Rant: Metro Sucks (a quickie)


After reading the following post, I became somewhat infuriated at how the writer glosses over the major reasons why we consider some public transportation good and some transportation bad.

Pitingolo writes his friend who says (paraphrasing) DC is a transit rich area, so what are we complaining about?
My response: I agree that DC is a transit rich area. I do not believe the transit available meets the demands of the public (or even majority of public). We have buses, highways, main byways, a subway system, light rail system, major rail system, water taxis, and regular taxis that service the area. But where the “rich transit” falls short is that no one can use them efficiently. Very few are 24-hour service – limiting its use and pushing people to use cars/private transport. Our subway has not received an approval of safety from the NTSB.  So although we have a lot of transit, we can’t use a lot of transit because its not efficient, convenient, nor safe.


His next comment kind of frustrated me too:

I think the simple answer to this question is that so many people use it here that there are a whole lot more opportunities to hear from people that don’t like it.

Are there fewer people with internet in Cleveland (where he is comparing DC to)?  The transit agency size/power/complaints should be proportionate to the ridership and customer base.  Cleveland (according to him) has a smaller customer base, so I would expect there to be fewer complaints.  They should probably be proportionately similar, if you can somehow adjust for the increase in awareness since the crash last year.  Also, an increase in complaints could be seen as a decrease in the ability of the agency (like WMATA) to hide its flaws from the consumers.  Every company has flaws, and in general a good PR team can help cover them, but the WMATA appears to have two personalities when it comes to sharing information to the public:

Oversharing: “the train is moving forward” [train moves 3 feet] “the train is moving forward” [train moves another 3 feet], “stand clear, the train is moving forward” – we get it.  The train is moving forward.  Stop telling us EVERY stupid move you’re doing.  We understand you suck at parking the train at the station, announcing doesn’t make it less apparent.

Undersharing: FOIA requests unanswered or have long delays. Metro photography policy wasn’t “cleared up” until this year (btw, you still can’t photograph at pentagon station b/c it is owned by pentagon apparently). Train delays/outtages, etc are always reported too late – or not enough details released.  If something happens on Metro, the local blogs get more reliable information than WMATA tends to release.

Breda control room

Also, Metro IS a newer subway system.  It should have NEWER features.  My complaints about metro range from the “reasonably solvable” to the “pipe dream”:

– 3rd track throughout system (or at minimum between stations) would decrease the effect of an outage or train malfunction on the rest of the system.  When one train goes down, the whole line goes down.  This decreases rider confidence in metro and ultimately leads to lost revenue due to fewer people riding on the same day and maybe residual during the following days

ATC (automatic train control) should be fully functional all the time with backup and “in-case-shit” planning.  Ours deteriorated before metro’s eyes because they refused to do the proper maintenance and scanning.  GIANT Metro fail for this oversight.  This is an infrastructure problem where the technicians didn’t have access to the money for replacement parts, the higher-ups were unaware of the problem, and somewhere in the middle, those middle men were sitting on their hands collecting a paycheck.

– Unsafe trains. WMATA bought trains that are NOT crumple resistant.  This is what primarily contributed to the deaths last year.  Who knows if fewer people would have died if WMATA had the brains to figure “oh, we’ll need trains that can absorb impact, like any other vehicle ANYWHERE”.  The trains up through the 4000 series (I think) were not NTSB approved for small impact/collision. — btw, this doesn’t apply to just huge crashes, the West Falls Church train “bump” led to a multimillion dollar repair.  On top of that, I don’t like the seat configuration of the trains.  They are made for comfort and “luxury”, not moving people – look at the newer NYC trains for a good example of an efficient seat config.

Series 1000 car. Sept 11th

– Lack of transparency. If I knew what metro was doing with my money and what players were being put into action to fix the multitude of problems, I would have fewer issues with metro.  I could sit back and say “oh, well its rough, but I have faith that Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So is working on it, and I can see that”.  I don’t want stupid posters telling me its going to get better, or that metro is working hard. I want to see the damn work.

Metro train!

So, with all my complaints, what are my recommendations? What is my wish list for Metro?

– Transparency garners trust, which fortifies ridership. Be as transparent as you can and the riders will trust you again.  This includes FOIA requests, town hall meetings, and web-chats you host.  Also, get metro higher-ups to RIDE THE SUBWAY.  Last year, a report said that almost all the higher-ups did NOT regularly ride the metro.

– Fix the ATC, and the next batch of trains you order, make sure they are safe (and more efficient while you’re at it)

– Watch your prices. They’re high.  It shouldn’t take me $5 one-way to get into the city.  I go 12 stops and it costs me $10 round trip.  When you include the 70 minute total commute with metro compared with 45 min by car, even with parking fee, the time reclaimed is worth it.  You will lose riders if you keep bumping up your prices.

– New tracks you’re building should be built with backup systems. The purple and silver lines should have a 3rd track and full ATC communication.

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