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


Anonymous said...

The buses have become a 50-50 proposition as to whether the faremachines are operating.

Capitol to Capital said...

I have never asked a Metro employee a question without feeling like I'm interrupting some kind of critical moment. As if the employee was called upon at that moment to pick the 5 words that will sway Middle East leaders to embrace peace, and then I came along and disrupted the train of thought.

Anonymous said...

Well said. Metro attendants rarely appear approachable. How about the lovely situation of the faregates not working for swiping cards? There's one down at New Carrollton even as I write this. No knowledge of when it might (if ever) work again. Or the fact half of the ones I experience won't work the first try. Keep swiping and "bend the card a bit" works. How long can it bend before breaking in half? I had to give up the weekly farecard that saved me $4-5 for a plastic card that doesn't always work half as well. This is called "upgrading your service."

Anonymous said...

What incentives does a station manager have to provide good service? He or she is going to get his/her six figure salary, no matter what. There is no threat of a bad evaluation, as the union has totally defanged that process. The flip side of the union's resistance to performance-based pay and reviews is that they won't get any performance bonus for providing good service, either.

Oh - I know they may get a bonus, but it's one of those deals where all the children are above average, and everyone gets them, so they lose any incentive power they might have had.

Basically, the only thing left is the Goodness of Their Hearts, and we know damn well that's in critically short supply.

My wife's bus never came today. I had to drive her to the Metro. On the way, I counted about 80 people stranded at the stops. She's not going to complain, though. Complaining is only worth it if there's a chance an outcome will be influenced.

Nothing is ever going to change. It's not going to get better.

Anonymous said...

Station Managers are like the Grinch, their hearts are 3 sizes too small. We need Cindy-Lou Hoo to unsuck metro!

Anonymous said...

Such a sad change of attitude, getting sadder by the day. While Metro has never been perfect, I remember vividly my first trip to DC. We entered the Metro at some far-flung station in Virginia, stared at the map and fare tables for about 2 seconds, and then were approached by a friendly station manager who got the details of our planned trip, told us how much we needed to put on the farecards, and instructed us how to use the farecard machines and gates. This was in 1999, so it's not like it was the distant past. Now I'm simply grateful when no one dies on my way to work. What on earth has happened in the last 10 years?

Anonymous said...

Well.. when, exactly, did the union get involved? ;)

Patricia of Trakai said...

And, of course, there is NOTHING to indicate that the fare machines no longer accept debit cards that don't have the Visa/MC logo (i.e., ATM cards). I used to use my ATM card to refill my SmarTrip, but no longer. I was almost stranded last night. Thank goodness the SmarTrip machines still take ATM cards. Anybody want an extra SmarTrip?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Metro has some crummy employees. But, for the most part, the ones I've interacted with are pretty good. Some are even (@^@) excellent.

The station manager can't fix farecard and smartrip machines. It's got to be hard (no matter how much you make) to take abuse for 8 hours over something you have no control over. And I've also seen station managers take some pretty serious abuse from customers.

It goes both ways folks.

Anonymous said...

Then find another job.

How about: The customer is always right.
Or: Take the high road and let others be fools.

Metro has problems and I, for one, refuse to be considered part of their problem. I have always been courteous, polite and professional to all metro employees. Damn few have ever given me a pleasant response to anything. They should be able to act that way with me because they can't handle the heat in the kitchen they freely chose for themselves?

Both ways doesn't cut it here. We are talking about paying for a service, not good sportsmanship for two opposing fans in the stands at a ball-game.

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