Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pray for Metro

Who's More Opaque?


What's the number for the Metro police again?

C'mon Metro.

Not even two hours after I signed off until the New Year, you go breaking, bad.

A few thoughts before I really (hopefully) sign off until 2012.

A contributor mentioned that when there's an airline accident, they're forced to release tapes of the "black box" conversations and other pertinent records.

So, I'm wondering when we're going to hear the tapes between Operations Control Center (OCC), Metro's "nerve center," and the damaged trains regarding yesterday's mess. Will we see the results of the inspections of the 5000-series cars, which have a history of derailing? Will we hear the results of the "internal investigation" about the evacuation procedures?

Again, communications seems to have been a big issue.
That's just an example. Many riders complained about being left in the smoky dark (smoke condition) for a long time with no word about what was going on or what to do. Radio problems?

Sadly, it's not bloody likely we'll ever hear those communications or have any other independent view on what happened. We'll just have to take Metro's word.

Besides, according to several Metro sources, the tapes from OCC have a way of disappearing when they make Metro look bad.

So onto something that should be easier to get from Metro, the infamous "what if there wasn't a Metro" """"study."""" Metro has only released an executive summary so far.

I've asked chief flack Dan Stessel for the full version of the $200,000 """"study"""" three times, and zilch.

Dan, like every other rider, I'm a 16-ccent investor in that, and I want to see it.
Me (12/14): Could I please have the full copy of the study recently in the news?
Dan (12/14): Checking on its status…
Me 12/15): How's the checking going?
Dan (12/15): The text of the full report is being finalized. It will be released, most likely next week.
Me (12/20 before all hell broke loose): status?
Dan:(UPDATE 12/21): Checked on it this afternoon. It is still being finalized.
So they release an executive report of a """"study"""" that isn't ready for public consumption? What's being finalized?

Hmmm.

And finally, the whole mystery riders boondoggle. $252,000 (possibly $679,000) of your money spent on what exactly? It's not like things just need to be tweaked, and all will be well.

Here's what Greg had to say about that:
I know that in light of today's (12/20) egregious incident, the item below isn't as lurid, but I'm furious that Metro is spending public money to get feedback from system users. Evidently the tens of thousands of customer complaints it gets aren't an adequate source of information on what needs improvement.

As a taxpayer, I believe that the mystery shopper reports should be made public. These are, after all, merely observations made by the system-using public, so I don't see how any sensitive information could get disseminated.

And if it WERE disseminated, well, too goddamned bad!
My prediction as to when we'll see the mystery rider reports: Never.

At this point, it's a toss up as to who's is more opaque, N. Korea or WMATA.

And on that cheery note, I (hopefully) bid you very happy holidays and Happy New Year!

See you in 2012.

Other items:
Examiner take
Post take
Fox take
NBC take
ABC take
WTOP take

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Looks Bad

Update 1: A Metro source tells me "The wheels separated from a train between L'Enfant and Smithsonian on track 2."

Update 2: Hearing part of the brakes, a "friction ring" fell off.

Update 3: via @r0d3nt who is apparently on the crippled train "#wmata is accessing panels to open doors. Some doors are jammed and wont open, intercoms non-functional."

Update 4: From a Metro source: "Word just came in that a collector shoe separated from the train, but I am also hearing friction ring ... We can't tell ourselves the truth"

Update 5:

Via @WilliamsMichael @unsuckdcmetro the evacuation begins! pic.twitter.com/11Q6g3UO

Update 6: via @IAFF36 "*U/D: Orange line train lost an axle, #DCFD units assisting approx 350 to Smithsonian station, expect major delays on Orange line #wmata"

Update 7: via @Aaronthepriest "Off the metro and in a cab. No shuttles there and @wmata made us pay exit fare!!!! @unsuckdcmetro @wmata is going to owe me my cab fare"

Update 8: More than 2 hours later and people are still on the train!

via @somethngfab

Update 9: Back to reports that it was a friction ring (part of the brake) that fell off. Wonder if we'll ever know what really happened.

Update 10: Another view of the evacuation via @Somethngfab

Update 11: Metro says they're doing track inspections, which is the final step before restoring third rail power.

Update 12: Trains are moving again albeit with single tracking

Update 13: Metro will hold a press conference at 3.

Update 14: From a very reliable Metro source "A brake disk (200lbs) broke free. Hit train behind it. The disk more than likely broke free and damaged that train but then looks like it possibly did damage to the train behind. There are either 8 or 12 bolts that hold the disk on. The bolts must have sheared off. Possibly inferior bolts from low bid contractor."


ORIGINAL POST

Happy Holidays


Via @AROvertonClose Doesn't Santa Clause have a better method of transportation than the Metrobus? #WMATA @unsuckdcmetro pic.twitter.com/w14Zct91


Via @Silvio_Marcacci30 This totally makes up for months of broken escalators at the Union Station metro @unsuckdcmetro twitpic.com/7m58q0


Via @donnaindc1 Love the spirit of this @wmata station manager :) #metro #dc Happy holidays from Washington, DC! {12.01} #decindc11pic.twitter.com/PZj32abS


Via @Kasie_Carr2 Could this be possible? Holiday cheer on the metro? #wmata@unsuckdcmetro pic.twitter.com/oiZAqBfa


via @KyleKunklerClose 'Tis the Season twitpic.com/7sjiln #wmata


Via @jillcashenClose I love the Farragut West metro station manager's holiday spirit (and tinsel, lights, music) #dcwamta yfrog.com/nxya6fpj


via @grafxnerd We were serenaded with Christmas tunes by a gentleman on the metro this morning. flickr.com/photos/grafxne… #wmata #dcmetro #christmasspirit

See you in 2012 barring a huge Metro clusterf*ck.

Keep sending your stories and pics.

Oh, and it would be an honor if you could vote for the Unsuck DC Metro community and all the people who've contributed to the blog right here. It may be the most important vote you ever make.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rider Reports what Appears to be an Armed Robbery


From Jennifer:
On Saturday night, at around 9:15 or 9:20, I boarded the Red Line toward Shady Grove. The car was sparsely populated, and at some point, at or near Ft. Totten, we all became aware of two tall, broad men wearing trench coats and ski masks.

They were dressed in black from head to toe, and all I could see was their eyes. They were black, but I don't see how anyone would be able to recognize them in a line-up.

One sat next to me, and glanced down at my shoes. I didn't return his look and looked out the window.

Within about five minutes, they walked over to two young black kids sitting at the back of the train behind partition.

One of the tall, shady-looking kids stood sentinel, and it was clear to me at this point they were up to no good, because his friend reached over and bent down and asked something of the kids sitting. I couldn't see much more beyond that due to the partition.

The tall kids in trench coats then got off at Brookland. The kids behind the glass stumbled over and informed a guy sitting across from me that they'd been mugged at gunpoint.

They said one of the muggers had leaned in, showed a gun, demanded that both kids give up their sneakers and iPhones, and instructed them not to get off at the next stop.

A good Samaritan to my left let them call their friends, and they got off at the next stop to make their way back, reportedly, to Brookland.

The good Samaritan asked the kids if they'd been followed onto the train from Silver Spring because the thugs asked them where they were from. There was some speculation the thieves followed the kids onto the train, but other than that, I can only speculate they were hit because they were sitting at the back of the train behind glass.

When I reached my destination, Dupont, I told the guy at the Metro booth what had happened, and he said "that's a damn shame" but didn't appear to do anything.

I'm not sure if the kids filed a report because they were in shock when they got off the train.

No one called the police while the thugs were there. No one took pictures, either. I don't know if they were actually carrying weapons, but no one got involved. I admit we were all scared, and when I saw the one thug standing sentinel, I knew something was going down, but I turned to look out the window to avoid eye contact.

The incident was frightening enough to make me decide to drive to Bethesda and take the Red Line in so that I can avoid taking it from Silver Spring in the future. This was absolutely ridiculous and scary.
Other items:
Metro scales back bus driver shield plan (Examiner)
Metro says sick customers cause 5 percent of delays (Examiner)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Are Metro's Slow Escalators Actually More Dangerous?


This is a nice find from Mike:
Who brags about their escalators being 25 percent slower than normal escalators? Metro! That's who!
In case you can't make out the sign, it says:
Most escalators--like the ones you ride at shopping malls--travel at about 120 feet per minute (fpm). A Metro escalator travels at 90 feet per minute. We just think it's good to slow down, enjoy the view and be safe.
Whatever. Who comes up with this stuff, and how much do they get paid? I'll do it for half.

Assuming you find a working escalator, the slow speed definitely encourages a lot of people to walk. Apparently wear and tear increases if you walk a moving escalator.

Furthermore, I found this old report that actually included Metro, which "provides evaluations of special design features associated with escalators used in rail transit systems." I guess some of the findings could be outdated, but I doubt this one is.

Turns out slower escalators are dangerous.
The preferred design is a dual speed escalator. The 120 fpm speed should be used during the peak hours and 90 fpm during the off-peak hours. Even though the hourly capacity is not linearly related to speed, the increase in escalator capacity at the higher speed reduces problems of overcrowding at high volume stations. At low volume stations existing data indicates no real advantages to the higher speed. Escalators over 40 ft high (three level changes) should utilize the speed of 120 fpm to reduce extended travel time on escalators. Excessive travel times result in movement of passengers resulting in a hazardous operating environment.
Nice job Metro.

Update from a Metro escalator expert:
The code for escalators allowed a max speed of 125 fpm with A17.1d -2000 and earlier. A17.1-2000 and later sets the max speed at 100 fpm. The min. speed can not be less than 10 fpm. The early units in Metro had two speeds 90 fpm and 120 fpm because they were driven by two speed ac motors. The newer units have a variable frequency drive and so can be set to any speed. I believe that Metro uses 90 fpm because the early units could be made to run at 90 fpm by disabling the high speed contacts and running only on the slow speed. I think this was done because they felt it was safer and easier for people to get on and off ( especially older folks and people who are a little afraid of escalators). The slower speed also reduces wear and tear on the units.
Other items:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rider Hall of Shame: Piss the Season


From Sean:
Buddy here had a great time last night. I got on at DuPont at about 11:15 the other night, and he was already there and passed out. I got off at Glenmont, and he was still there. By the end, he had pissed himself.
Complete Hall of Shame

Other items:
MetroAccess to enforce 15-hour shift limit (Examiner)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fallacy of the False Choice




So WMATA paid $200,000 for a """"study,"""" the crux of which was to imagine what the DC area would be like if there wasn't a Metro!

Predictably, since this was done as a PR stunt by those ridiculously overcompensated PR peeps (all Sarles' cronies) who want more money for Metro, the conclusion was, of course, that the DC area would be a traffic hell hole (unlike now) and that huge swaths of downtown would be grim, paved parking lots--if Metro never existed.

Big if.

There are lots of opinions about how much mass transit should be funded, but Metro doesn't help the discussion be presenting a false choice like this. It's a pointless, counterfactual exercise. It's the Drake equation of mass transit, full of unprovable conjecture, aka BS.

Why?

Because there is a Metro (sort of), and even you folks along the Red Line have half a Metro half the time.

What I want to see is an independent study on what the region would be like if the existing Metro was better and worked like a real, live grown up mass transit system. Or, on the downer side, how much Metro's sucking retards the normal benefits one would associate with robust, functional mass transit.

Metro's doomsday "argument" is the same kind of thinking one finds in the "you're either with us, or you're against us" proposition. It's terrible, nonconstructive, black-or-white thinking with the added bonus of a not-so-veiled threat.

There is an argument for transit, but this is not how you make it.

Sadly, the PR stunt seems to have worked on some and here. Sure, they caveat their articles to a degree, but they basically repeat Metro's ridiculous, random, plucked-from-a-nightmare scenario, which is designed to propel this sort of insidious meme (repeated by many on twitter):
or this
It's like Metro is a surly, abusive husband in a spaghetti stained tank top slouching in the glow of a TV set in some dingy apartment drinking too much beer and telling his downtrodden wife how lucky she is to have him.

Hey Metro, try a little charm for crying out loud.

Instead of telling us how much it would suck in a completely made up "without you" scenario, try to step up the service you ostensibly already provide because right now, it sorta sucks to be with you.

Footnote: Why is only the executive summary available to the public? We paid for the whole thing!

Other items:
Loose floor tiles close Clarendon station (ARLnow.com)
A good report on how WMATA governance should change

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Is Cleanliness Still a Metro Bragging Right?


Via @beckawall Ah, the glamour of riding @wmata ! @unsuckdcmetro pic.twitter.com/KTlaYHwB


Via @ericmann1278 @unsuckdcmetro Bush beer anyone? #wmata pic.twitter.com/UMiCaWGK

From Jill:
I'm just wondering if anyone else out there has noticed that Metro is becoming a pigsty.

There are a lot of things wrong with Metro, but one thing you used to be able to count on was that it was pretty clean.

Over the past year, I've watched Metro become more and more dirty. I have been in cars at all times of the day that are strewn with tons of garbage (mostly Examiner and Express), food, discarded liquor bottles and some things I don't even want to know about. I've seen a used condom twice in the past few weeks! Gross!

The other day at Farragut North, I saw either a very large mouse or a small rat scampering carefree down the track.

I do have to hand it to him though. He was moving faster than the train that was five minutes away, then eight, then 10...

But seriously, what's going on with all the filth?

What do people think? Are people more disgusting these days or has Metro slacked off on cleaning up?
Other items:

Monday, December 12, 2011

Excuses, Excuses


Last week, as first reported by the Examiner, the American Public Transportation Association issued a ridership report saying that subway use around the country is actually INCREASING in all but three cities: Atlanta, L.A. and here.

Boston? Up. New York? Up. Philly? Up. Chicago? Up. Even Cleveland was up, way up.

Metro officials are full of excuses about why flagging ridership is not their fault.

On one hand, they blame the economy.

On the other hand, they're suing their insurer for $13 million because, as the Examiner reported, it hasn't paid for a "drastic drop in rail ridership and consequential loss of revenue" following the June 22, 2009 Red Line crash.

So which is it?

Fundamentally, I don't think it's either.

First of all, the economy in the DC area has been quite strong relative to the rest of the country. People are actually moving here because job prospects are better.

In my day job, I recently did a story about how a foreign business chose to open their first U.S. outlet here in the DC area because the economy is so much better than anywhere else in the country.

Hey Metro, it's not the economy, stupid.

And the Red Line crash?

I think it's doubtful that disaster alone would have caused riders to avoid Metro over a period of years had it been an isolated event. People don't stop flying because of an airline crash.

However, the crash didn't take place in a vacuum. It happened during a period of long-term, incredibly poor, unreliable and often unsafe service at ever increasing premium prices, with no accountability to the riders who pay for everything.

And it's not getting any better, just more expensive.

In that environment, people are going to eventually, and rightfully, look for other options.

I'm not optimistic Metro can turn things around while in such a stuporous state of denial, and after nearly three years of blogging about how badly Metro sucks, I don't know what it will take for them to finally get it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

"The Ass is Right Here" (NSFW)



Hard to tell who's the bigger ass.

The scholarly point/counterpoint ends around the 2:00 mark.

Other items:
Metro, MARTA the only subways in the country to lose riders (Examiner)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

If Someone Acts this Way on Metro...


I've definitely seen some less-than-stellar parenting on Metro, and I've seen many tweets from people who've also seen it, which leads me to believe it's not that uncommon.

From Kate Woodsome:
It was a stressful day at work. Adults acting like children. I boarded the train and stood in the crowded aisle distracted by the office drama. Two of the seats near me were occupied by a young girl and her even younger brother. Another brother was standing up with their mom, who seemed tired from more than just the day.

A scowl punctuated her clenched jaw and furrowed brow, which moved only when she barked at her children. A bright orange smiley face sticker was on her cheek, the kind a kid might get from the doctor after a checkup. Her daughter wanted the sticker, and she started naming everyone she'd give it to. Among them was the lady in the striped dress. Me.

I shifted my stance to face the little girl and said, "You're going to give that sticker to me?"

"Yes!" she beamed.

"Nah. It looks good on your mom. It makes her cheek look happy."

The girl immediately lost interest in the sticker and focused instead on my outfit -- a long black and grey striped dress and bright green clogs. "I like your dress," she said. "And your shoes."

"Thanks. I like your skirt," I replied, pointing to her blue and green plaid skirt.

"It's my school uniform."

"You look official," I said.

"Official?"

"Yeah, official. You look like an official student."

She looked down at her skirt, smoothed it out, then tugged on her slouching socks.

"How's school going? Like it?" I wondered.

"We're learning Spanish," she said.

That apparently woke up her mom, whose eyes blazed as she snarled, "She don't know nothin'."

Her daughter furrowed her own brow. "I do," she said, hungry for approval. "Adiós. Vámanos. Excelente." "Adiós!" her brother chimed in.

"Wow. You know a lot," I said.

"Yeah, we can count," the girl said, and she and her brother supported each other as they stumbled from uno to diez. I learned that the girl was siete, seven; her brother cinco, five; and her other brother tres, three.

I was impressed and told them so. This excited them. And upset their mother. She yelled at them to shut up.

The three-year-old lurched toward me with big eyes, away from his mom. She yanked him back and raised her fist above his head, drawing her lips over her teeth. He cringed and the others just paused, watching.

I've seen this before. The Metro is everyone's and no one's home. Parents verbally abuse their kids there, threaten violence and, sometimes, actually commit it. Yet no one seems to notice. No one seems to care. But I do, and I'm always conflicted when I see an adult taking out their pain on an innocent.

"Your son's so cute," I told the mom, trying to break her from her trance, to make her aware that we were all there, watching.

"You can have him," she said, disgusted.

The sarcasm was lost on her daughter, who wrapped her arms around my legs and shouted, "No! I want her!"

Her brothers reached for me, too. "No! I do! I do!"

When a child hugs you, you have to hug back. But what do you do when that hug is an outright rejection of their own mother? When that hug could lead to a harsh beating once the train ride ends. I didn't want to provoke their mom any more, but I figured she was going to beat them whether I was kind to her kids or not. So I put my arms around the little girl stuck to my legs and smiled at her brothers. "You have each other. You have to love each other."

I used to be that little girl. The girl with the scared, desperate eyes, silently pleading with strangers to take me away. Nobody ever heard me, or if they did, they didn't respond. Because how do you help a child escape?

With care and warmth. You tell them they're cute and clever and funny. You tell them they're going to be okay, that life gets better. Even if you don't know that it will. Especially if you don't.

Anonymity can be as empowering as it is paralyzing. So shower them with love and then slip away. Because you're not going to be there when the hitting starts behind closed doors, so you might as well be there when you can. 
According to DC's Child and Family Services Agency, you can report child abuse or neglect 24 hours a day, seven days a week to 202-671-SAFE (7233). There is a wait, and an automated menu to start, so if it's an emergency, call 911. If it's not, you will eventually be asked for the name, address, age and gender of the child; who is caring for the child; and the nature and extent of the abuse or neglect. This gets more difficult if you witness abuse on the Metro. A CFSA hotline worker cautioned that it is up to the individual whether to intervene in an abusive situation, and to bear in mind that you do not know how the abuser will respond. "The consequences will be yours. They can be good or they can be bad," she said. The hotline worker suggested it is best to alert a transit police officer or station manager. Make sure to give a detailed description of the abuser, and remember the train and car number. For more information, visit: http://cfsa.dc.gov/DC/CFSA
Other items:Budget news just keeps getting better (Examiner)
Will commuter benefits for federal workers get chopped? (WaPo)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Want to Know about Recent Crime? Forget it.


Again, Metro fails with information riders could really use. Seems like they're becoming less transparent all the time. They've been saying for months they're going to start publishing the service disruption reports again, but so far, nothing.

From Amanda:
On Nov. 19, I boarded a Red Line train at Silver Spring to meet some friends for dinner. I boarded, like I always do, near the back of the train, prime for switching at Metro Center.

I sat in a seat that was sideways, and I was on my phone when I took my seat.

My eyes wandered around like usual, and I found myself meeting eyes with a man who was masturbating under his shirt.

I promptly got up from my seat and walked to the back of the train.

When the train reached Fort Totten, I got off the train and called Metro Transit Police.

I was pleasantly surprised by how helpful they were in handling the situation because I was really shaken up by the whole thing.

Later, I wanted to see if this man was arrested. I checked the Metro Police blotter to find that it hasn't been updated since June 2011.

I was so angered by this because I experienced something and wanted to make sure someone followed through.

Aren't there rules for keeping those records updated?

How do I find out if this situation was really handled to the fullest extend?

How do I know if I am safe from seeing this man ever again?

While a few weeks has passed since this gross incident, how do I know if I am safe riding Metro and how do I know they actually did anything about it?
Other items:
Cameras don't deter crime in parking lots (Examiner)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Private Dancer



Not so private dancer:

Metro's Communications: "Undoing the Good"


From Phil:
Long time reader, first time writer. What the hell is going on with the Orange Line?

On Friday (and Monday), many PM rush trains were ending at West Falls Church. I'm not sure why, but as a Vienna rider, it was more than a little annoying, mostly because NO WORD at all was issued by Metro as to why. I saw a lot of people on the platform cursing Metro as well.

Maybe there's a good reason for doing for the service change, but it wasn't explained to riders at all.

The only thing I could find was this, which sounds like something pretty serious and, frankly, sorta scary. Is this the reason?


Via @whiteout_PSU No service to Dunn Loring on the next train? Come on WMATA @unsuckdcmetro http://pic.twitter.com/tJGS6Jve

Just what exactly are the people in the communications team getting paid for if it's not communicating a pretty significant alteration in the routine such as this?

It made me think of the quote you had from the board member about "perceived unpredictability." This REAL unpredictability is just what makes me want to give up Metro for good.

Oh, and that doesn't even take into account the obvious and UNANNOUNCED speed restrictions that pretty much slow the Orange Line down to a crawl between East Falls Church and Ballston over at least the latter part of last week.

What gives Metro? I gave you every benefit of the doubt as you tried to rebuild, but these little lapses are undoing the good you may or may not be doing during all the shutdowns. The little trust I had left in you is pretty much gone. I know I'm not the only one.
Another Metro mystery from anonymous:
Anyone know why the Red Line was not stopping at Dupont Circle yesterday? By my count three trains full of people went through without even stopping to let people on or off. Why?

I was annoyed enough this making me late to work with no announcements about delays or information on the website or email alerts, but I would have been really mad if I needed to get off at Dupont Circle but was forced to continue on.
Other items:
More construction for H St. trolleys (Examiner)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Going the Extra Step


From Susan:
On November 9, I took the H2 bus, terminating at Tenleytown. I am recovering from eye surgery and had a shield taped over one eye, which left me blind on that side with very poor depth perception.

Expecting the bus to turn around and go back down Wisconsin Avenue, I rode to the end and discovered that the driver was going to go back to the garage.

I explained that I'd hoped to ride the bus to the other side of Wisconsin, since I was nervous about crossing the busy street.

The driver - Ms. Arlene Glenn (or Glynn) very kindly walked me across Wisconsin Avenue.

She was very nice about it, and I truly appreciated her taking the time to help me.
Other items:
Think you can sue Metro? Think again. (Examiner)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Bend Over



Some takeaways from yesterday's Metro Board discussion on raising fares to close a $124 million budget gap:

"We are keeping the agency on a path of continued improvement." -- Carol D. Kissel, Assistant General Manager and Chief Financial Officer

It would seem riders and jurisdictions are being unfairly burdened with filling Metro's annual budget gaps. According to Metro, the pension plan for ATU 689 workers accounts for 65 percent of the base increase in Metro's costs. The average retiree's pension plan is worth $400,000, Metro said. There is NO employee contribution into that plan, Metro said. Who's gonna have the stones to get the union to face reality? ATU 689 likes to say "we make it work," but I think they mean "you."

Metro is planning for no wage increase in 2013, but they just shelled out a nine percent increase this year after a costly legal battle. I'm not sure how they plan to avoid a wage increase this time around given their track record. Maybe there was an agreement.

Despite stagnant-to-lower ridership, Metro had a revenue INCREASE between 2010 and 2011 of $54 million dollars, largely on your backs after taking you for $109 million more in 2011. That was offset by declining revenues in other areas, namely advertising. Who'd want to advertise on Metro, right? Oh wait, there's this outfit called Metroforward, and they're advertising EVERYWHERE.

Metro has 250 people involved in manual time keeping. Um, computers.

"This would mark the fourth year of stagnant or declining rail ridership. There is no good story yet about what's happening about the lingering aspects of the accident, [fare] elasticity and perceived unpredictability of the rail system during reconstruction. It doesn't bode well for us, and I would encourage staff to develop better data about what is happening with ridership." -- Board vice chair Tom Downs

Despite a relatively robust economy here in the DC area, Metro staff continues to blame its declining-to-stagnant ridership woes on the nationwide economic malaise. I guess they think stuff like this doesn't peel riders away.

Fare "changes and adjustments" means fare and parking increases. See the details of proposals here (starting on page 24). It was obvious from the discussion that the proposed fare hikes are going to meet with a lot of resistance from the Board's diverging interests. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out. Dig deeper.

Some Board members don't understand the current fare structure. I'm not sure (insert genius) would either.

"Our timing and distance [fare] system is actually a very good system." -- Kissel

Anyone (tourists) still using paper fare cards, could be be completely effed based on a rather arbitrary ring called a "visitor zone" idea. Paper fares (non SmarTrip) within it would be $3, while fares outside would be $6. Rosslyn to DC-$3; Clarendon to DC-$6. Just cough up the five bucks for the SmarTrip already.

250,000 riders are "price insensitive," Metro said. It was unclear just exactly who those riders are. Peak of the peak was meant to serve two purposes: raise revenue and reduce rush hour crowding. It worked bigtime to raise revenue, but did little to shift riders' habits, perhaps because a good chunk of riders--the conventional wisdom is 40 percent of Metro riders are Feds--have their rides heavily to completely subsidized and don't care about peak of the peak fares. Starting Jan. 1, if the transit benefit is not extended, this cohort will become way more concerned with price. Did Metro not know there was this group before instituting the insulting peak of the peak fares?

Things like paying for overtime (fatigue management), adding police on buses, preventative maintenance on the escalators and improving the radio system would be, in essence, up to the individual jurisdictions as to whether they want to fund them. This could end up with some wacky negotiations.

Sarles admitted that previous years' budget gap discussions of service cuts were red herrings. Thanks, man.

Metro blew a lot of money getting "transit strength" snow removal equipment--amount unknown. It seems snowmageddon triggered it. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst of the worst?

After listening to Kubicek's inartful tap dancing about Dupont closures, I need a drink. He really says "thaddaways" --all the time! The right hand man.

Other items:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Does Metro Really Randomly Test for Drugs and Alcohol?


A recent post on station managers testing positive for illegal drugs shook out some interesting commentary from Metro folks.

Drug and alcohol tests can be done randomly or can be triggered by, according to Metro, an incident "in which a person has died or is treated at a medical facility or where there has been property damage resulting in the towing of a vehicle or the removal of a transit vehicle from revenue service."

Fender benders or other slight mishaps would not seem to fall under this definition.

A while back, I asked Metro, via a Freedom of Information request (PARP in Metro-ese), for the number of employees who'd been enrolled in the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a "confidential joint labor management program offering counseling and referral for employees who have substance abuse problems in addition to marital, emotional, family, or financial concerns which may cause poor attendance, unsatisfactory job performance, or create safety hazards for the employee, co-workers, or the public."

Metro declined.

Their reason for declining:
In order to respond to this request, we would have to review approximately 7,500 safety sensitive files and cross reference employee numbers with the random selection list.
OK...

But they did say the following:
344 safety sensitive employees [not station managers] were tested for alcohol from February 17, 2011 through August 17, 2011 and 836 safety sensitive employees were tested for drugs from February 17, 2011 – August 17, 2011.
What was interesting was what I heard about the so-called random drug testing from Metro employees.

One guy we talked to--a former bus driver (safety sensitive) now working in another capacity--said that he was well known as a teetotaler who was guaranteed to test clean. He said that when it came time for Metro to meet its quota for the number of people to be "randomly" tested, they'd always come around to him.

He said the testers would look at him closely in the eyes and smell his breath "just to make sure," and then ask him to give a sample.

The worker alleged that if Metro really randomly tested "safety sensitive" positions, they'd have to shut the system down because of all the positive test results.

Another worker, also an abstainer, confirmed that he was often asked to give samples while others were never seemed to have to.
If you're a part of the clique, the rules don't apply to you. I knew a lot of operators, drivers and others who were routinely seemed out of it, but they never were caught and punished. Drug testing is a joke to a lot of people.
They added that getting around drug testing was usually done by getting a heads up when the drug testing was coming or by making sure the sample they gave was never actually tested.

Another Metro worker said:
I have gone years without a random. Then all of a sudden, the guy just senior to me will get a call for his random. Then, the next day, I get the call. Then, I hear the guy junior to me got the call.

Not random in the least.

I am guessing they decide to test certain departments and then pick three or four guys in a row off of the roster for tests.
Yet another, now retired, worker in a highly technical field said a friend of theirs smoked pot in their free time, but never tested positive. This led them to the following conclusions:

a) They aren't really submitting any samples for testing.
b) They are only submitting a certain percentage of the samples -- either randomly or based on the employee's behavior/appearance.
c) Whether they are testing some or all samples, the 'tolerance' or threshold for THC may be set fairly high.

They added:
I would have no problem telling you if I thought that the people at Metro were a bunch of drug-addicted alcoholics, but to the best of my ability to tell, that's not the case. In the many years I worked at Metro, I don't think I ever saw one person obviously high or drunk.

I take that back -- early on, there were two guys, one an alcoholic, the other I'm not sure -- some hardcore drug problem. Both went through rehab and both got caught again and were fired. Contrary to popular belief, they never were able to get their jobs back. Some do, but many do not. It depends on who you know and if both management and the union officers like you.
If you want to read the official Metro line on drug testing and the surprising repercussions of testing positive, read this (PDF).

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Esacalator Party


Via @bromanw William Broman WMATA press conference? pic.twitter.com/29RiAxl0


Via @Silvio_Marcacci This totally makes up for months of broken escalators at the Union Station metro @unsuckdcmetro twitpic.com/7m58q0

State of the Union Station/Foggy Bottom Address


So Metro's throwing an escalator party!

They're celebrating their victory over escalators at Foggy Bottom and Union Station, both scenes of many a vertical transport defeat over the past several years.

Hey, it's a big day at Metro when some escalators work, and it's all befitting of some soaring, feel good rhetoric.

Here's a leaked copy of Metro GM Richard Sarles' prepared remarks to be made during today's gala events.

From a reader:
One score and 15 years ago our fathers brought forth on this city, a new subway, conceived in escalators, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equally unable to climb stairs.

Now we are engaged in a great war, testing whether that subway, or any subway so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a near final resting place for those who here gave their thighs that that subway might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and winded, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The city will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they climbed here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who trod here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored winded we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of locomotion -- that we here highly resolve that these winded shall not have nearly died in vain -- that this subway, under WMATA, shall have a new birth of escalation -- and that a subway of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Now let's pop this Cristal, beyotch! I get paid over $300K to run this sh*t! You're welcome!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

To Sit or Not to Sit?


From Jamie:
We all think we know when to give up our seats on Metro. The elderly, the pregnant, the disabled – obviously they get priority. I think every last one of us would leap to our feet for an 80-year-old pregnant blind lady on crutches.

But there’s a big gray area, and every time I’m faced with it, I don’t know what to do. I need help from my fellow riders to figure out just exactly what constitutes proper seating etiquette. In most of these cases, my habit is to let the person take a seat if one opens up (as in, I won’t race them for it), but I’m not likely to actually get up and offer them my seat. But maybe I should ...

The obese
Let’s get this tough one out of the way first. I am an avid runner, and as such, my rear fits comfortably into a Metro seat. Some days, when training for a race, I will rack up 8-10 miles before heading to work. My legs are tired, and if I get a seat, I sink into it blissfully. One such day, I was reading the newspaper in the aisle seat near the middle of the car when an obese woman waddled up and gripped the pole next to me. She was in her mid-30s and didn’t appear to have any other physical ailments except her size, so I ignored her and went back to my reading. A few minutes later, the guy in the window seat next to me asked to get out. Turns out he was giving his seat to the large lady, which made me feel like a real jerk. Am I really expected to give up my seat to someone just because they’re 100 pounds overweight?

The suitcase-wielder
I have had the pleasure of taking Metro to the airport during rush hour with a large suitcase. It sucks. I did my best to wrangle it through the station without blocking anyone’s path or running over feet, and I think I did alright. One thing I did NOT expect, however, was for anyone to give me their seat just because I was fool enough to bring a big suitcase with me. When someone did that, I thanked them profusely and gratefully sat down with my suitcase in the aisle next to me. While I appreciated the gesture, is this the standard? Am I supposed to surrender my seat to people with suitcases? This category also includes people who are carrying a lot of stuff (I usually give them my seat if possible, to improve my karma for next time I need to bring six shopping bags and a box of cupcakes on the train).

Moderately-sized children
Obviously if someone has wee little babes with them on the Metro, they should sit. But what if the kid(s) are old enough to hold on to the poles, and actually seem to be enjoying it? Should I give up my seat for such families? I often feel bad when I don’t, but I’m not sure they even expect people to do it.

Pregnant or chubby?
When someone is eight months in, you know it and you give them your seat. But what about that awkward stage at 4-5 months when you’re not sure if they’re knocked up or just need to switch to lite beer?

Ambiguously elderly
Let’s say there’s a man in his sixties on the train. He isn’t frail, he doesn’t seem ‘old’ … maybe he’s a member of AARP, but does he count as elderly? Does he need to sit, and more importantly, is he going to be offended if I offer him my seat?

I’m sure this is only a small fraction of the whole gray area, but these are the cases that drive me crazy the most often. Help me out here, people!
Other items:
Preliminary 2013 budget has $124 million gap, get ready for fare hikes (PDF/WMATA)
Get ready for the yearlong closure of Dupont's south entrance (PDF/WMATA)
Track work this weekend (WMATA)
Fireworks shot off at Farragut West (Examiner)

Monday, November 28, 2011

What's the Pee Policy?



The station manager at East Falls church regularly lets riders into the restroom there, no questions asked.

Then again, I've had other station managers rudely tell me "no" without explanation.

Then, there's stuff like this.

Looking through the WMATA website, I found this audit of restroom accessibility. In it, it recommends revisiting the rules, which were summed up as follows:
“The Station Manager on duty has sole discretion to accept or reject customer requests for use of facilities.” The Special Order also states that WMATA’s “policy is to make a restroom available to customers in limited circumstances. The limitation is necessary to control crime and maintain security.”
The report also recommended Metro look into allowing station managers to remotely open restrooms so they wouldn't have to escort riders.

It also mentioned studying restrooms like these. (Is this still there?)

No idea if Metro followed up on any of the recommendations, but it would appear that restroom accessibility remains solely up to the station manager.

Could a more liberal or consistent policy help with the sick passenger problem?

What has been your experience?

Of course, it's unclear if some employees use said toilets at all.

Other items:
Transit benefits on chopping block (Examiner)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanks, Metro, for Being You


From Dave: Epic WMATA parking job - note the empty reserved street space next to the WMATA car blocking the sidewalk.




Via @TweetJeanster You aren't going anywhere anytime. And you'll like it. @unsuckdcmetro pic.twitter.com/O57dMkAT




Via @PINGINGinPINK @wmata: Metro Opens Doors BUT looks like the City closes 'em #Welcome2DC pic.twitter.com/EnpQWvGL

Other items:
Montgomery County looks to add bike sharing along Red Line (Examiner)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rider Hall of Shame: Occupy


Photo via anonymous.

Complete Hall of Shame

Other items:
If this is true, wow! (Access the DMV)
Fairfax could lose Metro board seat (Examiner)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Are Metro's eAlerts Useful?


From anonymous:
So after being stuck between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom for over 20 minutes, missing my connecting bus, and being late to work AGAIN, I was continuously checking my Blackberry to see an email update to let me know how much longer I'd be stuck, but lo and behold, there were no email updates!

Yet, my email account got spammed overnight by 10 different email updates, reading the same exact thing, about construction on the Blue and Yellow lines.

My question is, Metro, when, if ever, are you going to get your act together? I signed up for these updates so that I can call my office and let them know when I'll be late, but since I almost NEVER get them, I'm always late, and don't call ahead.

Am I the only one that has the problem?
Here's part of Metro's disclaimer about eAlerts:
There are inherent problems associated with providing text messaging information. As such, Metro does not warrant that the service will be uninterrupted or error-free nor does Metro make any warranty regarding the reliability of information on the status of Metro operations and services. The customer who subscribes to Metro's text messaging service agrees that the use is at the customer's sole risk and expense and without any liability on the part of Metro.
Other items:
Metro and union likely to tussle over OT limits (Examiner)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tres Equis


"I don't always close the airport station, but when I do, I prefer the weekend before a major holiday."

Other items:
Metro board weighs in on fatigue (Examiner)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

On Metro, Always have a Plan B


From anonymous:
Leaving a concert at DAR Constitution Hall Sunday night, we caught the Red Line from Farragut North a little after eleven o'clock, headed home to Twinbrook. The ride was fine, the train was not crowded, no drunks.

When we got to Twinbrook my wife and I stood up as the train slowed down. It stopped short of the platform, then pulled forward, then slowed, lurched forward again, pulled up and then started accelerating and went right through the station without stopping.

I got on the intercom and said "What happened to Twinbrook?"

The driver started to answer me then made an announcement which kept cutting out, but he did say clearly that there would be a train coming through Rockville station in five minutes to take us back to Twinbrook.

Of course, you know the next part. Eight or ten of us exited the train at Rockville, to learn that the last train of the day had already left.

Luckily, we were able to call our adult son to get us.

While we waited, a somewhat panicked man pulled up and asked what had happened -- he had been at Twinbrook when the train passed through with his wife on it, he said she doesn't ride the Metro often and was probably scared.

As we got ready to leave, another woman tapped on our window. Her car was at Twinbrook, and she asked if we could give her a ride. We were going there anyway, so she got in.

We left another couple and a woman inside the station trying to reason with the station manager, I don't know how that worked out for them, but we didn't have any more room.
Other items:
SHOCK: Metrobuses unsanitary (Examiner)
Dulles rail money OKed, more needed (Examiner)
MTPD steps up (WMATA)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Sick of Sick Passengers"

From Mark:
I've commuted on the New York subway and London Underground for years before moving to D.C. recently, and I can't ever remember a delay because of a sick customer. To be honest, there weren't many delays at all for any reason.

Last week, it seemed like every commute I had was marred by a sick customer. When it happens, it's as if the whole system grinds to a halt.

What's wrong with D.C.?

Are there too many workaholics that insist on going to work even if they're sick? Is all the burning brake smell the reason? Something they use to clean the cars? The jerky rides? Is Metro just saying "sick customer" when something else is wrong?

Anyone have any idea?
From Ashley:
I'm getting really sick of all the "sick passenger" incidents on Metro.

The other day, I was delayed by at least 35 minutes during rush hour because trains were "single tracking between L'Enfant and Pentagon City" due to a sick passenger.

If this had never happened before, I would be a bit more patient.

However, just the other week, I also had serious delays when commuting to work in the morning because of a "single-tracking due to a sick passenger."

What strikes me as a bit odd is that
a) this happens all of the time
b) why the single-tracking? I have heard the "sick passenger" fairly frequently in the past, but the "single-tracking" due to a sick customer seems to be new.

I have lived in St. Petersburg, Russia, spent a considerable amount of time in London, and have visited countless cities with metro systems. Never ONCE in all my memory do I recall delays in any of these places due to a "sick passenger."

And there are far more people riding on these systems than on Metro in DC.

Please explain to me how "sick passengers" don't seem to be an issue in other places, but cause half-hour (minimum) delays on Metro?

Does Metro just have a really poor procedure for dealing with sick passengers, or is Metro just making up this excuse to avert blame?

Do we have confirmed sightings of these "sick passengers?"

Again, I'm willing to accept that people do get sick on Metro, and that there may, from time to time, be a minor delay (and maybe rarely a major delay) but this is at least a weekly occurrence here in D.C.

Something has to be up...
Other items:
Metro is hiring a deputy chief spokesperson (LinkedIn)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rider Hall of Shame: Business Class


Via Facebook


Via Brandon


Via Ken


Via Ashley


Via Joe


From Timothy: Are these the new Business Class seats on the Orange Line?

Complete Rider Hall of Shame

Monday, November 14, 2011

Union Work Rules Add to Overtime (Ab)Use


That Metro uses (some would say abuses) overtime (OT) is old news, but now that there's an official report, the Post is all over it.

A good chunk of the OT is the result of NTSB recommendations that Metro get the system fixed and Metro's subsequent scrambling to act after decades of being asleep at the wheel.

But a lot of the problems associated with heavy OT use, such as fatigue, could be avoided, Metro sources say.

According to them, there is tremendous waste.

A major source of waste?

Union work rules.

Remember how union work rules interfere with the efficient maintenance and upkeep of the escalators? Many of the same issues effect the amount of OT Metro "needs" to use to repair the rest of the system.

For example, if OT job X requires a team comprised of two workers proficient at task A, two workers proficient at task B and one proficient at task C, the union contract with Metro limits Metro's ability to ensure those workers with those skills actually arrive at the work location to do the job.

Seniority--nothing else--determines who shows up, say the three workers we talked to. The work that needs to be done is secondary, if it is considered at all.

It all adds up to delays and more OT.

"They just go from the [seniority] list when assigning work," said one Metro worker. "You're not getting the best or right people in the right situations to get the job done."

The source said it's not uncommon for workers to show up to a job location with people only proficient at one task--not necessarily the task that needs to get done.

"There's no continuity," they said. "At every OT job location you have different people, different skills."

Another worker added to that.

"A lot of the time, the OT is 'necessary' because the job didn't get done right the first time," they said.

They added that a lot of the time it's because people who don't know what to do because they are not qualified to do the work that needs to be done or don't speak English well enough to understand what needs to be done.

"The ones who know how to do the job end up doing it all while others stand around," the source said. "We don't have the time to teach them how to do it."

Lack of coordination by Metro is another reason there's so much OT.

Workers on an OT shift often show up at an OT work site not knowing what has been done before they get there. There's no systematic way of documentation, sources say.

"We spend a lot of time figuring out what has been done and what's left to do," said one source.

That's if they're actually able to work at all.

Sources said that often there are no tools or radios available, so they have to sit around and wait.

But there's another reason causing more sitting around, all the while collecting OT pay.

"There's no coordination between departments, so if the Track Department needs to get in to a work area, another team working on something else will get bumped and end up sitting around and do nothing."

It happens all the time said another source who said they'd actually worked about half the time during their last OT shift.

Will Metro change its use of OT?

Will the union protest management's "abuse" of workers?

What's the solution?
(from the Post article)

“It will require having more people on the payroll if you’re going to have less hours of work from people when they shouldn’t be working,” [Board member Mort] Downey said.

Where will the cash-strapped agency find the money for new hires?

“We’ll figure it out,” Downey said.

I'll give you one guess as to what that means.

There's more to the OT situation at Metro, including insight into both the union's and management's addiction to it. You can read about it in this excellent post by a retired Metro worker. Here's an excerpt:
...Sadly, many employees come to rely on OT just to pay their bills. OT in Automatic Train Control (ATC) has been somewhat cyclical over the years. When there wasn’t enough to go around (for some employees there’s never enough) people would start to squabble and fight over it. Some would go so far as to break into a field office and alter the OT ledger so that it would appear as though they hadn’t received as many assignments as their coworkers!
Other items:
Metro closing National Airport stop on weekend before Thanksgiving (WMATA)
Passenger shot on Metrobus (NBC4)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

They're Baaaaaack




From anonymous:
Illegal parking at Huntington has been going on for some time. I recall Metro Transit Police were going to look into it. Guess not.
Remember the uproar this video caused, along with Metro promises to crack down on the practice?

Looks like that lasts about 6 months.

Is illegal parking by Metro employees back at your station?

Other items:
Boy survives impact with Metrobus (NBC)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Healthcare Fraud at Metro Under the Microscope


Unsuck DC Metro has learned that Metro, along with ATU 689, has hired an outside contractor to conduct a massive, first-time-ever audit of thousands of current and former Metro workers and their dependents in the hopes or rooting out what is believed to be alarming abuse of Metro healthcare, done largely by adding ineligible people to the plan.

"Although we believe the majority of our enrolled dependents meet our eligibility requirements, there may be some instances when a member mistakenly covers an ineligible dependent," reads the document that was sent to ATU 689 members.

One source we talked to said they knew an employee who openly boasted about having relatives on his plan who should not have been. Another employee, according to the source, said he had an ex-wife and her new family on the plan.

Apparently, and unsurprisingly, Metro has been very lax in updating dependent/spouse information.

One worker we talked to said that every year he gets a letter from the plan asking him if anything has changed in his family situation. The worker, who is divorced, said the year he got divorced he made sure his ex-wife was taken off the plan. But it was all done on an honor system, and he could have easily left her on the plan, and no one would have checked, he said.

"No one is cross checking with public records," they said.

Another source, recently retired from working at Metro headquarters, said:
It doesn't surprise me that HR never bothered to check paperwork on dependents for health insurance. But to give HR a break, the Local 689 healthcare was not administered very much by them, but by the union's own Health and Welfare Office who signed people up and then passed the bill on to Metro. In retrospect, it now occurs to me that the unions didn't have a reason to adequately police the rolls of the insured because some of their members would be getting something extra from big, mean and oh-so-profitable Metro.
Another source said it was commonly known that Health and Welfare office would turn a blind eye to questionable documents regarding dependents.

I called Secova, the outside entity conducting the audit, and was told "some bad apples have spoiled the pie; there were instances of employees claiming brothers and sisters as dependent children."

Two other Metro sources we talked to confirmed health insurance abuse is believed to be widespread.

"There's an ongoing joke around here that some employees will adopt every niece and nephew to load them onto the health insurance," wrote one Metro employee. His sentiments were echoed by another source.

However, one former union president believes the audit is a waste of time.

Mike Golash wrote the following in an email:
This has never been done before, mainly because it was felt to be unnecessary. When an employee is hired he has to document his dependents to get them on the plan. I am sure there are occasions when an employee fails to report a divorce in a timely way or the death of a child or spouse but I have never known of any cases of fraud.

Metro is trying to save money on the cost of health insurance. They feel the audit will do this. I am willing to bet that the cost of the audit will be greater than any money saved by it.

I received the letter. It told me I had to produce a marriage certificate and my 1040 form. I have been married 40 years and have no idea where my marriage certificate it, so it is somewhat of an inconvenience.
The recently retired source, who is very familiar with Metro's finances and auditing processes didn't think the audit would make any difference.
Don't expect much [to come from the audit]! If the problem is too big, it'll be swept under the rug for fear of antagonizing Local 689. My guess is that they'll make an example of a couple of mechanics to show some effort and then it will go back to business as usual, hoping that the public will be more interested in screwed-up elevators than in girlfriends' kids on the Metro health insurance dime.
Sounds like pretty much the way Metro handles everything.

(Here's a list of the contributions employees make the the various plans, along with Metro's contribution.)

Other items:
Examiner picks up RAC story
 
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