Friday, March 30, 2012

Metro Moves

1:30 is when you get a good view. WTF?

Other items:
Metro investigating attack on elderly woman (Fox5)
More streetcar woes (Examiner)
MARC steps it up (WaPo)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ron F*cking Swanson

Via @thedigidiva “Mr. Swanson Goes To Washington #lowerhodetrip #ronswanson #metro #dc”

Other items:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

GM Sarles, Jackie Jeter React to Washington Times Articles

Jeter's letter below

This is a letter Sarles is apparently sending to the Times:

Dear Editor:
In recent articles, Luke Rosiak declined to use facts provided by Metro, instead employing outdated information, misquoting officials, and drawing inaccurate conclusions about WMATA that are particularly odious at a time when Metro’s men and women are working hard to rebuild this system.

Last year, Metro’s progress included a reduction in employee and customer injuries, improvements in train and bus reliability, and a decrease in crime on the system. Thanks to the hard work of our employees, we advanced NTSB safety recommendations and completed all 10 FTA safety improvements. Metro achieved a 90 percent escalator availability. And we are continuing to rebuild our infrastructure after years of deferred maintenance – installing more than 21 miles of new rail, rehabilitating or replacing 43 escalators and completing many station renovations. We are also building our human capital, filling vacancies and generating new jobs in the region, the majority of which are focused on safety, rebuilding the system, better maintenance levels, and expanding bus and rail services.

We are proud of a workforce that is increasingly diverse. The facts are that the number of Hispanics and women has grown significantly. We currently have 646 rail operators, of which 30 percent are women and this year we recognized the first female champion of our rail operations and safety competition. In bus service, out of 2,780 operators, nearly 27 percent are women. We also note that 22 percent of the staff in today’s Civil Rights office are Hispanic, contrary to your information.


Richard Sarles
General Manager and
Chief Executive Officer
The letter was prefaced with a note to employees:
Dear Coworker:

As information for you, there follows a copy of a Letter to the Editor I am sending today to the Washington Times in response to an appalling series of articles published this week about Metro.

While the Times may elect not to print the letter, I felt that it was important to set the record straight and to share our response with all of you.

I hope you will continue to remain focused on your important work and to make your safety, and the safety of our customers, your top priority.


Richard Sarles
General Manager and
Chief Executive Officer
From Jackie Jeter:
Letter to the Editor of the Washington Times
By Jackie Jeter, President, Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 689

Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 689 strongly condemns the racist diatribe, “Inept get promoted, … capable get buried” (Mar. 27, 2012). We unequivocally reject the outrageous aspersion that Metro’s majority black workforce is incompetent. We also reject, and vehemently deny, the sentiment that this union has participated in or condoned discriminant behavior towards any individual or group of individuals. We celebrate diversity in all forms.

Each day, an estimated 700,000 commuters and visitors ride Metro rail and Metro bus. Metro is the second largest public transit system in America. A system of this large capacity requires unrelenting dedication and specialized skills to function. The system simply would not operate without Metro workers performing their jobs with the utmost competence and focus on service, reliability and safety. I am proud of the work they do.

Since the mid-19th century, unions have played a crucial role in advancing the rights and protections of American workers. Local 689 is a proud member of the nation’s labor movement. Our union has fought for civil rights, women’s rights, and workers rights. We stand by our workers unapologetically in solidarity with their commitment to deliver high quality services to the riding public.

Metro workers are deeply rooted in the Washington metro region. Most of the rank-and-file workers live in Metro’s service area—the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland, and northern Virginia. Contrary to your story, we reflect the region’s diverse demographics.

The Washington Times clearly crossed the line of ethical journalism with its propaganda piece. We urge the newspaper to practice the principles of truthfulness, accuracy, impartiality, fairness and objectivity at all times.

We demand an apology for the racist shade cast on our members.

Jackie Jeter, President
Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 689
Representing more than 11,000 Metro workers

Escalators Not Getting Better

Metro Hawkers

Via @pawell99 A DC occupier on the loose... @unsuckdcmetro #WMATA

Via @CCCAPrez @wmata Is it legal to sell things on trains? GreenLine at GalleryPlace

via @JulesLyskawa

From James:
Are people allowed to sell stuff on Metro? Most of the people who sell actual stuff are nice enough and will take no for an answer, but there are some others who are quite rude and aggressive. I'd be in favor of keeping them all out, frankly.
What have you seen?

Other items:
Metro can't fill jobs, unless they're old friends from NJ Transit (Washington Times)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bethesda Bottleneck

Via Jeanne: 8:50 a.m.: One escalator for both up and down. Massive backup. No way out.

A Fine Example

Via @Kevin1877No drinking on Metro! @UnsuckDCMetro

GM Richard Sarles has sent out Metro-wide reminders to employees about taking pride and setting a good example while in uniform.

Other items:

Monday, March 26, 2012

In Case you Missed it

UnsuckDCMetro Founder Discusses Drive Behind Website :

Management run Amok

Cartoon courtesy:

This is another installment a recent series (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4) of posts exploring the mismanagement, and outright theft, at the transit authority.

What is most disturbing to me about this is how an expanded "at will" policy--meaning some high-level employees can be fired at any time, with or without cause--does not appear to be enforced.

It all seems like another hollow PR move.

Take, for example, the case of Metro's assistant GM for planning, Nat Bottigheimer. He admitted credit card fraud happened in his department. He was "admonished," but he's still employed. Another top manager was allowed to quietly "retire" after his involvement was discovered. No one was prosecuted.

But that was the planning department. Here's the view from a Metro consultant with ties to the revenue department:
Management at Metro is a joke.

This is even more upsetting because GM Richard Sarles implemented a policy in which more senior management officials are employed at will.

But the policy is not enforced.

Under the watch of the ostensibly "at will" assistant treasurer, someone fundamentally responsible for the safekeeping of Metro's cash, nearly half a million dollars was stolen over years.

Was the assistant treasurer fired? No. He was allowed to quietly retire. They even held a retirement party.

Take a look at the department he ran.

There are safes in the revenue building which haven't had the combinations changed in years.

Keys to very sensitive areas have been lost, but the locks have not been changed.

These are the locks that protect the money!

Employees were allowed to switch shifts to work with friends/co-criminals.

Sensitive information that should be compartmentalized is not.

At Metro, there aren't any safeguards in place.

The revenue building is filled with obsolete equipment--some of which is so old they can't get parts for them and have to make them themselves.

Other organizations that deal with large amounts of cash would never allow these kinds of things to happen.

I think it all boils down to people in senior management. They're afraid to make waves, and their bosses are afraid to make waves.

The management style is "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours."

That leads to people getting into positions they are not qualified for.

They just want to stay in, retire quietly and collect their pensions.

They're all concerned about their own little fiefdom, and they'll dump their problems on anyone.

I think this is crazy, and I'm embarrassed.

It could be such a much better system.

I do see some signs that Metro is bringing in outsiders, which I hope will weaken the good old boy network that's running the place now.

Other items:
Metro doesn't know what to do with convict bus driver (Examiner)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Info Fail

via @robertdkalb: @wmata Transfer station indicators missing on new Grosvenor station sign

Just in time for tourist season!

Other items:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Washington Post: "Entitled, Fancy Pants" Metro Enablers

This is about The Washington Post. I think it's germane to this blog because I see the Post as complicit in Metro's decline. From what I can tell, they've forfeited their watchdog role and abdicated their responsibility to cover what should be a franchise beat for them.

They did break the big credit card fraud story, right?

And yesterday, the Post regurgitated a blog post from January 2011 about selling naming rights for station. Back then there was at least a news peg!

Maybe it's all a coincidence.

Anyway, I'll let someone familiar with the Post's local coverage tell you what's really going on over at the fourth estate:
The Washington Post local section has 80 reporters, yet if you look at who is aggressively turning over rocks in the D.C. region it's people like you, the City Paper, the Washington Times and even the Examiner, all of whom have only a fraction of the people.

If you FOIA the FOIA logs of any agency, those are the organizations that pop up. There is simply not a culture of the journalist as the aggressive watchdog in The Washington Post local.

It is an entitled, fancy-pants attitude where you're at the Post, so you are the esteemed arbiter of the D.C. region, and therefore aren't playing the almost antagonistic, adversarial role.

People also leak things to the Post because it has the largest audience, which makes them lazy, so even if they do something that seems like watchdogging, it's usually actually spoon-fed.

In fact, the Post's editorial board has tacitly acknowledged the local staff's absolute rejection of an investigative outlook, and made the unusual step of filling the gap.

Look at the Jim Graham (including Metro redevelopment) stuff they've been doing, the DC campaign finance, DYRS stuff, and Colby King and Joanne Armeo stuff.

They're straight-up doing the original reporting that 80 reporters formerly under the leadership of XXXXXXX, a copy editor and sports nut who had never worked in daily hard news, and now XXXXXXXX, who just moved here, has absolutely no grasp of the region, and won't.

Specifically on the transportation team, which is about five people, these problems are much worse.

The boss, XXXXXXXX, literally was lining up boxes for the TV guide pages in Miami when he was hired to do similar production work collating the magazine. He demonstrated intense work ethic and attention to detail in that kind of work--lining up text in boxes, putting graphics next to them and getting them to the printer on time--to a degree that he eventually transferred into an assigning editor's job, but based on his background, he is far more of a "manager" than an "editor."

There is no culture of coming up through the hard-scrabble authority-challenging reporter ranks.

The directive, then, is to cover Metro the same way a layout person works slot or the copy desk: Be punctual, complete, exhaustive, churn copy. Write up EVERY little nugget pertaining to Metro, even itemizing the times and location of every public input meeting in prime page inches.

You're the snooty Post, so naturally you're going to talk to the general manager, not the lowly workers in various departments who could be cultivated as sources.

If you pick up the B section of the paper, you will see that there are actually a disproportionate number of transportation stories. On any given day the section front might include a story about the ICC, the Purple Line, Dr Gridlock, and a story about Metro. What this is actually indicative of is a lack of news judgment.

XXXXXXXXX is like a robot conveying all this stuff, pretty aggressively, and without thought to whether some people even care about the day-to-day stuff.

Online, meanwhile, the Dr Gridlock blog is updated many times a day with the most fast-breaking, fleeting service disruptions, even though there are better mechanisms than the major print daily for keeping tabs on that kind of minutiae for the people that want it.

If there's something negative about Metro in the Post, it's usually only because board members enumerated some complaints at a public meeting, and they wrote down the remarks of those top officials.

Of course, when you're getting immense pressure from someone widely known as the least-friendly editor in the newsroom to do this day in, day out, you are not, as you've written, going to risk pissing off Dan Stessel, because regurgitating mindlessly whatever he tells you is 99 percent of the job, and there is no one in charge giving you the idea that maybe you should be pushing back.

XXXXXX is known as the worst [person] at the Post to work for, so people don't want to volunteer for the job, even though covering a major transit system is on its face more appealing than being out in Loudoun County or something. Reporters will try to get moved elsewhere, and the ensuing vacancy will not be volunteered for by anyone. The person who winds up there is not coming into the beat, therefore, wide-eyed with anticipation and interested in the subject.
Sounds like a great place to work! Heck of a job Postie.

Other items:
Speak out against sexual harassment on Metro
Oops! More waste and incompetence (PDF/WMATA)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Taborn on the Ropes?

The two Metro employees who pleaded guilty to stealing nearly a half million in fare revenue from Metro may not be the last heads to roll.

Rumors are swirling at the transit agency that Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn (the guy you hear constantly blasting over the loudspeakers in the Metro stations) is about to be forced out.

Several sources close to the police force say the theft incident could have been the last straw for Taborn.

Back in January, several sources alleged that Taborn's reduction of police officers involved in the escorting of Metro's revenue was a factor in the theft.

Said one source:
Consider that for 30 years, when the system was much more cash heavy, they protected revenue the same way and nobody stole any real money. He comes in and immediately “fixes” a system that was not broken (unlike most things at Metro) and then we have a big inside job theft. And why do they fix things that aren’t broken, but can’t fix things that are broken?
In January of last year, Metro cops started a petition seeking Taborn's removal.

Taborn was also criticized by fellow officers for playing fast and loose with the facts about increasing the number of police on patrol in the system.

Another major factor, sources say, is a recent, scathing report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). The report, one source said, described the MTPD as "stuck in the stone age, top heavy and unstable because too many supervisors are rotated too many times."

Rumor is Sarles was not pleased.

Several sources said Sarles may be considering some of his buddies from New Jersey Transit, where he used to work, to fill the gap.

Sarles has cut his top cop before. Back in New Jersey he fired NJ Transit police chief Joseph Bober, amid complaints of sexual discrimination.

Other items:
Funny cartoon (Examiner)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Money and Time Well Spent?

This was posted on Metroforward's Facebook page.

I'm all for a little seasonal decor, but maintenance people were used to do this?

Don't they have some higher priority things to maintain?

Here are some more shots:

Other items:
Told ya. (How does a newspaper survive that's two weeks late with the story?)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Oh, Metro!

New "Rush Plus" Map

Click for larger

From an email Sarles sent to employees:

As many of you prepare to roll out our Rush Plus rail enhancements, I want to make sure everyone begins to learn about the coming service improvements.

Rush Plus, the new rush hour service that begins June 18, is designed to ease crowding and improve the commuting experience for Metrorail riders on the Orange, Blue, Green and Yellow lines. By providing additional trains every rush hour, Rush Plus adds more seats for customers and more transfer-free rides. Additionally, Orange and Yellow Line trains will be serving more destinations.

Employees will be receiving more detailed information beginning next month that will enable you to help customers better navigate through the system. To assist in clearly communicating the changes, we have redesigned the iconic Metro system map, which will be shared with employees next week before its public release.

High Speed Metro

Holy smokes!

It takes only 10 minutes to get from East Falls Church to Cheverly?

At least that's what this chart, which hangs on the station manager's kiosk at East Falls Church, says.

Unfortunately, as with so much of what Metro says, it's not true. It's a typo.

But worse than that, a source says the signs were riddled with typos when they were wheeled out after the last fare hike. According to the source, Metro has replaced the signs all over the system "two or three times," trying to get all the errors fixed.

Alas, after all that money and manpower, mistakes remain.

Wonder if they'll be as careless with the next round of hikes, which will no doubt require printing a whole new batch(es).

If Metro is this inept with the easy stuff, how are they are with the difficult stuff?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Metro Track Work Weekend Open Thread

What are you seeing out there during a busy weekend in which Metro is doing work on all lines and there are a lot of bus detours?

Share the good, the bad and the ugly.

Lies or Incompetence?

Photo via @FixWMATA

On Wednesday night, there were some unexplained Red Line delays. Metro, after catching some heat on Twitter, finally coughed up the above tweet as an explanation.

Turns out it was only partially true.

According to this article in the Examiner:
A computer outage delayed some riders on the Red Line Wednesday night, leaving two trains stuck for more than 20 minutes.
I got lots of emails from people who said the delays were up to an hour. Several more sent pics of trains so packed you'd think it was rush hour.

"Train movement" was definitely affected, and people screamed "Metro lied!"

There could be two explanations for tweet.

One is that ^BA flat out lied.

The other is that the "social media trailblazers" were desperately fumbling to get some information out there, and they were lied to by another department, probably in CYA mode, that trains were not delayed.

Sadly, both seem plausible.

Throughout my three-plus years of blogging about Metro, I oscillate between the notion that Metro is run by evil bastards, and/or it's run by stunningly incompetent boobs.

Either way, we're screwed, and Metro's credibility sinks even lower, and the system becomes nearly unusable on the weekends and now, increasingly, on weeknights.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dupont Project Hits Snag

It has been about six weeks since Metro shut down the south entrance at Dupont Circle for escalator replacement.

How's the project coming along?

Not so well, says a Metro source.

According to them, "nothing is being done; they've taken the metal panels off the sides of the escalators, and that's it."


Apparently, the contractor needs to lift out the three-part escalator truss (skeleton) with a crane. But to do that, they need to remove the canopy.

Metro won't let them do that.

So now, the contractor has come up with a solution, probably a specially designed crane, to work around the canopy.

"They're stopped while they make this crane," said the source. "How much is this costing Metro? Metro has all those transit police, all those other people there standing around. I guess the contractor is like 'we'll get to it when we can.'"

You'd think something like this would have been addressed during the bidding process.

Who could take 8.5 months to replace some escalators?

Metro! That's who!

Other items:
WMATA to bidders: don’t innovate with real-time signs (Raschke on Transport)
Overtime thief convicted (WMATA)
Dan Stessel locks down his Twitter account

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It Takes More than an Email Address

Many Unsuck readers emailed the Metro Board of Directors expressing their concerns about Metro chief spokesman Dan Stessel's disgusting remarks about sexual harassment.

Here's the gist of the canned response from Lynn Bowersox Metro's Managing Director
Office of Public Relations (Danny's boss):
In referencing a statement by Metro Chief Spokesperson Dan Stessel in response to media inquiries, the blog presents only a portion of Mr. Stessel's actual statement. The omitted comment, which Mr. Stessel offered in response to a question about reports of sexual harassment in the Metro system, was, "One report is one too many." We believe that Mr. Stessel's original statement to the media, when taken in its full context as reported by most of the media, reflects a balanced and thoughtful response.
Really? So he's not going to apologize, and he's getting praised by his boss?

How can Metro say--with a straight face--that it takes sexual harassment seriously when the public face of Metro trivializes it on TV in front of an entire city?

I've asked nearly everyone I know if there's any neutral way to take "one person's harassment is another person's flirting," and everyone's jaw drops. "He really said that?" most ask in disbelief. "Was he fired?" ask many more. (They don't live here.)

A more interesting and better Metro reply did come to reader Allie, who you may remember.

Bowersox said:
Thanks again for sharing your personal experience with us, and we're sorry that you were harassed in the Metro system.
She offered Allie the chance to speak with a deputy chief of police, and Allie reports that the deputy chief did follow up with her about some of the elements of Metro’s partnership with the Collective Action for Safe Spaces. More on that below.

With respect to Dan Stessel’s comment that “It really isn't a big issue. There are a minuscule number of incidents of actual crime," Allie said:
I personally witnessed the man who assaulted me make five assaults. Two on me, two on other women on the train the second time I encountered him, and one in front of the investigator. Five assaults--that we know of for sure--and only one of those resulted in an arrest.

And are we really naive enough to believe that those are the only times that man has ever assaulted women in the Metro? C'mon.

This is not a one-off kind of crime. The men who do this are habitual.

I bet that with that kind of track record, there are at *least* a hundred women with my same story.

So Mr. Stessel should take that number if arrests for misdemeanors of a sexual nature, and multiply that number by at least five, or by a hundred. Add in numbers for all those people who are not reported or arrested, and I think that anyone, even Mr. Stessel, would be alarmed at the rate of these crimes.

There is no context in which “one person’s flirting is another person’s harassment” is acceptable. And even the language about “extended leering” mentioned on the web form makes me wonder about the culture at Metro. Does that mean that regular leering is acceptable?
And the plot thickens. Allie wrote the following:
I saw [the perp] again at the L'Enfant platform. I tried calling Metro Transit Police to report him, and the woman just kept saying she couldn't hear me--the signal was bad, and eventually hung up on me. I called Officer Lang, but unfortunately he was off duty that day. So he just pulled his same m.o. and jumped on a crowded car behind a woman at the last minute. Sickening. Clearly whatever "rehabilitation" he's receiving isn't working.
And then Allie directed me to this post, which she thinks is about her assailant who may be up to his old tricks.

Even though it is discouraging to know that the man who assaulted her is still on the prowl, Allie is positive about Metro’s partnership with CASS, saying that she thinks the web form and the new e-mail address are a good start.
I think that the saving grace here is that they're partnering with CASS. Unfortunately, I know from experience how difficult it is to make community partnerships work, and I think that the onus will be on CASS to follow up, follow up, follow up.

Here are some questions that I have about the partnership:

1) Once someone submits a form, where does it go? Who, specifically, is responsible for checking that in-box? Can complainants follow up? Will they be assigned a case number or anything that they can refer to in subsequent communications?
2) Will the information be made available to the general public, and how and when? Not identifying details, but things like how many reports were made, in which stations, have any patterns been established, etc., preferably with some thoughtful analysis of what the statistics mean.
3) What goals have they set for themselves out of this partnership, aside from setting up a form?
4) How are they going to get this information into the hands of people who need it? Will it be just a Tweet, or will there be a concerted effort to put (and keep) the information out there? Is it just a form, or is it posters in the trains and the stations, announcements in the stations, PSAs on local media, etc.?
5) What is CASS's role in this? For community partnerships to work, roles need to be clearly defined and each group has to take responsibility and have some authority in the outcome. This one might be a little dicey- I can't see WMATA giving CASS any say-so beyond nominal suggestions, but maybe I'm wrong.
6) What metrics are they using to measure success? Have they set a date/time to check in to see if they are hitting their marks? How are they planning to evaluate these actions? If so, when? And will the public be informed?
7) Is WMATA prepared to be flexible? If they aren't hitting their success metrics, are they willing to back off what they're doing and try again with something different? Or will they throw up their hands and say, "Oh well, we tried. It's the riders' fault for not getting us the information we need."?
8) Is CASS prepared to be persistent in holding WMATA accountable? And how do they plan to hold WMATA accountable?

The Transit Police is up against a lot. In the blink of an eye, their case can cross state and county lines, and they've got to follow a whole new set of procedures, a whole new set of regulations, etc.

People move so quickly on and off those trains- they can be gone in an instant.

The cell coverage is spotty, so even if someone wants to call, sometimes they can't.

Add into that all the usual crime issues, and I think they've got a lot on their plate.

If CASS isn't really on top of them, building the relationship and continually checking in, it could easily get back-burnered. Especially if results aren't seen within the first month, which really isn't a realistic hope for a brand new partnership. These things take time.

Most people don't realize that it takes time for these things to get traction. Every "boots on the ground" person that I've dealt with on the Transit Police really cares about keeping people safe. I think it just gets more warped and twisted the higher up you go.

It would be interesting if you picked a date six months from now to check in and see how the partnership is going. That would be what, September? Enough time for the initial furor to die away and to get a good picture of what's really happening.
Other items:
This is an annual salary story, but good to be reminded (WaPo)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

If you Think Metro is Bad ...

In the metro DC area we have this para-transit service for disabled people, that's well, really inefficient as demonstrated by this photo of two para transit vehicles showing up at one house. Tax dollars at work. (Photo via JoshuaDavisPhotography)

... Imagine having to depend on MetroAccess. My jaw dropped reading this.

From HellOnWheelz:
This is how your daily commute would work if it was run by MetroAccess rules.

First, you have to see if you qualify to even ride. If you can take a cab, or use Bikeshare, then you're not even allowed to use it. Fewer people to move means less cost for Metro, regardless of your need to use it to get to work.

Then, you have to decide on all the trips you want to take on a given day, but you have to decide it 24 hours in advance--by 4:30 p.m. the previous day. Any later, and you can't change it.

You can cancel a trip, but it has to be two hours before. Any later and, like a kid in school, you get a demerit (more on that later) to go in your file.

Any spontaneity on your part is your own problem. If you're late to the ride for any reason, say a meeting runs long, deal with it or cancel it – two hours ago.

This is Metro's idea of "independence."

Once you've planned your trip, you pay in advance. You assume it will cost you $7 each trip - it might be less, but the system doesn't give consistent fare quotes, even if it's the same trip you take every day at the same time.

Then, you have to stand on the "platform" for your "train," which can show up any time inside a 30-minute window (or even later, without penalty to Metro). If it does not arrive, you can call Metro and ask where your ride is, and they will give you some random guess. (Ever efficient, Metro uses the same random number generator it uses to calculate fares to calculate arrival times.)

Just like the airlines, trips get overbooked. Your trip can get bumped, and when it does, your wait can be a couple of hours.

Once your "train" arrives, you have five minutes to find it and get in or else it will leave without you, and you’ll get an even bigger demerit.

Your ride may not be anywhere close to the place you are waiting, so you’d better hustle. If it leaves without you a couple of times, not only are you stranded, but you’ll also have enough demerits so that Metro will revoke your ability to use it for a month.

Your trip, say from Dupont Circle to L'Enfant Plaza, often takes a few detours - like to Rockville, then to New Carrolton, then (hopefully) to your final destination.

Metro will tell everyone that this is "equivalent" to normal trip times, but forgets to mention that their definition of equivalency means "anywhere up to an hour longer."

Metro opens wormholes.

During your trip, three other people will likely be squished into the seat you're on. That’s after you sit outside one or more buildings for an hour or so. This is a shared ride, after all, and cattle should be grateful.

While on board, you are not allowed to get off anywhere else but where you decided the day before. If you need a bathroom break whilst being taken on an involuntary sight-seeing tour of the metro DC area, Metro *may* provide a cup. You are responsible for emptying it. This is "more generous than the ADA requires," and you should be grateful you even got that.

When you are finally delivered to your final destination, Metro acts as if they've performed a miracle (like they did when they opened the new Foggy Bottom escalator) and boasts about its "door-to-door service." They brag about providing a service that should be viewed as a basic right of the disabled rider when in reality it also works out to Metro's benefit by avoiding lawsuits. Bow down and praise Metro for their munificence on your behalf.

Oh, and if you want to complain about an unwarranted no show or late cancel is as difficult as reporting a sexual harassment incident. Sure, there's a form, but is anyone listening? And the 24-hour voice mail numbers? Usually, the boxes are full, won't accept messages. When they do, no one calls backs.

Anyway, you get the idea. Taking a "Metro" like this would suck.

Paratransit, according to the ADA, is supposed to be comparable to regular transit. So on the turn about - how would you like these rules for your commute?

These aren't the only Metro Access Rules. The official "Orientation Handbook" is 21 pages of rules and only hits the high points. The above rules are the most annoying and least confusing.

Let me make this clear: Metro does not condone our "abuse by rules," but when the tone of their PR reads “more generous than the ADA requires” and what is under discussion is the fact that it is more sensible and humane for a driver to go get a blind person from the doorway and guide them to the vehicle than sit on a busy street and leave after five minutes because the blind person can’t find the vehicle – ask yourself “generosity” or “practicality” and examine the deflection in the terminology used.

As bad as this all sounds, Metro Access is better than a decade ago. A decade ago you couldn’t cancel a trip two hours before. That also had to be done before 4:30 p.m. the day before or the demerits kicked in. There was no one to call and get even a half-truth about where your ride was if it didn't show up. If your trip got bumped, maybe they sent another van and maybe not. There weren't any GPS systems, just maps (and some of those out of date). The database handling the riders data and trip data was corrupt.

There is good leadership in Metro's Office of Accessibility, and it has set the tone that has allowed the accomplishment of these and many other tremendous advancements over the last 10 years despite a culture stemming from Metro being transit primarily for the able-bodied.

There are good people in Metro Access, too. I have been stranded and had road supervisors "tag" me on as a companion on someone else's trip when a nearly dead wheelchair battery would've meant one long, cold night out by the side of the road.

On the flipside, with a ride scheduled after out-patient surgery, I couldn't get the trip moved to four hours earlier - neither could the charge nurse who said she had NEVER been talked to by anyone in that tone before. Over medical objections, I took the bus home that day.

The issues here are with the institutions not the people. Blind adherence to rules doesn't work in the real world. There are times when people need to use their own initiative to solve problems.

There are two decided barriers to unsucking Metro Access:

1. It isn't a fixed route system, and it isn't an on-demand system.
Metro Access is neither bus nor train nor taxi. It exists somewhere in between. Metro operates fixed route transit. It contracts out Metro Access (and the prime contractor has sub contractors ). Responsibility is a moving target.
2. It isn't a simple system.
As with all things Metro – if it doesn’t fit in a sound bite anymore: then it can be hidden, obfuscated, and criticism deflected.
If it can't be talked about it can't be fixed.

After something has happened, after someone has finally gotten someone outside of our small world to listen and to take the matter seriously – then the response is “No one should have to do that.”

Problem is, when you’re living your commute by Metro rules, and you’re stuck on that "hot van" for hours (Yes,we get those – only with drivers who, for whatever reason, won’t turn the heat off.), stuck on a van because its GPS is broken, and you're trying to take aim on that small Styrofoam cup, the words “No one should have to do that” is small comfort.
Other items:
Metro doles out 2,000 hours of OT for brake problem it knew about for 6 years (Examiner)
Metro needs to ditch the entrance fee (Raschke on Transport)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Can Metro Escalator Techs Cut It?

The result of broken elevators: wheelchair, unsecured, on the escalator. Via Alex

Just why can't Metro get the escalators and elevators working?

Maybe they just don't know how. And maybe their bosses don't know how. And maybe their bosses don't know how. And maybe management just doesn't know or care.

The below is from someone claiming to have a very good view into Metro's escalator and elevator operation:
I am mortified at what I see. I would rather take the stairs than ride the equipment.

There is a major problem with falsified safety documents.

Management only cares about the percentage of units in service.

The annual inspections on escalators and elevators are completed by WMATA's own inspectors!

Can we say conflict of interest?

The most recent issue that has me concerned are the new supervisors/managers/director that were brought in from other [Metro] departments. They have no training on elevators/escalators, but somehow they received their Qualified Elevator Inspector (QEI) license.

Their qualifications can't be legit. Once again, I believe they have falsified documents.

Also, the apprenticeship program Metro runs is not recognized by any state or any licensing organization. A lot of the mechanics that work at Metro have no business working on the equipment.

I would like WMATA to release all the training documents that proves they have qualified mechanics, inspectors and supervisors.

The state of Virginia will give you a license if you graduate from an approved apprenticeship. Maryland and DC do not have state licensing for elevator mechanics, but they will hand out a certificate stating you graduated from an approved program.

Most Metro employees don't have any of them, unless they came from the outside.

Again, when working for Metro, you do not have to have a license. Nine out of 10 escalator and elevator mechanics at Metro didn't attend an approved program.
Another source familiar with Metro's elevator and escalator operation agreed with this source's assessment of the apprenticeship program Metro has:
Years ago, Metro tried to start an apprentice program, and from what I understand, they attempted to steal the program from the National Elevator Industry Education Program (NEIEP). From what I understand, they were taken to court for that attempt. You know the odd thing is that all licensing regulations allow the WMATA workers not to pass any kind of educational requirements to be licensed.

In Virginia, the WMATA workers do not need a license at all. In DC, the regulations state that WMATA [personnel] need a license but do not have to pay for it. Nor do they, to my knowledge, have to prove any educational involvement. The whole thing is crazy. Their system based on seniority is majorly flawed. It might work in a bus driver setting or station manager setting but it has no place in the construction trades.
This source said he didn't know about the QEI licensing, but said:
I am unsure of falsified QEIs. I would be surprised of that. That would be a tremendous liability. QEI and other elevator inspectors licensing groups have pretty strict guidelines on the qualifications needed to be QEI'd. I don't see how Metro could work around that.
I took that back to the original source who replied with the following:
On the QEI application, look at page 5, which lists the requirements for becoming a QEI. I want to know how the four new supervisors, the two new managers, and the new director met those requirements. All of those guys have never had any training on elevators and escalators. One of the supervisors was a bus driver before he got this job. The other supervisors came from car maintenance. One of the new managers was fired from PEPCO, the other manager came from car maintenance. These guys have only been working for this department for seven or eight months. There is no way they have met the requirements.
Yesterday, I heard from the source that Metro pulled the QEI licenses from some of these people.

Meanwhile, get used to walking on broken escalators.

Other items:
When you think Metro can't sink any lower ... (WTOP)
Amazing Stesseling here (Examiner)
Trouble on the horizon (WaPo)

Friday, March 9, 2012

New Alert System already has Glitch

A lot of people have emailed me or tweeted me saying they're not getting any of Metro's new alerts.

Ironically, Metro was touting the new service during yesterday's board meeting when the alerts faced their first major test.

From Scott:
Since the new WMATA email alerts system was implemented, I have not received a single alert. For example, today during the major incident at Foggy Bottom I did not receive a single alert although I am properly subscribed to receive alerts at all time periods.

Is the new email alert system working properly?

Metro Excels in Doing Nothing

Metro can't even spell its name.

Other items:
Cracked rail causes delays (Examiner)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

More Passing the Suck

Here's another in a series about how a culture of departmental infighting and passing the buck at Metro screws commuters.

Part one explains why there are so many breakdowns at rush hour.

The below is from a 15-year Metro veteran. They asked that specifics be omitted so that they could not be identified. Department names and equipment types have been made generic.
There is a whole lot of "cover your ass" at Metro and a lot of passing things off to the next shift. My immediate coworkers and I honestly try to do that as little as possible, but for some techs/mechanics it is a finely honed skill.

There is also a lot of "not my department."

Take "gadget A" for example -- there are any number of reasons for them to fail (without endangering riders but causing delays). Most of these failures involve equipment from my department. Sometimes however, it will be another department's equipment that is the cause.

We try to get that department to do the necessary repairs, but more often than not they delay and come up with excuses. We are told to inspect and/or test every single piece of our equipment (sometimes two or three times over multiple shifts) before the other department will grudgingly go out and fix what was clearly the cause of the failure all along.

Passengers are often unnecessarily delayed due to these inter-departmental squabbles.

A fairly common occurrence within my department is for one shift to allow a piece of equipment they are responsible for to gradually fail because they don't want to go through the trouble of replacing it.

There are ways to keep the equipment limping along for a while, but failure is imminent. It is only a question of time. It may be months or it may be days.

It seems to be a game to some of my coworkers, related to the 'passing it to the next shift' game.

They know that since they typically work 40 hours out of 168 in a week there is only about a 25 percent chance their equipment will fail while they are at work. The chances are much greater that someone else on another shift will end up replacing it if they just let it go until it fails.

If the equipment could be changed before it actually failed, it could be changed at a more convenient, planned time. All the necessary parts and supplies could be gathered, and the job could go much more smoothly than when there's an unexpected failure during rush hour. The disruption to passenger service would be much less.

A major contributing problem is no oversight -- no quality assurance (QA). Management personnel rarely review the data. If they did, they would see that the problem had been brewing for some time and could have been avoided.
Another source said:
All management cares about is the numbers. How many tickets open in Maximo and the delay numbers. It's never the root, always the numbers. So we get into a rut where we worry about the "ticket" and never mind patterns or causes.
Other items:
Summary of public hearings (WaPo)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Do Feds' Free Rides make Metro Worse?

From Richard:
The party line is that Metro doesn't have a dedicated source of funding, and that's why it's so bad. I say this argument is mostly bunk.

Forty percent of the riders, or so goes the conventional wisdom, are feds. Until recently, they rode completely for free (and probably took a lot of personal trips for free) thanks to a super hefty $230 monthly transit benefit. With the return of the transit benefit to $125 per month, many of them will now have to fork over a little for their daily commutes. But still, even with the fare hikes, Metro will likely be way cheaper than any other way to commute--for them, not me.

So 40 percent of the ridership will probably ride without Metro lifting a finger to provide a service worth paying for.

I can hear the internal monologue these riders have: "Yeah Metro sucks, but it's free."

Can we lower expectations any more? In that kind of a model, what incentive is there for Metro to improve and attract new riders or retain the feds it currently has?

I'm convinced this is why Metro has this huge PR apparatus to placate the low bar feds with a bunch of cockamamie stats about spending on this, that and the other, mystery shoppers, charts, bogus reports, public hearings, Metroforward schemes and all the other associated Metro BS accoutrements.

Am I totally off here?

Full disclosure: I voted with my wallet and said goodbye to Metro some time ago. Now, through a combination of carpooling, telecommuting, and the occasional solo drive, I barely have to hand over one dime of my heard-earned money to Metro.

I'm interested if there are other people out there who have cut back or eliminated Metro from their lives.

I'd like to support mass transit in the DC area, but Metro? Nah.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Is there a Growing Credit Card Scandal at Metro?

As Metro makes the rounds to rationalize yet more fare hikes, a Metro source tells Unsuck DC Metro that Assistant General Manager of Planning and Joint Development, Nat Bottigheimer, and former Director of Real Estate, Steve Goldin, were both admonished for procurement irregularities involving the misuse of Metro credit cards.

Goldin, who reported to Bottigheimer, quietly resigned, and Bottigheimer was suspended for some time, the source said.

"There are other scandals with procurement growing, big ones," said the source.

Another source who was not familiar with this particular case said "there are too many people walking around here with credit cards. They are flooding the system with purchases, and there aren't inspectors who come out and check the claims against the items in stock."

Other items:
Girls says she was attacked on bus while everyone stood by (Fox)
Metro ranks most dangerous stations (PDF WMATA)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Safety is the Top Priority, Unless it can Wait

Sometimes, you get a little peek into the Teflon Death Star. Sometimes it's horrifying, and sometimes, it just makes you chuckle and shake your head.

You may nave noticed some Metro employees are sporting new safety vests--the ones pictured above. Most of the workers I talked to hate the old vests and claimed the sleeves were potential safety concerns, so most of them looked forward to the new vest, which are also supposed to be safer all around.

On Dec. 6 of last year, Metro announced in a memo that all employees, except for the police, would be outfitted with the new vests and that on March 2, it would be the only acceptable vest.

However, just a few days before the deadline--Feb. 29 to be exact--Metro sent out another memo extending the deadline to July 1.


They ran out of vests.

Here's the language from the memo:

"Due to the increasing number of requests from employees for the new vests, the initial supply of Class 2 vests has been depleted."

Kind of makes it sounds like it was the employees' fault.

Said one source: "They either don't know how many employees they have or someone didn't bother to figure it out."

Even worse? The employee said people who never access the tracks were the first to get the new vests.

Another employee laughed and said "This is typical Metro. If they can't get this right, think about all the other things like replacement parts for the tracks, trains and, escalators, you name it. They do the same thing with those. There seems to be no inventory management at all. There's always way too much of one thing or not nearly enough of another."

The source speculated that it probably would have been cheaper to order the right amount of vests the first time around.

There's nothing Metro can't delay.

Other items:
Metro's transparency doesn't include disruption reports (GGW)
Bald eagle euthanized (WaPo)
Could be worse, could be Detroit (Huff)
It's time to love the bus (Salon)

Friday, March 2, 2012

How Well Can You Stessel?

Make your own and email it: unsuckdcmetro [at]

Other items:

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Jimpire Strikes Back

Say it ain't so! Some good Metro news?

Just when you thought the Teflon Death Star had won the day, along comes a friggin' U.S. congressman to get all Jedi master on Metro and their evil empire.

The force has gotta be strong in this one to be so brave, so bold.

Who is this Luke Skywalker, this Obi-Wan of the rails? It's none other than Jim Moran (D-Va.). (How cool is it that he's my congressman to boot! Swoon...)

Given his widely reported bellicose demeanor, this Moran-Metro showdown is gonna be good, and better yet, Metro's got no chance against this Irish toughie.

Besides, it’s about time a local politician pulled out from behind riders and instead led the rebellion to make Metro better for their constituents!

Finally, someone with some guts stood up and wrote a strongly worded letter (PDF) to Metro’s GM Richard Palpatine, I mean Sarles, demanding action. That's right, immediate action!

At last, someone who can make a difference has entered the fray, blasters a blazin'.

You go Jim!

So what’s got the august congressman from Virginia so hot under the light sabre?

Broken escalators? Mismanagement? Waste? Rude Metro employees? The union not paying a dime toward their pension? Cronyism? Zero transparency? Mystery dust at Court House? Fishy brakes? Omnipresent delays and offloads? Thieving Metro employees? Bad brakes? Lack of safety? Lack of oversight? Dan Stessel’s indefensible stance on sexual harassment? Fare hikes? That essential oil salesman?

It’s gotta be something big, something absolutely vital to Metro's daily operation to get this congressman this mad.

Drum roll...

Courtesy Blue Virginia

Sad trombone sound

Alas, Jim’s got his panties in a bunch about an ad--an ad at the Clarendon Metro station.

Of all the things wrong with Metro, this is where Jimbo wants to draw a line in the sand? An ad?

We. Are. So. Screwed.

I appreciate Jimmy's passion for funding Metro, but nowhere on his website is there anything about Metro's lack of accountability. Not a word.

Moran's advocacy style of more no-strings money and less accountability has worked out so well!

But back to the ad. Agree with it or not, like it or not, think it's in good taste or not (for the record, I don't think it is.), there’s nothing Metro can do about it if. At least that's what their chief flack Dan Stessel tweeted. Maybe Moran should have done a little googling before making such a quixotic stink.

And really, does this ad influence anyone other than a few morbidly curious who now might actually watch the "Sick and Sicker" "documentary" because of the "controversy" swirling around it?

Sadly, with this media attention, those who bought the ad must be laughing all the way to the bank (piggy).

I'm just thankful there are still people stupid enough to buy a Metro ad. I was tired of all the rider-funded Metroforward ads, and at least this ad might shave a few pennies off those inevitable fare hikes.

And lastly, if you're as irate as Moran, pull together some money and tell anyone you want to go to hell.

If you do, I beg you, start with Metro.

Here are the details on how (PDF).

As a footnote, Metro is taking a beating on this on Twitter, but they have yet to tweet that they are apparently legally bound to keep the ad up. Another PR fail for taking unnecessary heat.

Other items:
Metro crime rate tops other transit systems (Examiner)
Metro fails to report homicides-again (Examiner)
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