Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Security Expert on Random Bag Searches

This morning's bag checks at Braddock Rd. via @deafinthecity. "These were taken while I was on the platform. Once again, I was running late for work so I took the rail today. I was surprised they were doing bag checks at Braddock Road. I guess it's a high crime area and full of gangsta workers like myself.

Unsuck reached out to Bruce Schneier who, according to his website, is "an internationally renowned security technologist and author. Described by The Economist as a 'security guru,' he is best known as a refreshingly candid and lucid security critic and commentator. When people want to know how security really works, they turn to Schneier."

He wrote about random bag searches on his blog back in 2005, when the New York subway implemented them. Below is an excerpt from his post. He said in an email he'd not changed his opinion.
It's another "movie plot threat." It's another "public relations security system." It's a waste of money, it substantially reduces our liberties, and it won't make us any safer.

Final note: I often get comments along the lines of "Stop criticizing stuff; tell us what we should do." My answer is always the same. Counterterrorism is most effective when it doesn't make arbitrary assumptions about the terrorists' plans. Stop searching bags on the subways, and spend the money on 1) intelligence and investigation -- stopping the terrorists regardless of what their plans are, and 2) emergency response -- lessening the impact of a terrorist attack, regardless of what the plans are. Countermeasures that defend against particular targets, or assume particular tactics, or cause the terrorists to make insignificant modifications in their plans, or that surveil the entire population looking for the few terrorists, are largely not worth it.
Other items:
Metro to spend $1.2 million on guerrilla marketing (Examiner)
Board forms committee (Examiner)
Board members whine (WaPo)
Wonder how much stuff like this goes on (Washington Times)
Alert operator saves life (Examiner)

Monday, December 20, 2010

More Holiday Cheer Courtesy of Metro

Other videos of "DC Jingle Bells Man."

More on Random Bag Searches

Metro says the implementation of random bag searches was not in response to any specific threat or event. Metro does confirm the below, which is making the email rounds and landed in Unsuck's inbox. They said it's a "suspicious activity report (SAR). These are compiled from and redistributed daily to law enforcement agencies across the National Capitol Region."

Recent suspicious activity reporting raises concerns regarding the DC Metro. The redacted reports below discuss three different occurrences of suspicious activity at NCR Metro stations.

1) On 30 Nov 10, at Rosslyn Metro, a Middle Eastern Male (PERS1) was observed leaving a black leather duffel bag next to the exit fare machine. He was then advised that he left his bag. PERS1 returned and picked up his bag left the building and commented to the person "You are lucky" (NFI). PERS1 is described as a male in his 50's, 5'6", 210 lbs with black hair, wearing a black sport coat with black pants. A second Middle Eastern Male (PERS2) who may have been in PERS1's company is described as being in his 50's, 5'10", 190 lbs with black and white hair, wearing a light colored jacket with beige pants. PERS1 boarded the 5A bus to Dulles Airport.

2) On 24 Nov 10, a suspected Black Male (PERS1) around the escalator pretended to drop an item, PERS1 used a tape measure to measure the base of the escalator. Once PERS1 became aware of being observed, PERS1 retracted the tape measure and entered the Metro Center Station.

3) On 04 Nov 10, an identified Middle Eastern Male (PERS1) was observed conducting active surveillance of the lower level platforms of the Metro Station. PERS1 missed several trains while remaining on the platform.

Any one of these events raise concern. Such concerns are elevated, however, based on the three events occurring within a one month timeframe. These events could be those 'dots' we read about in post-attack reports--you know, the ones that intelligence analysts, law enforcement, and security professionals are accused of not connecting.

Please share this information with your facility ATOs and POCs. Many of our facility tenants and DoD personnel use Metro either for work or in off time and should be aware of such potential pre-operational activity. Our facility tenants serve as invaluable sources of information and force multipliers regarding suspicious activity reporting. Such reporting could identify the 'dots' and facilitate the connections that prevent an attack.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Metro's Video Promoting Bag Searches

Anyone Else Experience This?

From an anonymous reader:

I want to report what I suspect was a small explosion on an Orange Line Metro train this afternoon. About an hour ago (4:30 p.m.), I was riding on a Vienna-bound Orange Line train that was stopped at the Ballston station.

The doors closed, and the train had barely begun to move when a very loud bang was heard that shook the train.

I didn't see anything, but other passengers in my car mentioned seeing a flash of light.

The train operator could be heard over the call box asking if anyone was injured.

I suppose the answer was no, because we proceeded to East Falls Church, and eventually to Vienna, where the train was taken out of service.

The operator did not make any announcements, but was heard at East Falls Church asking for passengers in car 1202 (I was in 1208) to page him on the emergency call box.

Mystery Worker Removed Barrier at Tenleytown


So much for taking some time off for the holidays.

On Nov. 16, several Metro riders were greeted with a scary sight at Tenleytown.

As they climbed what appeared to be a run of the mill broken escalator, they arrived near the top to see a gaping hole where some steps were missing because the escalator was under repair.

You can read about the incident here, but the really amazing facts emerged today during a Metro meeting.

Seems someone "appearing" to be a Metro worker removed one of the accordion barriers that seem to adorn every other escalator in the system from in front of the Tenleytown unit.

The reason the word "appearing" was used is that despite the culprit having a radio and a key to turn off and on escalators, the film from the video surveillance camera was "grainy," so they can't be 99 percent sure it really was a Metro worker.

Worse still, they have no way of tracking down who it was, and more than a month later, they still don't seem to know who did this and why

So what are the brainiacs at Metro going to do to solve the problem?

They're now looking into some way to make the barriers clamp down to the escalator units so they're not as easy to remove.

They're also going to upgrade the video surveillance system.

Those will no doubt cost money, probably not a lot, but still.

Sounds just like the screaming bus solution: find a technological or physical "solution" to try to fix a culture that is all too often irresponsible and unsafe.

Instead, Metro, why don't you have some kind of system in place, so that you know who tinkers with your escalators and who might have been "on duty" that day?

How about finding out who did this, and firing them for endangering the lives of riders because that's exactly what they did.

In the end, this dangerous situation was remedied by, you guessed it, a rider who was able to find a cone (not hard) and put it in front of the broken escalator to prevent more people from climbing up.

What did that rider get for his or her initiative?

A fare increase and a cracked rail.

Photo: afagen

Happy Holidays

Gonna take some time off for the holidays, barring some major Metro screw-up. So in other words, we'll be back tomorrow. Hopefully not, but with Metro, who knows?

Keep writing in with your stories and Happy Holidays!

Other items:
Data shows DCers abandoning cars for mass transit (WaPo)
The Christmas ornament the freaked out an entire city (WaP)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hi there (NSFW)

"Our members go to work every day cognizant of their responsibility to perform a job on behalf of our customers – the riding public."--Jackie Jeter

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Who do you Believe?

The following was posted on the ATU 689 website in response to this post.
The Truth behind Escalator Outages
By Jackie Jeter
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 President

When angry with Metro, blame the union. That seems to be the default position or maybe even the first line of action for Metro cynics who don’t care about facts. The latest baseless rant comes from Kathryn Ciano. In a blog posted in The Washington Examiner, Unsuck DC’s Metro and OpenMarket.org on December 7, Ciano says, “WMATA unions pay employees to shirk rather than work,” and goes on to say workers with seniority can “pick” their assignments.

You and I both know there is absolutely no truth to Ciano’s silly accusations. The fact is journeymen may select their report location but Metro managers assign the work. Plain and simple! In addition, less seasoned workers always work side-by-side with experienced journeymen. An apprentice never goes it alone.

Metro’s escalators keep breaking down because they were built for indoor use only, not outdoor exposure. And years of spotty upkeep have taken a toll. It’s only been within the last few months that Metro brought the repair work back in house. Our members are devoted to doing their part to care for the escalators. WMATA needs to back Local 689’s commitment with the necessary capital resources. Now, that’s the truth!
Ms. Jeter claims to speak the truth, but let's look a little more closely.

First, the original post was here, not at the Examiner or the Atlantic, Think Progress, Marginal Revolution or Infrastructurist.

Second, the faults of the "pick" system were not just made up out of thin air. They were cited in the most recent audit of Metro's escalator woes, as a critical problem. Back in 2002, the pick system was blamed for escalator dysfunction by a blue ribbon panel analysis of Metro's escalator woes, also commissioned by Metro. (Sorry, I only have a hard copy.)

This exhaustive report recommended Metro get out of the escalator management business altogether. Metro, of course, went the opposite way.

Third, escalator experts agree that Metro escalators which are exposed to weather are more vulnerable to breakdowns, but most of Metro's escalators are underground or under canopies, shielded from the elements, yet those are often down, too.

Fourth, Metro's ATU 689 workers have had responsibility for all, or at least a majority, of Metro's escalators since 1991, when they were handed over to Metro in what was seen at the time as a cost saving move.

So, it has not just been for the "last few months" as Ms. Jeter would have you believe.

The truth is that over the years, escalator responsibility has ebbed and flowed between Metro and outside contractors. To this day, for the really complicated fixes and major remodifications, contractors not belonging to Metro are called in.

Finally, take the example of the Dupont escalators, which were among the last five stations given back to Metro on July 1 of this year. No one will argue that those are old units, and in fact, they are scheduled to be replaced, but a mere two weeks after being handed over to Metro, there was a scary smoke incident caused by a problem with the escalators, which led to the dangerous fiasco in the video clip above.

Ms. Jeter will no doubt say her workers were handed poorly maintained escalators, and those maintaining them previously will say they gave the escalators the constant maintenance that was needed to keep the old units operating.

What do you think the truth is?

Other items:
Will there finally be some meaningful oversight? (Examiner)
Did you see the carolers? (WaPo)

Monday, December 13, 2010

"No One Cares"

Unsuck recently spoke with a former Metro employee who worked for many years in rail car maintenance. What they had to say was alarming.

Every night, when trains are brought into the rail yards, maintenance personnel working the "graveyard shift" are supposed to do what is called a Daily Safety Test (DST). Basically, it is supposed to be a check of the inside and outside of the trains to see if there is any physical damage, if there are any non-working parts or if there are other anomalies with any of the cars that would require taking them out of service and taken in for maintenance.

Among the things to be checked during a DST would be vital systems and parts like collector shoes, brakes, shoe fuses, circuit breakers, train radios and other items.

"Most people don't do it," the source said.

For example, they said, one time a train hit something on the track, which knocked off the antenna used for communication with central control, which controls the movement of all trains throughout the system.

It should have easily been caught had a DST been performed, the source said, but instead, the train was sent out as a revenue train the next day.

One worker, the source claims, had a full-time day job unrelated to Metro and instead of conducting DSTs and other duties, they would lock themselves in a train and sleep the entire shift.

"They'd come back with a list of things they'd 'fixed' at the end of the shift, but it was just 'penciled whipped' [made up]," they said.

Other drowsy workers would lock the trains so that the cleaning or other personnel could not get in, the source said.

People with high seniority have these jobs, the source said. "They're just going through the motions."

A former operator remembers that they'd often pull into the yard at night and hear communications over the radio that DSTs were being done on various trains.

They said they could hear people on the radio rapidly reading off the numbers of trains that had allegedly been inspected one after the other.

"It was too fast for anyone to have really been doing the tests," they said.

When we asked the maintenance source about the general disposition of the workers charged with performing DSTs, the reply was simple: "No one cares."

More tomorrow.

Other items:
Metro Board personnel changes coming (Examiner)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Last Weekend on Metro: a Photo Essay

What will this weekend turn up?

Metro Cop's Misplaced Rage?

Given the frequency with which fare gates break down or bus fare machines are broken, the reaction seems a little excessive. What do you think? Metro Transit Police seem to shrug at harassment, a far more serious crime.

From K:
I am writing to report an extremely offensive encounter I had the other morning with one of the Metro Transit Police.

I was entering the turnstile at Greenbelt station. The first turnstile I tried was broken, so I used the one next to it, and I noticed the LED display was broken, yet the gate still worked.

My boyfriend entered after me, and we hurried to catch the train on the platform.

All of a sudden, we heard the policeman on duty repeatedly shouting, "Hey! Feel like paying your fare today?"

We turned and realized he was speaking to us.

Apparently, the gate didn't scan my boyfriend's SmartTrip card (which he couldn't have known, again, because the LED display on the gate was off).

Whether it read his card correctly or not I don't know, but if it didn't, he obviously would have had to pay once he tried to leave the system at his destination. I see that happening to people every day, and it's no big deal. The Metro employee just scans their card when they try to leave.

However, this policeman proceeded to yell at us and accuse us of stealing from the Metro system. He also lectured us like we were kids and held onto our SmarTrip cards, so we had to listen to his rant. He added that if he ever caught us doing that again he'd give us a $50 fine.


Yesterday I watched two teenagers literally squeezing themselves through a closed Metro turnstile, right in front of a Metro employee who did nothing to stop them, and this policeman yelled at us for 5 minutes when we did nothing wrong?

Is this part of some new system to crack down on people who hurry through the turnstile?

If so, at least make sure the LED displays on the gates are functioning properly.

I am really offended by this.

I pay the Metro system almost $14 a day.

If someone ever speaks to us like that again, like we're some kind of criminals, Metro will lose us as riders.

Get your transit police under control and have them start enforcing actual crimes that take place in the stations.
Other items:
What to do if you're harassed on Metro (WUSA9)
70% of Metrobuses off schedule (WaPo)
Metro legal fees hit $1.3 million in union fight (Examiner)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Can't Touch This


From A.
This past Saturday morning, I boarded the Blue Line train to Largo at Pentagon City and saw this sleeping passenger across the aisle from me.

He had taken his belt off and tied it to the hand rails on his seat and the seat in front of him.

I wasn't sure how to interpret this makeshift barrier: Velvet rope? Crime scene tape? At any rate, this passenger awoke a few stops later, untied his belt, exited the train, and proceeded to re-loop his belt onto his droopy pants on the train platform.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

See Something? Say Something. Just Not to these Two WMATA Winners

It's starting to feel like you're completely on your own down there.

From Laura:
At around 9:40 p.m., Saturday, a few friends and I went the the McPherson Square station and were on the Vienna-bound platform.

We saw a large piece of luggage sitting on the other side of the tracks.

We didn't think anything of it at first, but about 10 minutes went by, and the bag still had no apparent owner.

I noted that it looked sketchy, and my friend L. suggested we say something to the station manager.

L. and I went up to the station manager and stood outside of the door for about 30 seconds before we knocked.

The two women inside were talking and saw us, but made no attempt to help us until we knocked.

I told the lady that a large bag had been sitting unattended and she barked "yeah okay!"

The other lady asked what color it was. As I told her it was red, she slammed the door in my face.

I knocked on the door again to let them know which side of the tracks the bag was located, she yelled "Yeah, I said okay!" and slammed the door again and continued to ignore us.

So much for the WMATA advertisements of "see something, say something."

A few minutes later it looked like somebody was standing close to the bag, so maybe he was the owner.

Regardless, we never saw any of the station managers or security people on any of the platforms.

Our train came, so we never found out what happened with the bag.

So much for doing my part!
Suspcious Packages
OBL slips through

Other items:
Structural changes could delay GM hunt (WaPo)
Wolf wants Dulles rail audit (WaPo)
Are you joining the caroling flash mob? (Examiner)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Orange Meltdown

From an anonymous reader:

Yesterday morning, I got on the Orange Line at Vienna. As usual, there were only two turnstiles open going into Metro, causing a significant backup. Why they do this, I don't know. But, this is not why my commute sucked more than usual.

The first warning sign was that the operator didn't know what train he was driving or what the next stop was. He sounded young, so I assumed he was new.

Once we got to Dunn Loring, we held as the operator to get the doors closed. Station attendants were running around on the platform trying to help.

After 8 minutes of this, I was certain we were going to offload.

While I am in no way religious, I said a little prayer and explained to whatever deity it is that controls Metro that I had a very busy day at work and a conference call at 9:30. I asked it to please, not let this happen today.

Sure enough, the doors eventually closed, and the operator announced we would be single tracking to Ballston due to a train broken down on the tracks ahead of us.

He then proceeded to speak to someone at Metro with the internal intercom on.

The conversation was mildly concerning, and was something to the effect that he had a code [alphanumeric] problem, couldn't see the other train on the tracks but would wait for a signal to go forward.

Yeah, just what you want to hear.

It took us what seems like forever to get to Ballston, and when we finally did, we really started to move, which was fantastic ... until we hit Virginia Square where the operator couldn't get the doors closed again. He tried closing them for five minutes, but finally announced that the train was out of service. The platform was packed already due to the delays, and now our train which was packed like sardines was offloaded onto an already packed platform.

I was one of the last people off the train, and there was no room for me to get off. We were packed right to the edge of the platform, and I had mild concerns I would fall if someone so much as sneezed.

The platform was so packed that people who were trying to get to the escalators couldn't get through. They yelled to be let through and everyone else yelled that they were stuck and couldn't move. It was chaos.

While we waited on the platform Metro announced they were running "especially late" due to the two train malfunctions. Shortly thereafter, I received an email notification from Metro about the disruption between Dunn Loring and Ballston ... which we had cleared 20 minutes prior.

The train sat on the tracks for another 10 minutes as workers inside the train tried to get the doors closed. After 7 minutes, according to the notification board, another train came, this one packed to the brim as well due to the earlier delays.

I normally wait for several trains to pass when it's crowded, but I was carried on to the train by people pushing behind me.

We held for another 5 minutes as the train struggled to get the doors closed due to the sheer volume of passengers. At each subsequent stop we encountered the same problem.

I normally give myself 60 to 75 minutes to make what is, according to Metro's online trip planner, a 45 minute commute. Today, it took nearly TWO HOURS. There was never any email notification of the further delays or that Metro was running "especially late." So, I missed my conference call and had to stay late to make up the time I missed.

Thanks Metro! It's totally worth the $10.80.

Other items:
SmarTrip cards available at Safeway (WMATA)
How Metro track circuits are supposed to work (WAMU)

Monday, December 6, 2010

They Posted the Number, but ...

This past summer, in response to public pressure, Metro began posting the telephone number for Metro Transit Police in prominent places throughout the system. Given a spike in crime, particularly the theft of electronic items, it was widely seen as a smart move.

Thing is, what use is the number if no one is there to answer calls?

From Eric:
While waiting for the Green Line, at Gallery Place-Chinatown, at 10 p.m. on Saturday night, I saw a guy get his iPhone stolen.

The thief brazenly ripped the phone out of the victim's hand in front of dozens of onlookers, yelled some profanity at the victim and then walked away.

I tried to call the Transit Police on the number they list (202-962-2121), but no one answered the phone!

Is this a common problem?

I mean I know it's not 911, but I feel like there should be an operator there to answer calls.

Perhaps you or some of your readers could shed some light on the situation, but I for one, am a little disturbed that no one answers when I call the Transit Police.

The end result of this story is that the thief got away. They'll likely strike again, and it feels like riders are on our own for protection since the Transit Police are incompetent at best.
Other items:
More 8-car trains will have to wait (Examiner)

Friday, December 3, 2010

2010 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 Metro. Here are but a few suggestions.

Since the economy's so bad, and fares are up, you might just want to express how you feel about that special someone by sending them Metro gift certificates. Yes, they really do have them. Tell her you care; send her Metro.


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.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Escalators: Picking Losers

Here's perhaps a little insight into the real reason Metro just can't seem to get their act together with escalators.

According to a source intimately familiar with Metro's escalators, twice a year, Metro maintenance personnel bid on the escalators for which they’ll be responsible. Workers with the most seniority get the first choices.

This is called the "pick" system, and it was referred to as a "critical" problem, albeit in a somewhat sugar coated way, in the recent report on Metro's escalator woes:

  • Management is limited in its ability to use best qualified field labor by “Pick” system. To be effective, management must be able to use best qualified field labor to meet equipment service needs. While the “Pick” system would appear to be beneficial in theory, its success is solely contingent upon the performance of the individual worker. The intent of the “Pick” system is to expose each worker to the broadest range of equipment and service scopes, maintenance, service repair, troubleshooting, and adjusting, by rotating work stations semi- annually. It must be realized that not all workers have the ability to perform effectively within each scope.
  • As WMATA’s labor force is drawn from a union base, the ability to implement modification of the “Pick” system would require negotiations with the appropriate union representatives. While difficult, the establishment of a mutually beneficial labor relationship is critical to support the implementation of any changes within the current operational model substantial enough to demonstrate significant improvement.
  • Accountability for conditions of the equipment when received after “Pick” rotation were expressed.
So there's some rather bland language explaining the pick system, but here's a more sinister way the pick system manifests itself.

The source said it’s very common for someone with seniority to bid on escalators they know to be well maintained so they can slide and and not do anything for the six months it's under their "care."

“They can coast for a while,” the source said. “Then when problems start, they can move on,” leaving an ailing escalator under the supervision of someone with less experience.

This way of doing things, the source said, "destroys the incentive" of the younger workers who know that if they do a good job, their escalators will be taken away by someone with more seniority.

“There’s a culture in which you don’t really have to perform to keep your job,” they said.

Similar pick systems are used by ATU 689 members to bid on bus routes, station manager slots and train operator shifts.

In another scenario, one could easily imagine that operator slots on the Red Line, Metro's oldest, which is plagued by circuit problems, would be the scraps leftover to the least experienced operators.

"Picking" jobs is common practice among unions, but at Metro, it sure doesn't seem to encourage high performers or hard workers and it most certainly doesn't seem to be increasing the reliability of Metro's escalators.

East Falls Church was 0-3 yesterday during both rush hours.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wonder Why Bus Ridership has Fallen Off a Cliff

Metro reported (PDF) that bus ridership has fallen 7 percent, while rail ridership was down 2 percent. Wonder why.

From DZ:
A few weeks ago, while everyone else in the District was on the Mall for the rally, I found myself in Georgetown for work. When it was time to go home, I set my trusty Droid to NextBus and looked up when the G2 was expected to leave from its terminal point at the front gates of Georgetown University. I made sure I arrived about 10 minutes before the NextBus-listed departure time to be absolutely sure I didn't miss the bus.

I didn't miss it, alright. It was already sitting there, the engine idling, the doors closed, no driver in sight. And so I waited. The NextBus clocked clicked down to 1 minute, then displayed "Arriving," then moved on to the next bus in the list. The G2 continued to sit there, engine idling. Finally, after about 25 minutes, the driver materialized from God-knows-where, got in, opened the doors to allow the crowd that had gathered to enter, and commenced the route.

Is there some rule saying DC law does not apply to Metro? Because I'm pretty sure I remember seeing signs posted at Friendship Heights warning bus drivers about not leaving their buses idling. A search of DC regulations reveals the following:

900.1 No person owning, operating, or having control over the engine of a gasoline or diesel powered motor vehicle on public or private space, including the engine of a public vehicles for hire, buses with a seating capacity of twelve (12) or more persons, and school buses or any vehicle transporting students, shall allow that engine to idle for more than three (3) minutes while the motor vehicle is parked, stopped, or standing, including for the purpose of operating air conditioning equipment in those vehicles, except as follows:
(a) To operate private passenger vehicles; (b) To operate power takeoff equipment, including dumping, cement mixers, refrigeration systems, content delivery, winches, or shredders; or (c) To idle the engine for no more than five (5) minutes to operate heating equipment when the ambient air temperature is thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit (32° F) or below.
AUTHORITY: Unless otherwise noted, the authority for this chapter is § 412 of the District of Columbia Self-Government and Governmental Reorganization Act, as amended, 87 Stat. 790, Pub. L. No. 93-198, D.C. Code § 1-227(a); and § 3 of the District of Columbia Air Pollution Control Act of 1984, D.C. Law 5-165, D.C. Code § 6-906 (1995 Repl. Vol.), Mayor's Order 93-12 dated February 16, 1993.
SOURCE: Section 3 of the District of Columbia Air Pollution Control Act of 1984, D.C. Law 5-165, 32 DCR 565, 647 (February 1, 1985);as amended by final rulemaking at 46 DCR 6017 (July 23, 1999); as amended by the Healthy Schools Act of 2010, effective July 27, 2010 (D.C. Law 18-209), published at 57 DCR 7548 (August 20, 2010).

So, let's see:
  • Bizarre NextBus phantom bus arrival times that don't remotely correspond to reality? Check.
  • Bus not keeping to posted schedule (The G2 schedule says there are G2s departing from that stop at 1:22 and then not another one until 1:52. I got on at 1:32, and it didn't leave for a few minutes because it took a while for everyone who'd gathered to get on.) even when there's no traffic to prevent it from doing so? Check.
  • Violating DC law? Check!
Ironic that they had the rally here because if there's anything on the planet that's the antithesis of restoring sanity, it's Metro.
And consider:
Hit n run

And Metro's answer? This!

Maybe people just don't want to pay for this "service" any more.

Other items:
Metro getting rid of some bus stops (WaPo)
December track work (weeknight/weekend) (WMATA)
Express buses on the way (WMATA)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dancing with the Cars

What is it about Metro that makes some want to dance?

Previous dancer

Other items:
Metro wants to replace $60.5 million worth of circuits (Examiner)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Metro's Uneasy Relationship with Photography

The maker of the film claims he was taking photos of the buses for a project.

Part 2 in the comments


Other items:
Ridership continues to fall (Examiner)
Stabbing at Georgia Ave. Metro (WTOP)
SmartBenefits could become use or lose (WaPo)
Area should embrace Metro governance reforms (WaPo)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tell Metro what you Want

Metro says that staring in January, it will "seek input from its riders and employees during the next 18 months as it designs its next generation of railcars, the 7000 series."

In the press release, Metro euphemistically refers to the obsolete 1000-series cars as "vintage."

Good one, Metro. Those things shouldn't be carrying livestock.

Anyway, as you can see in the above photo, Warsaw, Poland, of all places, is getting some pretty swanky new BMW railcars. Poland, by the way, is not quite as "rich" a country as the U.S.

Metro will NOT be going with the Beemers, but Kawasakis instead.

While this pictures has quite the wow factor, one question that immediately comes to mind is where are the people in the center of the car, away from the vertical pole, going to hold on?

So here's a chance to let Metro know what you want in the new cars.

For starters, we'd say:
  • No carpet
  • No padded, pleather seating
  • longitudinal seating
We also noted some characteristics of the Dulles Airport rail that Metro could investigate.

What do or don't you want to see in the new cars? Do you think Metro would really listen anyway?

Other items:
Metro's holiday plans (WMATA)
NYC subway's seems to have the same culture of safety (NY Daily News)
Area pols vow to change Metro governance (WaPo)
Fenty urges raising Metro parking fees (WaPo)
Which is worse? Metro? or VRE? (WTOP)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Not Taking it Any More

From a former rider:



You’ve finally done it.

After just over two years of tolerating increasingly unreliable service; increasingly higher prices; the prospect that my health or life may be at risk for having relied on you to get to work; an alarming disregard for public safety; a shockingly low amount of transparency; your subpar efforts to police your own property against violence and theft; failing to perform maintenance which could lead to passenger injury; a series of shockingly stupid and shortsighted decisions related to a technology that is supposed to make using the Metro easier; rail and bus operators who clearly have little regard for public safety; pathetic attempts to fool the public into thinking you are running an efficient and competent system; malfunctioning equipment that leaves passengers in the dark about how long their commute will be; and your continued inability to ensure that old and relatively simple technology stays functioning, I’ve finally made one of the most satisfying and liberating decisions since I started working in Washington, DC:

I am quitting Metro.

Was it the combined effect of everything I mentioned above? Astonishingly no. When I look back over the 27 months I’ve lived and worked in this area, I can’t believe that for such a long time I repeatedly paid so much for so little.

It’s not that I was actually expecting things to get any better…I’m not that foolish. I simply considered it a good day if there were no major delays or inconveniences that made me considerably late for work. Maybe it was out of a sense of helplessness that I kept riding. I had somehow fooled myself into thinking I had no other option.

It wasn’t until several weeks ago that I experienced such shockingly rude treatment at the hands of a Metro employee that I realized I didn’t have to put up with this anymore.

To recap: Since moving to Baltimore in August, my fiancée and I would drive to the Greenbelt station and take it to Dupont Circle and Farragut North, respectively (before that, she commuted from Baltimore, I from Springfield).

A few weeks ago, we attempted to get through the gates at Greenbelt, same as every morning. We attempted to get through one gate and it didn’t work (the lights on this particular turnstile weren’t working to indicate if it was directing people into or out of the station, there was however a piece of paper taped to the turnstile with a green ‘X’ on it … this apparently meant the turnstile was not working). So we both tried a different turnstile.

This time the gate opened, but the LED display letting us know if our cards were read properly was not functioning.

In any case, the gate opened and we both went through.

Here is the interesting part: it turns out that my card was not read properly, but I was not aware of this because the gate didn’t close on me and, again, a malfunctioning LED display did not tell me my card hadn’t been properly scanned.

We kept walking towards the (out of service) escalator when we heard someone shout: “do you feel like paying your fare today?!?”

It turns out that this voice was coming from a Metro transit police officer that was accusing me of trying to steal from the Metro by not paying at the gate.

This was a shock to me in the first place that I would be confronted by a police officer like this, but to make matters worse, he continued to very loudly and rudely accuse me of trying to get in without paying.

I tried to explain to the officer that I had no way of knowing my card hadn’t been read, and also that I wouldn’t have been able to get out at my destination without having to take my card to the station manager at Dupont.

This made no difference to this individual.

He told me that he would give me a fine of $50 if ‘we have to have this discussion again.’

All this time other passengers are filing into the station under the assumption that I was no better than a common thief. I repeated that I didn’t know that my card hadn’t been read, but this officer continued to yell at me, and condescendingly explain how the gates work.

We finally walked away, and I took a fairly angry ride to work that day. I of course filed a complaint, and received the standard apology about how this isn’t how Metro employees are supposed to behave and that this person would be reprimanded. He may or may not have actually been reprimanded, but that’s beside the point.

The fundamental question is how dare anyone at the Metro speak to a customer in such a shameful manner? Metro employees collectively should be bending over backwards in their attempts to be friendly and courteous for providing such poor service to the public. If I performed my job the way that many at all levels of the Metro system do, I would be fired.

That experience and subsequent email was the straw that broke the camel’s back and after looking into the matter, I found a way to still get to work, and not have to pay an arm and a leg for horrible service and treatment.

As of Nov. 16, I am Metro free.

Now I know that this solution won’t work for everyone.

For some people, the (usually) bad experience of using the Metro is unavoidable, and for those unfortunate people, I am truly sorry. But for someone who commutes from outside of the District, there is hope.

Yesterday, my fiancée and I drove all the way into the District and parked in a garage close to our office buildings. It took us about the same amount of time to be in front of our desks as if we had driven to Greenbelt and taken the Metro in.

Here is the real kicker though. Between the two of us, our combined monthly Metro-associated cost averages out to about $457 per month. To park in a garage that’s right around the corner from her building, and a ten minute walk to mine, we’ll only have to pay a total of $215. That’s right. Less than half of what we pay to use the Metro.

For less than half of the money, we will no longer have to put up with the litany of horrors I mentioned above, and we won’t have to put up with an increasingly rude and agitated public (no doubt made worse by the realization that they are being fully and wholly fleeced by WMATA).

In the real world, a business is rewarded for competently providing or producing goods and services. Just in the same way that I would be fired if my job performance compared to that of all levels of WMATA, most other businesses that provide this level of service would fail. WMATA however can rely on the fact that most people have no other option to get where they need to go. If you are one of those people who truly have no other option than the Metro, I am again truly sorry. But thankfully, I am not one of those people. And I will no longer throw my hard earned money down the never-ending, spiraling pit of despair that is WMATA.

A liberated commuter

Monday, November 22, 2010

Slippery When Driven Unsafely

From Kimberly:
Waiting in the rain for the bus, I was ecstatic when it actually came on time.

I was taking the L2 north to Chevy Chase Circle and got on at 20th & L Streets around 3:30 pm.

I got on the bus and said hello to driver, as I normally do. I was met with a blank stare.


I got two steps past the driver, and he peeled off, racing down the street.

Because of the rain, the center aisle was wet. And because it was wet and the driver jerked out and race away, I lost my footing.

It was a comical fall. My feet flew out, and I landed on my back and on my laptop. The loud THUNK I made shocked the other riders.

So embarrassing.

As another rider helped me up, the bus driver just continued his pace and didn't even look back.

Look, I know these things happen, and I'm not the type to complain because of falling because it's wet.

However, the bus driver definitely should have asked me if I was alright.

I hate that bus drivers race off like that, especially when the bus floors are wet.

I see how they wait for the elderly - can't they wait for others as well?

Metro really brings out the worst in people, and I found myself I hoping that one day that bus driver falls and the person responsible doesn't even flinch. Ugh.

I'm going to go ice my back now. Thanks Metro!
Other items:
Metro preps for Thanksgiving (AP via TBD)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sometimes, the Metro Gods Smile

This blog gets dinged for seldom highlighting the positive side of Metro, so here's one.

This afternoon, I was planning to meet some friends in Ballston.

Even living within a 5-minute walk of the East Falls Church station, just one stop from Ballston, it's usually a no-brainer to drive there instead of taking Metro, especially on the weekends, when trains are about as predictable as the Redskins offense, but today the normally trusty car wouldn't start.

I informed my friends I would be late, thinking I'd have to face the ol' weekend Metro nightmare, but by the time I got to the station, the train was a mere 3 minutes out--better most rush hours.

I was in Ballston in about the time it would have taken to drive.

Furthermore, I was able to enjoy several adult beverages without even thinking about driving home. That alone is worth a lot.

On the way home, I arrived in the Ballston station, and the train was only 6 minutes away.

In a relative flash, I was back home, banging out a rare positive post about Metro.

The Metro gods are usually a surly lot, but tonight they were smiling on this rider.

Well done this time, Metro. You came through in a pinch.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Anyone Home?

From Alex:
I had my iPhone ripped out of my hand while I was on a Branch Ave. train the other night about 9 p.m. It happened in the Columbia Heights station. The person ran at me, grabbed the phone and got off the train before I could follow him.

This happens, I understand. My issue is how long it took WMATA to respond.

There was nobody staffing the booth. I waited for 10, maybe 15 minutes before someone gave me a phone so I could call Metro Police. By then, this a**hole was probably on the other side of the city.

When Metro Police came, about 15 minutes later, the officer asked for a description of the robber. I told him what I remembered -- but it happened in all of 5 seconds. Another rider had seen the incident, and I had their phone number. I offered it to the officer, but he declined.

I pointed to the four security camera screens in the booth and said (twice) "Can we look on there because I'm pretty sure [the cameras] caught him?"

The officer never directly responded to me about the cameras. I think that by the time they arrived, they knew the chances of catching the robber were slim at best.

My issue is not with the how the police handled the situation. It was already too late to do anything. Theft happens.

But had the booth be manned, had there been security on the Metro platform or at the station entrance, then perhaps someone could have stopped this thief.

And what if I had been injured during this incident? How long would it have taken to get help if I'd been bleeding or something?
Rider Peter shares a story about how riders intervened, in the absence of Metro employees, to interrupt an attempted purse snatching yesterday morning at Gallery Place.
I was about 20 feet from action, so didn't see the actual snatching, but I did see part of the pursuit.

I was coming off the Green Line on the lower platform and saw two people sprinting toward the escalator that goes up to the Glenmont side of the Red Line platform.

One started yelling "purse, she stole my purse."

The thief ran up the down escalator because the up escalator was already packed.

There was a male rider at the top of the escalator who heard the calls and confronted the thief.

When I made it to the top, he had the purse and had been joined by one or two others.

There didn't seem to be any real fight put up.

At that point, the victim was yelling for police, but there didn't happen to be any.

There were no WMATA folks in vicinity either, nor did I see any heading to that platform.

I think the thief just ran away.

I didn't get a good look at her (I think it was woman, not positive). I have no idea if the victim reported the incident to Metro or not.

The good news is that riders stepped up and got the purse back; the bad news that the purse snatcher wasn't dealt with by authorities and is still, presumably, out there.

Other items:
SmartBenefits changes could have major impact (WMATA) Examiner take
Another case of Metro not coming clean? (Examiner)
Sarles: Not replacing escalators (WaPo)
Metro's long-range planning office launches blog
(via @vebah)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Are you Going Metroloko?

Area physicians are noticing an increase in patients reporting symptoms of a never before seen illness they're calling Metroloko.

Symptoms that you or a loved one is suffering from Metroloko include anger, frustration, constant tardiness, frequent eye rolling, sweating, shivers, faregate rage, an increased obsession with cars and or bikes, and in severe cases, the inability to board a Metro vehicle without at least a case of 4 Loko.

Original pic: @victoriaramirez Oh you know, just chillin on the bus with my 4 Loko. #stealth #klassy http://twitpic.com/37r798 #wmata
Other items:
Metro reports crime is down (WMATA/PDF)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Good Report. Now What?

Update 2: Virginia Gov's response (doc)
Maryland Gov's response

A report released today by the Board of Trade and the Council of Governments calls for dramatic changes to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

You can read the whole thing here (Metro's response), but the main takeaway seems to be:
The Task Force finds that what may have been an appropriate governance structure for WMATA to build a new transit system in the 1960s is not appropriate to operate today’s mature system.

Reading through the report, you're likely to nod your head in agreement quite a bit as it details the lack of accountability, lack of leadership, lack of regional cohesion, a seeming ignorance of the best practices of other transit systems ... the list goes on and on.

The report urges the mayor of DC, and the governors of Maryland and Virginia to take "a much stronger role" in selecting the Board members.

It all sounds pretty good, but then you get to this sentence, and you wonder if anything will ever really change.
In 1982, a study commissioned by the Greater Washington Research Center concluded that while the composition of the Board may have been appropriate to plan and construct Metrorail, “it is entirely unsuitable for overseeing the management of an operating transit system.”
In 2038, let's hope we will read a report about marked improvements at Metro, not another indictment of its major shortcomings and inability to change with the times.

Nail Clipping on Metro

By far, the most commonly observed sociopathic behavior on Metro is nail clipping. Unsuck saw it again yesterday on the Orange Line in the middle of rush hour.

Why do people do this?

If you've never witnessed it, it's a sight to behold.

Usually, there's no attempt to be surreptitious. No eyes darting around the Metro to see who might be watching. No keeping hands low and covering up the clipping sounds with cammo-coughs. No odd contortions. No concealment of the dirty deed at all. The culprits brazenly break out the clippers and hack away, letting the nails fly loose.

One can sort of wrap the mind around Metro pariahs like seathogs, eater-drinkers, creepy dudes, loudmouths--even arm barber (that hair ain't gonna trim itself) but the subway nail clippers ... It's beyond comprehension and way, way too common.

And it's not just DC. Nail clipping seems to be so rampant in NYC that there was a guerrilla
to snuff it out.

What do you think could explain such behavior?

Other items:
Metrobus passenger injuries surpass last year (Examiner)
Funny ads spoof Metro
TBD blogs the escalators
Read the Riders Advisory Council report on Metro (PDF)

Photo: mr_t_in_dc. Original pic here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

G_ F_ck Y__rs_lf

From Brian:
I commute from Stadium Armory to Farragut West every day. The other morning, I got to Stadium Armory just in time to catch the beginning of a circuit malfunction delay on the Vienna/Franconia side of the station, meaning all trains headed west were delayed indefinitely.

After waiting approximately 10 minutes, I used the WMATA mobile site to find that the D6 bus would get me to Farragut Park, so I would just need to leave the station, head up the stairs on the Stadium exit side, and catch the bus.

I walked up to the south (hospital) entrance, where I had entered, and asked the station manager if she would clear my entry fare on my SmarTrip card because of the massive delay and my desire to instead take MetroBus.

She looked at me indignantly, and told me I could just exit normally.

I said I did not want to do that as I had not actually ridden the train, and it was, according to the repeated announcements, continuing to be delayed with no clue about when things would clear up.

Not only would she not adjust my card, she denied that there was a delay AS THE ANNOUNCEMENT [OF DELAYS] WAS BEING PLAYED over the station speakers.

I understand you can’t just come into the station and turn around and expect your money back without riding the train. However, given that there were no trains expected any time soon due to a Metro malfunction and Metro could have easily let me out to catch the D6 bus, I was absolutely incredulous at this station manager’s reaction.

Seeking a resolution other than being held hostage for my entry fare, I asked her who her supervisor was, and was told verbatim: “don’t worry about who my supervisor is,” as she shut the door to the booth and resumed ignoring me at her desk.

Thanks Metro, for being completely unreasonable and indifferent, and at least feigning an attempt at a positive image with customers.
Other items:
Was there another escalator brake fail? (WaPo)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ever Stayed on an Offloaded Train?

From Mel:
As a fellow Orange Line rider, you may have been part of the "offloading" that took place a Virginia Square the other morning. Offloading is in quotes, because the train started moving again LONG before all the passengers had offloaded. The doors also closed on passengers--including me--during the "doors opening" recording!

The picture attached is of the closed doors on a train full of passengers...
Has this happened to you before?

Would love to hear from anyone who has stayed on an offloaded train on purpose or been stuck on one involuntarily, like these people.

What happens? Do you go to Metro heaven or hell?

Other items:
The wait for safe, efficient Metro has been too long (WaPo)
Metro's escalator problems widespread (WaPo)

Friday, November 12, 2010

So Now What, Mr. Sarles?


From Metro: "WMATA has found that this [issue] is one of improving communications, not discipline."

Metro's top management was caught with their pants down Monday over the escalator cover up. It probably would have remained whitewashed had there not been an incident at L'Enfant.

Here's what Metro itself had to say Wednesday about its escalator/elevator operation:

VTX's findings, combined with Metro's own inspections, affirm that one of the major factors of the state of Metro's escalators and elevators is a result of many years during which there has been a lack of adherence to Metro's own maintenance standards. Metro will continue its focused work until all 588 of the system's escalators and 275 elevators meet the agency's maintenance standards.

The report identifies escalator brake issues among several maintenance issues to be addressed by the agency. Mr. Sarles acknowledged today (Nov. 10) that, while escalator brakes were being addressed as a maintenance issue, greater emphasis should have been placed on brakes as a safety matter and elevated to the Board's attention sooner.

But the question remains who will be held accountable for this abject lack of leadership and utter incompetence, both of which again drew blood from the riding public.

Metro can't seem to permanently fire texting bus drivers and train operators, McGruff-punching employees, sleeping train operators ... the list goes on and on and on, but what about the bigwigs who hold the lives of millions in their hands? They're not protected by a union.

Can Metro fire the management responsible for covering up major escalator problems that led to 18 seconds of terror at L'Enfant?

Will the guy in charge of escalators, David Lacosse, stay on in that role? Will the assistant general manager, David Kubicek, who basically lied to the Board of Directors on Oct. 14, keep his job?

Back in 2008, Lacosse was suspended for a week because one of the people who worked for him made some off-color jokes at a dinner.

Lacosse's response?
“I guess I am the head of the department,” Lacosse told The Examiner. “Ultimately, I’m responsible."
What about now, Metro? Seems like this is considerably more serious. Is he responsible?

We want to know.

The many injured at L'Enfant, as well as the rest of us who now view all escalators as suspect, deserve to know that someone at Metro is held accountable so that years of neglect won't happen again. A frenzied inspection after the fact, a torrent of tweets and the release of a report aren't enough.

There hasn't even been an apology from anyone at Metro!

Metro has many problems, and accountability is, in this blog's opinion, the biggest.

So, here's a chance for you, pro tem GM Sarles, to show that you're not an escalefter blocking progress, that you really meant all those things you said when you took the helm.

What are you going to do?

If you have an opinion about what he should do, email Mr. Sarles and let him know your thoughts: rsarles(at)wmata.com. CC Unsuck (unsuckdcmetro(at)yahoo.com).

Other items:
Metro looks to vets to fill jobs (WaPo)
Fed Board member gets vote (WaPo)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

If you Received the "Two Suspicious Guys" Memo

Several Unsuck readers received a memo about two suspicious looking men filming in the Metro. Below is part of the memo:
The subjects were observed at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station, Orange Line platform videotaping features of the station and operations of the train. Once aboard an Orange Line train to Vienna they videotaped how patrons oriented themselves within the metro rail car.
The subjects were attempting to videotape inconspicuously, by holding the camera at their side, between their chest and waist. If you come into contact with these individuals, please stop and identify, and call the Metro Transit Police Department Communications Division at (202) 962-2121
Here's what Metro has to say about it:
The Metro Transit Police are following up on a report of suspicious behavior reported by a Metro rider last week. As part of the routine follow-up, Transit Police issued a notice to all of its officers to be on the lookout for two individuals who were observed videotaping in Metrorail stations and on trains.

The rider observed the men filming portions of the stations and trains, as well as riders at the L’Enfant Plaza Metrorail station platform and on an Orange Line train to Vienna last week. The men, according to the citizen report, were trying to be inconspicuous, holding the cameras at their sides. The rider was able to photograph the men who were videotaping and sent the photo to the Transit Police.

Based on the photograph and the information received by the citizen, the Transit Police have no reason to suspect the individuals in question about anything specific. The Metro Transit Police did, however, issue the “be on the lookout for” notice, a standard tactic used by police departments to share information with their officers. The notice advises officers to call the Metro Transit Police Communications or Criminal Investigation divisions if they see the individuals.

The Transit Police notice was meant for an internal audience only and was not intended to be a public notice. The incident was not meant to be elevated to a public alert level and was not meant to alarm anyone.

We applaud our customer’s efforts in bringing this matter to our attention and we encourage all customers to report anything suspicious to the Metro Transit Police Department.
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