Thursday, May 31, 2012

Some Inside Metro Question Official Explanation about Opening Doors

Via @monicaarpino Nothing like the breeze of open metro doors - while moving. Red line b/n Van Ness & Tenleytown. @unsuckdcmetro

There is a group of knowledgeable Metro employees who are not buying Metro's public explanation about what caused the doors to open while a train was moving (and here).

Metro's explanation, as reported in the Washington Post was:
Metro said the transit agency’s investigation team had replicated the incident in a rail yard and found that there was a “misalignment of the contact head that transfers information between two cars.” That created an electrical short and caused the door to open, Metro officials said.
However, none of the sources I talk to or anyone they know has seen the massive failure be replicated.

I contacted the Tri-State Oversight Committee, which is supposed to oversee Metro safety, and they'd not seen it either. They issued the following statement:
"Since the date of the [Washington Post] article you note, TOC personnel and engineering consultants made three visits to two Metro rail maintenance facilities. TOC staff interviewed car maintenance staff, inspected the coupler assemblies from the incident train and reviewed WMATA's new tools and procedures for testing contact head alignment. The "replication" you noted took place one day prior to our first site visit. TOC and WMATA continue to work together to evaluate the failure modes of the train lines, and at this time the investigation is not yet complete."
There are those who don't believe Metro ever replicated the problem.

"Engineering's explanation does not make sense either logically or technically," said a source. "There are those who think it was a water-caused problem. The train has since dried out, and the engineering department is grasping at straws. They probably are being pressured to come up with a story to justify the failure. It also lets them appease the masses to calm any hysteria."

The source went on to say that if the doors opened because of a misaligned coupler which caused errant signals, "EVERY door would have opened from car 1264 on back, not just one car out of the four cars total. Electrical signals do not pick and choose where they go. They travel the entire consist (train)."

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Metro Bus Driver Dumps Handicapped Riders, Speeds Off

Illustration from this Flickr

I hear a lot from readers about buses speeding past stops, failing to pick up riders. This takes that lack of service to a new level.

From Matt:
On 20 May, I boarded the 96 bus west from New Jersey Ave. at approximately 3 p.m.

When the bus stopped near 10th and U St NW, two men were waiting to board. As the doors opened, it was obvious that both were mobility impaired in some way, as they were not moving very fast. The first man was trying to help the second onto the bus. The first man had his bus fare in cash in his right hand, which he was also using to brace himself on the bus as used his left hand to assist his friend onto the bus.

As the men were boarding, the bus driver decided to lower the bus. This caused the first man to lose his balance, stumble off the bus, and drop his bus fare on the ground. As he backed up to pick his bus far off the ground, the bus driver closed the doors on him and took off. The two men stared in amazement as the bus that they were boarding sped off down U St.

I was horrified to see this behavior by the bus driver. It showed absolute lack of compassion, and possibly malice, toward two disabled individuals who were trying to board his bus. It's even possible that one of the men had been injured by the bus that was speeding away. I wanted to stop the driver from moving away from the individuals, but being in the back of the bus I didn't have time before the bus was already two blocks down U St. I seriously regret I wasn't able to help the two men.

The bus number was 6467.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Employee Hit by Train

Via RT @MCFirePIO MCFRS - Update photo of ongoing rescue.
Breaking. More details as/if I get them.

The victim is a mechanic with 25 years of experience, Metro says. Metro has just announced yet another "safety stand-down."

When asked what a safety stand-down means, a source said, "Considering all the stand downs we've had, nothing. Couch quarterbacks telling you what to do."

Any Other Victims of Violent Panhandlers?

Metro seems to be turning a blind eye to this problem. Back in April, a similar incident was reported.

From Erika:
I'm writing because I wanted to bring to your attention an awful event that occurred recently on the DC Metro involving my roommate. She is a graduate student at Catholic University and frequents the Red Line to get to and from campus. Last Thursday afternoon, while taking her routine trip to school, she was publicly attacked by a young man posing as a panhandler after she refused to give him money. I won't get into specifics, but suffice it to say that thankfully, my roommate was not badly hurt, but instead left with a headache and a small cut on her face after being struck twice. Following the assault, she said that her attacker sat across from her on the train, making threats (specifically, that "she was lucky that other people were around") until another patron escorted him from the car as the train approached the Fort Totten station.

My roommate has since notified the Metro authorities (at her home station of Silver Spring after no security was present at her destination station). She also notified a Montgomery County officer upon returning home, but has not received much support on the matter; instead, the officer said that he couldn't do anything about the situation because my roommate didn't need immediate medical attention. We realize that this may be because the event occurred beyond his jurisdiction. She did receive some information from a station manager in Silver Spring who said that this gang of aggressive panhandlers has been active for a year and a half. He mentioned that he has received reports of them spitting on and threatening patrons who do not give them "donations" (mostly targeting single travelers, regardless of gender/race). Despite these reports, the transit police have neglected to do anything about this. To our knowledge, the attack on my roommate is the first reported case of this group committing physical assault on a person refusing to provide money.

With little attempt made to do anything about deterring this sort of behavior, I think it's important to, at the very least, increase awareness among members of the greater DC community about this group's propensity to be violent. Specifically, Metro riders should be wary of African-American males in their early-20s who approach them carrying folders (presumably containing information about a charity that they support).

They wear street clothes and will often congregate near the Silver Spring station. One of these individuals approached my roommate by slamming his folder down on the book that she was reading at the time. I'm not sure that all members of the group are comparably aggressive.

I am taking serious issue with the lack of effort put forth by the authorities to put a stop to this. As mentioned earlier, several harassed people have come forward to the Silver Spring station manager, alone, and nothing has been done to alleviate these people's concerns evidenced by the panhandler gang's continued harassment of innocent travelers. That said, I would greatly appreciate any support that you are willing to provide to change this. Increasing awareness is an obvious first step.

Other items:
Cheaper SmarTrip cards? (Examiner)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Metro Moves Ahead on Anti-Harassment Campaign

One of Metro's new PSAs (Photo via aliciasanchez)

From Allie:
I’ve been working with Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS) and WMATA on the campaign to combat sexual misconduct in the Metro system and wanted to share an update with you.

WMATA formed a task force and is working with CASS (formerly Hollaback DC) to address the problem. They recorded my story and others’ to use as part of a training video for their employees, are working with outside groups to develop meaningful training for all WMATA employees, and are crafting a station announcement.

Public service announcement posters regarding sexual misconduct are rolling out, so you should start seeing them in the rail stations, and they’ll be going out on buses soon. There have been some issues along the way, as evidenced by a woman’s report that seemingly fell through the cracks (This particular instance was addressed.).

Moving forward, we hope to see evidence that WMATA views the issue of sexual misconduct as a passenger safety issue, whether or not the media is present to cover it, and continues to follow through with the changes they have promised.

Foremost on that list is creating and implementing a solid training program for all WMATA and MTPD employees. Also important is continuing to build a meaningful partnership between WMATA and CASS.

Metro riders are the strongest asset in this campaign. Here’s what you can do to help:

1) Whether you’re a victim or a bystander, please report what you see and experience. Tracking ALL harassment and assault allows WMATA to find patterns and better distribute the MTPD officers.

2) A good description can mean the difference between a statistic and an arrest. Height, weight, eye color, skin color, hair color are all good. Also look for things that stick out: tattoos, scars, distinctive clothing, the way a person moves or talks, hairstyles, facial hair, jewelry, glasses, etc. What makes this person different from all the other thousands of people riding Metro? Photos can help, but be careful not to escalate the situation or to give a thief access to your electronics.

Please pass this information to other riders, and share what you see with both WMATA and CASS. We don't want sexual assaults and harassment to be swept under the rug.

As someone who was assaulted on the Metro, I can’t tell you how important it is to make these reports and to watch out for your fellow riders.

Thanks to those who step in when you see someone in trouble.

(202) 962-2121, (or 911 for immediate emergencies)
Other items:
More track work (WMATA)
How Metro maps are printed (Tumblr)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Guest Blogger: Dan Stessel Recaps One Year at Metro

It was a year ago today that Metro chief spokesman, and social media trailblazer, Dan Stessel guest blogged here. In that post, he said "I believe Metro customers deserve clear information ... I am committed not only to doing whatever I can to keep our customers informed ... but also to listen and advocate on their behalf. Let the conversation begin."

I asked Stessel for a progress report on the new era of openness and to highlight the accomplishments of the communications team.

Here is his response:

Other items:
DDOT director may be named to Metro board (Examiner)
Rider reports doors opening on moving train (Examiner)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Metro takes Safety Gamble with Platform Crowding

Via @ The scene at Metro Center

Looks like Metro learned no lessons from the dangerous overcrowding at Rosslyn last year. One day, there's going to be a serious incident because of this "phenomenon."

From Liz:
On Monday, I was at Farragut West when the platform there was so crowded [because of a broken train] I felt like if someone sneezed, I would be blown onto the tracks.

Thinking my Metro bad luck was over for the week, I ended up at Metro Center (see above) last night, and it was even worse! Super dangerous!

How can Metro get away with it?

I understand that part of the [Metro Center] problem was a sick rider, but I think Metro should have better communications in place so that people can avoid the situation. I got nothing in my email before heading in.

When I got to the station, there was no warning about what was going on inside, so I swiped my card. Once I saw the chaos, my first reaction was to get out, but knowing I'd have to pay just to leave made me think twice about handing Metro my money for nothing. Human nature, right? I did end up leaving.

Furthermore, I wonder why the station managers aren't empowered to give riders a heads up. It wouldn't have been too hard for the station manager at Metro Center to stand at the fare gates and just say something like 'big delays, it might be better to try something else to get where you're trying to go. Here are the alternate bus routes." I don't know. Something proactive to minimize platform crowding.

Seriously, Metro, I want to work with you here, but you make it so very, very hard when you don't try to meet me halfway or take my safety into account.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Not all Metro Employees are Bad

Via @MedivalMetro After my 15 min wait, I was greeted by the sight of this lazy bastard reading in his folding chair. #WMATA

I've spoken to a lot of Metro employees over the three-plus years of working this blog. A lot of them are good people who are embarrassed by how far Metro has sunk. A lot of them feel helpless to turn the tide. They're just as frustrated, if not more, than all of us.

Moreover, if you think it sucks to ride Metro twice a day, imagine working there--all day!

Some of the crazy, bureaucratic stuff I've heard from employees is simply mind boggling. I wish I had a green light to publish all I've seen and heard, but alas, these people need their jobs, and Metro will punish them for talking to the media.

Yes, the fundamental right to freedom of speech is basically bullied out of a lot of Metro employees by an insecure management that doesn't trust them or want to hear any of their ideas.

But a few are brave enough to come forward here, and I take my hat off to them.

Lately, however, there's been a tendency, on Twitter at least, for riders to take pictures of every Metro employee they see who's not actively turning a screw or hammering a nail, labeling them as "lazy bastards."

More troubling, however, is being openly hostile to a Metro employee actually doing their job. This is from a Metro employee:
I had someone start yelling about Metro sucks this and blows that when I was offloading a train. He was at the far end of the train and was raising hell, "I ain't getting off this train, f*ck Metro" and so forth. Well, as people were exiting the train, I started toward the screamer. He saw me coming and turned toward me and took a posture of "lets go!" He looked like he was ready to fight. I kept walking toward him, and as he saw I wasn't going to run away, he turned and got off the train. As the doors were closing, and he was a mere five feet away (I was inside the train he was outside.), he tells me "f*ck you asshole, I should kick your ass for making me get off this train."
Seriously, don't do this.

This guy is simply trying to do his job. It sucks to get offloaded, but it's not the employee's fault.

Yes, there are "lazy bastard" employees and outright a-holes who work for Metro--too many. We should continue to call the bad apples out. I'm happy to put them on this blog.

But a lot of the "lazy bastard" employees you see out there may be sitting idly because Metro management can't get their act together.

I've run into Metro workers who seem to be milling around, and every time, I've gone up and struck up a conversation. Inevitably, it's some sort of SNAFU with management or some kind of interdepartmental squabble (and here) that's holding them up from getting the job done.

Next time you see a Metro employee "lazing" about, strike up a friendly conversation, ask them what's going on. Chances are, they'll tell you something that's much more interesting than meets the eye about how Metro operates. When they do, let me know.

Other items:
Two-city transit perv busted (Patch)
Dulles rail board spends $1 million studying itself (Examiner)
Purple Line funding uncertain (WaPo)

Monday, May 21, 2012

You Know your Job is Safe when...

You pull a stunt like this.

From Mike:
The Metrobus shown was out of service, but it stopped in the middle of traffic while the driver got out to purchase a hot dog from a street vendor.

In terms of blatant disregard for courtesy and traffic laws, this is about as bad as it gets.

This picture was taken on May 11 at approximately 6 p.m. The bus was on 17th street NW, between C and D streets.
Other items:
Problem with 5000-series may have led to door opening (Examiner)
Rush+ losers still will pay more (Examiner)
Problems still plague Silver Spring transit center (WaPo)
Metro hires law firm to look into questionable land deal (WaPo)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Shuffling the Deck Chairs

Metro GM Richard "Catoe" Sarles wrote a memo about some changes in the "executive leadership team."

Nothing says "we're moving in the right direction" like shuffling (promoting) some Metro executives, none of whom really have a role in the fundamental, day to day operations of the failing system.

Here's how the memo sounded to me.
Over the last 18 months, we've been doing great. Everything is just fine. Really, it is. Trust me. A+ all around. Well done.

But there are some changes--all for the better, I assure you.

Our chief of staff, Shiva Pant, wants out, but I can't find anyone to replace him, so I'm begging him to stay on in a title I made up. We'll call it "Chief Policy Officer- Dulles Metrorail Extension." As such, he'll be paid very handsomely.

Since she's proven incompetent in her current role, I've promoted Barbara Richardson, formerly Assistant General Manager for Customer Service, Communications and Marketing, to take Pant's position as chief of staff. Because I was able to give Pant a dump truck full of money to stay on, Richardson, who was also fired from Amtrak, will continue to only perform her former responsibilities and come up with magnificent, impactful PR and spin schemes that continue to forge stronger relations with our customers. She'll do so at a higher salary and with a more impressive title. She is, after all, a former colleague of mine from Amtrak, and we stick together.

Since Barb's position will be vacant, it only makes sense to appoint her flunky and fellow failure, Lynn Bowersox, who helped me at NJ Transit and Amtrak, to her former position. Bowersox, formerly the Managing Director, Office of Public Relations, you may recall, said chief spokesman Dan Stessel's comment, "one person's harassment is another person's flirting" was "balanced and thoughtful." Brilliant. She's got that Metro spirit alright, and I look forward to her continued contributions in a higher-paid role.

In Bowersox's absence, Twitter guru, social media trailblazer and camera shy Dan Stessel, also from NJ Transit and Amtrak, will be more responsible for maintaining Metro's five-star, solid gold image with area commuters. Based on what I hear, everyone likes Danny. Solid job on all fronts.

Lastly, Nat Bottigheimer, my buddy, and our head planner had a good run, capped off by his involvement in a credit card scandal in which he “accepted responsibility for the pro­cure­ment card ir­reg­ular­ities in [his] area that were identi­fied” for his "employees in the planning de­part­ment at Metro have used agency cred­it cards to buy camcorders, gift cards, Kin­dle e-readers and even a set of designer earbuds." Sadly, Nat broke Metro's number one rule: Don't get caught. He won't be punished, but instead will be leaving to pursue other interests and spend more time with his family. We wish him well and happy shopping.

I am confident these changes will further the cause of Metro management lining their pockets with your fares and tax dollars. Please continue to pay more to fund the massive, new mismanagement I will preside over as it takes effect.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Waste of Money and Space?

From anonymous:
Does anyone in Metro management have a brain?

Have you seen those "Rush+" posters everywhere that have the new Metro map in the background?

Did it ever occur to any of the Einsteins at Metro that those posters could have also been used as actual, useful maps to explain Rush+?

Instead, Metro PR wizards plopped a HUGE Rush+ logo right in the middle of the map, rendering the whole thing mere clutter on the wall.

If anyone at Metro had been thinking, they could have shrunk the logo just a bit and put it in the lower right, making a perfectly useable map in addition to being a promotion of Rush+.

They seem to have gotten these asinine posters up everywhere and pretty quickly. I read it's going to take months to switch out all the official maps.

Way to go, Metro!

No one there thinks, and that both infuriates and scares me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Metro Rolls Dice with Our LIves

Metro rolled the dice with riders' lives yesterday, says a source with inside knowledge of the "catastrophic" door malfunction.

According to the source, Operations Control Central (OCC) was advised of a major door issue between Ft. Totten and Gallery Place and sent a road mechanic, a member of Metro's emergency response team, out to assess the problem.

The road mechanic found that the doors on one, 1000-series car were partially opening while the train was in motion, indicating a major problem.

Instead of taking the entire train out of service immediately, as is done with even the most routine door issues, OCC ordered the car maintenance department to shut down the one car but leave its paired, mate car, and the rest of the train, operating for revenue service.

And the train continued on with passengers totally unaware of the brewing problem.

Then, between Van Ness and Tenleytown, the door systems failure recurred, and some doors of the mate car flew wide open while the train was moving, endangering riders in what is considered one of the worst kinds of safety failure.

The source said the door problem was likely a fluke, but that it presented a "major failure of multiple fail-safe systems" designed precisely to keep the doors from opening while the train is moving.

When something like that happens, they said, there's no way to know what is broken so the train should have never been allowed to continue revenue service once OCC was notified of the initial problem.

They said that 99 times out of 100, given a failure as massive as the one that occurred, the entire train would have been taken out of service.

"If the doors of your car started popping off for no reason, you wouldn't continue on and simply tighten your seatbelt," the source said. "You wouldn't keep driving."

I asked two sources why Metro would risk riders' lives like that. While neither had inside knowledge, both surmised Metro was running low of operational revenue cars during the rush hour and OCC felt pressure to keep as many cars in service as possible.

"Revenue is Metro's top priority," one source said. "It's not safety. Someone in OCC should have their ass handed to them for this, but they won't."

As a footnote to the story, riders should recall Metro's "safety" move in the aftermath of the June 22, 2009 crash.

After the 1000-series cars involved in the collision telescoped upon impact, Metro pulled a PR stunt and "bellied" (put in the middle of trains) the 1000s, ostensibly to protect them from future crashes.

Anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of physics realizes that putting the 1000s in the middle of the trains does nothing to protect them from a potential impact.

In fact, bellying them might put more riders in danger.

If you watch a train go by, the crowding is like a bell curve, less at the front, more as you get to the center, and then less as the train ends.

If there were to be a collision, the riders in the 1000-series cars--likely the most crowded cars on the trains--could still be crushed.

Now, if you're in a 1000, you have to worry that when they're packed like sardines, there could be another "uncommanded door opening," which is Metro-ese for what happened yesterday.

If the doors had flown open during crush+, yesterday's incident could have had a very tragic outcome.

Metro dodged a bullet--again.

Other items:
More waste on the Silver Line (Examiner)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Doors Open on Moving Train

Via @monicaarpino Nothing like the breeze of open metro doors - while moving. Red line b/n Van Ness & Tenleytown. @unsuckdcmetro

This is really not safe.

From Anonymous:
My wife just called me and told me an employee of hers was somewhere on the Red Line within the last hour or so, and the doors opened mid-tunnel and stayed open until the next stop where the train was taken out of service. I don't have any more details than that.

UPDATE: Metro source confirms these accounts.

UPDATE 2: via Facebook:
I was on the Red line this morning when the train had just left the station and was gaining speed headed to Takoma. The right hand doors opened and we were kinda shocked to see that and then the train stopped. The doors stayed opened and then the left hand panel of the left side doors opened. The train started moving again with the doors opened and then they all closed. Bam! It was quite shocking. Thank God it was a train that had just started at Silver Spring and was not full. This is just totally NOT acceptable! Sent a comment into metro but I am SURE I will not hear back.

Update 3:

Less Frequent Trains?

Via @ms_saree @wmata there is no reason a train should ever be this crowded. Not a single person was able to get on.

Metro's website says this about the rush hour "schedule": "Due to the high frequency of service, timetables for peak hours (weekdays 5-9:30 a.m. and 3-7 p.m.) are not available."

From Steve:
Is it just me, or are there less trains during rush hour these days. Used to be a nine-minute headway during rush hour was unthinkable, but now it's seems like it's all the time. I'm talking "peak of the peak" here, too.

A nine minute wait (or more) is annoying, but to compound the problem the train you waited for is usually so packed you can't get on, so you have to add another five, six, seven or more minutes for the next train. Why can't they properly space the trains?

Used to be I was one of those people who'd always wait for the next train, and usually that paid off with a more comfortable ride, but now I find myself cramming onto full trains because I really have no idea when the next train will come.

I was offloaded three times last week because of door problems. While I don't know for sure, I would surmise overcrowding leads to a lot of the door problems.

That's my rant. Just wondering if anyone else was noticing what seems like a pretty dramatic decrease in rush hour service over the past month or so.
Other items:
Rush+ will cost $6 million (Examiner)
Metro investigating MetroAccess sex report (Examiner)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Is Metro Rolling the Dice with Emergency Phone System?

A blue light indicating an ETS phone is seen at Metro Center. Courtesy: Flickr takomabibelot

Two employees report a potentially troublesome problem with a critical piece of Metro's safety infrastructure, and they worry Metro is rolling the dice by not addressing it more aggressively.

Metro has a network of telephone posted roughly ever 800 feet along the entire network. They make up the emergency telephone system (ETS).

The ETS, as one Metro worker said, is a vital last resort for Metro employees to be able to communicate with Operations Central Control in the case of emergency. Metro itself, in a 2010 broader communications request for proposals, called the ETS "mission critical."

The phones are located where you see the blue lights along the tracks. They are supposed to be sealed in a weather-proof box to protect them from the elements. For the phones in the tunnels, the box is supposed to protect the phones from brake dust.

Coming home the other day, between Ballston and East Falls Church, I noticed several of the boxes had been left wide open. It had stormed earlier in the day, and the exposed phones must have gotten a good soaking.

Since rain and electronics usually aren't a good mix, I asked some sources about the maintenance of the ETS phones.

One source said that along a relatively short stretch of track, there were several phones that had no dial tone and boxes that could not be opened.

"In all the years I have been walking around the tracks, day and night, I've never seen anyone doing any type of service on them," they said. "It is one of those things that won't get fixed until there is some scandal."

Another source said they'd also found several ETS phones that had no dial tone. The source added that they wouldn't be too concerned if the radios worked well, but that since the radios are so spotty, it's important to have the ETS phones in working order.

"It's like with the defibrillators from a while back," said the source. "No one cared enough to make sure those worked until something happened. Same with these."

In October of 2010, Metro said they were be upgrading the ETS system along the Orange and Blue lines. If they upgraded the phones between Ballston and East Falls Church, it's possible that several of them are not working now due to exposure to the elements.

In a bizarre footnote to the story, there are two different Metro departments responsible for ETS maintenance: one for the phones and another for the box.

Therefore, if the phone is broken because a broken box allowed water to get in, two departments have to coordinate the repair, leading to, as one source said, the possibility of fixing the phone while leaving the box broken, which could cause the phone to be damaged again.

Other items:
Metro budget assumes no wage increase (Examiner)
Metro's longest escalator one of its worst (Examiner)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Employees Continue Using Vests for Free Parking

Via @TUTAZGAMD: @wmata leaving work & yet again the same car @ = expired meter with a WMATA vest in the window...

Many Metro employees love to use the safety vests as free parking passes. They've been shamed several times on this blog, and it has even been picked up by the mainstream media, yet they continue to do it. Sort of Metro in a nutshell.

The above is a repeat offender spotted at Grosvenor, according to @TUTAZGAMD.

The good news is that @TUTAZGAMD called Transit Police who promptly came out and ticketed the car.


@mattheweide, did some research on the tags, and it looks like this particular car has racked up quite a bill in DC.

click for larger

The bad news is another violator showed up the next day.

Other items:
Metro runs surplus (Examiner)
Silver Line not important to most Virginians according to poll (WaPo)
Metro Board says they will look into outrageous pension plan (WaPo)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gonna Need to Update this Tat for Rush+

Via @Tazzmaina012 My cuz has the dc metro tattooed on his arm

Other items:
Metro says blogs aren't news media (GGW)
Va. transportation secretary clarifies stance on Silver Line (WaPo)
Woman chases iPhone thief (NBC4)
Students offer ideas for improving Metrobus (Examiner)
Riders try their hand at train announcements (WaPo)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Vinegar or Honey? With Metro, it Doesn't Matter.

The Human Transit blog has a provocative piece about how crucial it is to heap praise on transit systems to make them work better and feel better about themselves. Apparently, the non-D.C. resident author of the post thinks Metro needs to have its ego stroked.

The sentiment seems to come from the same, odd place as Greater Greater Washington's amazing "is the Post too hard on Metro?' item.

I do think praise of individual Metro employees who go above and beyond is great, and I pass it along or amplify others' praise when I see it.

I'm less clear how a sclerotic bureaucracy like WMATA responds to praise, if it does at all. That said, I don't know that the criticism offered up by this blog has made much of an impact either.

Metro seems immovable. They do what they want to do no matter what.

Contrary to Human Transit's notion, Metro does not have a self esteem deficit. If anything, Metro is an egomaniac, and that is probably because it heaps enough praise on itself for five transit systems.

Just check out this press release about Metro's self graded report card. (dive in deeper, to page 29 here and find that actually, train delays were up 8 percent.)

If you don't want to read the release, here are the grades Metro gave itself:

Or, you can check out the City Paper's despin of Metro's report card.

Other items:
Neighbors oppose crash victim memorial (Examiner)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Is Paying to Enter Fair?

I've gotten a lot of very irate, one-line emails about this Metro policy.

I've never been on another subway where I've entered only to want to leave immediately upon finding delays, crowding, etc. I've definitely paid Metro for several trips not taken.

Perhaps other readers have experienced what other systems do in a situation like the below.

From Lauren:
Last Tuesday, I entered Farragut West only to find the Orange Line completely FUBAR. I promptly left to take a cab because I needed to get someplace in a hurry.

I wasn't happy to pay $10 bucks to the cabbie, but what really steamed me was having to pay Metro almost $2 just to enter and leave in less than a minute.

What a ripoff!

I had no idea what mess I was getting into. There were no alerts, and I saw nothing on the Metro website before I left the office. The signs at the station didn't indicate anything was awry. So I swiped and went in.

I've asked several friends about this charging to enter policy only to find out it's standard practice.

I have another word for this: stealing.

Where do they get the nerve to charge their customers for that?

I should add that the platform was dangerously overcrowded. I guess that was a bonus.

If Metro can come up with a fare scheme that only an astronaut can understand, it can figure out a way to not charge people who, like I did, turn around and leave after finding Metro broken again.

That was the last cent I've given Metro. I've been walking, biking, cabbing and hitching rides with friends ever since.
Other items:

Monday, May 7, 2012

Effective Campaign or More Waste?

Another version of the ad with rider commentary. (via Jessica)

Via @JeffJeffrey This is a real @wmata ad at #MetroCenter, which essentially says, "Hey, our trains suck.Why not gamble on our buses?"

From Jessisca:
Love this. Above a Metro ad for Metro Alerts at Gallery Place that says "Honey, I pushed our reservation back," and someone wrote "How about reliable service?" Perhaps instead of spending money on PR, which essentially concedes "Yes, our service sucks," they should spend that money and time just fixing the problems. The ad campaign is an admission of terrible service.
Speaking of PR. Remember Metro's other big PR blitz, Metroforward? It launched with great fanfare not even a year ago. At the time, Dan Stessel told the Washington Post Metro had spent $204,000 on the "intial work," adding:
“This is a low-cost, high-impact project,” Stessel said, noting that the way Metro figures it — its 1.2 million riders paid about 17 cents each for the work.
Who knows how much more of your money they've spent since then.

A huge part of Metroforward was to be a social media campaign, that led to the hiring of even more PR people to be "social media trailblazers."

The Metroforward blog hasn't been updated since March 14, and the last tweet from Metroforward was March 21. The Metroforward Facebook is slightly more active, but it's not the interactive destination many expect from Facebook, and many riders report having been blocked from commenting.

Other items:

6/22 Metro crash victims one step closer to memorial (Examiner)
Metro monitors key communications equipment that failed 24/7 (Examiner)
Moscow metro fires escalator chief (Moscow Times)
Another Post column on the Silver Line
Is the Silver Line being held hostage? (WaPo)

Friday, May 4, 2012

"Work with the Community, Not Against Us"

We all have had it drilled into our heads. We all know Metro is undergoing a "massive rebuilding effort."

But for many, it's getting to the point that Metro is just unusable during weekends and even during off-peak service on weekdays.

It's as if Metro is thinking construction must go on, riders be damned.

I wonder what kind of long-term effect this will have on riders. I'm guessing more than a few people will learn to live without Metro and never return.

From anonymous:
Does anyone else think it's ridiculous that Metro is closing so much on a weekend when there's a home Caps playoff game, a Nats homestand against the Phillies an Avon "Walk for Breast Cancer" and who knows what else?

I think the only part of their release that's probably accurate is telling those along the Green Line to add 50 minutes to their travel time. I don't see many people lining up for that "service."

For all the other lines--that's right ALL the other lines--they say to add 10 minutes. As someone who's used Metro on the weekends recently, I can say without hesitation that's nonsense. Add at least a half hour for each leg of your trip.

Come on Metro, we know you have a lot to do, but work WITH the community you serve, not against us. Does Metro have ANY common sense?

I will be going to all the Nats game--on my bike!
I'm tempted to think Metro is using the results of its push poll to justify all of this.

Remember this question?
Which would you prefer?

*Metro should maintain its accelerated construction schedule to finish as soon as possible.
*Metro should slow down even at the risk that there may be more breakdowns and disruptions.
Who chose the second option? Not many.

Other items:
Metro says pepper spray cause of L'Enfant coughing spree (Examiner)
Metro looks to cut bus stops (WMATA)
Another jumper (Examiner)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

"We will use our pride as a shield against any attack they wage against us."

That Washington Times series of articles really got under Metro's skin. First Ol' Sarlesy comes out with this milquetoast "rebuttal," and now, I've gotten a copy of another "response."

This time, it's from Hercules Ballard, Managing Director, Office of Rail Transport.

As with Sarles' letter, it addresses none of the issues brought up by the Times.

It's quite a read. I encourage you to check out the whole thing (page one and page two), but here's the start:
Dear Co-workers:

First, I want to apologize for the article that was written in the Washington Times which aimed at showing us in a negative light. I am not surprised that an ignorant person made some inaccurate statements. Webster defines ignorance as "The condition of being uneducated, unaware, or uninformed." In other words, "he doesn't know us or what we do - so forget him." If he did know you, he would be singing a different tune. His depiction of you would be changed from inept to incredible, impressive, wondrous, stupendous, or amazing. Let us all learn from this and know we can never give others the power to define us or our self-worth. That power should remain inside each of you.

People use this type of tactic when there is nothing obviously wrong with you;their only weapon is to attack you with negative words to make you feel bad about yourself. Well, partner...
It only gets better. The inauguration "miracle" from more than three years ago? Yeah, they're still hyping that!

This article about behaviors that precede a scandal is also interesting and apropos.

Other items:
Dulles rail summit yields no deal (WaPo)
Metro brings back disruption reports (WMATA)
Alexandria seeks $1 million to study Potomac Yard stop (Examiner)
Metro says Caps paid for later service (WaPo)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Rider Claims Train was on Fire

From GlenmontGirl:
Last night, at approximately 6:30, I was passing through Metro Center on my way home from work. I was standing at the far end of the upper platform, waiting for a Red Line train to Glenmont.

A train to Silver Spring pulled into the station on the track closest to me. Shortly after that, I heard a Shady-Grove-bound train enter the station on the other track. Then, I heard several loud, metal-on-metal bangs.

I've never heard a train derail, but that was what I thought it was at first.

I looked around but couldn't figure out where the sound was coming from, since the Silver Spring train was blocking my view of the other platform. I didn't hear any screaming or any announcements from the train operator or station manager, so I reasoned it couldn't be that bad.

The Silver Spring train pulled out of the station and the other train looked fine - it was unloading and loading normally.

But as it started to pull away I noticed several spots of bright light under the front two or three cars, which I quickly realized were flames, A shower of bright orange sparks spewed from underneath the train as it moved out of the station.

After pausing for a moment to process the fact that, yes, the train was actually on fire, I hightailed it to the Metro Center station manager's booth. I looked for a Metro employee on the platform, but there wasn't one.

By the time I got to the station manager's booth, several other riders were already there, describing the incident to her.

I heard one of those women, who seemed to have been closer to the flaming cars than I was, say that it seemed to be the "loopy things that hang down on the bottom" (her words).

I can't confirm this, as I was too far away to see where exactly the flames were coming from.

The station manager assured us that the train would be taken out of service, and we all went our separate ways. I finished the rest of my commute without incident.

I've been taking most of the recent Metro safety issues in stride, since it's still the easiest way for me to get to work. But I have to say it was a little disconcerting to see a train with actual flames coming out from under it and to realize the riders on board had no idea anything was wrong.

I know there have been incidents with trains smoking or catching fire before, but do you know if this is an ongoing, consistent mechanical issue, kind of like the brake discs that were wearing out too quickly?

The loud bangs I heard initially made me wonder if there was something on the tracks that the train might have hit, but I saw another train pull in and out on that track after the damaged one, and there weren't any loud noises or sparks.

Could the brakes or something on the underside of the cars have ruptured/exploded as the train came into the station?

You or your sources at Metro would know much better than I, but this might be worth investigating.

Between the buses and the trains, Metro can't seem to keep the flames at bay. What next? Will Dan Stessel spontaneously combust during a press conference?
Other items:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Quittin' Time

From Pat:
On Saturday, April 14, I had been dining in Silver Spring with a friend and afterwards, around 10:30, took Metrorail to Wheaton where I knew I could catch a bus that would take me right past my apartment.

I usually ride the C4, but when a C2 pulled up with "Parklawn Dr./Randolph Rd." on its lighted sign (exactly where I wanted to go) I got on.

It was an uneventful ride until the driver rounded the corner of Randolph and Viers Mill Rd towards Selfridge Rd., whereupon he killed the lights on the bus and announced "end of the line!"

I walked to the front of the bus and told him that when I boarded the bus at Wheaton, the destination sign said Parklawn and Randolph.

His reply? "Well you'd better check the sign now. It says 'not in service.'" (That's verbatim, and said with more than a hint of laughter.)

No other explanation was given. Without much of a choice, I got off the bus and waited the 15 minutes or so for another to come along before making it the rest of the way home.

Although I did get home fine, and didn't feel particularly unsafe (being familiar with the area and only about a mile from home), it was late in the evening, and I can't help but reckon I'd have to blame Metro had I been mugged or something.

Or is it par for the course to force people off buses late at night before reaching the stated destination?

A quick glance at the online timetables reveals the driver was wrong and should have gone all the way to Parklawn.

Just to speculate though, the White Flint bus garage is a short distance heading the opposite direction on Parklawn, and perhaps this driver wanted to head straight there and end his shift, final few stops be damned.

I reported the incident to Metro on Monday morning, but the guy on the phone had a thick accent and needed me to repeat a lot. I'm not certain he understood me.
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