online store, where you can find such treasures as DC Transit cuff links ($125), a framed 2005 inauguration memorial farecard for $24 (no fare included) or, for the kids, a Metro Squeeze train toy ($7) so they can see that to which Metro apparently aspires.

LAST YEAR>>>Other items:
NTSB to probe railyard crash (WaPo)
Rough housing at Gallery Place casues major Red Line delays (WaPo)
No one saw that coming
This week's scheduled delays (WMATA)

Monday, November 30, 2009

New Safety Scheme, Same Old Problems

If you're looking for a silver lining, about the best you could come up with is at least this latest collision took place when there were no passengers on the trains. However, three Metro workers were injured slightly, and, according to Metro, one car won't be able to be fixed in yet another ding to Metro's dwindling supply of rolling stock.

Eight-car trains, at this rate, will be an even rarer sighting..

The Post is reporting the damage at $9 million
, another substantial blow to the budget gap.

Apparently, that big safety "shake up" a couple of weeks ago didn't magically solve all the problems. Then again, did anyone really think it was anything but a reshuffling of the deck chairs?

Maybe it's time for another standard trick, the ol' "safety stand down." That'll fool 'em.

Then again, maybe not. Less than 10 days after the last one, a WMATA subcontractor was electrocuted on the job.

Metro often whines about its poor public image, once going so far as to blame passengers.

While we've documented many sucky passengers on this blog, passengers don't collide trains.

Perhaps if Metro made some real changes, like making its management and operators publicly accountable when something goes awry, the "reputation deficit" might start to turn around, but instead Metro appears to persist with the smoke and mirrors routines, and that's just not going over so well these days.

Other items:
Fired? Think again. (Examiner)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving from Metro

From an anonymous reader.

OK, so there's no stuffing yet, but hey, it's probably not rush hour.

Have a great holiday. Back Monday.

Rider Hall of Shame

Other items:
Metro spends $38,000 on lighting pilot (WaPo)
$38,000 seems pretty expensive to light up one small area, but the best part is this: "Metrorail stations have 73,836 lights. Many of them are impossible to reach from the platform. Metro has to stop the trains to allow workers to replace a bulb along the granite platform edge. "
More form over function thinking from Metro

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Basics

So WMATA was poised to enact some major, wrenching changes to SmartBenefits with very little notice to those who would be effected, but in the end, they opted to punt it back a year after giving everyone a good scare. While they're figuring out how to conform to IRS regulations regarding transit benefits, perhaps they could undertake what would seem to be a much more simple task that would actually help customers: enabling anyone to add money to their SmarTrip over the Internet. The issue is on the table, but, like SmartBenefit changes, keeps getting pushed back.

Being able to add fare online would not only provide greater convenience to passengers, but it would also stem situations like this.

From a reader:

I recently started driving to work because Metro-ing was wasting such a ridiculous amount of time. It took an hour to ride the Orange Line then transfer to the Blue Line to get to Braddock Road.

Driving takes 15 minutes, 17 on a bad day.

But the other day, I decided to Metro since I had to go into DC after work.

I took my farecard and swiped it at my home station, Virginia Square. With only 70 cents, I knew I would need to add fare before making a return trip.

When I arrived at the Braddock Road station, I didn't have enough fare to exit the station (duh). Thankfully, "a SmarTrip® card will let you take one trip that results in a negative balance, but value must be added before it can be used again on Metrorail or Metrobus," a quote from the MetroOpensDoors Web site.

To prepare for my trip home, I approached one of the two fare machines at the Braddock station and attempted to add fare. After choosing the amount and swiping my credit card, the machine told me my transaction had been canceled. I proceeded to the other machine, and the machine did the same thing!

So, I went to speak to the station manager:

Me [perky, having had two cups of coffee]: Hi there! Are these fare machines working? I need to add money to my SmarTrip.

Him [Looking irritated - how dare I interrupt the ever-important conversation he's having with the other operator in the booth]: No, they aren't working. None of them are working.

Me: None - as in, this problem is station-wide?

Him: Yep.

Me [irritated, now thinking "Would it be so hard for one of these two able-bodied men to put up a sign so a to inform Metro's waning ridership of this epidemic?"]: Well, how am I supposed to add fare?

Him: Get it somewhere else. Or get cash. Or try later.

Geez. Thanks. Get it somewhere else? The closest CVS to this stupid station is a mile away. And why should I have to get cash? Couldn't Metro enable you to add fare online, like Starbucks?

We're getting cell reception added to the lines, but you can't add fare?!?

Good grief.

Other items:
Dulles project under review (WaPo)
Metro beefing up holiday service (WMATA)

Photo: nevermindtheend

Monday, November 23, 2009

Doors ... Again

Door problems are one of the top reasons trains are taken out of service and offloaded. Many times, according to WMATA, this is caused by customers trying to get into a train just as the doors are closing or by customers holding the doors in order to allow a few more people to get on.

Given the doors' fragility, it seems odd that Metro would initiate anything that could exacerbate the problem, but recently, we've gotten several emails, comments and tweets like the following from Charles, wondering if operators are giving passengers less time to get off and on trains in recent weeks.

Is it me, or did sometime around September Metro send out a memo to its drivers to close the doors ASAP at all their stops? I've been a rider for a few years, but I've noticed in the last few months a lot of doors closing when people haven't had a chance to get on the train yet.

It's really bugging me, because not only is it directly inconveniencing people, particularly the very old, very young or handicapped, but it also indirectly creates a culture of muscling your way onto trains so you don't get screwed over by the doors closing prematurely.

The drivers are clearly not paying attention to whether their trains are empty and the doors can be closed without any problems, or whether people are going to need some time to let everybody off and board in an orderly way.
Have you noticed this trend? We should note that some drivers at least, do maintain an awareness of the situation on the platform. Some don't.

The constant door issues are the reason we riders are often reminded, and sometimes scolded, by the operators to not touch the doors, so it was it was disturbing to see, again, that Metro employees apparently don't follow their own rules.

Take this story from reader Sarah:

On Nov. 20,at about 10 a.m. at the Pentagon City stop, I was waiting for my train. A Blue Line train came and was loading up. As the doors were closing, I looked up and saw a Metro employee on the train stick his hand in the door to stop it from closing to try to help out a pretty girl that was trying to get on.

I cannot count the number of lectures I have received in Metro stations and on trains about not trying to stop the doors from closing, I cannot believe a Metro employee would do that! Ridiculous!

Now we all know that some Metro employees have been known to use the system as their personal singles bar, and while that's absolutely unacceptable, it's even more appalling to see a Metro employee willfully doing something they know could cause a train to go out of service, delaying thousands.

Other items:
Safety concerns over Dulles rail bridge (WaPo)

Photo: sudama

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cleanliness a Point of Pride, Except at Deanwood


One good thing you can consistently say about Metro is that it's pretty clean. That's why we were surprised to hear about the following.

sherrieindc, frustrated by the garbage strewn about the Deanwood station, started taking pictures.

Her photos, of which there are many, were noticed on Twitter by Sylvia C. Brown, ANC7C-04 Commissioner, who was prompted to write the following Ann E. Chisholm, Assistant Government Relations Officer at WMATA:

"Deanwood Station users have commented about its cleanliness and other issues like graffiti-tagged newspaper bins and rider seating, urine odors, and overflowing trash receptacles at ANC7C meetings. I've included my fellow Commissioner, in whose SMD the Deanwood Station lies, on this message. We hope that this communication will be a signal to WMATA to increase monitoring and maintenance of the station and the grounds. Please do not hesitate to let us know how the ANC can be partners with WMATA on this and other matters."
WMATA's response was:
Commissioner Brown,

Thanks you for bringing this issue to our attention. Due to staff vacancies, we have not been able to provide the quality of cleaning that this station demands. This vacancy has been filled effective November 15, 2009 and you should see immediate improvements in the overall cleanliness at the station. We apologize for the maintenance problems and please contact me if you have additional concerns. If you have other concerns about the maintenance at this station, please contact Superintendent Linwood West. He can be reached at 301-618-1076 or lwest@wmata.com. You may also contact me at 202-962-2877 or by email at achisholm@wmata.com.

I am forwarding the pictures to Metro’s maintenance staff.

Again, thanks for bringing this to our attention.

Ann Chisholm

Sounds like a reasonable explanation, right? But the rub, as always, would be to see if WMATA actually did anything about it. They gave the problem some good lip service, but in the end, their actions didn't quite back up the words.

sherrieindc said things were slightly better at Deanwood, but still unacceptable. Garbage, she said, was still littering the parking lot, and as the photos show, there was a marginal improvement in the overflow at one of the station's garbage cans. We don't know about the urine.

It should be noted that Deanwood's upkeep is in stark contrast to East Falls Church, our "home" station, which is usually about as spotless as a subway station could be expected to be.

Other items:
Weekend bus and rail delays (WMATA)
Metro Board acts with common sense (WaPo)
SmartBenefits changes delayed (WaPo)
Metro experimenting with "warning signal program" (WMATA)
Jeter: "WMATA is attempting to feed pieces of information to the media suggesting that we are going to strike." (ATU 689)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Yin and Yang of Metro Employees

Meet "A.M. Haynes."

He's an a**hole.

And just after this pic was snapped, he gave us the finger.

Haynes was the station manager at Clarendon at about 11:30 p.m. on Saturday. As we entered the station, we saw him giving grief to someone whose farecard wasn't working. We didn't interfere and kept walking down to the platform.

After getting there and finding the next train was coming in 20 minutes, we decided to see how Mr. Haynes would react to a simple, friendly question that would require no work from him other than speaking a few words.

The door to his kiosk was open so we approached.

"How often do the trains come?" we asked in a completely pleasant tone.

"It come when it come," he said rudely, and turning his back. Obviously, Haynes was more interested in drinking his ginormous coffee.

"No, seriously, how often do they come at this time of night?" we asked, still being polite.

"Get the f**k out my door!" he barked. Adding a "F**k y'all" for good measure.

Give that man a raise!

Mr. Haynes has no business dealing with customers. None!

When we got back to East Falls Church, good ol' Khalil was kicked back in his fortress of solitude, so we decided to ask him the same question to see how he compared.

"Every 20 minutes," Khalil said matter of factly.

Wow! It's a challenge to make Khalil look good, but you did it, Mr. Haynes.

And then, on the other side of the coin, there's this guy from reader Matthew:

On the morning of Nov. 16 at Gallery Place/Chinatown, I was doing my normal transfer from the Yellow Line to the Red Line. A mass of us were working our way up the escalator trying to make it to the train on the platform. A few people started running when I saw the lights on the door flashing, indicating the doors were about to close.

No one was close to making it. The doors closed, and then the something amazing happened.

The train operator, realizing no one was on the train opened the doors back up and allowed us all to get on.

Not sure if he was a "rogue" operator or someone who finally gets it. Either way, nice job to that guy.

Other items:
Metro to approve $14k trip already underway (Examiner)
New bus stop design taking shape (GGW)
What is the most crowded part of Metro? (GGW)
Streetcars begin journey from Czech Republic (DCist)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Abuse of WMATA Resources?

Two readers informed us yesterday about an interesting "PSA" that was being made at the Farragut West station. According to WMATA, announcements like these are "an inappropriate use of WMATA resources."

As we've read, the union representing Metro bus and rail operators and WMATA are about to head to court over a dispute over pay increases. That tension seems to be manifesting itself in odd ways.

According to one reader, "the [PSA] message started with a pleasing chime sound ... then an apparent Metro worker basically said support and sign a petition to support Metro workers so that they could get a raise ... She said to take some time to care about Metro workers as they care for us ... Catoe got his raise, and we didn't, and we haven't gone on strike yet ... please support ..."

Another reader's account was as follows:
Is there some potential strike in the works by Metro employees? I was on a Blue Line train at 8:23 this morning stopped at Farragut West going toward Metro Center. While we were stopped, there was a Metro employee on the station's public address system asking riders to sign some card in support of Metro employees in a dispute with management.

She said something about the employees not having shut Metro down. Implicit in her statement was a "yet." My impression was that the train spent longer than usual in the station with the doors open, so that all of us on the train could hear it.

Is that an appropriate use of Metro's PA system?

How do we feel about the threat?
According to the collective bargaining agreement between WMATA and the union:
Sec. 107 - No Strike-No Lockout
During the period covered by this contract, the service upon and operation of the lines of this Authority shall not be interrupted or interfered with by either party; provided, however, that this restriction shall not be applicable to the Union in the event of a refusal by the Authority to arbitrate any dispute which is arbitrable under this Agreement, or in the event of a refusal by the Authority to comply with provisions of any arbitration award issued by a Board of Arbitration to which the Authority and the Union have submitted a dispute.

Has anyone else heard anything like this?

Does one get written up for this?
Jeter to passengers: ________
Is a driver protest brewing?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Teenage Riot in a Public Station

Over the past weeks, we've had a lot of email and a lot of comments from readers complaining about groups of unruly teens making commuting both unpleasant and, in some cases, scary. In one incident, kids were throwing firecrackers at Gallery Place and nothing was done.

When we started digging around the WMATA Web site, we were surprised to find that MTPD Deputy Chief Jeri Lee said he uses "approximately 90 percent of his resources during after-school hours ... to address juvenile misbehavior."

The problem is significant enough that he has daily conference calls with DCPS and the D.C. Department of Social Services "to anticipate and address issues."

He went on to say "that Metro deals with an influx of approximately 10,000 juveniles every afternoon, and MTPD officers try to make their presence known to discourage inappropriate behavior.

He also said that officers cannot necessarily distinguish between horseplay and more serious behavior when it is occurring and that officers need to respond to all unruly behavior. He noted that MTPD officers have taken several guns from juveniles, which underscores the potential for incidents to escalate."

Lee said that MTPD’s average response time is 11-13 minutes, largely because officers on foot patrol have to rely on getting to incidents via train and bus.

During the October Riders' Advisory Council meeting, Lee said MTPD was going to set up a hot line to report juvenile behavior, but we could find no reference to it on the WMATA Web site.

Apparently, they did. The number is 202-962-2118. Read the release here.

Deputy Chief Lee said that he wasn’t aware of any specific issues related to intoxicated individuals riding the Metro.

Have you noticed a problem with rowdy teens? We've heard Rhode Island Ave., Tenleytown and Gallery Place have problems. Where else?

Other items:
Another suicide (WaPo)
NTSB to bring in state oversight officials from around country (Examiner)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Metro, Redskins Have a Lot in Common

You wouldn't think the Redskins and Metro would have much in common, but there are some surprising similarities.

They both perennially underachieve.

The both have widely derided general managers.

They both scour the nation for overpriced "stars" who end up under performing.

They both love to utilize consultants for things they should do themselves.

They both overcharge their customers.

They both have inept, insulated and intractable management that only acts when the ship is sinking.

Even then, that reaction is usually nothing more than to shuffle the deck chairs and pray somehow, some way things will get better.

Take this eerie parallel.

A few weeks back, the Redskins, in a bizarre move, stripped "head" coach Jim Zorn of his play calling duties, leaving him with a very unclear job description and a generous salary.

And now Metro, with questions about its safety swirling around, has Jim Zorned its chief safety officer.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that:

Alexa Dupigny-Samuels [Metro's safety chief] will keep her title and duties but will be supervised by Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn, [Metro Board Chair Jim] Graham said. She would consult with Taborn "before key decisions are made," he said. "If she makes decisions or writes letters or communicates something, she needs to tell the chief, 'Here is what I'm thinking of doing.' "

Why not fire her if she needs this much help? If Metro has no confidence left in her abilities, get rid of her, and use her salary to hire someone who knows what they're doing. Don't create another bureaucratic layer that's not likely to make any difference or might make things worse.

We're starting to think dumb is spelled M-E-T-R-O. Good grief.

With the Skins, all the folly is often laughable, but with Metro, it's tragic.

What is more worrisome about this new management structure is the Metro Police will have more on their plate when they can't seem to handle some of their core duties such as maintaining a sense of safety--more on that in a coming post. They also aren't much better at following their own rules, apparently, and they're buying those ridiculous T3s that actually prompted the wife of a Metro cop to write us out of concern for her husband's safety.

But let's get back to the safety practices at Metro, which are indisputably in need of re-evaluation. Is this "fix" really the best Metro could come up with? Will the still amorphous federal oversight proposed by the Obama administration keep Metro from making these cosmetic changes and bring real reform in how Metro operates?

And Frankly, Dupigny-Samuels only got her job in February, so it seems unlikely she would have had that much effect on Metro's overall safety, no matter how well or poorly she performed.

She not only got Zorned, but she got sort of Schottenheimered as well.

Other items:
Obama administraton proposes federal oversight of transit (WaPo)
Examiner's take
Metro, union rack up legal bills (Examiner)
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