Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Communication Breakdown II

From Russ:

I was returning from a business trip, waiting with my boss at Metro Center in the direction of Shady Grove when my partner called to tell me a train had derailed.

We left the station and got a cab, with the intention of dropping my boss off at her home in Dupont, and then continuing in the cab to my home in Kensington.

My partner called again while en route, and said they were running trains on both sides of the derailment, so I decided to reroute to the Dupont Metro, which is two blocks from my boss' house.

As I was on the long Q street escalator down, I began to notice a torrent of people coming UP the escalator. Every one of the 250 people coming up told me the station was CLOSED due to the derailment.

I got to the station manager, or someone I thought was the station manager, and he said "station closed, no trains coming..." which I found to be suspect, and, as if on cue, the "Voice of God" system wide announcer lady comes on and said there was a derailment, but trains were running, and the next train to Shady Grove was at Metro Center. She provided other details.

So I asked station manager, "okay, which is it, what you are telling people, or what she is saying?" At which point he said what you generally don't hear from Metro folks: "I just don't know. I am only repeating what they have told me."

I asked another question: "If a train comes, will it be on the regular Shady Grove side?" He said "yes, definitely." He then stopped counseling people to not come into the station, so lots of people started to accumulate on the Shady Grove side. (There was an empty train to Glenmont on the other platform.)

The lack of communication in the system is ridiculous. Between management and other personnel, and between employees and riders, it's just crazy bad. They always say the key to a good relationship of any kind, business, pleasure, what have you, is communication. This would explain why Metro's relationship with everyone, employees and riders, just plain sucks.

One more item illustrating this: The train I did catch to Shady Grove 5 minutes later kept changing final destination, it was White Flint, then Grosvenor, then Shady Grove, then White Flint.

The operator of the train was getting a kick out of it, saying things like, "welcome aboard folks, well, this is a Red Line train now to White Flint again. We're just playing this by ear guys, sorry for the repeatedly changing destination..."

There is absolutely NO transparency in the Metro system. The whole organization is run like a dictatorship. There are very few who have the information, and they control all the news and communication within the system. This might just be a product of a system that was constructed in the '70s and '80s, and have never had the money to update the communications technology. I dunno, the whole situation is just sad.

As a footnote, I should mention they changed the destination of the train on the other platform and the station manager made an announcement, saying "if you are headed in the direction of Shady Grove, please board the train on the Glenmont side."

So we all wound up scurrying up the escalator and running across and down the other side.

Just poor communication all around.


Anonymous said...

That is so rediculous it doesn't even make me laugh. I am rather surprised at the honesty moment with an attendant actually admitting they don't know and can only repeat what they heard. I might be more inclined to be sympathetic to them if I heard that type of honesty more often. (Then again I am sure some out there would start swinging at 'em upon hearing the same comment.)

I hear so much about improvements on all sides yet none of those "in charge" ever mention this important fact of a complete communications breakdown that exists prior to, during and after any daily commute.

Jared said...

And how are the deaf riders (many in DC!) supposed to be aware of the news that keep on changing?

Anonymous said...

how about the dc council stop rubber-stamping these ridiculously high compensation packages for the head of metro (including a clothing and housing allowance on top of a ton of money. hey, buy your own clothes and pay your own rent/mortgage!) and put that money back in the system?

David said...

Re: "The whole organization is run like a dictatorship."

For parts of the system, that is actually a good thing. For any given segment of track, I would much prefer having one-and-only-one person controlling what trains are on it, in which direction, and at what speed. Democracy is a really, spectacularly bad and life-threatening idea there.

That said, that one-and-only-one person needs to be competent to give the solid, consistent leadership needed to make that work. One person for a two-or-three station segment of line, and a line supervisor for each "leg" of the line to help them coordinate, then someone *external* to that to communicate it globally, might be the right way to do it, IMO. When things get complex, putting communications in the hand of someone outside the decision-making is sometimes helpful (consider the role of NASA's CAPCOM--the person who talks to astronauts, and that's all they do. The Flight Director calls the shots.)

The complaint here, as I see it, really spins around how that communication gets handed down; station managers and train ops need to know things in a much more timely way. Maybe Central Control needs a "CAPCOM".

Anonymous said...

Put the money back in the system. A lovely thought since today's news has a most-likely increase in fares coming just after the March-June one ends.

It my LIFE at risk so Metro gets more cash for their pockets, rent, clothes and "I dunno!" answers.

How do I spell SNAFU? M.E.T.R.O.

Anonymous said...

Hey Unsuck! LOVE the Metro Suckcast at the top!

Anonymous said...

A lot of you are under the impression that front line Metro employees are in the know, and take pleasure in witholding information from the riding public.
They honestly do not know the answer beacuse there is a huge bottleneck in communications and information, especially when something like a derailment happens, and the front line employees are left to be an outlet for frustrated riders.
That said, the person(s) in charge of a specific section of rail need to ensure that everything around the scene of the accident/incident is secure from some basement in DC, and it is a hard thing to do by remote control.

Anonymous said...

C'mon, guys.

Everybody in central control was worried about the emergency response to the derailment.

It would be nice if there were extra people just to help keep station managers in the loop of developments, but there aren't. The station manager is not allowed to watch TV or listen to the radio so he probably knows less than you do. Metro has cut headquarters staff again, and again, and again, and then again tomorrow too. (Not making it up, 60 people being laid off tomorrow).

Anonymous said...

There is always texting. And don't tell me those attendants don't do it anyway - I've seen em peckin' away.

Kara said...

I know! Metro seems to think if they garble something over speakers that even many hearing ppl can not understand that they have effectively communicated something.

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