Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Metro's Split Personality

Two stories, two WMATAs.

From anonymous:

Let me preface by saying yes, I was that loser who was taking up too much space the other morning from Twinbrook to Medical center around 8:45. I was carrying three bags of cupcakes for class snacks, and I didn’t want my roses to fall.

Knowing my luck, it’s unsurprising I forgot my Smartrip at home in my winter jacket. I have learned to accept this about me, and keep THREE fare cards as back-ups in my purse, coin purse, and spring jacket pocket. So, I knew I was prepared.

I got through the gates easily at Twinbrook, considering the load I was carrying, and had mentally prepared myself for the swift movements I needed to take to make sure I didn’t slow up any of my fellow riders' commute. However, when I got to the gate at Medical Center and put my fare card in, it told me I had to go to the exit fare machines. I was 10 cents short (not because of the fare increase). Crap.

I set all my stuff down, and rummaged through my purse, coin purse, and wallet and found a $20 bill, 10 pennies, and my other two fare cards. The machine doesn’t accept $20s or pennies, so I gathered up all my stuff and went ask the station manager if I could pay her, or exit and buy another farecard. I showed her I had the money, just not the correct means to exit properly.

I had asked her for help, and she asked me, “Do you know the terms and conditions you agree to as a rider of Metro?”

Me: Yes, I’m a frequent rider, and forgot my Smartrip today, and didn’t realize I was short until too late.

Manager: That’s not what I asked you. I asked if you are familiar with the terms and conditions to agree to as a rider of Metro.

Me: Yes.

Manager: Well, obviously you are not. If you were, you would know the exit machine does not take $20s or $10s, and you would have gone over to this sign (points out the fare sign) and read how much fare you needed to ride Metro. Are you familiar with our regular and reduced rates?

Me: Yes, I’m very familiar with Metro, and how Metro works. What I’m saying is I made a mistake. Is there a way I can combine my farecards or purchase a new one with this $20?

Manager: Well, obviously you are not familiar with how Metro works because you would have had the correct fare for Metro. Now, you want to figure out a way to pay how much you’re short, because if you don’t, Metro will put out a warrant for your arrest. And you don’t want to be driving down the road, pulled over for a busted tail-light, and the police realize you have a warrant out for you for 10 cents.

What I didn’t tell her is that I don’t drive, otherwise I wouldn’t be taking Metro in the first place. Also, at this point in the conversation, an older gentleman came up, and said he had dropped is Metro card on the tracks, and he wanted to buy another one. SHE LET HIM GO!

I was 10 cents short, and was threatened with a warrant!

I just looked at her through her entire speech, and at the end, I still didn't have any means of exiting the station. So I asked, "so what do you want me to do?" She took my fare cards (My $2.00 and $1.10; my fare was $2.10) and ripped them up, and let me go through the handicap turnstile.

I feel that Metro should have a better way of accommodating its passengers--a better system for exit fares that lets riders combine multiple fare cards, etc.-- or at least train station managers with common courtesy.

I don’t think I’ll be submitting an official complaint with Metro, mainly because I was treated poorly when asking for help, I can’t imagine the treatment I’ll receive for submitting a complaint.

From Heather:

The other night, my SmarTrip card wouldn't work when I got on at Gallery Place around 8 p.m.

I approached the station manager kiosk, they tested my card, which wouldn't work, and said "the computer is frozen" and waived me through.

So I got off at Takoma Park around 8:30, tried to use my card again, and it didn't work. Then, I went to the station kiosk, and they didn't even test my card, they just let me through without paying.

Thinking my card was dirty or had become demagnetized, I kept trying to clean it at both stations while trying to go through the turnstile, and even tested it a few times at the farecard vending machines to see if it would register.

Finally, it did register on the machine and worked fine when I got on the bus at Takoma.

Now, all of this would not have made me think there was a bigger problem, except that there were about five other people at Takoma with the same problem, and we were all let out without paying.

The station manager didn't seem to think it was strange that suddenly five people's SmarTrip cards stopped working at the same time.

This brings me to my last point: I frequently get on the bus, and the driver lets everyone board for free, because of a broken fare machine.

I wonder how much of these free rides are contributing to Metro's financial woes? This happens on my commute at least once a week, and my bus usually carries 20 riders a trip.

And I also wonder, if someone were to intentionally demagnetize their card, how long could they ride Metro for free by being waved through by station managers?

Could be an interesting experiment ...

Other items:
Red Line crash cost a lot of dimes (Examiner)


Anonymous said...

Wow. That is complete BS. I wish you could have taken some immediate action of punishment for that kiosk woman because you know she won't be punished but rather praised by the criminal union she belongs to.

What will it take for these station managers to stop being dicks? Do we actually have to have an atmosphere of threat from the riding public (we'll haul you out of your kiosk and beat the shit out of you) before they'll straighten up and fly right?

Anonymous said...

That is amazing. But at the same time, I hate to say it, not all that surprising.

Christina said...

I've relied on the bus as my main form of transportation in Virginia and DC - the S buses in DC and the 25/22 in Virginia. In Virginia, the fare boxes almost always work. I think one hasn't worked in the 3 years I've lived in VA. In DC, the fare boxes were constantly broken (at least once a week). And when it's a high traffic route like the S line, I also wonder how much they're losing.

Anonymous said...

Just a point of information-
While the paper farecards can be demagnitized, the smart trip cards cannot.
The smarttrip card works on a RFID unit. These cards will operate within about 1/2 inch of the sensor, so you don't have to clean the card. What does happen if the card is flexed is that it will break the antenna that transmits its ID number to the sensor.

Anonymous said...

oh contraire educated poster Anon 9:55! My smartcard won't get read at a turnstile unless I give it a slight bend as I slide it over the "spot" on that turnstile. Quite consistent. It was a Metro employee who suggested I do "the slight bend" and we both laughed when it worked the very first time.

What does this say about the system? It's not reliable. (And if they ever do that debit/charge card routine for turnstiles, I will be one who never ever ever uses it. Ever.)

I find it morbidly humorous that these attendants act like they are speaking with ignorant children when its the customer who seems to know the details every time. They simply demonstrate their lack of civility, courtesy and professionalism while showing an abundance of ignorance!

Anonymous said...

That's our Metro!

Anonymous said...

@10:14 - you have to bend it because you likely did just the same at some point earlier, almost breaking the antenna internally. Bending it may work for now, but YOU have toasted your smartrip card. Take care of your own equipment before you bash the system.

Anonymous said...

My card was NEW when it would not work and the bend advice was provided, which made it work, Anon 10:57. Please do not try to teach others how to use their equipment nor how to care for it. I think I know how it works by now, including your electronics educational advice. Why? a) I work with electronics for a living, and b) I've been a Metro rider for 24 years nonstop. I do not drive. Lecture me about driving cars and I just might listen.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to guess that the guy who was waived through after supposedly dropping his card on the tracks was a brotha.

Anonymous said...

I am John Catoe III.

Anonymous said...

I'm on my 3rd SmartTrip card, had to bend all 3 from day 1.

This demands a poll.

Pete said...

Wait a minute re SmarTrips... When these first rolled out, were riders told that the cards had a limited life expectancy? I seem to remember something on the order of 3-5 years. So maybe some of these cards are in their last days/weeks/months or usefulness?

FWIW, I've also noticed some issues with the turnstile card readers. Why does a SmarTrip card register without any problem whatsoever at one turnstile, but the turnstile right next it has trouble reading the same card?

Anonymous said...

“Do you know the terms and conditions you agree to as a rider of Metro?”

I'd also like to know where the terms and conditions mentioned by the station manager are publicly available. Can someone produce a URL? I couldn't find one.

Also, I think may program WMATA's customer assistance hotline number into my phone, so if a station manager decides to give me a hard time instead of sought-after assistance, I might be able to call up WMATA and report it right in the presence of the station manager. Perhaps the mere threat of calling it in to someone at the home building would prompt a change in attitude.

Anonymous said...

Upon exiting, you didn't have the correct fare for the Metro. The machines, as you claim to have been aware of, don't give change for $10 and $20 bills. What exactly do you expect Metro to do for you? As a fellow rider, I sure don't want to be paying for the everyone's discount every time they ignore the way Metro works.

People here complain about poor service and the correlated need for increased fares, yet expect Metro to pay part of their fares?

Anonymous said...

The station manager could have let her exit (as they did the other person) so she could increase the fare on her card.

The point is, the exit fare machines should be more rider friendly. Why not use the same machines for exit fare that are used to load your card on the other side. It's plain silly to me.

WMATA wants ridership, but in everything they do, they make riding the rails more difficult. Whether it is increasing fares and decreasing service, or not being a dependable mode of transportation. I've lost many a vacation hour on metro, without a discount in fare.

Tracy said...

Pete... believe it or not, I've had the same SmartTrip card since the first ones were issued in 2000 (or 2001) can't remember the exact year. Mine has been through hell and back (lost it, and had it mailed back to me 2 yrs later).

It was returned to me just before my newer card stopped working, so I went back to my original card.

Somehow the newer cards are much more fragile than the old ones. My niece bought one last year and had it crack within 2 months of light use (she didn't even use it everyday and kept it in her wallet).

I'm hanging on to my dependable worn out card as long as I possibly can!

babbler said...

I like the train system in Singapore, you purchase a paper ticket for each ride at the beginning, no hassles. If you want a monthly or yearly pass, it spits out the necessary paper ticket quickly and easily.

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous Twinbrook commuter: You should DEFINITELY write a complaint letter, in the same well-thought, emotionless tone that you wrote to Unsuck Metro, and you should copy in an agency with some type of authority, such as Federal Transit Administration (the Philadelphia office is responsible for DC area transit issues) and DCRA. If nothing else, you've voiced your negative experience. If EVERYONE voiced their truly negative (not run-of-the-mill negative, which is sad that we now accept that), then Metro would have to act. You're fighting for all of us! We're in this together!

Anonymous said...

Last month I lost my wallet on the train. I asked the station manager if I could exit to get a new farecard, and she rolled her eyes and said "yeah..." then when I slipped through the handicap turnstile to do so, she started screaming about how I just committed a felony (?), made me go *back in*, and exit through a gate a few feet away.

Seriously, maybe this was the same lady. Metro and its crazy employees are my biggest motivation for moving to another city when I get a chance.

Anonymous said...

I'm just curious, what part of 'legal tender' does metro not understand? Pennis are money issued by the governmetn. WMATA is a public agency. Why do we have pennies only to have public agencies not take them?

Anonymous said...

Heather, SmarTrip cards are RFID - they don't have magnets or magnet encoded strips like credit cards or fare cards, FYI.

Mary said...

I think your full of BS. This has happened to me a couple of times and the person at the booth helped me out.

Anonymous said...

Let's just be blunt, please. There are African-American station managers being unnecessarily rude to white riders. I have ridden metro buses and trains for over 7 years, and I can't tell you how many African-American passengers have been allowed free rides on buses and trains. And while I see station mangers and drivers being snippy with white customers at least once a week, I have *never* seen a black station manager be belligerent with a black rider.

Feel free to call me racist. But to ignore race in stories like this is to ignore reality.

William Neilson Jr. said...

You have more balls than me carrying that all around the Metro.

I have tried and just given up taking anything of substance to work

Too much of a hassle

Ben Schumin said...

@March 9, 2010 2:18 PM:

I don't keep WMATA customer service programmed into my cell phone. I have Metro Transit Police programmed into my cell phone. Since Metro station managers have a tendency to like to harrass photographers, I do that should I need to resolve a dispute and get a somewhat authoritative source on what the law is. The MTPD is a lot more professional than the station managers, though I've admittedly never had a problem with Metro's customer service, but I believe, if the station manager was bringing up "Terms and Conditions" and threatening warrants for arrest, it's time to get Transit involved...

Anonymous said...

Damn shame the Twinbrook lady forgot her SmarTrip; she could've just foregone Metro altogether and taken Ride-On from Twinbrook to Medical Center on route 46. That's what I'd normally do, anyway.

Anonymous said...

First off, I am a black female who had an issue this very morning with a black female station manager, or someone at least masquerading as one. I entered Metro at Eisenhower at approximately 7:50 am this morning. When I put my smartrip on the turnstile, it said see station manager. I approached the station manager, who appeared very busy, was on the phone and trying to fix a cctv monitor. I was waved through. I reached Navy Archives at about 8:12am this morning. I didn't try to exit, I immediately went to the station manager kiosk assuming they could address whatever issue was occuring with my smartrip. I was instead verbally berated (with the hands on hips attitude to match) for 5 minutes about why I was let through Eisenhower in the first. I tried to remain polite, repeatedly explaining the circumstances. Finally, after the 5th time she screamed about how I shouldn't even be there in front of her, I snapped and coolly informed her that her job was to fix my card, that I had no idea of the motivations of the other station manager, but that was certainly not my problem and something she should be calling the Eisenhower station manager to discuss, not me. She yelled back that it was my problem because my card wasn't being charged the correct fare. She then turned her back on me and started calculating what my fare should be. I repeatedly stated that I did not care and I just wanted my card fixed so I could exit and get to work. She yelled some more about how that was my problem, that I didn't care. At which point I demanded her name, which she provided as Miss Stack. There. Documented black on black crime for those who don't believe it happens. I WILL certainly be filing a complaint with Metro today.

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