Friday, July 29, 2011

Hot Car Stylin'

photo via Rachel

From Kimberlee

Lost and Found Win

From A.:
I'm an Arlington commuter, so you will not be shocked when I say I have infuriating Metro experiences pretty frequently.

But I like to give positive feedback, too, and I email Metro just as much for commendations as complaints.

Here's a recent praiseworthy incident.

I received an envelope this weekend from Metro Lost & Found.

I didn't report a lost item; the only thing I could think of was when I called them about dropping my phone, over 2 years ago.

I opened the envelope and found a checkbook full of blank checks!

I had brought it with me a couple of weeks ago, and never realized I lost it.

It was very reassuring to know that some rider, some station manager and some central office person had all worked to get it back to me.

Anyway, I'm sure that people have this kind of thing happen all the time, just as I also have hot cars and track delays and breakdowns happen all the time.

Just thought I should praise Metro for working hard to get my stuff back to me.
Other items:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Screw Bottled Water! We want Beer!

via @ Spotted in Ballston: 5 dudes with a keg! YES! This makes up for my miserable commute!

What's the most notable/odd/weird thing you've seen hauled on Metro?

Other items:

New escalators for Bethesda--in 2014 (WMATA)
Is there more accountability in China than at Metro? (BBC)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bumbling, Sneaky or Rogue?

It's funny to think of Metro as a bumbling clown that just can't get it right despite trying as hard as it can.

But funny morphs into arrogant and sneaky when "the Authority" deletes a press release about allowing the drinking of bottled water from their website and refuses to say why.

And sneaky starts to appear as rogue when the publicly-funded organization, accountable to no one--especially the public--won't answer some basic, crucial questions about its operation after a YEAR!

From CS:
It's just what we predicted.

Have you ever wondered why the doors on Metrorail cars so often don’t work, throwing trains out of service and delaying thousands upon thousands of riders?

What about safety and reliability, after Metro began putting its oldest cars in the middle of trains following the fatal Red Line accident?

And who about the affliction of manual train control will come to an end, with return of automatic operations?

So has Unsuck. Which is why we filed three public records requests (updated here and here) with Metro for information about these issues of vital concern to riders.

The one-year anniversary of our requests was yesterday. And despite Metro’s bluster about a new era of openness and transparency, we have received not a comma’s worth of information from the agency.

Not even an explanation about why we’ve gotten nada.

Metro’s open records policy says that it must respond within 20 working days.

We asked Metro to explain why it hasn’t responded, and is so grossly out of compliance with its policy.

No surprise – no response.

There’s also a procedure in Metro’s access policy to seek expedited handling of requests, when there is an urgency to inform the public about WMATA activities. Figuring that masses of people getting delayed or risking death had a certain urgency about it, we tried that approach, too.

No surprise – no dice.

Metro proffered a bizarre interpretation of the rules, saying that before something could be considered urgent, it has to be known to the public or the subject of news coverage. But if something is known to the public or has gotten coverage, well, then, that means there is no urgency. As daft as that sounds, it’s an argument Metro lawyers make with a straight face.

By Metro’s logic, if Metro Center blew up one day, but the story didn’t happen to make the news, that would relieve it from the realm of urgency. That’s an absurd example, perhaps. But what, say, if the Metrorail system was in a spiral of decay, and safety was being compromised by deteriorating infrastructure, shoddy management, and sloppy operations along the rails? By Metro logic, no urgency there.

Metro’s response to our request isn’t one of an agency that has even a lukewarm regard for openness. Although Metro may now have figured out how to tweet and pay attention to social media, all the gimmicks of the modern age haven’t changed its baseline, cloistered mentality. It remains, as we said in our posting a year ago announcing our requests, “Kremlin-esque in what it doles out to the public.” In fact, Soviet-like, Metro has recently rolled out a fancy ad campaign to tout repairs to the system (which should have been made a decade ago, but evidently, no one was paying attention). So Metro is pretty open when it comes to dishing the propaganda. Not so much when it comes to information about what’s really going on.

Metro people themselves should be outraged at the actions of the agency’s legal department. Because the clamming up on public records requests undermines what have otherwise been some legitimate efforts to open up.

So, unfortunately, but not surprisingly, what we predicted a year ago has come true. As we said at the time: “Don’t hold your breath. If history is any guide, Metro will delay, stonewall and temporize, throwing up all manner of obstacles to avoid disclosing the information. What should take weeks will drag on for months and maybe even years.”

Indeed. One year down. How many to go? Will anyone at WMATA rise above the sloth and actually respond to our requests with real information, of value and great interest to the hundreds of thousands of people who ride Metro each day, plus the many non-riders whose daily lives are also affected by what Metro does or doesn’t do?
Other items:
Metrobus driver hits car, flees scene (2nd item, Mt. Rainier Police)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Guest Blogger: FixWMATA, Tracker of Hot Cars

A couple more choice tweets from Metro: here and here

From FixWMATA (Twitter/website):

Here's the thing - I don't WANT to track WMATA "hot cars!" I'd rather these cars get fixed and WMATA have a plan in place to address them in a timely manner when reported.

I would LOVE for this problem to become history.

The problem is the hot cars are getting worse, and the communication from WMATA has mostly come to a full stop, despite an overly advertised "aggressive social media campaign" to keep riders informed.

When I started tracking hot cars this year, I sat down with Dan Stessel, Metro's chief spokesman, and had a very friendly chat about the problem and what he intended to do about it in his new role.

He said he would use my website to communicate the reported hot cars to maintenance each night so the problem would get addressed.

I loved this attitude and decided that, unlike last year, I would be on his side and try to have a spirit of cooperation this year.

Over the next few weeks, I would ask Dan for a list of cars that were "fixed" so I could note it in my database and give them proper credit for handling the situation.

I never once got that list!

Furthermore, I saw the problem with hot cars getting worse.

Did Dan give me lip-service?

I hope not.

But in any case, after I pursued the issue more aggressively with him, the communication stopped.

Other than the occasional message about using the intercom to report a hot car, the Metro Twitter account has stopped mentioning hot cars altogether, despite a torrent of reports from riders.

So what's happened?

Has Metro found they CAN'T fix the hot cars and decided that instead of admitting that, they will just go silent on the issue?

Did Dan get an unhealthy response from maintenance and can't report results to us, but doesn't want WMATA to look bad?

Does Dan have a personal beef with me and therefore is ignoring the issue I'm championing and thus putting his personal issues above "potential health issues" facing customers?

We may never know.

So, yes. I do have a salty, snarky, bitchy attitude right now.

This attitude comes out of frustration at the lack of a response from Metro after I put forth a good-faith effort to work with them to solve one of THEIR issues.

WE the riders continue to do the legwork in identifying hot cars, and I continue to provide the lists they need to fix the problem.

But it remains unfixed.

WE the riders continue to sweat every day on our commutes.

Where do we go from here?

Can WMATA do an about-face and address the issue?

Do I stop trying to champion the issue on behalf of frustrated commuters?

Do we continue to shout into the dark?

Will the media catch on to the frustration and get Dan's attention on the issue?

I will continue to hope for a day that we can all work together to make WMATA better, but right now these conditions don't exist.

I'm open to suggestions.

If you want to know the extent of the problem, here are hot cars by the numbers:

These are the HotCar record results for 2011 as of July 23, 2011. These records have been kept to the best of my ability since May 24, 2011.
  • Number of days on record: 61
  • Number of records: 673
  • Average records per day: 11
  • Number of records more than last year: 467
  • Number of individual Twitter users reporting: 374
  • Twitter user with the most reports: @seauxbrown with 10 records
  • Number of unique WMATA rail car numbers reported: 338
  • Total number of WMATA rail cars in fleet (per 2011 budget report): 1106
  • Percent of all WMATA rail cars reported as hot car: 31% (that means almost 1 in 3 WMATA rail cars have been reported)
  • Car reported most: car 5037, reported 11 times this year (on 6/21, 6/28, 7/8, 7/11, 7/18, 7/19, 7/21)
  • WMATA rail line with the most records: Red Line - 232 reports
  • WMATA car series with the most records: 5000-series (37% of all reports) - note: the 5000-series makes up only 17% of the total fleet)
  • Percentage of total 5000-series reported: 61% (113 unique car numbers reported out of 184 total 5000-series cars)
Other items:
Interesting take on Metro's eating/drinking law (Overcriminalized)
MetroAccess growth slows (Examiner)
Metro to will abandon @metroopensdoors, use @wmata instead, finally
Meet the voice of Metro (TBD)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Should the Bottled Water Ban be Ditched for Good?

It's Monday and once again, drinking bottled water is illegal in the Metro system.

On Friday, at 5:17 p.m., Metro issued a press release (deleted by Metro. Who knows why. Screengrab) announcing that due to the extreme heat, it would relax the ban on drinking bottled water through Sunday. The email announcing the press release arrived at 6:20 p.m.

Reactions to Metro's move were varied.

There were many who seemed surprised Metro even had a policy banning the drinking bottled water and said they'd been drinking it all along.

It's not exactly cool today; nor will it be tomorrow--or for the rest of the week, for that matter.

According to Metro, Friday's move was not the first step in the relaxation of the policy, adding that Metro Police issued more than 6,600 citations for violating the no eating and drinking policy last year.

Metro's tweets did keep the door open for the possibility of allowing water again, but only under extreme conditions.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Don't Believe the Hype

Yesterday, Metro put out a de rigueur press release about GM Sarles' 6-month "state of Metro" presentation to the Metro board. It's exactly what you'd expect. Fine. Make of it what you will.

What's weird and disturbing is how many local, commercial media outlets basically regurgitated Metro's party line without much, if any, questioning or input from anyone else besides Metro principals.

Take a look:
Washington Post
Fox 5

Yeah, it's good that there's going to be a virtual tunnel, and it's welcome that you will be able to add money to your SmarTrip card online, but those are basically fringe issues, and if Metro had ANY common sense, both would have been done years ago.

Better late than never? Yes.

But really, are we supposed to have a champagne toast because Metro is dragging its feet in gathering the low hanging fruit?

The whole system is a rickety, second-tier railway and an international embarrassment.

There's still no accountability or transparency. Who's been fired for 6/22? Who's been fired for the L'Enfant escalator incident?

Your money--fares and taxes--is wasted daily. Things go wrong with the cars and the tracks more than on any other transit system I've ever been on, delays are way too common, the escalators don't work, there are too many confrontational employees, too many bus drivers drive dangerously, the crumbling platforms are often dangerously overcrowded, people are passing out from the heat because the AC doesn't work even though Metro says they're "on it," and there's no indication whatsoever about when Metro will return to automatic train control.

One could go on and on.

But back to the topic at hand.

Even worse journalistic laziness and obsequiousness can be found in this piece from the Washington Post about an alleged "more than 30 percent" drop in crime on Metro. (This was also mentioned in the Fox piece.)

More than 30 percent!


Two Metro cops we talked to called the drop in crime "BS" and "cooking the books," respectively.

One laughingly said, "Thirty percent? Is that what they're saying? You believe that sh*t?"

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that those cops are just bad apples and just want to slam Metro no matter what.

A quick Googling of Compstat (Metro calls it Metrostat), a police department "organizational management tool" cited by Metro (and repeated by the Post and Fox) as the reason for the drop in crime, shows there's actually a rather vigorous debate about the effectiveness of Compstat in fighting crime. Even the Wikipedia page talks about the debate.

You'd think the "reporters" at the Post or Fox would have Googled or made a call or two, especially when Metro's reported drop in crime sounds miraculous.

It reminds me of a favorite Simpsons exchange:
Bart: Well Dad, here's my report card. I think you'll be pleasantly
Homer: [incredulously] A-plus?!? You don't think much of me, do you boy?
Bart: [almost proudly] No sir!
Homer: You know a D turns into a B so easily. You just got greedy.
Metro is a regional leader in suck, but local "journalism" isn't far behind.

Other items:
Weekend delays (WMATA)
Metro Center fail (A Vulnerable Geometry)
Operator shows common sense (26minus5)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Minnesota Ave. Melee (NSFW)

The video was posted on July 17, but appears to have been made earlier due to the coats and lack of leaves on the trees. The OP says it was at Minnesota Ave.

Via T.
I go through this Minnesota Ave. every day. Every day it's something new. Every day there's a reason for normal people to avoid this station.

My friend showed me this on Youtube. This happens all the time.

Where are the police?
Maybe this is one of the stations transit police are hesitant to patrol because of their poor quality radios.

Other items:
Metro keeps information about sexual assault suspect secret (Examiner)
Dulles Metro station will be above ground (WaPo)
Metro from the perspective of someone in a wheelchair (A Vulnerable Geometry)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Reverse Planking Comes to Metro

We're used to our escalators and trains planking all the time, but here's a new twist.

Planking, aka the lying down game, explained.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Great Escape

Yet another tale from our disintegrating Metro. This surely can't be the according-to-Hoyle way to handle this.

From Krack Barry:
It was like any other Monday. Get on train, ride, zone out.

I got on at Vienna with the remnants of people who'd just missed a train or opted to wait for an emptier one.

The train got more crowded as we went along, and people were, as always, crowding the doors instead of moving to the center of the car.

I was in train car #6139.

Things were going fine through Foggy Bottom, but then, as we were pulling out of the Farragut West stop, I overheard someone saying "the doors didn't open."

I wasn't sure what was going on at first and didn't pay too much attention until we pulled into McPherson Square and then heard someone saying "the doors aren't opening."

That's when it got interesting.

A young man in his 20s who I'll refer to as "The Passenger" begin to communicate with the operator over the emergency intercom.

I could only hear one side of the conversation, and all I heard was "none of the doors opened at Farragut West, and a lot of people missed their stops, and now the doors aren't opening again, and we need to get off."

A few moments went by and still nothing happened. Then I heard "The Passenger" say "can we use the emergency door release?"

Then silence for a few moments.

Then, we heard through the overhead speakers from who I assume was the driver of the train "please use the emergency door release."

Then "The Passenger" begin to read aloud how to use the emergency door release from the directions posted on the side of the train, and within a few moments the left door of the center car on the right side of the train opened.

A lot of passengers begin to go through the doors as "The Passenger" appeared to hold the door release.

Then, we heard the pre-recorded message with the voice saying "doors closing" with the usual chime of the bell.

I saw the door was still open, and people were still going through.

I wondered if the train was going to start moving.

Luckily, that didn't happen, and more people got out of the train.

Then "The Passenger" said "anyone else?" And just like that he said "you all have a nice day" as he was the last one to go through the door that he opened.

I'm not sure, but I think someone went to the emergency door release, did something, and the door closed on its own.

After the train started moving, I got up and thought that I probably should get off at Metro Center just to be on the safe since the Metro Center platform is on the left side.

Thinking that maybe the problem was isolated to the right side car doors, I figured I would see what happened with the left side doors as my stop is Federal Center SW, and the doors open on the left as well.

At Metro Center, things went smoothly, same at Federal Triangle, where the doors also open on the left. I thought things would get interesting at Smithsonian, where the doors open on the right, but the doors opened and closed normally.

Just another manic Monday.
Other items:
Key decisions ahead this week for Dulles rail (Examiner)
Planning for Purple Line moving forward despite no money (WaPo)
NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman blasts Metro in speech (C-Span)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Station Manager Ambivalent about Gun-Toting Teen

From Kenneth:
I'm a long time Metro rider. I take the Yellow and Red lines from Alexandria (Braddock Road) to Silver Spring each day.

It is terrible to ride nowadays.

I don't see how anyone can tell me Metro is improving.

However, one of my dealings with this transit agency, which took place on the evening of June 23, really takes the cake.

I was jogging at around 8:10 in Alexandria, when I came across a youth who was carrying a handgun in the waist of his pants.

He was headed in the direction of the Braddock Road station on a footpath adjacent to Buchanan St., so I thought it would be best to report this to the King Street Metro station manager, since that was the closest place I could report such a thing.

I sprinted to the station, and was met with complete ambivalence and laziness.

When I told the manager that a youth with a gun was headed in the direction of the Braddock Road station, he said muttered a bored "yeah."

He then said that he'd "take care of it."

He remained stationary in his chair.

I told him I could describe the youth, but he said nothing.

He then motioned for me to leave the station, saying again that he would "take care of it."

Whenever I have dealt with law enforcement officials, they want to know details.

Hell, when I've reported suspicious behavior to other station managers, they've asked questions. This station manager did nothing. He actually reclined in his chair during the conversation!

I ended up running over to a Hilton hotel nearby the King Street Metro, where the desk clerk called the Alexandria police department. An officer arrived within about three minutes and took my information.

Such ambivalence about a youth with a gun, walking in the direction of another station (in a residential neighborhood) is heinous.

I reported this as a complaint to Metro the next day. I genuinely doubt I will get any response.
Other items:
"Fired" (Examiner)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Metro Dance Party


Yesterday, @RCarBar tweeted:
Car just invaded by teens supposedly from the boys & girls club asking for $...anyone know if these guys are legit?
The general consensus was that this was as bogus as a Metro excuse.

Thanks to @gtcaz for sending the following from the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington website:
BGCGW is not affiliated with any on-foot individuals or street vendors that sell goods for the purpose of raising money for our clubs or related programs. These merchants are often found soliciting in front of high foot-traffic establishments, such as major grocery stores, drug store chains, metro stations and home improvement retail outlets among others.
Apparently, the BGCGW scam is not the only scam going on in Metro, and there may even be an animal cracker scam afoot. (More info please, if you've seen this one.)

And here's another potential scam from Jared:
You know those guys that come up to you with a folder and some papers asking you to donate to their football team? Three of them were working Green Line trains the other night on the way to the Nats game.

One guy sat down next to a tourist, cornering the tourist in the bench seat asking for money while his two buddies accosted other passengers. I'd call it a soft-arm robbery.

Anyone else seen this tactic?

The "fundraiser" was a black male, 18-22, with a trimmed goatee. He didn't look like he was in high school, and he was likely too young to be a coach.

None of the individuals were wearing any team or high school related t-shirts.
Other items:
Bus driver impersonator back in action (Examiner)
Texting idiot (Fox5)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Jerky Rides Explained

I've always wondered why Metro is so jerky, especially when pulling into a station or stopping/restarting repeatedly in a tunnel. I'd never experienced this on any other subway system.

In addition to being uncomfortable, the jerkiness in the stations is a huge impediment to the quick egress/ingress of passengers from the trains, as a lot of people tend to want to stay seated or holding on as long as possible, knowing there will be some bucking as the train pulls in.

I got a tip more than a year ago that the major reason for this was the cars, 1000-series, 2000-series, etc., all have different braking and accelerating properties. Some brake harder, some speed up faster. The source said the cars were never meant to be mixed.

We asked Metro then if it was true only to be told it wasn't.

Their reason: It is a common, unfounded operator gripe. Nothing else.

I've talked to numerous Metro sources, operators and others, over the course of months about this, and they all told me the cars do have different braking and accelerating properties. This, they all said, leads to an "accordion" effect with cars bouncing back and forth as some slow or accelerate more quickly than others.

For example, several sources said, the 5000-series brake particularly hard, so a different series car behind a 5000 will likely bump the 5000 as the train slows.

Next time you're on a jerky train, you can really sense how the cars interact with one another when slowing down or speeding up. They're certainly not moving in unison.

One source said mixing the various series of cars was not a safety issue, but that because of all the bouncing, it does lead to greater wear and tear on the couplers that connect the cars.

On the bright side, the new 7000-can't be mixed--because they won't couple--with any of the other Metro cars, so jerking shouldn't be a problem with them. The downside? 7000-series trains can only be rescued by 7000-series trains. That could prove interesting.

Another reason for jerky rides, I'm told, is that there has been an influx of new operators in the past several months. They're simply not as good as veterans. For example, many experienced operators can compensate for the differing braking/propulsion properties, said a source, but the younger ones don't know how.

The last reason for the whiplash experience is that Metro management frequently sends out "hit squads" or "jump out guys" to make sure the operators are pulling up to the end of the platforms. These teams stand near the front of the platform, often disguised in "Hawaiian shirts" said one Metro source who is not an operator.

If an operator pulls too short or long of the mark, even by an insignificant amount, the hit teams will basically storm the operator's cabin and "ding" the operator, which could result in suspension, said a source. The source said that even with an 8-car train, there's about a 10-foot margin of error.

Because of this, operators inch up and up until they're within the limit, even if there's no danger of opening a door still in the tunnel, as source said.

Not only does this cause jerky rides, but it also eats away at dwell time--the amount of time the train stays at a station.

We asked Matt Bassett of the Tri-State Oversight Committee (TOC) about this issue:
If a train operator pulls too far ahead, or not far enough, he or she runs the risk of opening the train doors outside the platform. This exposes patrons to the hazards of the rail environment; live 3rd-rail power, train wheels and electrified train components to name just a few.

The "inching up" phenomenon can likely be attributed to an operator's cautious approach to the 8-car marker at the end of the platform. We're Metro riders too, and we understand the annoyance that this lurching sensation can cause our fellow passengers.

But we at the TOC still believe it's preferable to even the possibility of exposing riders to a dangerous fall to the trackbed. Careful adherence to, and enforcement of, safety rules such as this are essential to keeping the system safe.
A Metro source--again, not an operator--disagreed and said the hit squads were a management gimmick, a waste of time, eroded morale and were nothing more than safety theater because the majority of trains are 6-cars long, and pulling to the front of the platform is next to meaningless. They added that even with an 8-car train, precision within a foot or two was unnecessary.

Other items:
Metro outlines track work for entire year (WMATA)
McDonnell support federal cuts for transportation (WaPo)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More Perversion

From AB:
I'm writing to tell you about an incident that occurred this past Friday morning (7/8/11) on the Orange Line to Vienna around 8:30 a.m.

I boarded at New Carrollton and sat in one of the "sideways" seats next to an older gentleman. A younger, very small Hispanic girl (I'd say early-mid 20s) sat on the inside seat in the second row of forward facing seats across from where I was sitting. The car was semi-filled with almost a person in each row of seats with each person having an open seat next to them.

I can't recall exactly which stop (it had to have been Cheverly or Deanwood because we were still outdoors), but I noticed a very large African-American male board and make a bee-line for the open seat next to the girl I mentioned.

Something immediately felt "off" to me. There were plenty of other spots that would have been more comfortable. The guy was at least 6'4" and about 220-230lb. Big dude.

I began to subtly keep my eye on the situation. He had shorts on, really short shorts made of loose jersey net material. They were kind of strange.

As the train moved along, he started casually crowding the girl next to him, getting as close as possible. Then, I saw his hand, which was wrapped around his erect penis, which was hanging out of his shorts.

I couldn't believe my eyes. He had his newspaper folded in half to keep it covered but it was hardly covered at all, and I could see everything going on.

He was shifting his eyes around and would then turn his head to the girl with the most disgusting look on his face. He was starting to move his elbow closer to her as she kind of curled up in the corner as he played with himself right there in the seat.

As I said, this girl was tiny, and there was no way she was going to get around him. She had a terrified look on her face, and she was clearly on the verge of tears.

I can only guess why she didn't call out for help or scream or do something. She didn't seem to speak much English, and I guess she didn't know what to do. This all happened pretty quickly.

I was looking around to see if anyone could see.

I sat there for a second in shock trying to think what, if anything, I could do as he continued touching himself.

Then, the girl made eye contact with me, and that was it.

I jumped up and took a step in her direction and said something to the extent of "Do you want to get out of there? Do you want to come sit over in this seat? Let me help you over here."

She practically jumped at me, intensely nodding her head and saying "YES! YES!" She jumped into the forward facing seat next to me and said "thank you" several times.

Meanwhile, the pervert flipped out, cursing at me and insulting me over and over.

As he was screaming at me, I turned to her and asked if she was OK, and she said she was.

I was sure I was about to get pummeled by this dude. Although everyone's attention was now turned to the situation, I was positive he was going to at least take a swing at my face.

But he didn't do anything.

The second the train stopped and the doors opened, he jumped up and ran off the train. This makes me think he's a regular at doing this kind of thing and didn't want to draw additional attention to himself.

I need to mention that I was unaware of the emergency button in the back of each train that calls the operator. A friend told me about those this weekend. Had I known, I am not sure which choice I would have made, but that definitely would have been the safer one and is what I would recommend if anyone else finds themselves in such a potentially dangerous situation.

For whatever it's worth, the pervert had a few days of beard growth. He had a hat on and wore basketball shoes with white tube socks pulled a quarter way up his shin. He got on the Orange Line somewhere around Cheverly or Deanwood and jumped off around Capitol South or Eastern Market.

I think I will at least file a report with Metro police for the sake of making a record of the incident, but I doubt it will do much good.

Stay safe people.
Other items:
Major track work this weekend (WMATA)
Shake-up puts two new DC members on Metro Board (Examiner)
Clarendon Metro improvements (Arlington County)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Metro Implementing Electronic Elevator Status Alerts

Today, a new link to something called "ELstat" appeared on the Metro website.

According to the blurb:
ELstat, Metro's elevator status application, can notify you if elevators are in or out of service at any Metrorail stations you select for monitoring. In case you need an elevator to access or leave our system, these alerts can help you plan for your trip ahead of time, or adjust to changes in elevator status while you are in transit.

You may configure alerts to be sent only on specific days at set times (a "specific time" alert), or throughout a time span, as elevator statuses change (an "interval" alert).
After creating an account linked to your email, phone number or both, you can choose how you want to be notified.

If you choose to receive your alerts via text message, you'll have to familiarize yourself with this list of station abbreviations.

According to the FAQ, the system's accuracy appears to depend on Metro personnel entering an out of service elevator into the system. Let's hope it doesn't end up like this.

I created an alert, which seemed to work fine. Don't know if it's actually sending out alerts. Metro said they'd let me know.

The New Face of Metro Customer Service

From Patricia:
The other morning at Eastern Ave and Randolph St., NE, I waited for 75 minutes for the G8 to Farragut Square.

Two buses in a row didn't show. One broke down, the other simply vanished. The G8 often vanishes.

I called Metro to report it, as did others waiting there with me.

When a real, working bus finally showed up, people were very angry and taking it out on the poor driver.

One of the other passengers called Metro while we were on the bus, and the woman on the other end of the line accused him of lying because the system showed a bus came through 30 minutes earlier.

He handed his phone to other passengers so they could vouch for his story, and the Metro employee hung up after telling the man again that he was wrong.

One particularly outraged older lady was yelling to passengers as they got on, "Don't pay! You waited too long already! Don't give them any more money! This ain't no way to run Metro!"
Other items:
PEPCO and Metro, a winning team (Washington Times)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Were Standard Operating Procedures Followed During Rockville Bomb Scare?

In the wake of the confusion following June 13 bomb scare on the Red Line, I wanted to know Metro's standard operating procedures (SOP) for such a scenario.

I asked Metro several times to provide them, but Metro ignored all requests, so I got them another way.

Below is the official SOP for a bomb scare. It's from the 2003 "Metrorail Safety Rules and Procedures Handbook." The 2003 version is the official version.

There is a 2010 version of the book that remains in a draft form. The procedures in it seem to place more responsibility on the Metro Transit Police, saying, for example, that the chief of the MTPD is the only one who can order the closure of a station. The "checklist" is also longer. You can read the entire 2010 draft bomb scare SOP here. (page 1, 2, 3)

I'd be curious to see what people think of either the 2003 or 2010 versions and if you think they were followed at Rockville.

While the 2010 book is in a draft form, Metro printed and distributed thousands. Your money at work.

The 2010 draft book is pictured above.
14.2 14.3
Employees receiving a call with a bomb threat should attempt to obtain as much information as the caller will divulge, including the following:
a. location of the bomb b. scheduled time of detonation c. description of the bomb d. type of bomb
The Bomb Threat Call Checklist should be used, if available, to document the threat.
Employees shall immediately report any bomb threat call that they receive to the Transit Police through OCC or by telephone on 962-2121.
The Transit Police will be responsible for the overall coordination of bomb related incidents and establish liaison with the office of SAFE, local police, Fire Department and military personnel responding to the scene.
The Chief of the Transit Police or their designee is responsible for determining if facilities are to be evacuated.
14.5 When the bomb is reported on an identified train, OCC will instruct the Train Operator to proceed to the nearest station, unload the train of passengers and secure it with the doors open for inspection by police, fire or other authorized personnel.
14.6 OCC will instruct Train Operators approaching the station on the adjacent track to stop outside the station and await further instructions.
14.7 When the bomb is reported in an identified station and directions are given from command personnel to evacuate, the Station Manager shall make prescribed public address announcements instructing passengers to leave the station.
14.8 Depending on the reported bomb location in the station, OCC may order Train Operators approaching the station to stop. Train Operators already in the station will be permitted to continue out of the station in normal service.
14.9 When the bomb is reported on the right-of-way, OCC will order Train Operators on both tracks approaching the reported bomb location to stop their trains prior to reaching the affected area and await further instructions.
Employees discovering suspicious objects or packages will not touch, move or otherwise disturb the items pending examination and clearance by appropriate police, fire or military personnel.
Train Operators within or approaching a reported bomb location, and employees equipped with portable radios that are in the vicinity of discovered suspicious packages/objects, will discontinue all radio transmissions. If it becomes necessary to transmit by portable radio, a minimum distance of 150 feet must be maintained between the suspicious item and the radio transmitter.
When a bomb threat is received and the location and time are not given, OCC will issue the following instructions:
a. Station Managers shall inspect stations for any unattended objects or packages.
b. Designated employees shall inspect all train cars arriving at terminals for unattended objects or packages.
c. Train Operators shall observe the right-of-way for unusual objects or packages.
d. Employees discovering suspicious objects or packages shall secure the immediate area around the item and notify the Transit Police (related to section SOP 14.10).
14.13 Third rail power may be removed to permit qualified persons to inspect a reported bomb location. OCC will ensure that all non-affected trains have departed the area before removing third rail power.
14.14 OCC will initiate operating procedures to ease train congestion by turning trains, initiating a single track operation or Metrobus shuttle service.
14.15 When a prolonged delay in service is anticipated, OCC may turn trains at both ends of the suspected area and initiate terminal adjustments to ease train congestion.
When the bomb is found or the threat is nullified by authorized personnel and it is determined that it is safe to operate, OCC will:
a. request a restoration of third rail power after all persons are in the clear and aware that power is to be restored.
b. restore normal train service and notify all concerned departments.
Other items:
Metro Forward models are models (Examiner)
NY subway weekend ridership surges (NY Times)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Rider Hall of Shame: Leg Barber

Via @sarainthecity Guy cutting his leg hair with #scissors on the #metro. #unsuckdcmetro #wmata

First there was arm barber and now ...

Complete Hall of Shame

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"Sometimes when you stop them, they never start up again."

illustration via @learntofly3

From Michael:
This morning at Dupont, of the three main escalators on the north entrance/exit, only one was operational.

The operational one was carrying customers down from Q Street/20th.

The other two escalators were inoperable AND blocked off from foot traffic, so the only way out of the DuPont Station was via an elevator (30 minute wait) or the south exit, several blocks away and totally jammed.

Additionally, the station manager was repeatedly announcing the escalators were "not turned on" which implied you could walk up them, when in fact, this was not an option.

I was told by station manager that one up escalator was under scheduled maintenance, but the other broke down.

She also said they were afraid to stop the down one to allow it to serve as staircase, because "sometimes when you stop them, they never start up again."

She also said, "we wouldn't want to have another incident where the stair collapses."

Broken escalator=stairs, in many situations. At Metro, it apparently means possible deathtrap.

Early Details on Metro's New Cars

From C.H. Schmitt:
Metro is continuing to lay plans for its next generation of railcars – the 7000 series – and an early review shows planners seem to be getting some key things right.

Metro has been holding focus groups, and it recently briefed the WMATA Riders’ Advisory Council on plans for the new cars. According to Metro officials, the transit agency plans to bring 64 of the new cars into service by the end of 2013, with an initial option for another 64, followed by an option for 300 more to replace the first cars in the fleet, the 1000 series. After that, there could be even more, to expand the fleet.

Here’s a rundown on what they said about features important to riders:

Seats: First off, they’ll be transverse, like now, rather than bench-style, along the sides. But the best news: Not cloth! (Some will recall recent news reports on the disgusting crud that inhabits cloth seats.) The final design isn’t set yet, officials said. The goal is a polyurethane material that resembles leather, and which would have a more “foamy” feel while also not getting as warm. If that doesn’t prove to be possible, the fallback is vinyl, similar to today.

Flooring: Carpeting is gone. Replacing it will be a kind of industrial grade plastic/vinyl called “resilient” flooring, which officials say is easier to maintain and a lot cleaner.

Noise: Even without carpet to buffer sound, there will be no greater noise inside the car when trains hit higher speeds.

No audio ads: This is great news for many folks who feared being a captive audience. The new cars will have video screens, and thus perhaps video advertisements. But they will have no audio capability, so talking ads aren’t going to happen.

Color scheme: So far, there are two concepts. “Business Elegance” is bluish, which Metro officials say creates an illusion of being a bigger space. This scheme has a dark, blue-speckled floor with white walls, and otherwise is blue. “Subtle Signature” is more a mix of gray and blue tones. It has a dark, red-speckled floor with white walls, and otherwise is grayish-blue. There will be no brown or yellow.

Announcements: Will be recorded.

Air conditioning: Metro’s acting chief engineer promises it will be better. The big issue now is loss of Freon coolant through leakage in lines, he said. The new cars will have sealed lines and be roof-mounted, and should be more reliable.

Other: Lots of handholds. More stanchions to grab onto along the rows of seats. No defined arm-rests are planned. There is to be a V-shaped divide between two adjoining seatbacks to delineate the space for those who want space.

Needs changing: One design Metro showed off has half-height screens at the doors. But the screens are transparent. A Metro official said that’s because people like to look down through the length of the car, but that seems like a non-issue to me. More importantly, too much stuff gets squished up against the current screens, inches from a seated rider’s face. One can only imagine the visual if the screen is transparent. If you know what I mean.

(C.H. Schmitt is a member of the Riders’ Advisory Council.)
Other items:
Metro urged to buy fewer 7000-series cars (WaPo)
Gray backs above ground Dulles station (WaPo)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

SmarTrip Pilot: Smooth Sailing So Far

click for larger

Looks like the pilot program to add value to your SmarTrip cards via computer is working well for the lucky few selected to take part.

From Mark:
Overall, it was very simple and quick. It seems to be well implemented. I could choose to store the [credit] card info or not (I opted not to save it.).

An interesting bit:

"Once you make your purchase online, the pass or stored value will not automatically be loaded to your card. You must touch your card to a rail fare gate, bus farebox, or Ticket Vending Machine (TVM) to load them. Please allow time for the instructions to be sent to the gates and fareboxes. It usually takes 1 business day for rail gates and Ticket Vending Machines to be updated and up to 2 business days for bus fareboxes. You need to touch your card to the gates, TVM or fareboxes within 30 days or your purchase will expire."

So, it looks like you need to plan ahead a day or two.
From Stephanie:
OK, I just gave it a shot, just to try it, and it appears to work.

You log in and have a shopping cart, to which you can add value. You can add $10-$200. You can also add up to two regional 7-day passes at a time (it looks like there may be other options at some point, but this is the only one I can see now. FAQ claims you can buy 10-ride passes, but I don't see that option right now)

You enter the amount to add, your credit card info, and submit the order (you can choose to save the credit card info, but do not have to). You also get these instructions:

"Once you make your purchase online, the pass or stored value will not automatically be loaded to your card. You must touch your card to a rail fare gate, bus farebox, or Ticket Vending Machine (TVM) to load them. Please allow time for the instructions to be sent to the gates and fareboxes. It usually takes 1 business day for rail gates and Ticket Vending Machines to be updated and up to 2 business days for bus fareboxes. You need to touch your card to the gates, TVM or fareboxes within 30 days or your purchase will expire."

Metro Cops Avoid Stations because of Poor Radios

Metro Transit Police Department sources, including officers, tell Unsuck DC Metro that Metro cops often avoid certain stations because the poor quality of radio reception makes it difficult or impossible to call for backup in event something bad were to happen.

The sources said the situation puts riders, Metro employees and transit cops at risk but has been ignored by Metro management.

One officer said the radios have poor reception "throughout most of the system, even in the open."

"In many stations like L'Enfant, Metro Center, Anacostia--all the main and bad stations--the radios sometimes don't work at all! I am comfortable saying 80 percent of the area we cover has terrible radio service!"

Another officer confirmed the problem, adding that the reception varied like cell phones sometimes do. It could work fine one place for one moment and then suddenly lose coverage, they said.

"We've brought this to Metro's attention, but they have yet to do anything," the officer said in an email. "With these radios, I'm reluctant to get into a situation where I can't communicate with my fellow officers to ask for backup."

The source said this was a common practice among many officers and a source or tremendous frustration in the department.

A source intimately familiar with the Metro Transit Police Department's operations said the following in an email:
The radio system is so dangerous, and MTPD's top people know it, and most of them would admit privately that it worries them. But politics is reality, and Metro cannot admit officially that it spent a lot of money on this radio system, and it does not work. I'm not trying to be over-dramatic, but this could get someone killed. Maybe an officer, maybe another employee or a patron.
Other items:
Metro falls short of lowered goals (Examiner)
Metrobus to the rescue? (WTOP)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Metro Molester Convicted, Sentenced

Dear Unsuck,

Earlier this year, I sent you a description of the man who repeatedly rubbed his groin against me and other women, and you posted that description online. A WMATA transit police officer read the description and was able to catch the offender red-handed. He was arrested, and subsequently charged with assault in both incidents.

I can happily report that as of last Thursday, the offender has plead guilty to both charges, and now has two convictions on his record. For his crimes, he’s received a year of supervised probation, with 12 months of a suspended sentence (six months for each incident). He has also been banned from the Pentagon Metro Station for one year and will have to undergo both a mental health evaluation and a sex offender evaluation.

The WMATA detective I worked with during my case told me that there has been in increase in reporting these kinds of crimes since you published my account, and they’ve even caught one additional repeat offender. I am glad people are reporting this behavior. No one should be subjected to these kinds of assaults. I hope that the positive outcomes of my case will encourage Metro riders to continue to report crimes. The more often someone is reported, the more likely they are to be caught, especially if there is a clear pattern that develops through the different reports.

One thing that I would encourage people to do is to take a detailed description of the offender. Take pictures if you can, but look for things that set that person apart from anyone else and things that are likely not to change overnight. Complexion, tattoos, moles, hair color and cut, facial hair, glasses, eye shape, height, weight, build, things like that. Clothing helps, but it is likely that clothes will change the next day. Honestly, I got lucky that the man who assaulted me had a penchant for neon-hued track suits. Be as specific as you can, because every little detail will help the transit police to track the person down. Also, pre-program the WMATA transit police number in your phone- that way you won’t have to hunt for it in the moment; it’s 202-962-2121.

I hope that you will include an enormous collective thank you to the WMATA investigator and detective that worked my case. They went way above the call of duty in reading this blog on personal time and taking the initiative to act on the description, showing enormous compassion while taking my report and doing the photo lineup, and then following up with me and offering support during the entire criminal process. They are tremendous assets to the Metro community, and it is good to know that such dedicated people are out there working to make our transit system safer.


Other items:
Repairs cause delays (Examiner)
Metro board awaits McDonnell appointment (WaPo)
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