Friday, April 30, 2010

Rider Hall of Shame: You Make Arm Barber Seem OK

There have been a lot of nominees to the Rider Hall of Shame, but the other day, Unsuck spotted a true grand champion—perhaps only surpassed in suckitude by those who poop on the seats.

It should be noted that this is the first time a fellow passenger has ever put Unsuck on the verge of getting sick and creating a human fluid isolation car. The nose pickers, nail clippers et. al. are bush league in comparison.

In the evenings, Unsuck gets on the westbound Orange Line at Federal Center SW. The train is pretty much empty there if you get on the first car, so there's always seating. Normally, Unsuck chooses the back left corner seat of the first car.

Engrossed in a book, we did sense someone sit down in the seat in front of us, but soon, her presence was undeniable as she began to huff and puff as she took off a coat and then another coat. A stray sleeve grazed Unsuck's face. She noticed. No response.

Then the coughing began. A horrible, deep, phlegm-filled hack. And of course, she didn't put her hand or elbow over her mouth. She was a one-lady germ warfare machine.

Sensing a Hall of Shame contender in our midst, we didn't want to move too far away, but we didn't want to catch the plague either, so we hopped over to the other side of the car.

And then the scratching began. She hiked up her skirt above the knees and pulled down her black, knee high stockings and began to deeply and vigorously scratch and scratch and scratch all around her calves and shins. First one leg, then the other and back. There was no apparent inflammation or rash, which was the only silver lining.

And finally, as if she wasn't already making everyone in eyesight queasy, she reached into one of her three huge bags and pulled out a big wad of napkins which she then used to wipe up the copious blood she'd drawn from all the scratching. You could tell the blood was running by the way she swiped the napkins upward, as if stemming a stream.

She did this for a couple stops, and as the train filled, some poor bastard sat down next to her but quickly opted for standing once he realized what was going on.

The blood daubing went on and on til the napkins were pretty well soaked with blood.

Once the train got above ground after Ballston, the woman turned around and asked an unwitting fellow rider if she could use her cell phone! It was yet another reason to be thankful we'd moved.

Reluctantly, the naive passenger agreed and ol' bloody nails Bertha began to have a long, chatty conversation with god knows who. She was still blabbing when we got off at East Falls Church.

Stepping out of a stale Metro car into the fresh air has never felt so good.

Other items:
Green Line may be sucky all day (WUSA9)
Usually, when quality and demand falls, so does the price. Not with WMATA. (WTOP)
Examiner take on coming fare hikes

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Metro's Penalty Box

Well, the Caps' season is abruptly over, but have you ever been stuck in the Metro penalty box?

It sucks.

From Tina:
On some cars--these photos are from a 6000-series car--there are areas at the end where there is a rider dead zone. There is nothing to hold onto apart from the ceiling or a long, awkward reach to a pole or seat rail. Standing here on a jerky ride is rough. The back two seats don't even have hand rails on them.

If you're short, forget about it.

This area is avoided by most Metro pros, but it could easily hold several more people if there was something to hold onto. There's probably a $20 DIY fix, but in Metro dollars, it would probably cost millions.

Other items:
Metro ridership falling (Examiner)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Encouraged to Drive

From CC:

I see the problems with Metro from a slightly different perspective than that of a regular user, which I'm not.

Yes, Metro has some issues, but underlying it all, I think, is that many of us in the region are basically encouraged to drive by various policies.

I live in Falls Church, and I work in Rosslyn. It's about a 15-minute walk to East Falls Church Metro and then another 5 minutes from the station to my office.

Maybe I should feel guilty, but I never think of Metro as an option unless I'm going for drinks after work. I drive to work almost every day.


Well, there are several reasons.

First of all, gas is cheap. Even though it's creeping up to $3 per gallon here in the Confederacy, gas is a CRAZY "bargain."

Secondly, parking is a deal as well, and it's subsidized by my employer. (Unsuck used to pay about $70 per two-week pay period to park Court House. The daily rate is $10.) And the parking is plentiful. I get a nice spot in a garage every day, and I can use that spot on the weekends as well if I want to go out.

My employer does subsidize Metro by taking out pre-tax dollars from paychecks, but that's not enough savings to tip the scales. The "regular" Metro fare would be $2.25 each way, soon to be more.

There are some people at my office that don't live "in range" of Metrorail--not sure if the bus is viable for them--so it's good they have a place to park, but there are plenty of people who live in Arlington, and yet they still drive to work every day.

Another reason I drive is that traffic is seldom bad, so I'm there much faster than Metro could ever deliver me and without the hassle. Getting on a westbound Orange Line train at Rosslyn is about the worst place to catch it, and frankly, trains are usually pretty full at East Falls Church in the morning.

There is one thing I'm curious about with all of this. I work in a "green" building," which I guess means it follows these specs, but there's nothing I can find that mentions parking, or encouraging the use of public transportation, and for a relatively small building, we have lots o' parking.

Yes, it would be a little cheaper for me to take Metro, and I'd even get a little exercise, but for now, I'm afraid driving wins out nearly every time. I'm sure I'm not the only one in this boat.

Other items:
Electrical Problem Forces Metro Personnel To Uncouple Train (WUSA)
"Mass transit is the center of American life" Uhhhh (WaPo)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What would Metro's Look Like?

From James:

I chose this design approach because I think it reflects Metro's effort level in most endeavours. The color scheme fits Metro's retro 70s look, and the message is simple and all encompassing. The hard-to-read font is WMATA bold. Alternate versions in white and green did not test well.

There's been a spate of news about subway etiquette posters. Here are three examples. The Tokyo posters are official, and have been featured on this blog before, but the Toronto and NYC posters were part of guerrilla campaigns by fed up riders.

What would DC etiquette posters look like? If anyone anyone wants to make some for WMATA, we'll post 'em here. Send them or post them on Flickr or somesuch and send a link. You can make them blank for anyone to fill in or fill them in yourselves.

Remember, signage quality standards in the Metro are pretty low, so break out your crayons.

We've got a long list of Riders we Hate and of course, the Rider Hall of Shame.

Other items:
Take a look at the coming 7000-series cars (GGW)

Monday, April 26, 2010

WMATA Rule Number 2: Go Before you Go

From Vincent:

On Tuesday evening, at around 8:30, I was at the Bethesda station and wanted to use the restroom before finishing my commute to Columbia Heights.

I tapped on the booth window, and the attendant turned to me and grimaced, like WMATA employees always do upon realizing they will soon be asked to perform a task.

I smiled and asked "can I use the restroom?"

She huffed, turned her back to me and started typing on the computer again.

I stood at the window waiting for some indication that a plan was being set into motion that would lead to the restroom door being opened.

She glanced at me once again, closed some windows on the monitor and stood up. I moved back so she could open the door.

When she stepped out and growled "why the hell you still standing there?"

I was speechless.

I paused, trying to think of something to say, but the only words I could produce were "WOW. Excuse me?"

Her reply? "Yeah wow. What, I got to take you by the hand to the bathroom now? I was gonna be there in a minute to open the door."

Again, all I could say was "WOW!"

By this time, a handful of people were staring at her in disbelief from the other side of the turnstiles.

"What is your name?" I demanded, as she walked away from me. She huffed again and waved her hand in my direction like I was a bee, "it's on the booth."

I looked in all the windows but didn't see a sign with her name on it.

By the time I walked around the booth and down the hall toward her, she was already closing and re-locking the the door to the area with the restrooms.

I was now furious and didn't want to use the restroom anyway, so I turned and followed her.

As she climbed into her kiosk, I asked her for her name once more. She snatched a dirty blue piece of cardboard from the front window and shook it at me, then dropped it back into place. The dirty blue cardboard had her name, Johnson, written in lettering like a 3-year-old.

It could have only been less professional if had it been written in macaroni.


Metro's super toilet

Other items:
Man claims Metro closed doors on his neck (NBC4)
Arlington ups Metro dough (WaPo)
Metro's maintenance projects deferred for lack of cash (Examiner)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Seen this Show Before

It's starting to feel like we could just put this blog on autopilot and re-post each entry from last year. It would still be about as accurate as a Metro "schedule." Metro's like a bad re-run.

Budget gaps, threatened service cuts, a parochial Board engaged in brinkmanship and lacking a regional perspective. It's sorta like the train operator threatening to offload a train. After a while, it just doesn't register. Crazy sucky seems normal. Perhaps, that's the whole point.

Remember last year when Metro faced a "$154 million" budget gap? Scary service cuts were floated, public hearings were held, there was outrage, Metro "listened," and in the end ... meh. It was all bark and not a whole lotta bite. Metro shifted things around and suddenly, most of those horrific service cuts just melted into nothing, just like rush hour "service" on the Red Line.

Yet there was a price to pay. There were a few service cuts, things did get worse, and they continue to. Oh, and there was that pesky dime fare increase "because of the economy."

Yeah, you can still see those stickers everywhere. Guess the plan is to pay Metro employees to carefully put the next fare increase sticker over each of the old ones. Better make 'em bigger to reflect the size of the increase. Pretty soon, you won't be able to traverse the FareGates because the phalanx of fare increase stickers. And seriously Metro, how about keeping with the '70s color scheme this time? No more '90s lime green and white, please.


Like last year, this year, we heard similar, but even scarier threats of service cuts in order to close a "$189 million" gap. But lo and behold, that ol' Metro magic appears to have found a way to make it not so bad.

Yet again, there will probably be some cuts, there'll definitely be a fare increase (because "you" begged for it.), and the service will likely get even worse.

Instead of making big boy decisions, the highly political Metro Board seems to prefer a death by 1,000 cuts, all the while praying for the white knight of increased jurisdictional funding (or a gas tax) to suddenly appear. The whole thing feels like this.

Prediction: Next year, there'll be another "crisis." There'll be an uproar, maybe even a petition. Public hearings will be held, Metro will say they listened and, in the end, Metro will sink to a lower level in the transit death spiral and we'll all shrug.

Doors closing. Ding dong.

Other items:
Examiner's take

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Look! It's Elevator Man!

Maybe one of the problems with the escalators is that they have elevator repairmen working on them. Shame on you elevator man. This is escalator man's job!

This tool kit was spotted the morning of April 20 at the bottom of the mezzanine-to-street escalators at Federal Center SW. Both sides of the escalator were blocked off, but the escalator was running. Not a soul was around.

That afternoon, this escalator was working, but the one next to it was cordoned off. It was out of service on the 21st as well, but a repairman, hopefully an escalator repairman, was working on it.

Other items:
  • Big day of congressional hearings for Metro. Summary here. Complete docs and video here. It was a very interesting hearing. Interim GM Richard Sarles came across much better than John Catoe ever did. He seemed to have a grasp of how dire things at Metro truly are. It was refreshing to hear both him and WMATA Board chair Peter Benjamin acknowledge that Metro's problems run deeper than a lack of funding. Even union boss Jackie Jeter was impressive in her indictment of WMATA's hiring of consultants and for being all talk and no action. At this point, it's all still talk, but WMATA is certainly at a pivotal point, and future actions, if there are any, will have long term consequences.
  • Gunn report released to public. (WMATA)
  • Fares could go up, up and away (Examiner)
  • Knife wielding bus driver "fired" (Examiner)
  • Dulles rail project hits snag (WTOP)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Did Hell Freeze Over?

Yesterday, we read this article, which features some choice quotes from Metro Board member from Arlington County, Chris Zimmerman, a politician.
Chris Zimmerman, a member of both the Arlington County Board and the Metro board, said tweaking the [Metro] board’s governing structure won’t improve safety.

“The problem isn’t governance. The problem is funding,“ he said. “Metro has been chronically underfunded, year after year, decade after decade.“

That was followed by a quote from DC mayor Adrian Fenty, who said "The resources we provide [WMATA] need to be better managed."

Whoa! Has the world gone topsy turvy? Has hell frozen over?

A DC mayor is calling for better management of resources, while a Virginia politician is calling for keeping the current broken system AND giving it more money.

Zimmerman is out of touch here. Does anyone believe simply throwing more money at the current WMATA will transform it into a model of mass transit?

Not many.

WMATA needs more funding. This is indisputable. All U.S. mass transit does. But that funding needs to be watched like a hawk by the likes of someone other than Chris Zimmerman and his ilk. After all, one would presume he gave his approval to the utterly wasteful project to repaint the numbers on the cars.

If you want to read more on yesterday's politician pow wow on Metro accountability, check out this article from a local paper, which appears to swallow the naïve notion that politicians will do what they say.

Really? Va. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell will be engaged with Metro? After he was elected, the first promise he reneged on was his "transportation plan," a cornerstone of his campaign! Besides, the state doesn't pay for mass transit, and the first version of the story the paper ran about this huddle among pols said Bob appeared to be rushing off to something else.

Ten bucks says he's never even been on Metro. O.K. maybe as part of a handshaking photo op or for the 4th of July. But then again, with that hair, he'd have ended up in the Rider Hall of Shame for sure.

Other items:
Jim Graham proposes gas tax to fund Metro (WBJ)
NYC's guerrilla etiquette campaign (, h/t @nickjuliano )

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Will these Employees Ever See the Light?

What do these actions tell you about Metro employees and their state of mind? Keep in mind that Metro is paying a hefty price for this kind of "service."

From David:

I have been an everyday Metrorail rider since my arrival in the DC area 18 months ago. The other day, upon my exit from my Blue Line ride from Metro Center to Pentagon City, my SmarTrip card gave me the "see station manager" error message.

I approached the station manager booth and said "excuse me" several times in an effort to remedy the situation and pay my fare. I was ignored by the employee inside, so I hit the red "talk" button to say (not yell) "excuse me."

They failed to respond to me, so I tapped (not banged) on the glass and said "excuse me."

At least two minutes passed after my initial attempt at communication, and no other customers were attempting to talk to the employee. Despite that, the employee rudely opened the door to the booth and said angrily "One knock is enough."

He did not previously acknowledge me or give me any signal he'd seen me. I was respectful throughout our encounter and showed the courtesy and professionalism to him that he was sorely lacking in his dealings with me.

I understand the frustrations of dealing with lots of tourists this time of year but think a minimal amount of professionalism from the employee manning the booth at Pentagon City is not a large request.

From Matt:

Late Friday night, a friend of mine and I walked into the Farragut West station, attempting to get a SmartTrip card before we got on the bus.

We thought we could do this, but much to our dismay we couldn't.

We walked up to the station manager and politely asked where we could buy a SmartTrip card.

He seemed bothered and said "Metro center, CVS or any station with a parking lot."

I was confused and said "so you can't buy one here?" This got me a snooty, sarcastic answer of "Well I would of said here if I meant here."

My friend and I turned around and walked away with him glaring at us all the way out of the station!

Customer service
at its finest!

More bad employees:
here, here, here, here and many more throughout the blog.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Metro Scrabble

Click for larger

From Marcus: "Due to the Nuclear Summit Meetings the 80 line will be on detour. Northbound: Regular route to 13th & H St. Thence, continue on 13th St. Left- E St. Left- N. capitol St to Mass Ave. continue regular route."

This was also noticed by debgreenspan on Twitter, who tweeted "Love that #wmata #nextbus is using the word "thence" when describing nuclear summit re-routes."

Remember, in Metro Scrabble rules, the alternate spellings "metropolitian," "Connecticutt" and "Minessota" are accepted.

Other items:
Another suicide (Gazette)

Friday, April 16, 2010

So Easy a Cat Could Do it

What does this snoozing Metro employee have in common with a drowsy Japanese cat, other than being all pooped out?

They're both station managers!*

The big difference is one gets paid a salary to doze off, and the other "works" for free and has boosted the local economy by up to 10 million bucks!

We know you gave this idea a trial run, Metro, but let's face it, raccoons aren't as cute or as lazy as cats.** As we've mentioned before, dogs bring a unique skill set to the table, too.

*You don't need to understand Japanese to enjoy the video, but it helps.

**Unsuck DC Metro knows of a highly qualified cat that will work for treats. WMATA can rent this cat for very reasonable rates. We suggest A.M. Haynes and Khalil as potential participants in the feline replacement feasibility study.

h/t @hostagehoosier

Other items:
Metro can't keep track of spare parts (Examiner)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Best Wait in the Nation (TM)

We had to get off at Foggy Bottom the other day at 7:30 a.m., and it was extremely backed up to get out of the station. If there had been any kind of emergency, things would have gotten ugly really fast. Perhaps Foggy should be added to the list of Metro bottlenecks.

From Ashley:

I am one of the dwindling few that can say they are lifetime residents of the DC Metro area. Taking the Metro has always been a part of life for me. I can clearly recall thinking how cool it was being able to bounce from the movies, to the mall, to Georgetown before I was old enough to drive.

As a result, I also became one of the jaded masses that doesn’t blink an eye at Metro’s “parade of ridiculata.” I just assume that escalators will be broken, the staff will be rude, tourists will stand in the way and the trains may or may not be on time.

However, I was patently shocked yesterday evening to find a line curving half way down the block just to get into the Foggy Bottom station.

I ran through my checklist of DC events that might be causing the delay. Let’s see … the Cherry Blossom Festival is over, spring break (for the most part) has ended, it’s too early for summer vacation and there aren’t any DC sporting events tonight. Nope, this was just a rush hour logjam created by a broken down escalator.

I’ve been commuting to the Foggy Bottom station for about a year, and while the lines are usually heavy, I have NEVER seen it stretch down the block. In fact, I haven’t seen the likes of this Sponge Bob-esque silliness at any other station (outside of a major event).

True to my jaded status, I wasn’t irked by the inconvenience or the surly mood created by my fellow passengers. Rather, I was annoyed at how unbelievably avoidable this situation was. Not only was this line causing preventable delays, it had to be a fire hazard as well.

So, while I was standing in line, I decided to turn lemons into lemonade and snapped a few pictures in an effort to show WMATA the error of its ways.

But, after thinking about it on my ride home, I decided to look for another outlet for my frustration. Like many “Unsuck DC Metro” readers, I have also received a form letter from Metro expressing what I would describe as a blanket lack of concern about keeping me (or anybody else, for that matter) as a customer. Needless to say, I was very excited to stumble on this blog. Hope you enjoy the pictures, and have a swell commute.

Other items:
Major delays all weekend on ever line but Yellow (WMATA)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

When Metro was Flush

@mikepetrucci I present to you, the Huntington Metro bathroom:

You may know about the worst toilet in Scotland, but what about the BEST toilet in all of WMATA?
The one. The only. They installed it in 2003 for a mere $109,000. That is all.

Other items:
Metro police chief apologizes for "large lips" memo (Examiner)
Bus "makes contact" with pedestrian (News Channel 8)
SF's Muni's death spiral (SF Weekly via @perkinsms)
Planning board approves Glenmont garage (MD Gazette)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Metro: Bullhorning the Elderly since 1976

What do you think of Metro's actions and its subsequent response to the complaint?

From Aru:

My complaint:

Due to the Cherry Blossom crowds, there were Metro employees directing people to file to the end of the platform at the Smithsonian station. However, at about 4 p.m. on April 4, I was traveling with my girlfriend's 73-year-old grandmother, and she was having a hard time walking after a long day. The far end of the Vienna-bound platform was full, so we stopped at the first available bench we could find. My girlfriend's mother was sitting, and both my girlfriend and I were standing next to her. A female Metro employee was standing with a megaphone at the base of the escalator on the Independence Ave. side and, after seeing us at the bench, turned the megaphone on us, telling us to get up and move to the end.

We protested because my girlfriend's grandma really needed to stay off her feet. The Metro employee was having none of it. She kept on telling her to get up and move along, and that there were benches at the end of the platform. We reluctantly moved, and, when we got to the end of the platform, there were no available benches.

My girlfriend's grandmother, who has diabetes and swollen feet, was forced to stand for 12 minutes.

If this employee can be identified (at the time I was too flabbergasted to ask her for her identifying information) I'd like for her to be reprimanded and be instructed to show a little concern for Metro passengers.

Either way, I would like an apology for the way she was treated, and an assurance that the WMATA will take steps to ensure this doesn't happen again.

Their response:

Your email was received by Metro's Rail Transportation Customer Service. The Cherry Blossom Festival always draws large crowds using Metro Rail. The beautiful weather encouraged even a larger turnout. One of the functions of our employees is to keep the ridership moving along to minimize congestion, and be safety conscious. I apologize on behalf of Metro that your party, which included a 73 year old diabetic with swollen feet, was strongly encouraged to move with the flow of the crowd to the end of the platform. Actions taken by our employees are not to cause a discomfort; however, paths must be clear. Congestion during events like this is the result of our valued tourist, and infrequent riders being unfamiliar with the area.

A suggestion for future events of this nature would be to perhaps have this senior in a wheelchair, which would prevent her feet from swelling as much, and provide greater comfort during her entire outing.

Thank you for riding Metro.

Marjorie Strother
Rail Transportation
Customer Service Representative

Other items:
Help this person out with a study to redesign Metro's nightmare UI FareMachines (GoogDocs)
Two Metro employees suspended (Examiner)
Metro fires Don Juan driver (Examiner)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Should Metro Go Bilingual?

A number of people wrote in during the cherry blossom festivities saying they'd heard Spanish-language announcements in Metro stations.

We've seen lots of WMATA brochures and other printed materials in other languages, but we've never heard an announcement in the Metrorail in anything but English or that language Charlie Brown's teacher speaks.

We asked WMATA if the Spanish announcements were some kind of pilot program. They told us they weren't, and that Spanish announcements in Metrorail stations are made only for big events like the Cherry Blossom Festival or Fourth of July.

They added that Spanish announcements are common on Metrobus.

We asked if having dual announcements all the time had ever come up.

"Every once in a while," WMATA said.

When we asked for more details, WMATA said "It's lose lose. We get complaints when we don’t have them, and more complaints when we do."

So far, signage has not been part of this discussion but is treated the same. Metro said.

Signs done for major works projects and/or projects that take place in high population areas are usually done in English and Spanish Metro added.

What do you think? Should any part of Metro go bilingual or multilingual? Lots of mass transit systems in major cities offer at least some information in other languages. The Bay Area Rapid Transit, for example, has basic information in Chinese, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Korean and Japanese on its Web page.

In 2007, Metro began giving Spanish classes to its front line employees as part of a pilot project.

Hopefully, the words tarde and yo quiero Taco Bell (here too) stuck.

Other items:
MetroAccess driver charged with sexual assault (Examiner)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Suck it Up!

The Examiner is reporting that riders who bothered to answer Metro's budget survey overwhelmingly prefer fare hikes--substantial ones--to service cuts--substantial ones.

We suppose given the current budget picture and that the union agreement appears untouchable, it's the only way, but how absurd and surreal it is that so many of us are practically begging for fare hikes of up to 28 percent when the overall service has been deteriorating.

We've badmouthed WMATA PR, but you have to hand it to them for presenting such limited options and getting us to swallow a whole pile o' suck with a smile on our faces.

We also wonder how support for fare increases would have been had they been truthfully represented as regressive tax increases on the people least able to afford it.

WMATA, the union, the Board and the jurisdictions should be ashamed-again.

Next week, the cycling experiment begins.

Other takes:
Local paper

Metro Unveils "Confuse the Tourist" Experiment

In an attempt to court the anti-tourist vote, WMATA has begun a pilot, "Confuse the Tourist," experiment.

Here are some early prototypes sure to spin heads. No wonder many tourists look clueless.

Which one goes to the cherry blossoms?
@crimsonspud Do I want the BRD train to ####, or do I want the ## train to ####? WTF #wmata

Never trust the signs, if you can see them in the dark.
From Jami:
What's wrong with this picture? When did UDC move to Mt Vernon?!?!

All of the signs at the Waterfront station have this error, including these newly painted ones on the platform. Another Metro fail.

Is this official? Who "knows?"

You'll huff and you'll puff, and you'll blow the monument down.
The three-cone combo on the right means "will never work again"
in Metro conespeak.
Photo: Thomas Wilburn

Metro roulette: maybe it'll be right, maybe not. Good luck.
From Scott:

I needed to get from Union Station to Gallery Place and wanted to get there around 6:55 a.m. So here are my options: I can leave at 6:47 and get there at 6:51 just on the Red Line, or I can take this absolutely zany trip involving taking the Marc Penn Line at 5:10 to New Carrolton, wait nearly an hour there, then get on an Orange Line train to L'Enfant where I can then take the green line to Gallery Place, getting me there at 6:53. You could walk between the two stations probably at least 4 times in that time frame. But, it does come closer to my stated goal of 6:55...

Other items:
Online access for SmarTrip? (WMATA)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Helltrain Update

FFWD to :35

Here's a little more information on this incredible video. Comments in the original post do seem to support the time and place--on the Orange Line (perfect) between between Deanwood and Cheverly on March 18. According to WMATA, the fire was on CSX tracks.

From WMATA spokesman Ron Holzer:
It was a brush fire, the fire departments responding gave clearance to run trains through the area. The HVAC was turned off to avoid filling the trains with smoke. As to why the train in the video stopped, I have no idea. I could speculate that there was another train ahead of it as it was during rush hour.
The key word here seems to be "run." Trains moving through here at a normal speed probably wouldn't have been at serious risk but to STOP?! Well, we all know WMATA is good at that.

The flames, especially at around the 1:12 mark, appear to lick the car. It's hard to imagine stopping there was safe.

Other items:
DC Paratransit Info slams Metro union
Hot deal on Craig's List

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The First Rule of the WMATA is:

You do not touch the WMATA.

This guy used a crumpled Examiner as a prophylactic to avoid any skin contact with the Metro.

Other items:

WMATA, union legal battle over wage increase racks up legal bills (Examiner)
Did anyone really think the jurisdictions would chip in more? (area newspaper)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Metro's Ambassadors


From Rene:

Around 2 p.m. March 12, I was descending onto the Glenmont platform at Metro Center, when I found a wallet on a broken escalator. Without opening it, I took it to the 11th St. exit kiosk and handed it to the two chatting Metro employees.

Three weeks before, my roommate lost his wallet on the train, yet recovered it through Metro's lost and found. So, this day, I was happy to replicate the good turn.

After handing over the wallet, my conversation with the Metro employees was as follows:

Metro*: "Did you take the cash?"
Me: "No, I didn't look."
Metro: "Why not?! You could have a shopping spree!"

At this point, I thought they were just having a little fun with me. That was until the Metro employee holding the wallet opened it and started prodding around.

She then said, "Hmmm, no cash in here. This ain't no good."

At this point, I took off toward the platform, leaving the employees with the cashless wallet.

When my roommate lost his wallet, everything but his $40 in cash was untouched.

The next time I find a wallet on the Metro, I will probably keep it and seek out the person on my own, rather than risking them suffering a potential "finders fee" by a Metro employee.

*The reason I wrote "Metro" instead of "Metro employee" is to stress that these types of conversations are usually the sole personal interaction between riders and Metro.

Whether it is returning a wallet, or trying to have your SmarTrip card reset, when even the lowliest kiosk operator acts out of line, it colors, rightfully or wrongly, the entire system.

Good instances, too, work this way. A personal favorite example is the rider whose MP3 player was recovered from the tracks by a dust-bin wielding kiosk worker.

Nevertheless, our commutes are bad enough with derailments, offloading, single-tracking, etc. without having to deal with ground-level employees too incompetent to realize their representative role to everyday Metro riders.

It's the difference between believing the workers are good people doing their best in spite of a dysfunctional institution, or believing they are manifestations of the broken organization.

Other items:
Will Md. chip in more to Metro? (Examiner)
Memo angers some Metro cops (Examiner)
Next Monday and Tuesday could suck (WMATA)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Metrobus Drivers should Keep Knives, You Know What in Pants

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Case 54456547
Date: Sat., April 3, 2010 2:17 pm

Dear XXXX:

Thank you for taking the time to make us aware of an official Metro knife being operated in an irresponsible and unsafe way. Knife safety is one of Metro's top priorities, and occurrences such as this are taken very seriously.

The information you have provided will help us identify this driver so that we can take proper disciplinary action. Safe knife handling is the chief responsibility of every Metrobus driver, and any conduct that deviates from that will not be tolerated.

Rest assured the driver in question will receive a strong finger wag, a stern talking to, and will have their official Metro knife replaced with a rubber practice knife as they are retrained in proper and safe knife operation.

We apologize for the unprofessional actions of this driver. Thanks again for contacting us, and we hope that future encounters with knives on Metrobuses will be positive experiences.


Consumer Representative
Office of Customer Service
When responding to this email, please perform a reply with history so that
the following conversational identifier "[THREAD_ID:6203457]" is included
in your response.

**Come experience the new, cutting edge Metrobus, now with NextBus.**

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Case 543547
Date: Sun., April 4, 2010 24:17 pm

Dear XXXX:

Thank you for taking the time to make us aware of a Metrobus delay while your driver was arrested for soliciting a prostitute while on duty. Ensuring that our drivers use their disphosable income during off-duty hours is a top priority at Metro, and occurrences such as this are taken very seriously.

The information you have provided will help us identify this driver so that we can take proper disciplinary action. The proper awareness of the presence of law enforcement personnel in the vicinity is a chief responsibility of every Metrobus driver, and any failure to do so will not be tolerated.

Rest assured the driver in question will receive retraining in the proper and quick identification of law enforcement personnel so that future delays are avoided.

We apologize for the unprofessional actions of this driver. Thanks again for contacting us, and we hope that in the future, your Metrobus driver will be more streetwise and discrete and that your experience with Metrobus operators will be positive in the future.


Consumer Representative
Office of Customer Service
When responding to this email, please perform a reply with history so that
the following conversational identifier "[THREAD_ID:6288847]" is included
in your response.

**Experience the new Metrobus, where anything GOES!**

Other items:
Bar set to new low, area newspaper discovers
In final op/ed, Catoe bangs tired funding drum (area newspaper)
For the man who has everything

Friday, April 2, 2010

Unsuck Peep Diorama: Peeps in Tin Can

"Peeps in Tin Can" (Unsuck DC Metro/American/2010/can, Peeps, computer screen)

The Washington Post has a Peep diorama contest every year. Here's this year's, but last year, WMATA employee Cherry-Ann Santos gave her vision of a WMATA of the future. Since you can't link directly to it, it's #12 here.

Given the year WMATA's had, we went with something a little more reality based for the Unsuck diorama. A lot of hard work went into this.

Happy Spring.

Several Peeps were harmed in the making of this post, but they were definitely NOT eaten.

One Week of Metro: 40 Percent Suck Rate

From CS:

Dear Diary,

The new guy, Sarles, started this week. Can he make a difference? The hopes of hundreds of thousands of us ride with him.

As a scene-setter, I thought I’d keep track of my Metrorail experiences for last week, rather than just focus on a single incident. Unfortunately – but these days, not unexpectedly – it wasn’t a great week.


The good:
  • Train operator pronounced “Judiciary Square” correctly. Regular Red Line riders know how unusual this is.
  • Train operator had somewhat helpful announcements during a dead train incident (see below). Told us the cause of the problem (albeit repeatedly, with no updates), and (after long delay) that we’d be single tracking.
  • Someone actually thinking proactively at WMATA: Signs posted at, and leading away from, Vienna/Fairfax station directing people how to get to nearby Oakton High School, where WMATA budget hearing being held.
The bad:
  • 12-minute interval (12!) between Shady Grove-bound Red Line trains at Metro Center during morning rush. For shame! Someone should be shot. And for this, they’re thinking about a peak-of-the-peak surcharge?
  • Dead train at West Falls Church for the ride home. Big delays, rippling all the way downtown. When we finally get to WFC, they try to move the dead train, and it dies again, only this time blocking the way ahead. Like bad constipation, entire Orange Line is plugged up. In all, trip home nearly doubles.
  • Irony: Orange Line woes delay anyone trying to take Metro to the WMATA budget hearing (where they could rail about poor service).
Overall suckage:
Very high suck

The good:
Unremarkable, one way or the other.
The bad:
  • 12-minute interval in the morning again! Come on, people, if only for pride’s sake!
  • Another meltdown on the way home. Dead train, or something – no one ever said – at Foggy Bottom. (You get the feeling that if bin Laden blew up downtown, the Metro announcements would probably say stations were closed due to a police action.) Delays not as bad as Monday, but it’s only Tuesday, and patience is exhausted. After nearly 12 years on Metro, could I actually be considering driving into the city?
Overall suckage:

High suck


The good:
Very pleasant train operator. Not robotic, angry, mumbling, scolding, bored, copping attitude, uncommunicative, pasting up newspapers to hide self in cab, or otherwise dysfunctional at all. Actually sounded happy to be on the job and interested in riders. (Must not have been union member long.)
The bad:
  • Progress, at least by Metro standards – morning interval on the Red Line at Metro Center down to only 10 minutes.
  • Going home, Orange Line platform at Metro Center jammed, which immediately put suck sensors on high alert. But pleasant surprise – train was crowded, but not unpleasantly so, and things moved OK. Almost like the old days.
Overall suckage:
Mostly unsucked

The good:
No problems. Could get used to this. Noticed, though, that both Orange and Red lines had what appeared to be old series cars in the end position. Same thing happened last week. Not a big deal to me, but thought they weren’t doing that anymore? What’s up? (I’ll say this: if not having to “belly” the old cars in the middle of trains means more reliable, less nauseating service, I’ll take that any day.)
The bad:
No problems for me, but the Ms. had 12- and 8-minute, peak-hour waits for Red and Orange lines on the way home. See previous – inexcusable! Twenty minutes of platform time during rush hour?! Worse than bush league.
Overall suckage:
Unsucked (for me, at least, but dinner was late, due to the Ms.’s delays.)

The good:
  • With usual lighter-than-normal Friday ridership, no problems.
  • Funny: It was raining during the morning commute. At Judiciary Square (as previously noted here in the blog), the escalators have taken to groaning like elephant seals during mating season. The rain, though, evidently temporarily lubed something, for we rose to street level in wet silence.
The bad:
No problems.
Overall suckage:
Oh, dear Diary, how I long for the old days. Sometimes, they seem tauntingly close. But most times, you just kinda shrug and remember how much of a good thing we once had.

On Tuesday, I might have suggested just blowing the whole thing up. By Friday, those feelings had receded to just the ordinary level of Metro despair. Last week, Metro cost me a couple of extra hours of my life that I’ll never get back. But neither did it ruin it. In all, a mixed week, but with a pronounced lean toward suckdom.

Will Mr. Sarles get it? Can he get it without needing a team of consultants to restate the obvious? Dear Diary, I hope so. They say it will take years for Metro to climb out of its hole. The time to start is now.

Also by CS:

Other items:

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Metro Fools'

Sometimes, WMATA seems like one big April Fools' joke (Click pics to enlarge):

jephilip Umm, no train is boarding despite what the monitor says. #wmata #fail #dc

urbanbohemian #wmata is SO weird. Friendship Heights has its own terminus train now? #RedLine

ryangsims Why is this even an option? #wmata site says Clarendon to U St. by way of W. Falls Church, then L'Enfant.

(Please send us screen shots of your most ridic Trip Planner results.)

theblackdog2071 All aboard the ghost train! #wmata

From Jonathan

From Kara:

For all it is worth, I just filed a Metro complaint. While it will probably go into the circular file, the L4 bus (4329) at 8 this morning at 19th & K ran a red light after the walk light was on, and myself and several other pedestrians had already started across.

Nice to know Metro has enough dimes to cover a lawsuit when they eventually hit more people walking according to traffic laws.

Here's the response from WMATA:

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Case 543547
Date: Tue, March 30, 2010 2:17 pm

Dear Kara XXXX:

Thank you for taking the time to make us aware of a Metrobus being operated in an unsafe manner. Safety is Metro's top priority, and occurrences such as this are taken very seriously.

The information you have provided will help us identify this driver so that we can take proper disciplinary action. Safe driving is the chief responsibility of every Metrobus driver, and any conduct that deviates from that will not be tolerated.

We apologize for the unprofessional actions of this driver. Thanks again for contacting us, and we hope that sharing the road with Metrobuses will be a positive experience in the future.

APRIL FOOLS'!!! (added for effect)


Mrs. James
Consumer Representative
Office of Customer Service
When responding to this email, please perform a reply with history so that
the following conversational identifier "[THREAD_ID:620667]" is included
in your response.

And finally, the biggest April Fools' of them all (PDF).

Other items:
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