Friday, January 29, 2010

Blue-to-Orange Switcheroo

From CS:

We tag Metrorail pretty good about its many shortcomings these days, so when they get it right, fairness -- plus the desire to reinforce unsucky behavior -- says we should note that, too.

Yesterday, as I descended into the bowels of Metro Center, for reasons not clear, there was some bad gapping between Vienna-bound Orange Line trains. (Unfortunately, nothing new there these days.)

With the next Orange Line many agonizing minutes away, with the Red Line hordes pouring down the stairs like water into the hold, and with rush hour (excuse me, "regular" hour, as Metro likes to put it.) still having another half hour to go, conditions were brewing for a good fail. Maybe not an epic fail, but one Metro could nevertheless be proud of.

Except it didn't happen. As a Blue Line train sat in Federal Triangle station, preparing to make its final assault on Metro Center, it magically transformed, at the direction of Central Control, from Blue to Orange.

This made perfect sense. For every Orange Line train that limps out of Metro Center jammed to the rafters, Blue Line trains often offer the spacious accommodations of a bygone era.

By switching the train from Blue to Orange, Metro could immediately sweep lots of people off the Metro Center platform, and stem the growing tide. And while a few Blue Line riders had to get off and transfer trains, there was another Blue Line train not far behind. Minutes lost for these passengers: probably about three.

So, somebody at Metro was on the ball, seeing that an easy switch could serve the needs of the many, while not doing serious harm to the needs of the few(er). Like Peyton Manning, Central Control called an audible, dodged the blitz, and the play went for a big gain.

It'd be nice to see more of this kind of thinking in action.

In talking later with the Ms. (also a daily rider), it turns out Metro pulled the same Blue-to-Orange switch at least once before my ride, about 15-20 minutes earlier. So, while not the first instance the technique was employed yesterday, my experience was still pretty slick.

More by CS:

Other items:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Just Catching Up on the Latest Metro Deaths

@brachphotos - Apparently not all #wmata employees got the memo about reading on the job. J9 to Bethesda. Bus 6209

From Will:
Photo was taken yesterday at 7:30 a.m. at a red light at the intersection of MD Route 124 (at the park & ride lot) and I-270 on ramp. Route was J9 Express to Bethesda. (bus # 6209) I did not see the newspaper come back out for the remainder of the trip.
According to Metro,"bus operators should not be reading newspapers at any time while they are operating a bus."

Makes sense.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

An Amazing Display

Metro doesn't have a room big enough to accommodate the hundreds of people who wanted to give the Board a little friendly advice regarding service cuts, fare increases or raiding the capital fund to bridge this year's budget gap.

That led to an awkward, three-roomed circus, which might have been hard to follow had the message from the crowd not been so overwhelmingly loud and clear: Get your act together. We're fed up!

It was amazing to see most people haven't been suckered by WMATA's false choice of four sucky options. Yes, they're probably the only realistic options this year, but years of mismanagement, degrading customer service and underfunding have led us to this choice of four piles of poop, some bigger, some smaller, depending on your perspective.

People of all races, colors, income levels and creeds, and impressively, some with severe disabilities came out tonight to vent, not just about the immediate situation, but at what a husk of its former self WMATA has become.

To put it into a little perspective, last year, we attended one of the budget cut hearings in Arlington. It was so sleepy you could hear other people breathing.

Tonight was punctuated by applause and vocal praise for some of the more colorful speakers. There was even a little drama.

Some speakers suggested WMATA employees give up their free ride perk. "When I worked at Foot Locker, I didn't get free shoes," said one.

Another woman, frustrated by the poor choices before the Board, tore up a piece of paper with the four options on them and tried to deliver them to a very puffy and red looking Jim Graham who seemed unable to pronounce even the simplest of names.

Many speakers hearkened back to a long-gone era when Metro ran smoothly and efficiently. One such speaker asked the Board to "resign, retire or leave." Amen, good sir.

Yet these cuts are probably nothing compared to what's down the rails. We'll be right back here in a short while, with even bigger problems as Metro takes on the very ugly 2011 budget.

Other items:
Metro's fate now lies in the hope a superhero will take over as GM (WaPo)
WaPo's take on last night's hearing
Examiner's take
Examiner cartoon

How Many Metro Workers Does it Take to ...

Paint the depressing-as-hell gates at the East Falls Church Station?

From Steve:

Why are Metro workers seldom seen in groups of less than three?

East Falls Church has been getting a painting makeover. Honestly, I'd never noticed that the old paint looked bad, but for whatever it's worth, they're painting over everything: lamp poles, staircase handrails, the bus shelter, and even these hideous gates.

They've been at it for the past several days. When I walked by on Tuesday morning, they were talking for the most part, not painting.

Sure enough, in the evening when I came home, they appeared to have only done half.

On Wednesday, they were back it it with the light posts. They even painted over the lighting hoods on the staircase that either don't work or have long since been smashed and never repaired.

With some motivated people, everything in that station that "needed" painting in Metro brown could have been done in one day, maybe a day and a half.

The Mythical Escalator Repairman

@slaterusa Check it out: the mythical escalator maintenance guy actually working at Bethesda! #wmata

It seems like the Bethesda escalators are among the most problematic in Metro.

From reader Tim:

In early January, the escalators (all of them) at the Bethesda station were offline. The escalators from the mezzanine to the ground level are some of the tallest in the Metro system.

I asked the station manager when he expected the escalators to be fixed, and after he was rude to me (I suspect he’d been catching a lot of flak from riders for something he, ultimately, couldn’t do much about.), he calmed down pretty quickly and said he wasn't sure.


You know, the thing that bugs me the most about Metro is that it seems to act like it's some kind of necessary utility. It's certainly a great resource, but it's not an electric or a water company. Many of us have reasonable alternatives for commuting.

But it's this attitude that leads to a sense that, while they aim to be fair, there's no real effort to satisfy customers.

In this instance, my commute was pretty inconvenient. So, why not program the gates at Bethesda to knock 50 cents off the price of each fare as you go through the gate? Put up a sign that reads, "our apologies for the inconvenience. To make it up to you, enjoy a discounted rate while exiting this station."

Boom. People see you're at least trying.

It's just such a terrible business model: Ridership is down, so they increase fares and decrease quality of service. This, in turn, directly decreases ridership, so they again increase fares and decrease quality of service, resulting in lower ridership. And so on, and so on.

How long will it take them to understand they'll need an outside-the-box solution to escape that downward spiral? They can blame the economy all they want, but in the end, I fault Metro.

Escalator improvement: No we can't
System bottlenecks
Escalators-to-stairs idea shot down in flames
What is wrong with the escalators?
Escalator forecast: Heavy sucking with intermittent unsucking
Metro's failin'est escalator

Other items:
Human error blamed in latest Metro deaths (Examiner)
Fallen Metro employees remembered (WaPo)
NTSB back again (WaPo)
MTA fining "seat hogs" (Daily News)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Metro is NOT Smiling at You :)

From Seth:

"I guess the driver of that X2 was really happy with him or herself."

and @rkaufman noticed the following in a tweet:

"Route sign on bus leaving #brookland: 'H6:)' Part of #wmata's new friendly image?"

We asked Metro if the characters were part of an effort to cheer up downtrodden commuters, and they said "there is nothing being done like this. If extraneous characters appear, it is by gremlin or accident."

Have a nice commute :)


As if things on the Red Line needed extra potential problems this morning.

@EvanMGlass While waiting for inbound train at RI Ave, man walks across track. Metro employee sees and calls him over. #wm

According to @EvanMGlass, one train had been offloaded, this guy then hopped on the tracks, got yelled at by the WMATA employee seen here, hopped back up on the platform a minute before a train arrived.

Talk about dumb.

Make it Stop!

When will it stop?

Yesterday, you had this little mishap, which, according to Metro, looks worse than it is, yet you have to wonder how an operator made such a fundamental mistake as to run a red light. The same mistake in a different situation could have been disastrous.

This morning, we woke up to the sad, but all too regular, news that two more Metro workers were killed on the job. The fatalities will have to be investigated, causing major delays on the Red Line again.

Metro is broken. The "safety of culture" strikes again. All the shake ups and safety stand downs haven't worked. It's smoke and mirrors. The suckometer can't go much higher.

WaPo story

Monday, January 25, 2010


The following post is courtesy

Looks like Metro had a little problem today at Silver Spring.

The official explanation for the Red Line's delay at noon Monday was a "train malfunction" at Silver Spring. To my untrained eye, though, it looks less like a train malfunction and more like a track jump. It looks like the lead car's front wheels were directed to continue north while the rear wheels were directed to the turnaround point.

Bravo, Metro. Bravo.

UPDATE: It's going on 1 p.m. and no fewer than 10 Metro workers are now on the scene. The official line is now that a "train malfunction" has caused a "disruption at Silver Spring." I have yet to hear or see the immobilized train move. Here's hoping the problem is resolved before this evening's rush hour.

UPDATE 2: I noticed at 1:30 p.m. that the train was moved while I wasn't looking. It looks like trains are still single tracking through Silver Spring, but I suppose incremental progress is still progress.

According to Metro, "The train operator overran a red signal at the switch for the pocket track. The train did not derail." There was no damage, and Metro workers were "able to un-couple the cars and back them out."

Metro Employees Park Illegally, Wash Cars at Kiss & Ride

@mikelastort Metro employees abusing Kiss & Ride spaces again #wmata (Jeep is repeat offender)

Reader Mike has been vigilant about the abuse of the Kiss & Ride parking spaces by Metro employees at Takoma. Last year, we reported it here and here.

Back then, in response to the complaints, Metro said:
Employees have to park legally and follow the law. A staff notice was issued last year to all employees reminding them of this.
And yes, we do issue tickets everyday to vehicles that are parked illegally, including those owned by Metro employees. This also includes WMATA work vehicles.
If customers observe this activity and wish to report it, they can call Metro’s Transit Police at 202-962-2121.

For a while, the illegal parking at Takoma appeared to stop, but according to Mike, who took the pic above on Jan. 11, Metro employees are abusing it again.

Yes, things appear to shift at Metro, but they often revert to the status quo ante.

In a hilarious footnote to the story, we got this little tidbit from Mike on Jan. 24:
Took Metro to DC to see the Georgetown game. Got back to Takoma, and a Metro employee was washing his car in a K&R spot. Amazing!
Wonder if that was on the clock? We asked if the car was a repeat offender, to which Mike said:
No, it was a car I never saw before. Heard music blasting from the platform. Went down the elevator, and it was this guy's car stereo. lol
Good job, Metro.

Other items:

Friday, January 22, 2010

Rider Hall of Shame: Full-On, 4- Seat Fail

From Amanda:

I got on the blue line train [after the holidays] after flying into DCA and was quickly reminded that my vacation was over.

When I got on the train this fella was laying across four seats (impressive!) with his head on the one of the seats (disgusting!). Please just try to imagine that.

He straightened himself up when I sat across from him, and by straightened I mean he moved into this position you see here, still taking up four seats.

Ah, thanks for the welcome home.

Related posts:
Other Rider Hall of Shame members

Other items:
Be ready for tourists and bus route changes today (WMATA)
Japanese station manager cat gets promoted (via @LukanX)
Stranded for 5 hours (Examiner via @

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Behold ... the Power ... of Graffiti

Editor's Note: for the full multimedia effect of this post, we recommend putting on some headphones and listening to this in the background. Enjoy.

December was one of the worst months for Metro delays--mostly doors and "mechanical"--since we've been keeping tally, and that was WITH a holiday, which we don't count AND without the 31st, which we just haven't gotten around to yet.

Seriously guys, way to close out a banner year on an uptick.

It was on Dec. 17 that outgoing Metro GM John Catoe promised us things would improve every day. If anything, Metro is getting worse. Service deterioration is about the only thing moving quickly on Metro these days. Yesterday's a.m. Orange Line was a testament to decrepitude.

Here are some of the more humorous/strange/scary reasons Metro gave for delays over the past couple of months.

Nov. 6
6:02 a.m. A Blue Line train at McPherson Square in the direction of Largo Town Center was delayed because of a train ahead that was experiencing mechanical problems.
(Yet there was no entry for the train that was experiencing the mechanical problems. Was it not delayed as well? Makes you wonder if Metro reports them all.)

8:43 a.m. A Red Line train at Bethesda in the direction of Glenmont was taken out of service because the public address system was inoperable. Customers were required to exit the train.
(Since when does this require a train to be taken out of service? Most of them don't work well enough to understand what the hell they're saying anyway.)

Nov. 13
6:54 a.m. An Orange Line train at Vienna was put into service late because of a public health issue. (Ew and ew)

Nov. 20
4:12 p.m. A Green Line train at Branch Ave was not put into service. (FML)

Nov 23
7:25 p.m. A Red Line train at Farragut North in the direction of Glenmont was taken out of service because the operator overran the platform, and customers were required to exit the train. The train was put back into service from Fort Totten. (Oops.)

Dec 14
11:13 p.m. A Blue Line train at McPherson Square in the direction of Largo Town Center was taken out of service because of a report of graffiti on the exterior of the train, and customers were required to exit the train. (Seriously?)

Dec 16
10 a.m. A Blue Line train at Braddock Road in the direction of Largo Town Center was delayed to allow the operator to investigate a strong brake odor. (Those brake particles actually scrub the lungs of other impurities.)

Dec 22
5:35 a.m. An Orange Line train at Vienna was not put into service because no operator was available. (Zzzzzz?)

Other items:
Federal appointees to Metro Board might ... who knows? (Examiner)
President's Day work to close segments of Orange/Blue lines (WMATA)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

January is National Blood Donor Month

But please don't leave your donation on the Metro!

From Alison: "This is how the zombie apocalypse will begin."

Other items:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bored of the Board

Last May, we posted the above picture from the movie Reservoir Dogs because we think it pretty much sums up the parochial views of the three jurisdictions that are ultimately responsible for "running" Metro. And look, they're geographically accurate, too!

The result of the dysfunction and shortsightedness? Look at the lower right. That's "Mr. Orange" (could be Red, Blue, Green or Yellow) on the floor. If you saw the movie, you remember how this situation ultimately ended. Many of you may have felt caught in the Board's crossfire this morning as both the Orange and Red lines were backed up.

Whether you agree with Metro GM John Catoe's decision to retire/resign starting in April, many Metro watchers in the region are now taking aim at the Board, which is comprised of members from the three jurisdictions, as a roadblock to the real change Metro needs. It's a welcome turn of events.

We're far from experts, but after listening to Board meetings over the past year and reading the opinions of those who know what they're talking about, we concur that the Board, as currently designed, is completely outdated and should be dramatically overhauled in order to a) view public transit as a regional issue and b) to better represent people who actually take WMATA buses and trains regularly.

Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney, in the wake of Catoe's resignation, writes:

The other major problem [at Metro] is the board itself, where progress is repeatedly stymied by disagreements between suburban jurisdictions and the District and by the unavoidable desire of the politicians who sit on the board to cater to their individual constituencies rather than the needs of the region., writing in the Washington Post, points out the following:

But there is a third major problem at Metro, and it's the overarching one: Metro's board. Its members -- most of them politicians -- have not been willing to fight their appointing jurisdictions to get more capital investment for the system in good years.

[...]Worse, board members are often at loggerheads. Currently, the board is made up of 12 members -- two voting and two nonvoting representatives each from the District, Maryland and Virginia. Two weeks ago, the District's two voting members vetoed a resolution supported by the Maryland and Virginia members that would merely have allowed the public to comment in a hearing on the option of raising Metro fares by 20 cents across the board from March to June; this would have provided just enough revenue to avoid service cuts and to allow minimal preventive maintenance of the fleet. Under the multi-jurisdiction compact that governs Metro, each jurisdiction has a veto over board decisions -- even regarding what issues that can be raised in public hearings.

Finally, former Virginia transportation secretary, Pierce R. Homer, again writing in the Post, noted the following shortcomings with the current way Metro is run:

More fundamentally, Catoe and his predecessors have been asked to operate within a system of governance that was designed -- 40 years ago -- to get a Metrorail system built in a region that had roughly half the population that it does today. Today, the challenges facing Metrorail are less about new construction and more about the unglamorous maintenance and operation of an aging system. Shouldn't the governance of Metrorail be updated to reflect this reality?

[...]Along with this, the makeup of the Metro board should be reconsidered. Today, Maryland, Virginia localities and the District appoint board members via different processes and for divergent reasons. Many of those appointees outlast the general manager. And the local officials who serve on the board also have to fashion local budgets, making tough choices among the competing needs of education, health care, public safety and transportation. The jurisdictions are in competition with one another for jobs, transportation funding and, yes, Metro services. In the meantime, the users of the rail system -- who pay nearly 80 percent of the operating costs of the rail system -- are underrepresented. That will still be the case even after four new federal appointees are added to the board.

[...]If we want Metro to focus on daily maintenance, operations and safety, doesn't it make sense for daily Metrorail users to have a significant say on the governing body?
Is a change in the Board a silver bullet? Absolutely not. Metro suffers from many ailments, but a change in the makeup and outlook of the Board would be a step in the right direction.

The problem is we don't know the best way to bring about these kinds of fundamental changes, as much as they're needed. To continue building on this unsteady foundation will likely result in the further degradation of Metro.

As we've suggested before, perhaps one place to start is to contact the organizations that appoint the Board members. We have all their contact information here.

If you have other ideas or suggestions, by all means share.

Other items:
Rebates for poor service? (Examiner)
Layoffs begin at Alstom as they wait for contracts (Evening Trib)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Beware of the Snatch and Dash

Click for larger/legible

According to this Metro flyer, theft of small electronic devices is on the rise. Metro police are taking steps to stem the tide.

From MP:

Around 4:45 p.m. yesterday at L 'Enfant or Metro Center (I wasn't paying close attention), I witnessed a snatch and dash robbery on the Orange Line. The robber grabbed something, probably a phone or iPod, out of the victim's hand and ran out the closing doors.

People need to be careful holding phones and iPods while standing near the doors. I don't take out my laptop unless I'm safely in the window seat, and I don't use my iPod while standing near the doors.

MTPD has a plainclothes robbery division, and they have made about 90 arrests since May, when they started. They've noticed few, if any, reoffenders/rearrests. They report that robberies are down 10 percent from November to December, and their goal is another 10 percent decrease.

Have you been a victim of a snatch and dash or worse? Have you seen one take place? Do you take steps to avoid being robbed?

Catoe rundown:
Metro's resigning manager inherited funding and board problems (WaPo/editorial)
John Catoe's surprise resignation leaves Metro in a jam (WaPo/editorial)
Examiner story on Catoe's resignation
Union leader's take (DCist)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Catoe Submits Resignation, Effective April 2

The Washington Post is reporting that Metro GM John Catoe has submitted his resignation, effective April 2.

The timing is very odd considering he took time last night to meet with some of his critics.

WMATA press release

“I have decided that it is time for me to channel my future in new directions and provide this organization an opportunity to move beyond the current distractions,” Catoe said. “Good leaders know how to impact change. Great leaders know when it’s time for leadership change. I hope I fall into the latter category.”

Here's a recap of the sentiments being expressed on Twitter:

Some Metrobus Drivers Deserve Cookies

From Angela:

On Jan. 11, I was taking my usual 96 bus to work.

There's kind of a "crew" on the bus among the regular riders. Needless to say, it gets a little boisterous, even at 6:30 on a Monday morning!

It's great!

Anyway, I got off at my usual stop and started going on my merry way when I hear my bus driver yelling at me: "You forgot your bag!"

Holy crap! I did forget my bag!

So I ran back to the bus and one of my great fellow bus riders met me with my bag.

Charlie, the bus driver, is one of the best bus drivers I have come across in the city. I've been riding his bus for over a year now, and he's just a great guy.

That he stopped the bus so that I could retrieve my bag is so nice! I brought him some cookies this morning to show my appreciation.

I don't usually have a problem with most bus drivers, but Charlie definitely goes above and beyond most Metro employees.

Thanks, Charlie for making my Monday a little better!

Metro Hosts Blogger Round Table

Hats off to Metro for inviting area bloggers for a sit down with GM John Catoe.

Hats off to reader CS who was able to attend for Unsuck readers. Here's the report:

Metrorail misery – jammed trains and platforms, gummed up operations that lead to bunched trains or long waits during rush hour, and that nausea-inducing ride – will continue for at least a couple of months, but likely even longer. And the system’s current fiscal crisis, which is prompting consideration of fare hikes and painful service cuts, is likely to stretch into a two-year slog before the crunch eases.

So says Metro General Manager John Catoe, who, in a recognition of the arrival of the blogosphere, Wednesday held a roundtable discussion with about a dozen bloggers who cover and comment on the system. (The session set the MSM atwitter after they found out about it, Metro officials said. Some asked to join, but Metro held firm and kept to the original guest list.)

The confab ended up being a wide-ranging discussion of challenges and problems facing the system. A cordial, smiling, and reasonably relaxed-looking Catoe professed that he well understands the anger that has surged in recent months following last summer’s fatal accident, as service has appeared to deteriorate on an almost daily basis. How does he know? People tell him to his face, he says. He rides the trains (albeit usually earlier in the day when fewer people are on board), and it used to be that someone would complain to him only occasionally. Now, it’s much more common to get an earful, he said. It doesn’t make him feel good, he said, acknowledging that he might have done a better job sharing with the public that Metro officials truly "get" the problem.

Unfortunately, there’s no firm forecast for relief. Besides the issue of aging rolling stock – which isn’t going to be solved soon – the key variable for the near future is when trains can return to automatic control.

Catoe acknowledged what riders know – that under post-accident manual control, Metro is struggling to maintain proper timing and spacing of trains. Trains bunch up, which creates gaps, and forces trains to hold to make schedule adjustments. The daily total of trains remains the same, he said, but during peak hours, the timing problems mean fewer trains are getting through. So even though ridership is down since the accident, service is worse.

Progress is continuing on testing a new system to provide real-time detection of train location, he said. In fact, testing is now expanding. Metro believes it will be ready to return to automatic control when that system is ready, which is at least two months away. Nonetheless, Catoe says he doesn’t want to return to automatic control until the National Transportation Safety Board wraps up its investigation of last year’s accident and issues its final report. Catoe indicated he won’t risk going back to automatic, but then having the NTSB turn up something unexpected.

Meanwhile, he said that in March, Metro officials will go to the Metro board with plans to order new rail cars, to replace the 1000-series cars. Although delivery will take years, the new equipment will also help improve reliability.

In other areas, Catoe said:

-- Efforts are underway to address the perennial door problems and the newer brake-locking issues, which send trains out of service and make riders queasy. Catoe wouldn’t commit to a roll-out date.

-- While most Metro employees do a good job, there are "people issues" that mar the Metro experience.

-- Without using the same language himself, he endorsed former General Manager Richard White’s warning of a Metro "death spiral." The current situation – heavy ridership, manual operations, and older equipment – cannot persist. "Our job – my job – is to change that."

-- When Metro holds its public hearing Jan. 27 on how to plug this year’s $40 million budget gap, the public will be given a chance to essentially vote their opinions, by mixing and matching options, cafeteria-style, from a menu of choices. Wary of getting ahead of his board, Catoe declined to say what his preference is.

-- The next two years will be crucial financially. Metro has customarily relied on a three-legged stool to solve its money problems – fare increases, service cuts, and greater contributions from Maryland, Virginia and the District. But the economy has eliminated the option of greater funding from the three jurisdictions making up the Metro compact. The economy will recover, but it will take two years for things to improve enough so that the jurisdictions can increase funding. Catoe says Metro officials know that if they make deep cuts now, they won’t be able to restore capacity quickly when the economy does turn the corner and demand begins to increase again.

-- If Metro raises fares, experience suggests that riders won’t abandon the system in significant numbers, provided the increase isn’t too large. At some point, though, what economists call "price elasticity" kicks in, and fare hikes drive riders away.

-- As bad as things seem here, they’re worse elsewhere – Chicago is proposing an 18 percent reduction in service, and in Orange County, Calif., there are plans to cut the bus system by 30 percent.

-- When he shook up his management team recently, it was because he felt improvements were not coming soon enough or fast enough, and he wanted to speed things up.

In all, the bloggers were fairly candid in hashing over the system’s problems with Catoe, relating both personal tales of woe and those of their readers. And Catoe, for his part, seemed both aware of the issues, and earnest in his responses. "I’ve heard everything you’ve said tonight, and I will respond to it," Catoe said.

But Metro’s problems are way past the talking stage. We hope Catoe succeeds wildly. But in the meantime, we’ll be watching to see what really happens on, say, the crowded platforms of Metro Center, or at a station near you.

More by CS:

Catoe: Show us you get it
Rules don't apply
Vienna's creepy tower
Doors Closing
Moving ... Backwards

Other items:
Funding shift could help area transit (WaPo)
Metro can be bad, but... (WTOP)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What Do You Call ...

In DC ,we have the much hated escaleftors, but there's an even more malicious Metro maladroit mucking up the system: people who refuse to budge from the little walls right by many of the doors.

You know the move: step in, pivot left or right, attach butt to wall and keep it there until their destination is reached, no matter how many people have to squeeze and shimmy by to get on or off.

Reader Howard suggests "doormites," which is, according to him, the unofficial term for these fine folks in NYC.

Can we come up with something better in DC?


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Metro's Failin'est Escalator?

From Steve:
I wanted to share this photo with you. It's a sign at the top of the escalator at the College Park station. It's kind of hard to read, but it says that it should be repaired by November 15.

I took the picture Jan. 8.
Got another nominee for worst escalator in Metro?

Other items:
Metro starts three-day safety review (WMATA)

Monday, January 11, 2010


"I often talk with the guys about working to ensure a safer working environment."

On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that the driver of the train involved in a near miss with track workers had been "disqualified" from the position of train operator. "Disqualified" sounds like legalese, doesn't it?

That's because, as the article states, "the operator may be eligible for another position."

We all know what "may" means.

Now this operator's infraction was not minor. According to the TOC report (PDF) they were:
"operating at full track speed passed the employees working along the ROW (right of way) without appearing to slow down at all or acknowledge the employees’ presence in any other way, in direct violation of Special Order 07-06 (3.87). Though there were no injuries, the employees and review team members were forced to quickly scramble out of the way to avoid being struck by the train in question due to the speed with which it appeared to approach."

Wouldn't it be nice to totally screw up your job, even to the point where it put the lives of coworkers at risk and STILL "be eligible" for another post within your organization, perhaps pulling the same pay and doing less?

More infuriating is that Metro "may" have a potential cancer among its ranks. It's obvious the employee has little regard for the rules, and now that they've been "punished," they're likely to see themselves as victims. Those two qualities don't usually add up to model employee material. We already know that Metro has a hard time getting rid of bad employees.

We're looking forward to perhaps asking this employee for help one day while they're chillaxin' with a group of fellow workers. If only we could imagine the jovial repartee...

In another Metro gaffe, there was a story in the Post about three women who were trapped in a train that had been taken out of service. Apparently, after realizing they were trapped, they tried to use the emergency intercom to hail the operator. The calls, unsurprisingly, went unanswered.

We've been documenting this problem here for some time here, here and here. Metro has said they don't send cars out with non-working intercom, yet they admitted the opposite later.

As reader Michael pointed out, the article said one trapped rider was left with no recourse but to file a complaint over Metro's customer complaint line. Michael's advice to Metro?
"Try meeting them on the platform with a customer complaint form, a $20 farecard and the business card of the head of rail operations."
If only ...

Other items:
Funny Toles cartoon (WaPo)
Metro eyes cutting 150 jobs amid budget emergency (Examiner)
Metro's 'neglect by design' pads payroll (Examiner editorial)

Friday, January 8, 2010

For All Contemplating Riding with No Pants

Call us fuddy-duddies, but this whole No Pants Metro Ride is puzzling to say the least.

Why would anyone WANT to ride the Metro when they didn't have to, and why would they do so with no pants?

Don't get it. Never gonna do it. But there's a fair amount of buzz, and maybe it's a good time, so we'll leave it as a case of different strokes for different folks.

However, if you're going to let your bare skin meet a Metro seat, you might want to read the following post. It has to be one of the most disturbing non-fatal Metro experiences anyone has ever reported. The writer would like to remain anonymous.

I got on the Yellow Line at Pentagon City recently heading back to work at Gallery Place. Since it wasn't that crowded, I sat down on a seat that happened to have a newspaper on it.
Little did I realize I had just sat in a pile of bum crap camouflaged by the newspaper.
It was everywhere.
I got off at Pentagon, and after trying without luck to find help, some friends came to my rescue by bringing some clothes and driving me home where I took about five showers.
I then called Metro’s complaint line, and after leaving a voice mail, I got a call back the next day. You’d think they’d want to act ASAP if they had a train car rolling around that was filled with poop!
She did take my info and put me in touch with the claims department (all my clothing and shoes were ruined).
I have heard enough about having a “shitty day” to last me a lifetime.

Maybe it was the same person who did this:
7:14 p.m. An inbound Yellow Line train at Huntington was dispatched late because human waste was found on the train.
7:54 p.m. An inbound Orange Line train at Court House was delayed to allow Metro personnel to isolate a rail car because of human waste.

If you're undeterred and simply must ride with no pants, here's how:

Date: Sunday, January 10, 2010
Time: 3:00pm - 5:00pm
Location: C - street park by L'Enfant Plaza Station

Photo: jamescalder

What a Year

It's hard to believe, but Unsuck is a year old. A lot has happened, and the time has flown by. It feels like only 365 days since we created it. Seriously though, some of those commutes should count for two days' worth.

It's hard to find much unsucking that's been done, but WMATA does, uh, tweet better, even though the Photoshop skills could use a little work.

But that's the past, so what about the future?

The blog will live on as long as you're still willing to provide the pulse. We look forward to more of your keen observations on WMATA and all of its funny, sad and infuriating charms.

The biggest thanks goes to everyone who contributed. There are WAY too many to list, but you know who you are.

Without you taking time out of your busy days to jot off an email, fire off a tweet or to snap a quick photo, this blog would be about as fresh as the air in a rush hour train or as entertaining as a door malfunction. Hats off to each of you. Please keep it coming!

Thanks also to all the extremely articulate, funny and clever readers, commentators, fellow bloggers, haters, fans, critics, supporters, naysayers, followers, threat makers, false accusers, idealists, pessimists, rider hall of shame members and anyone in between who has stopped by to take a look or told a friend about Unsuck.

Thanks also to Ron Holzer at WMATA. He must REALLY want to hit delete or use the block option every time he sees an email from us, but he hasn't. Kudos to him.

Oh, and we'll be hosting an Unsuck celebration happy hour tonight during rush hour at Gallery Place somewhere along the Red Line to Shady Grove platform. Look for the crowd and then bob and weave by to say hello. Faregate prizes for the first three to show will be three wilted farecards* with 5, 10 and 20 cents on them respectively.

Other items:
10-cent fare hike could stave off some service cuts (WaPo)
LA Metro turns to marketing (The City Fix) h/t @anc7c04

*Farecards may be (probably are) demagnetized.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Jersey Shore has "The Situation," & the WMATA Board has ...

"The Problem"

By steadfastly refusing to allow riders to even discuss an up to 20-cent fare increase through June 30, this guy has probably bestowed sucky commutes upon us all. Metro will now consider an up to 10-cent hike (with public comment), which won't bridge the gap.

By framing the discussion like this, it's obvious he doesn't want to hear our voices or give us choices!

Why not, you may ask?

He doesn't want to "agitate" you.

If you want to get a better understanding of how some of WMATA's dysfunction emanates from the Board, listen to today's Board meeting, particularly the latter half. It's a miracle Metro runs at all.

As a side note, it must be stated that board member Chris Zimmerman was impressive.

We're not the only ones who thought Graham behavior was appalling:
Greater Greater Washington's take
Beyond DC's take

Taking it to the Edge

@hostagehoosier hardcore orangeline fail

A bit long today, but bear with us.

The first commuting days of 2010 were unacceptable. The Red Line was a mess on Monday, and then the Orange Line collapsed into a teeming pile of flesh on Tuesday evening. Wednesday morning once again saw the Orange Line in a full frontal fail.

Metro sucked all last year, but the past few days have revealed an entire new realm of suck we thought was only the suck of myth. One rider claimed they had to wait for 7 trains at Court House on Wednesday morning before there was room to get on.

What happened between the end of December, when things were relatively "OK," and Jan. 4? What took run-of-the-mill Metro sucking to lows never thought reachable?

Not to be too conspiratorial here, but today is when the Board is supposed to make a decision about some very big service cuts. A year ago, at roughly this same time, Metro was talking major service cuts as well. Granted, the budget being discussed at the time was the annual budget, not an unexpected shortfall within the operating budget of same fiscal year as is being faced now, but the threats are eerily similar.

Among them were closing Metro at 10 p.m. on weeknights, increasing headways, and eliminating select bus service and closing mezzanines. Sound familiar? This year, they're not threatening to close the system at 10, but they're proposing ditching all 8-car trains and pretty much the rest of the list from last year.

Could these totally sucky commutes to start off the year be a Metro ploy to drum up fear so they can once again kick the brutal cuts down the road or raid another pile of money?

Remember when the Park Service, when faced with cuts, would threaten to close the Washington Monument? It has become known as the Washington Monument Strategy, and it is a common practice among bureaucracies.

When the dust settled last year, the cuts turned out to be rather meager, but as the final decisions were being made, everyone was in a tizzy.

What do you think? Could WMATA be so Machiavellian? Has ANYONE seen an 8-car train this week? Are we guinea pigs in a bureaucratic pissing war? Will they really go through with all the proposed cuts at today's meeting?

It is a fact that Metro's budget picture is not pretty at all, so we may end up with the cuts proposed. If the past few days' rides are any indications the cuts will have Metro playing a very risky game by letting the platforms get this crowded, and if you scroll down beyond the photos, you'll see one reader's idea for a solution to some of the crowding at Gallery Place, a notorious bottleneck.

@JohnDellaporta The GP/Chitown platform, after 2 trains passed by w/o picking people up. #wmata

@marklemunyon Rosslyn is a mess. Never seen it this bad #wmata #metro

From Charles:
It was 9 a.m., Tuesday, January 5.

I was stuck. Not on a train, but on a platform at Gallery Place.

Hundreds of people clogged the platform, making it totally impossible for anybody to move. People who wanted to board a Red Line train to Shady Grove could not. People who wanted to exit a train were stuck. People who wanted to get out of the station were trapped on the platform—cheek by jowl with their fellow man.

A couple of Metro Transit Police officers surveyed the situation from the balcony that overlooks the Red Line tracks. I eventually made my way upstairs and asked the officers who was in charge of this mess.

"A rail supervisor should see this!" explained one officer. I agreed and inquired as to the whereabouts of that supervisor. "We've called for the supervisor," said the officer. He shrugged and walked away.

The officers called, but who was listening? I'm afraid we know the answer.

Hello, John Catoe? Hello, Metro Board of Directors? Why not visit Gallery Place during the height of morning rush hour? Come show us that you care!

Metro has two kinds of problems: Those that will never be solved and those that can be solved—right now, immediately, and for no extra money. The same is true at Gallery Place during morning rush hour.

The unsolvable problem at is the station’s layout. The Green and Yellow Lines meet the Red Line in a T. There will always be gridlock as Green and Yellow Line passengers try to transfer upstairs to the Red Line. Then there are the inevitable delays and breakdowns that cause people to pile up on platforms. These problems are tough, and we will always have them.

The frustrating thing is that Metro could make one easy, cost-neutral decision that would immediately improve this ridiculous situation at Gallery Place.

Ever since the June 22 accident, trains have pulled to the front of every platform to add a margin of safety. This generally makes sense, except for inbound Red Line trains at Gallery Place during morning rush hour.

Simply allowing trains to stop where the people are stacked 15 deep would make a huge difference and would enhance platform safety.

C'mon, John Catoe! Make it happen! Let's score some points for safety and common sense.

Or at least dispatch a rail supervisor to survey the situation.

Unsuck readers may recall my December 17 post titled "Doors Yet Again!" You’ll be relieved to know that nobody from Metro has followed up with me in any way. Of course Unsuck readers more than made up for that by posting a lot of good comments.
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