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Depending on escalators

Bethesda Station leads my list for complaints about busted escalators. They used to be about the long ones between the street and the mezzanine, but now they are about the two between the platform and the mezzanine. One is undergoing a long-term -- very long term -- rehabilitation and is scheduled to be back on June 25. The other is turned off to serve as a staircase so people can walk up or down.

Bethesda is a very heavily used station, so there's lots of crowding to get on and off that one escalator. People get angry, especially at rush hour. There's a long line of riders on the platform waiting to go up, then another train pulls in and some of those passengers don't go to the end of the line. It's bound to get nasty.

Yes, people should behave better. But the underlying problem is that the transit authority, which always tells us it's the most escalator-dependent transit system there is, needs to act as though it depends on its escalators. For Metrorail to work, the escalators have to work.

Is relief on the way? Post reporter Ann Scott Tyson writes Wednesday that a Metro consultant is going to spend the next several weeks assessing Metro's escalator system, paying specific attention to chronic problems at Woodley Park, Bethesda, Dupont Circle and Foggy Bottom.

I like the idea that Metro is focusing its attention. The problems are widespread. This morning, I count 68 escalators and elevators out of service. See Metro's list of stopped elevators/escalators. But this shouldn't be an insurmountable difficulty. Start by attacking chronic problems at heavily-used stations.

The problems are mostly with the equipment, but they are also with the communications about the equipment. Metro needs to inspire public confidence that it can deal with both issues. Metro board member Jim Graham, who also represents Ward 1 on the D.C. Council, highlighted that last week.

During the board's meeting, he noted that it became obvious several years ago that escalators were out of service for months and riders had no idea when they'd be back in operation. Metro marked the elevators and escalators with yellow banners listing when the equipment was due back in service. He cited the recent example of a Columbia Heights Station escalator that bore what he described as a tattered banner referring to repair dates in 2009.

"Can you please assure me that you're going to get a handle on this issue?" he said to General Manager Richard Sarles. "We know that elevators and escalators do break down, but we need to communicate with our riders and other stakeholders clearly and efficiently." Woodley Park is now notorious for the problems associated with the escalator, Graham said.

Sarles said the problem at Columbia Heights -- both the sign and the escalator -- has been fixed. More generally, he said, Metro is reorganizing to hold specific groups of employees more accountable for with regard to service at specific stations.

Also, he said, "We've brought in an outside expert to evaluate -- specifically using Woodley Park and a few other stations, like Bethesda, as examples -- the maintenance effort that's been underway there, including routine maintenance as well as rehabilitation, whether that's adequate, whether the standards we have are adequate, and to make recommendations where we can have improvements over and above what our staff is doing."

Graham: "I think this long ago reached the point where if this is not done we need to take some kind of action against those employees who are responsible for doing it. The message has been very clearly sent, it should have been reinforced by staff, and at this point, if people are not doing it, there needs to be some action in terms of their record or other disciplinary action so that people get the message that this is an important aspect of our customer relations as well as our operations."

Yes, Sarles responded, we will hold people accountable. But he also said that the signs he's seen at the escalators generally have had the appropriate information about return to service dates.

Are you seeing what the general manager is seeing? Let me know if you see out of service escalators and elevators lacking information -- or up to date information -- about what's wrong and when they'll be fixed.

By Robert Thomson  | June 2, 2010; 9:20 AM ET
Categories:  Metro, Transportation Politics  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail  
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How long are these escalators? Couldn't Metro ask Obama for some stimulus money to build some emergency stairs? Maybe a ladder? A temporary fence to control the lines like we see at airport security?

Posted by: seraphina21 | June 2, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Copying my comment from the original blog:

When I commuted on the Metrorail, the thing that I hated about escalator outages was that people think they're entitled to use both sides of a stopped escalator regardless of the presence people going in the other direction. That is, if a train pulls in, people stream up the stopped escalator in two lines and they don't care if people might want to go DOWN that escalator. That's fine if an escalator is merely stopped and there is another one available for people going the other way (although I recall encountering situations where both escalators would be stopped, but still open as stairs, so people would try to monopolize both of them), but if there is only ONE escalator serving as a set of stairs for people going in BOTH directions it's a much bigger problem. Some of the people going the wrong way get downright uppity about not wanting to move over, too....I always thought I ought to carry a full-sized golf umbrella for use as a battering ram.

Posted by: 1995hoo | June 2, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: In Wednesday's Metro tally, I see these lowlights. Two of the long escalators at Dupont Circle, at the Q Street entrance, are out. Five escalators are listed as out at Farragut North. Three are out at Gallery Place, Metro Center and Tenleytown and four are out at Van Ness.

The problem that 1995hoo describes is all too common. Metro riders make the same assumption that drivers do when drivers encounter an intersection where the traffic signals are dark. If most traffic is going my way, I must have the right of way. Metro riders assume that if most people are walking their way, the entire escalator must be for them.

Many of the stopped escalators are not busted. If one in a bank of two is busted or under long-term rehabilitation, Metro usually will turn off the other one so it serves as a staircase. (That's happening in Bethesda, among other places.) It's not a good solution, but it's the only one Metro has in the current setup.

Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | June 2, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Very easy solution: eliminate escalators between the train platform and the mezzanine. And focus manpower and money on maintaining the longer escalators and elevators. I took the subway in Manhattan seven times this weekend and took two escalators, today I'll ride eight just to and from work.

Posted by: ams1500 | June 2, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

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