Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ludwig vs Metro: More Tragedy from Metro's Sloppiness

On August 10, former Metro cop Paul F. Ludwig III, only 61, died after a short, but brutal battle with cancer. He died before achieving his last wish in life: to settle a protracted and bitter legal battle with WMATA that left him and his wife homeless.

His story has made the Internet rounds to some degree, but it has been as a social media story. We reported here a while ago that the Ludwig campaign had forced Metro to take down its Facebook page, but here's the human side of a very sad tale.

Metro’s carelessness manifests itself in many ways. From the simple, laughable typo on all the Metro system maps to major tragedies like the Red Line Crash of June 22, 2009, it should be obvious to anyone that Metro is infested with a lax culture that all too often ignores details that cost the agency millions or, worse yet, leave employees and customers dead.

Here’s yet another tragic story of how Metro’s sloppiness, followed by near-belligerent defensiveness, ruined the life of one of its own.

In August of 2008, former Metro Transit Police Department officer Paul Ludwig and his wife Linda were living a relatively good life. He was getting his disability check from Metro because of a back injury he’d suffered while on the job in 1990, after a mere eight years of service with MTPD. It should be noted the Ludwig had, before coming to Metro, served eight years in the DC police force, receiving numerous commendations.

Despite Ludwig's attempts to rehabilitate his injury, his back problems left him permanently disabled. It took nearly three years for Ludwig to get Metro to finally let him retire with disability pay. The struggle was a foreshadowing of things to come.

While hardly a lavish amount, the stipend provided Ludwig and his wife with a modest yet comfortable living. But in July of '08, Ludwig received the letter from WMATA telling him that starting in September, his pension was going to be cut drastically.

To make matters worse, WMATA informed him that his pension should have been slashed one year prior.

"Because of this error they informed my dad that they were going to suspend his pension entirely starting in September until the repayment was made," said Ludwig's son Mark. "They claimed he owed $24,000 and some change."

Mark said his dad later got an amended letter saying the amount owed was $20,000.

“Mom and dad had very little money coming in, so eventually, they were forced to short sell their home and move in with my brother Paul, who is currently an MTPD K9 cop.

“We weren't going to allow them to be homeless,” he said. “We had room. They weren't going to be out on the street.”

The sharp reduction in pay was particularly shocking because in 2001, as a proof of income document he needed to refinance his home, Ludwig received a letter from Metro stating his benefits were for life.

The letter, which is pictured above, reads:
Mr. Paul F. Ludwig III retired on disability from the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority on June 1, 1993. His current monthly pension amount from the Transit Police Retirement Plan is $2,278.90 which is payable for his lifetime, and is subject to cost of living increases.
The letter is addressed to a mortgage official and is signed by Marlene J. Ruston a "senior benefits program specialist - retirement."

When Ludwig contacted WMATA regarding the steep cut in benefits, he spoke with James R. Davis, who was, at the time, a "plan administration manager," at Metro. Ludwig, confused by what was going on, referred to the 2001 letter.

"Davis scoffed at my dad and said the person who’d signed the letter as a ‘benefits specialist’ was ‘just a secretary,’” Mark said.

When his dad pressed Metro further, Mark said Metro’s response was “Well, sue us.”

"Dad spent a number of months visiting Metro, talking with the union there, the chief of police and others. He was trying to resolve this on his own at this point," said Mark. "He was told after one particular union meeting that they were going to get his situation taken care of. After weeks of inaction, dad called Metro to ask what was going on, they basically said nothing had progressed with his situation."

In August 2009, Ludwig had enough and filed suit against Metro.

The case is still under litigation, so Metro is reluctant to comment on the details. They do confirm Ludwig was a former employee and that they are currently being sued.

Originally, the case was brought by Ludwig, but now that Ludwig is dead, it will require some legal maneuvering--and more delays--to pursue the case as the estate of Paul Ludwig.

Metro did confirm the following about the disability plan:
Under the existing contract between Metro and the Fraternal Order of Police/Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) Labor Committee, Inc., MTPD officers whose employment ends because of a disability incurred in the line of duty receive a monthly disability retirement income benefit equal to 60 percent of their annual compensation at the date of disability.

These payments continue until the participant reaches normal retirement age, which is 25 years after date of hire or the attainment of age 65, whichever occurs first. At that time, the disability retirement income benefit stops and the participant begins to receive his normal retirement pension benefit. The normal retirement pension benefit is based on the participant’s final average earnings and years of service at the date of disability.
Unsuck spoke with a lawyer who specializes in pension law, who said it was unusual for a disability plan to have a drop off like that, particularly before Social Security would kick in.

Metro cops who retire normally, without disability, get a pension for life and their spouses are entitled to a percentage for the rest of their lives. The spouses of the deceased disabled get nothing, said Mark.

Regardless of the fine print of the plan, the lawyer thinks the Ludwigs have a good case because of the letter they received from Metro in 2001.

“The test is not what the person wrote or who they are, it’s what the recipient of the letter reasonably believes--and here there are several points in the letter that indicate reliance on the information in the letter--is reasonable.”

For example, the lawyer said, that the letter is addressed “to whom it may concern” would be an argument that the letter was meant for someone else, and that it was being used for a purpose [such as refinancing], and that it was true and reliable.

“In my experience, when a circumstances can lead to a reduction of benefit changes, plans issuing letters like that would normally caveat it,” they said. “There would be a disclaimer that it’s not fixed in stone.

“That letter couldn’t be better [for the Ludwigs],” they said. “No wonder their lawyer took the case.”

But instead of getting better for the Ludwigs, things got worse.

This past May, Ludwig was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and according to Mark, one of his dying wishes was to see his case against Metro come to some conclusion so that his wife would be able to live the rest of her life without the stress of financial uncertainty.

“Dad's original mediation hearing was set for August 9, 2010, which turned out to be the day before he died,” said Mark. “After the hearing was set, they then got a call from a Metro lawyer asking for a continuance because the lead attorney’s son died.”

According to Mark, his dad told Metro they could have all the time they needed, considering the circumstances.

But the months passed, and it wasn’t until Ludwig’s cancer diagnosis that the mediation hearing was set for March 8, 2011. At this point, Ludwig was fed up with the mediation process, and requested a jury trial.

“Metro has plenty of corporate lawyers,” said Mark. “They delayed because they wanted him to die, so they wouldn't have to deal with him. There's no reason they would have to set that hearing to 10 months in the future.”

The Ludwig’s claim against Metro includes, according to Mark, the following:
  • Moving the mediation hearing to now
  • Reinstating dad's pension for his lifetime
  • Establishing a retroactive "survival clause" for my mother so that she will receive dad's owed pension for her lifetime since he has now passed
  • WMATA paying my mother all of the back pay from September 2008 to today
  • Any other monies my mother and father were suing for (lawyer's fees, stress, hurt, distress caused by this situation
Furthermore, the family would like to see Metro
  • Abolish the "magic" cut off date for Anyone at the department forever
  • Establish the survival clause for all Officers
  • Pay owed money to any other officers affected by a similar situation
Given some of the violence that has occurred on Metro of late, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which a relatively young cop could be disabled on the job and then face the kind of cataclysmic drop off in benefits well before Social Security benefits kicked in.

Some of the incidents of late, in which Metro cops have been pilloried for either not being there or not being there in a timely fashion would lead one to believe that the current pension plan is a disincentive for Metro cops to assert themselves in potentially dangerous situations for fear of being injured and falling into the same benefits crack that Ludwig did.

But for the Ludwig's, the heart of the matter, as Mark, said, is that "no one from WMATA has even bothered to call and say 'I'm sorry.'"

Despite Ludwig's death and all the delays, the family shows no sign of giving up the fight. So far, its biggest weapon against Metro has been a Facebook page set up by Ludwig's grandson, Logan. In short amount of time, the page has garnered nearly 51,000 fans. But that's really more of a social media story, so we'll turn it over to allfacebook.com for more on that.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Pak ur bags. Getin paid time off 4 this

From Kristi:
Aug. 28 at 10:53 a.m. headed toward Franconia/Springfield, although the operator stated the train was headed to Largo Town Center.

He texted while moving between Rosslyn and Arlington Cemetery. Then again between Arlington Cemetery and Pentagon.

I could see because of the sunlight.

I don't know if he texted while in the tunnel, but he texted while slowing and speeding up.

I commented out loud that he was texting, but he still did.

Another Metro worker, perhaps a supervisor with orange vest came on at Pentagon City or Crystal City. This operator knew this and did not text again as we exited the tunnel.

I did not see him text again before we exited at Braddock.

Maybe he should stop texting and start paying attention to his job.

Metro Delays and Fare Hikes have you Sagging?

UPDATE: Thanks to Ted (pic above), you get an idea of just how many spam emails were sent!

Yet another happy fare increase day!

We got several reports yesterday that Metro's e-alerts had been hacked and the above was sent out to subscribers with the subject "rn@lists-wmata.com V|AGRA ® Official Seller -12%."

The typo is a dead giveaway that it might have actually come from WMATA.

Viagra Soft, Cialis Soft? Oxymoronic, no?

Also, who knew Soma was a real drug?

Is Tramadol something to pop before hopping on a streetcar?

Friday, August 27, 2010

We Get It

Photo: Matt Johnson from Tracktwentynine.blogspot.com

"If you're changing at Fort Totten, be prepared to master the 5Ds of Metro: Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive, and Dodge! If you can dodge a cone, you can catch a train."

East Falls Church bus "shelter." Another cone would have been nice.

@KaeSaid @unsuckdcmetro This has been here for at least the 6 months I've been using this station. #wmata #redline #takoma http://twitpic.com/2iao83

Malevolent trashcan at Federal Center SW.

Other items:
Metro installing cameras on buses to monitor driving (WMATA)
Two injured in Green Line assault (WaPo)
Va. Sq. hero (Arlnow.com)
A modest (Metro) proposal (Emilyhaha)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Lonely Voice?

We have a contrarian. Anyone else share this point of view?

From Eric C.:

I doubt you'll publish this because it defends Metro, but here goes nothing.

I don't get the uproar over Metro's SmarTrip changes.

First of all, too many seem to brush aside the notion that people will try to game the system, say, by buying a card for $2.50, adding a small amount to it, then taking a trip that costs, $4, and then dumping the negative balanced card, for example. Never underestimate the lengths to which people will go for a "deal."

But let's say there really aren't that many people willing to go this far.

There's a simple remedy to this situation. Take some responsibility and DON'T LET YOUR SMARTRIP CARD RUN LOW.

You don't (or shouldn't) with your checking account, so why would you with your SmarTrip?

I assume your SmarTrip card is your principal way to get to your job, so why be lazy and let it get to the point where it would have a negative balance? I don't know, but it seems pretty simple to, say when you get below $10, uh, add some more money. Problem solved. Better yet, problem avoided.

And while I don't monitor exitfare machine usage, I don't think I've ever seen more than one or two people using them ever, and I ride every day. Seems like most people take the time to have the right fare.

Believe me, I hate WMATA's endless BS just as much as the next guy or gal, and this confusing fare system is insane, and yes, the increases are pure robbery, but getting rid of the ability to run a negative balance on your SmarTrip seems, well, smart.

On this issue, I guess the only "wrong" I see was how the press release was written. It certainly appeared as though Metro was hiding something that was, in my mind, perfectly acceptable for them to be completely candid about.

For the first time, I'm on Metro's side on this one.
TBD has Metro's explanation here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Draw a Knife on Metro and Walk Away?

This post has been updated.

As you may have read this morning, the Washington Post reported that a knife was drawn on Metro Tuesday evening.

Here's an alleged firsthand account from Damon:
Four teenagers, three girls and one guy, were fooling around, taking up three rows of seats. One girl started yelling "mother f*cker" at the top off her lungs. I had noise canceling headphones on, and I could still hear her.

I asked the girl to quiet down. She turned to me, and all four started cursing and threatening me.

She even got up and acted like she was going to charge me, but one of the other girls held her back.

Then, a very nice man came over and told me it wasn’t worth saying anything to them.

Right before the doors were going to open, the young man in the group of kids stood up with something cupped in his hand. I could not tell what it was.

I knew he was going to try something, so I stood up, and that’s when the off-duty Capitol Hill Police security guard told him to drop what he was holding in his hands, which turned out to be a knife!

In the end, no charges were filed by the Metro police, but I gave a statement, as did the Capitol Hill cop guard.

This kid is going to kill somebody, and the blood will be on Metro.

I can be arrested for eating chips on the train, but not for carrying a 6-inch blade and pulling it out.

I’m outraged that these kids now know they can do whatever they want, and riders are the ones being held hostage until they decide to get off of the train.
Damon later wrote back later saying he'd been contacted by a Metro detective.

Other items:
Metro fare increases 3.0.2 starting Aug. 29/no more negative balance (WMATA)
Red Line victims trial pushed back (Legal Times)

Some Insight on Sick Passengers

From Loretta:

Date: August 19, 2010
Time: About 9:08 a.m.
Line: Green Line to Greenbelt
Station: Congress Heights

A man collapsed from his seat into the aisle. Passengers jumped up to see what was going on. Someone hit the red button at the end of the car to notify the train driver. We gathered around the man, moved his heavy bag out the way and checked his medical bracelet. He has epilepsy.

Of course, the train couldn't move until the sick passenger was removed.

Seemingly, out of nowhere a woman walked up the aisle, announced she is his wife, and bent down to check on him. She called his name repeatedly. Someone told her an ambulance/help was on the way. She became irritated and said, "this happens all the time, he's alright, he passes out about 2-3 times a week."

The folks nearby looked at each other like what the ... ? The train driver entered the car and told everyone they had to get off because the train couldn't move until the sick passenger was removed. The wife said the man was okay, and he didn't need an ambulance. The train driver said he couldn't move the train because the man couldn't move on his own.

Everyone else got off the train except for the couple and the driver. A Metro employee, perhaps the station manager, rushed down the escalator, looked at the man and woman in the train, and vented: "He passes out 3 times a week, and they NEVER want an ambulance!"

Eventually, the man was able to get up. I assume they refused treatment because the train driver allowed the rest of us to get back on the train with the couple. The man and woman acted like NOTHING JUST HAPPENED.

I rode on in silence and frustration to L'Enfant. I'm not sure what, if anything, Metro can do. I just find it extremely insensitive and foolish to repeatedly put one's self at risk, cause delays, and then refuse medical treatment.

Other items:
Knife drawn in Metro argument (WaPo)
Metro wants your input on how to improve Metrobus (WMATA)
Roger Clemens case could effect Metro victims' suit (LegalTimes.com)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Trashcan for the Record Books

In an effort to haul in tourist revenue to the flagging system, Metro has constructed the largest underground trashcan made of plywood in the western hemisphere (10' x 10' x 4') on the eastern end of the Orange/Blue platform at Metro Center.

"I'm so glad I went out of my way to come to Metro Center to see this behemoth," said one out of town visitor who casually tossed an empty Starbucks Frappuccino cup into the mammoth square. "I feel good contributing to the record breaking pile of filth. A monumental city deserves monumental trash receptacles."

"You don't really have to aim," said another tourist who'd heard about the gargantuan rubbish bin. "I just toss my garbage--food, drink, whatever--in the general direction and swish. You can't miss! It's so convenient."

Catch it soon before it fills up!

Other items:
Residents petition for security cameras at Greenbelt (Patch)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Would you want this Person Driving your Train?

While the operator of the struck train in the June 22 crash has in no way been blamed, it's certainly disquieting to know that someone with their record was cruising around the Metro system with the lives of thousands in their hands.

From the full NTSB report, which was released last week:
WMATA records indicated that the operator of the struck train (214) was hired initially as a bus driver on February 17, 2000. On October 26, 2001, he was reclassified as a train operator, the position he occupied at the time of the accident.

Efficiency test records showed that the operator of train 214 had received three reprimands and two suspensions since 2003. The first two reprimands occurred in February 2003, one for causing a 6-minute delay and the other for failing to report a station overrun. He had received his third reprimand 1 month before the accident, on May 22, 2009, for failing to take his key before securing a car. He had been suspended in 2004 for passing a red signal on the main track and in 2006 for making an improper coupling that caused equipment damage.

This operator also was removed from service on three occasions in August 2008 for manually stopping his 6-car train at the 8-car marker (the end of the platform) at passenger stations. The operator said he had changed from automatic to manual mode when entering the stations because he did not want to rely on the automated system to properly position the train along the platform.

On the day of the accident, WMATA required that all revenue trains be operated in automatic mode during the morning and evening rush periods. Metrorail Safety Rules and Procedures Handbook (MSRPH) Rule 3.20 states that “Mode 1 [automatic train operation] shall be used when carrying revenue passengers except as authorized by OCC or as specified in the current General Order.” No modifications to MSRPH Rule 3.20 were in effect at the time of the accident. After the accident, WMATA directed that all trains were to be operated in manual mode for an indefinite period until the integrity and reliability of the ATC system could be assured. Further, all trains would be required to pull forward to the 8-car marker when making station stops.

The operator had been sent for reinstruction on manual door opening as well as for retraining on coupling and uncoupling procedures; main line operations utilizing stopping profiles; and troubleshooting and procedures on doors, brakes, circuit breakers, and location. He also was retrained on train recovery procedures and blocking/clamping operation procedures. WMATA managers stated that action was taken because the operator was not maintaining his train’s schedule while operating in manual mode and as a consequence was delaying trains.

Contrary to instructions to return to automatic mode, the operator continued to operate his train manually. He stated that he was permitted to take this action under MSRPH Rule 3.1, which states the following:

Passenger safety is the responsibility of every WMATA employee; however, the Train Operators have the ultimate and final responsibility for the safety of the passengers on their particular trains.
As Robert Sumwalt of the NTSB said, "When crews start deviating from the standard operating procedures, they are about three times more likely to commit another error that has consequential results."

Why can't WMATA get rid of potentially dangerous, repeat offenders like this?

Plus, it's not like the training and investment in operators is that much. The operator who died on June 22 finished up her operator training in just two short months, according to the report.

Troubled by this? Well, rest assured. ATU 689 is on the case. Check out their latest video:

Other items:
Metro says they're beefing up security for back to school (WTOP)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Metrobus on Fire

Video of the Metrobus fire first reported by WUSA here.

16G Rider Makes His (NSFW)

Another installment in drunk riders. Episode 1 here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Metro Celebrates Talk Like a Pirate Day Early

Photo Courtesy Jenn C., joke via her friend.

Alternate take from Jenn C.:

I pictured this conversation ...

Train 1: "After you."
Train 2: "No, after you."
Train 1: "I insist."
Train 2: "No, I insist!"
People on platform: sigh!!

Other items:
Passengers say they were locked in station (WUSA)
Part of Red Line will be closed Labor Day weekend (WMATA)
Khoi Vinh on the DC Metro fare machines (subtraction.com) via @peroty

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Foggy Bottom Water Feature: Perspective 2

Right over an open door. That's our Metro!

Perspective 1

Capitol South has a water feature, too! Photo from Megan.

Like Pulling Teeth

Reader Kathleen writes in with another story about a Metrobus driver chatting away with a passenger and being careless while behind the wheel. You can read her entire account below, but what we found particularly interesting about this was that Metro public affairs was so reticent with what seem to be relatively simple queries. More on this tendency in a coming post.

Here's an email transcript:

Unsuck: Understand there are at least two recording devices on buses, which seem to be primarily used to watch passengers. Understandable considering how badly many seem to behave, but is the driver visible on any of them? If so, is the camera footage used to enforce WMATA rules and regulations regarding the safe operation of a bus? Can it be used as evidence in a case against a driver accused of unsafe operation? For example, texting, talking to friends who are standing in front of the yellow line, leaving the bus for extended periods of time to get something to eat.

Metro: There are no cameras focused on the driver.

Unsuck: Ok. So to clarify, is the driver, while in their seat, visible in any of the recording devices?

Metro: No

Unsuck: Is there a reason why, or is it just an oversight?

Metro: (5 days later, which is probably a good sign you've touched a nerve) Most Metrobuses have cameras installed. It is a 5-camera system* that does not focus on the driver, but captures activity around the driver and fare box, in front of the bus, inside the bus from front to back and outside along the right side of the bus which is best practices in the public sector bus industry.

Unsuck: Best practices according to who? Do you have a link?

Metro: It was what the industry was doing, so we followed suit.

*It should be noted that even with a 5-camera system, there's no guarantee on WMATA that they're even on or working.

Here's Kathleen's story:

I saw a few weeks ago you had an entry about bus drivers talking with passengers and not paying attention. In case you choose to revisit that topic, I have a story for you from Aug. 9.

The 9A bus picked up a Target employee who stood at the yellow line and had a conversation with the bus driver the entire time (They also engaged the female passenger sitting closest to the driver at one point about her car, which apparently just died.). At 18th and Eads, someone accidentally pulled the cord but told the driver not to stop. Because of this, the “stop requested” wasn’t reset. I pulled the cord for my stop at 15th, but of course no announcement was made.

I’m not sure if he was intent on just going straight to the Pentagon because there are only two stops after mine, but he showed no signs of slowing even after I got up and moved into the aisle.

He was too engaged in the conversation he didn’t see it.

I had to yell for him to please stop, and he slammed on the breaks.

He got mad that I didn’t pull the cord, and I told him he didn’t reset it when the previous passenger pulled it a stop earlier.

Then he told me not to yell at him while he was driving the bus, and I yelled back for him to do his job and to obey the rules and not talk to passengers.

He was pissed at me.

I reported it as soon as I got home; can’t wait to get my form letter.

If I have him again tonight, you can be sure I’ll be ready to document anything he says to me or another passenger.

Other items:
Alleged recording of altercation allegedly between Metrobus driver and passenger (NSFW)
How WMATA could better use the arrival signs (GGW)
What to do when a moron, or worse, is on your Metro (TBD)
Impostor drive may plead guilty (WaPo)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Door Wizard has no Magic

From Dylan:

Thought I'd share a glimpse of a futile attempt to fix a non-closing door on a fully loaded train at Dupont Circle. They just offloaded, and the station is full of grumpy, wet commuters.

Italian tourists are laughing and taking pictures.

The aftermath:

@nekaro Dupont circle toward glenmont just now. And that's not even all of it. Wonder what happened. #wmata http://twitpic.com/2fvobw

Another view of Dupont this morning from Allan.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Anger Management (NSFW)

Somebody please remix the first 10 seconds and post in the comments. Please! Hilarious.

Metro employee handled the situation pretty well from what it looks like.

Guess the "Discipline"

In a story first reported here, word comes down that the bus driver involved will be "disciplined."

They're surely trembling in fear.

Wonder what will happen.

Our first guess was the bus driver's seat cushion will be reduced by a quarter inch. Maybe they'll be tickled with a feather, or forced to sit in the comfy chair! @perkinsms suggested WMATA would put a pea underneath the reduced cushion. @joepierce said the driver would be banished to MetroAccess.

What do you think will happen given the ridiculous record WMATA has for "punishing" those found guilty of serious safety infractions?

Other items:
One Metro Board member just too busy to attend meetings (WaPo)
Performers at select stations (WMATA) Video of some here

Monday, August 16, 2010

Rash of Car Break Ins at New Carrollton

At least ten cars were broken into on Friday at the New Carrollton parking lot, in what Metro characterizes as an "unusually high" number. The thefts spanned the entire day and, according to Metro, visible electronics were stolen.
One tipster reported that as many as 25 cars were involved.

Metro Tight Lipped about Orange Line Slowdown

Many readers have asked why there is a severe speed restriction between East Falls Church and West Falls Church in the Vienna direction.

From Angelyne:
Why are westbound trains running at very slow speeds between East Falls Church and West Falls Church during evening rush hours? Eastbound trains seem to be running at normal speeds but westbound trains seem to be going less than 25 mph and sometimes stop briefly.
From CS:
"[The restriction] has been on for at least a couple of weeks now. I asked a couple of Metro people, but predictably, couldn't get a straight answer. One said it was because of "dangerous" conditions. The other said he suspected it was related to the Silver Line construction. Train operators have, of course, been useless in explaining the reason. But it's a lengthy section -- about 3,000 feet, one operator said -- and it really slows down the ride even more. I'm not aware that Metro has said anything about this, but they should."
Here's what Metro said:
"There are speed restrictions in the area for maintenance."
None of the readers who've noted this slowdown have seen any sign of any sort of work being done at all.

According to Dr. Gridlock, "There wouldn't be any track work there during the evening rush. And there haven't been any slowdowns for track circuit monitoring out that way in a while."

From CS:
"When I came home Aug. 13, the zone had been extended to begin right after leaving EFC. That hadn't been true before. And the inbound trains are now also running slowly; that wasn't true before, either. And, as I mentioned, there's no obvious signs of work. And even if they do something major, like replace ties, the speed restriction is usually only for a few days.

I think something else is up. I wonder if it's not some total failure of the track circuit for that area, so they're reduced to absolutely minimal speed."
Other items:
Sarles outlines safety measures (WaPo)
Falls Church ends George bus service (WaPo)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Rats or Safety?

Thanks, Marissa.

Other items:
Weekend delays (WMATA)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Foggy Bottom's New Water Feature

Vintage Tokyo Subway Manner Posters

The Seat Monopolizer (July 1976) Inspired by Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator," this poster encourages passengers not to take up more seat space than necessary.

Check out the rest at Pink Tentacle

Metro Fails, Fixes

(Click for larger)

Reader Richard realized he was getting overcharged when the peak of the peak started.
In the afternoon, I reverse commute home from Tysons Corner to McPherson Square. I start with a bus in Tysons, and the fare is $1.50. When I get to West Falls Church, I take the train to McPherson Square. The regular fare is $3.60, but with the 50-cent bus transfer discount it is only $3.10. When the peak of the peak began on Tuesday, I expected the fare to be 20 cents more at $3.30, however, it has been charging me $3.80 every time since Tuesday. It is ignoring my 50 cent transfer discount from the bus.
He contacted Metro customer service twice, but never got a response.
I sent a request to the SmarTrip customer service center last Tuesday evening and have not heard back. I sent a request through the normal Contact Us form on Metro's website Thursday morning and still have not heard back.
On Tuesday, he emailed interim GM Sarles about the issue, which seemed to work:
I received an email from Steven Holland who is the director of Customer Service, Sales, and Fare Media Services that says an engineer confirmed the problem and has been working on it. It will be fixed. He said he will stay in touch with me to make sure I get the money credited back to my account.
Yesterday, we received the following from Richard:
It's been fixed! It deducted the correct amount tonight.

Rider Hall of Shame: Jus' Gettin' My Porn On

Nothing like mass transit for a little light reading. Let's hope it doesn't devolve into this!

Rider Hall of Shame

Other items:
Senator should release hold blocking federal oversight of Metro (WaPo)
NTSB's recommendations to WMATA (NTSB)

Original pic courtesy of @sknightschultz

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Where's WMATA's Facebook Page?

Not that many of you were wondering, but here's an incredible story about where it went via All Facebook:
"Logan Ludwig is 13 years old. Like other kids, he likes to play Guitar Hero and hang out with his friends on Facebook. 58 days ago he found out that his grandfather, a decorated police officer of 19 years, was dying of stage 4 lung cancer. Because of a loophole, his employer, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, had denied him benefits and cut his pension from $3000/month to $700/month. Officer Ludwig was forced to sell his home, declare bankruptcy, and live in the basement of one of his son’s homes."
Logan then went on a social media campaign to make others aware. Read the entire story here.

WMATA confirms the clamor created by the story led them to take down their Facebook page.

When's WMATA Going to be on Intervention?

We posed that question yesterday on Twitter. It was a joke, but like most jokes, there's a kernel of truth buried underneath the snark.

The question was in response to news broken here that a Metrobus driver was allegedly involved in a minor hit and run. The driver dinged a car, basically.

A lot of us have done that, but this driver's instinct was to bolt! That's a huge red flag and yet again speaks to a sickness deep within WMATA.

Sure, a fender bender is not quite like falling asleep behind the wheel or texting while driving, but it's yet another example of how many Metro workers seem to think they're above the law. (Obligatory KFC link Yes, that's an all-time fave.)

It's a dysfunction that plagues Metro. Yeah, yeah, a few bad apples, blah blah, but c'mon. How many bad apples are there? Way more than there should be.

During the Metro Board meeting with the NTSB on Monday, which was largely a snoozefest, NTSB members stated it was important to distinguish between simple mistakes, which we all make, and willful disrespect for standard operating procedures and rules and regulations.

Our understanding of what the NTSB said is that a worker who makes a simple mistake while basically doing the right thing should not be punished, but that a worker who willfully violates rules should have the hammer fall on them--hard.

And it's here that WMATA, more specifically, the union that represents the workers, breaks down like a Red Line train at rush hour.

We've lost count of the number of Metro workers who FLAGRANTLY violate the rules, get caught and end up back on the job. It's unbelievable how many there are, and we probably don't know a tenth of it.

While the NTSB members were speaking to this issue, the silence of the WMATA Board was deafening. They had nothing constructive or proactive to say about it.

They're paralyzed on this topic.

Sure, Metro has a lot of problems, but until the quality of the WMATA workforce is discussed openly, without kneejerk charges of racism, WMATA will continue to be a substandard mass transit system.

Other items:
Funny Metro cartoon (Examiner)
Do federal workers really deserve transit perks? (Examiner)
Dulles may shift Metro plan (WaPo)
More trip planner hilarity (Emilyhaha)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

MetroBus Allegedly Hits Car and Flees

A tipster said they saw a Metrobus rear end another car and flee the scene earlier today. Arlington Police confirm an incident involving a Metrobus, which they said took place at Glebe Rd. and Fairfax Dr. They didn't have further details, but said they had officers at the scene.

WMATA said "It is alleged, and we are investigating."

Stay tuned for details if/when they become available.

3:19 UPDATE ArlNow.com has more details here.


At 1:21 p.m., a Metrobus that was not in service, struck the rear of an auto at Glebe Road and Fairfax Drive, in Arlington, VA. Three people were in the auto which was stopped at the time. The three occupants of the auto declined medical attention. There was moderate damage to the auto and the bus. The bus operator was cited.

The driver of the bus was removed from service and is undergoing the standard drug and alcohol test.

The operator has been a Metro employee since September 2000.

Fare Hikes' Silver Lining: Freebies

Yesterday, we posed the half joking question "When's the fare increase to recoup the money they failed to collect from the fare increase?"

Sadly, it's sounding less and less like a joke considering the money Metro appears to be hemorrhaging because their Casio watch powered systems were ill equipped to handle the complexity of the recent fare increases.

Here's another example:

Dispatches from anonymous:
  • I don't know if anyone told you about this already, but last night (Wed.) at the Vienna south parking garage, one of the two exits was completely closed off. I was parked on the 4th level and it took 18 min. to get out of the garage because the cars were bumper-to-bumper, like we were leaving a concert. The only consolation prize was that Metro raised the gate arms, and we didn't have to pay the $4.50 parking fee. This happened to me around 6:30 pm.
  • Update: both exits at the Vienna parking garage were working tonight (Thurs.), but the gates were up, meaning that we left without having to pay $4.50 again for parking. Dumbasses!
  • The parking gates were in the up position Friday and yesterday (Mon.) as well, which allowed us to exit without paying the parking fee. People at Vienna station are enjoying the free parking.

The Vienna station has almost 6,000 parking spaces.

What other freebies have you noticed?

Other items:
"Low level of credibility" threat made to Metro system (NBC4)
Graham says Metro Board could have done nothing to prevent crash (Examiner) WaPo take
"Wilding on wheels?" (Examiner)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Is Metro's Fight Problem Covered Unevenly?

The Bethesda rumble

So, the big news with Metro this past weekend was a brawl at Gallery Place/L'Enfant Plaza. It was ALL OVER the mainstream media, even getting a mention on a national outlet.

Yet, as first reported here a few weeks ago, there was another extremely violent brawl at Bethesda. That near riot was ignored by the media.

It was certainly not without drama. One terribly injured person, unable to remain standing because of the beating they'd taken, fell onto the tracks, and those who tried to help were nearly run over by an oncoming train.

So why does one get so much play in nearly every major TV, internet and print outlet while the other is virtually ignored and not even mentioned in the coverage of the L'Enfant fight? You'd think the media would at least like to tie to two together to show that Metro has a safety issue which can erupt anywhere.

Instead, if you read the comments on the Post's site, the conversation is largely about race, discrimination, education, poverty, some really wacky shit, pretty much anything but what Metro could be doing to prevent large scale fights within the system.

Do you think the coverage is uneven or spot on? Why? What do you think Metro could do to stop this sort of thing?

Comments are moderated, so if you want to be an idiot, better go leave your pearls of wisdom at the Washington Post's site where you can expound away.

New Fare Charts Misleading?

From Amanda:

I've attached a picture of the new fare signage from King Street Metro, which is a major Metro fail. The new sign says that using a SmarTrip card saves you 25 cents each trip, but does not explicitly say that those using paper farecards need to factor that in to their fare.

To make matters worse, the one-way regular and reduced fares are listed using the SmarTrip card fare, while the peak of the peak is listed using the paper farecard fare.

I can already see all the tourists putting their farecard in over and over again, trying to get the gate to open, when they don't have the correct fare. I'm pretty sure a 3rd grader could have made a more coherent sign. Way to go Metro.

From John:

I noticed this when waiting for my Orange Line train at West Falls Church. The sign clearly states that you need to add 25 cents to each fare for paper farecards. But they're wrong! The regular fare column is indeed the SmarTrip fare, but the peak-of-the-peak fare is at the paper fare card rate. Look at the picture--notice that the difference in the fares is 45 cents, not 20 cents! So now what do they do--replace the correction signs, or replace the fare charts?

I fear that this is throughout the system. I saw it on the fare chart on the map on the WFC platform and on the kiosks at Vienna.

Other items:

Saturday, August 7, 2010

"Brawl" at L'Enfant Leaves "Mass Casualties"

Friday, August 6, 2010


Rider Hall of Shame: Cheekhanger II: Revenge of the Cheeks

From Bill:

This was my view in the Metro. The worst was seeing her visibly clench the bar to hold on. This picture really doesn't do justice to how nasty this was.

Cheekhanger I
Rider Hall of Shame

Other items:
Mikulski resolute on adding federal transit regulation (Gazette)
You already knew about fare headaches, but (Examiner)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Fun on the Blue Line Tonight

With Twitter down, it's hard to get a feel for the commute, but one anonymous rider seems to be having a hell commute on the Blue Line.

"Offloaded at Arlington ... offloaded again at Pentagon City ... no lights at Pentagon City ... further travel doubtful."

Audio from the Blue Line here (.amr file)


From Brigid:

I've been a loyal metro rider for 15 years and it had NEVER been this bad. I am so furious with the WMATA that I had to share with someone & I figured you and your readers would commiserate. I live in Crystal City & work in Herndon (soon to be working in Pentagon City...thank God), so my daily commute is as follows: In the AM, I metro to Rosslyn, 5A to Herndon-Monroe P&R, Ffx Connector 929 to my office; In the PM, Ffx Connector 929 to Herndon-Monroe P&R, Ffx Connector 950 to W. Falls Church (5A is too expensive now for multiple trips/day), metro to Crystal City.

Today, my commute home was one of my worst experiences with the WMATA. My trip to WFC was uneventful, and the Orange line to Rosslyn was slow & jerky, but that has become the norm. Once I got to Rosslyn & made it downstairs, the platform was stacked 6-8 people deep & the message board was totally empty. About 5 min later, three trains pop up on the board (blue, orange, orange), but no times are posted. Another 5 min & the board has changed to three "--- TRAIN" entries w/ times of 4, 8, and 15 min. Another 5 min & the board now says orange, blue, orange w/ times of 3, 5, and 8 respectively. 10 min later, the board showed 2, 4, and 7 min...still. The orange line showed up in 2 min, overcrowded (natch.) & the blue line ticked down to 2 min. About 5 min later, the blue line finally showed up & I was shoved (I am an aggressive metro rider, but this was excessive IMO) onto the train shortly before 5pm. I was home-free....or so I thought...

Halfway to Arlington Cemetery, stop & hold. Hold at Arlington w/ doors open. Doors close...Hold...still at Arlington. Stop & hold twice between Arlington & Pentagon. Stop at Pentagon (now 5:30ish). Hold at Pentagon. Leave Pentagon, stop & hold FOUR TIMES between Pentagon & Pentagon City. Driver announces on fourth stop & hold that we will be holding at Pentagon City until further notice from Central Command. Arrive at Pentagon City & hold with doors closed. Driver announces the train is being instructed to offload & turn around (now shortly before 6pm). I get off & walk 1.5 mi home in the pouring rain.

Thus concludes the story of my hour-long ride from Rosslyn to Pentagon City, after 30 min of waiting at Rosslyn, right smack in the middle of rush hour...so I hope I have your fullest support when I exclaim "F**K the WMATA"...not to mention the peak-of-the-peak fare that I paid for my double plus ungood commute home.

How was your commute tonight?

Operator Attempts to Steer Herd

From Kristin:

A video I took today on the Orange Line. I've gotta hand it to the operator--people crowding into the last car, when they could just walk down the platform, drive me nuts, too.

I had gotten on at Eastern Market, headed toward Vienna. By the time we got to Federal Center, the operator was reminding everyone how many doors there are on the train and inviting boarders to use all of them. By L'Enfant, he was calling out people individually: "Sir with the large bag, please do not allow it to block the doors. If it doesn't fit, move to another car." By Smithsonian, where this video was taken,, he was on a roll.

I got off at Metro Center, and, as I was headed up the escalator, I simply heard *door chime* "SPREAD OUT." *door chime* "SPREAD OUT."

What can I say? I think I kind of like this guy.

Bethesda Riders Rejoice ... Briefly

Photos courtesy of Andrew

@nicolesoufi It's a cruel joke that the day after #WMATA fixed the right platform escalator at Bethesda, they closed the left one.

From Andrew:
The Bethesda escalator situation is great. First the sign said the platform escalator would be fixed in June. That didn't happen. Next it said July. It was fixed in August.

Now, the other side of the escalator is closed, and it says it won't be in service until October, which really means sometime in 2011. By the time this one is fixed, the other side will probably be broken again from inactivity (Now it's a two-way staircase.). If there ever were any kind of emergency at Bethesda station, hordes of people would be trapped.

Why didn't they just put a sign up that said October to begin with? I guess that would be too logical.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

WTFoggy Bottom?

From Meredith:
Is there any information about Foggy Bottom? More than half of the turnstiles don't let people through, and on several occasions, they've opened up the gates and waved everyone through. I don't know if they did that because NONE of the gates worked (what one co-worker said happened when she was there) or if the lines to get through became so long that they just decided to open things up. The other morning, only three gates were working to exit the station at 8:30 a.m!

One morning, they waved us through without swiping to exit, and when I went to swipe in the afternoon, there was no problem. However, the times that I've been sent into the Metro without swiping, I've had to "See Station Manager" upon exiting in Vienna. All I have to say is "I got on at Foggy Bottom," and the station manager sends me through the gate without paying

As a side note, there are two station managers at Vienna in the afternoons/evenings who are extremely friendly and helpful.
From Metro:
We are currently working on some hardware issues (cables) at Foggy Bottom between the station’s computer and the faregates. We have specialists who have been working to fix it. It is important to repair because if we send new “fare tables” for new fares to that station, a functioning cable ensures that everything gets updated correctly.
Other items:

Board members to meet with NTSB (WMATA)
Metro sucks up SmarTrip (NBC4)
One event, two takes:
  • Metro's tweet about a problem: "Green Line: The Garage entrance is temporarily closed due to a power problem. Customers can utilize the Howard Rd (Bus) entrance.
  • DC Fire/EMS' about the same thing: "update - Anacostis Metro Garage SE -elec utilty rm - EMS evaluated & transported 2 adult males - elecrical burns - both serious (pri 1 &2)"
  • WaPo story

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

They're Lining Up Early

Crowds line up at Foggy Bottom to get their hands on a new iFareAdjustment 3.0.1.*

After much fanfare and a few last minute technical delays (and here) that cost the agency some $60,000, Metro is finally ready to unveil the highly anticipated release of iFareAdjustment 3.0.1 during this evening's rush hour. It is the third fare innovation this year! The iFareAdjustment 3.0.1 includes new features like:
  • A new 20-cent peak-of-the-peak fee during afternoon weekday travel periods
  • An increase in the cost of three Metrorail passes
  • A 25-cent increase in cost for Metrorail customers who use a paper fare card instead of a SmarTrip card
  • SmarTrip wackiness
  • SmartBenefits screw ups
  • Crazy signage
  • More single tracking
  • Bigger offloads
  • Dumbfounded tourists
  • Longer broken escalators
  • Ruder employees
  • Slower operating faregates
  • More broken trains
  • Hotter hot cars
  • Longer delays
  • And much, much more!
It's everything you love to hate about Metro at a new, higher price!

*Crowds like this are expected for some time.

Other items:

Original photo:
@peroty Foggy Bottom elevator line. http://yfrog.com/6bturoj and stairs http://yfrog.com/7gq6jsj #wmata @unsuckdcmetro

What is Up with SmartBenefits and SmarTrip?

(click for larger)

The hilarious screengrab above is from Marc. It reads "[SmarTrip] Account Activation Completed/Account Activation Failed/Your account activation process has been failed ..."

There have been several reports of problems/wackiness with SmartBenefits and SmarTrip cards.

From Ashley:
I recently tried to add SmartBenefits to my SmarTrip card, and my transaction was cancelled. I tried twice, and gave up. I called the benefits provider to find that everything should have been fine. Then, I called WMATA. The person at WMATA said, “Oh, it’s near the first of the month. Adding your SmartBenefits should take you about five transaction tries before it will load your card. There is a high demand right now. Just keep trying, and it should work.”

I did not see that on the WMATA FAQ web page.
Twitter @vnangia said:
"Trying to get Smartbenefits is causing errors at all station. Dunn Loring manager says no more SB loading at machines now"
And even the pilot programs are screwy. From Adam:
I'm taking part in the SmarTrip bus pass beta test ... so far they're off to a good start, pass implementation has already been delayed a week! :-)
What else is going on out there with SmartBenefits and SmarTrip?

Monday, August 2, 2010

What Metro Honchos Pull Down

General Manager -- $300,000
Deputy GM Admin & CFO -- $234,999.999
Deputy GM Operations -- $230,999.984
Chief Safety Officer -- $185,000
Assistant General Manager (AGM), Bus -- $183,999.999
Chief, MTPD -- $181,280.001
Inspector General -- $177,675.001
General Counsel -- $175,100
AGM, Corp. Strategy & Communication -- $175,000
Chief of Staff -- $172,724.996
Chief Performance Officer -- $170,724.971
Chief HR Officer -- $165,000
AGM, Information Technology -- $164,800.001
AGM, Access Services -- $154.499.998
AGM, Planning & Joint Development -- $154,499.998

We asked WMATA why some of the salaries are rounded off to three decimal points the thousandth of a cent because it seems a little precise for WMATA. Their reply was "It's a business decision that was made years ago."


Other items:

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