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Assessing Performance

I've gotten some answers to your questions about performance during the storm. I've got to say, all in all, it seems like most people had limited gripes. There were a few real difficulties -- mostly on Metro and in the District -- but overall I've heard fewer complaints than I would have expected. Let's get to the ones I did here:

OrangeLineHater wrote:

"The Orange Line this week has been unbearable. WMATA lists 10 minute delays on their Web site ... um, try 1 hour, 15 minutes to get from McPherson Square to W. Falls Church last night. And another hour this morning. Why can't they be honest about the delays?

I can understand that the trains would be slower because of the problems at Federal Triangle, but how about some 8-car trains for the Orange Line? I waited out three trains last night before I was able to squeeze onto one for the interminable and uncomfortable ride home.

Speaking of uncomfortable, during these type of far-from-normal weather events, would it be possible for Metro to station Transit Police or whomever on the platforms to prevent the ridiculous over-crowding? A train operator screaming on the PA system does little good.

Again, it comes back to an unfathomable lack of communication from Metro."

Metro has promised to improve communications and be more accurate about delays following a torrent of complaints this week. Specifically, managers have pledged to revamp the way e-mail alerts go out so that all riders will get them for ongoing events and also to change the way delays are posted on their Web site. This was a particular gripe on Tuesday morning, when the website reported no delays through most of the morning while angry riders contacted me to complain about jammed platforms and waiting for half-a-dozen trains to pass before they could get on one. After I asked Metro about it, they changed their site to say there were delays of about 10 minutes, which prompted more angry e-mails and calls. Metro said they will manually update the site in the future to more accurately reflect reality.

On the 8-car trains, Metro said they did run them. And there were police on some platforms, though not all.

Longtime Metro Rider had a couple thoughts about that:

"Arlington, I sympathize with what you describe in terms of the crowded trains you were on on Monday. Since 9/11, Metro has had more workers on some of the platforms in some places, such as Metro Center, but I don't count on them for much. With a few exceptions, they don't give off much of a vibe of wanting to help the customers. I don't see them as authority figures who would do much to help control crowds on a platform. I do occasionally hear them saying sharply to customers on the platfrom, "step back, doors ARE closing." Well, yeah, the ding dong already tells us that."

Ffx took issue with Metro's claims of success:

"From Metro's web site detailing yesterday's (6/26) service: 'Percentage of rail customers who experienced no delay: 97.42 percent'

I guess I was among the unlucky 2.58% who did experience a delay yesterday?

Where the hell did they get 97.42%?!?!?!"

That number jumps out at you doesn't it? On a day when two stations were flooded and much of the system was hobbled, Metro trumpets the figure that 97.42 percent of people had no trouble at all. Well, as it turns out, not really. (Duh.) Metro measures percentages according to whether trains arrive at stations on time according to schedules, not whether people were able to get on those trains or make it to their final destinations. Using their method, trains that never arrived because stations were closed because of flooding were not included in that number, nor were the people who waited over an hour to actually board a train. Interim General Manager Dan Tangherlini has pledged to change Metro's calculations to better reflect what people experience. (Kind of makes you wonder what sort of misery those 2.58 percent must have endured.)

MD wrote:

"I was horrified and stressed and about to lose it last night when it took me 1.5 hours to go 5 miles in Tysons, and NOT ONCE was this area mentioned on the traffic reports. There was a line to get out of the parking lot of my office on Rte. 7. It was horrible."

Yikes. I get a lot of complaints about poor traffic reports. One of the odd consequences of worsening traffic in this region is worsening traffic reports. You'd think as demand for this information increases, so would its quality. But the reality seems to be that reports have gotten worse because it's nearly impossible to track all the delays and then cram them into a quick radio segment. It's frustrating, especially when the reports run through all the usual backups. You know how it goes -- backups from Newington to the Occoquan, etc, etc. That said, it's hard to blame them for not catching every backup, delay and jam this week when almost every road had problems.

By Washington Post Editors  |  June 30, 2006; 11:32 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Report Card
Next: Don't Block the Metro Box


At a certain level of inclement weather, or in the event of terrorist attack, it's pretty clear that Metro is the wrong transportation choice, no matter where you are going. Perhaps it's time Metro accepts this and starts communicating a sort of "system code red" message when they are really in trouble, to let people with flexibility know to stay away altogether.

I'm sure Metro is under an immense amount of pressure not to stop service from local business and govt. So if this isn't feasible, perhaps it's worth creating a public way to have RIDERS communicate this.

Wouldn't it be nice to hear Lisa Baden say something like, "Metro reports 10 min delays on the Orange Line, but I've got a TON of riders calling in with Code Reds"? Why don't the radio stations take the lead for those of us that listen while we get ready in the morning?

(Riders could also set up an internet forum, but it wouldn't capturethe info from people who are currently in the station).

Posted by: Arrrlington | June 30, 2006 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Also, Steven, it seems like a lot of the traffic communication system broke down b/t police and the media (and some Internet sites that communicate delays). It might be worth having them do a review (via one of your probing articles!) on why THEY think it broke down. We can all talk about why WE thought it broke down, but it would be nice to hear how they feel they performed.

Posted by: Arrrlington | June 30, 2006 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Arrrlington is correct in saying Metro might be the wrong choice under certain circumstances. Unfortunately, it becomes even trickier when you throw tourists into the mix alongside commuters.

The situation on Monday was made worse by the fact that so many tourists joined us commuters in trying to get on the trains at Courthouse, Rosslyn, etc. I felt like saying, hey, stay in your hotels until after we get to work. But, of course, they have a right to go sightseeing. Unfortunately, they lack context on when to head for the Metro. Most of them probably hadn't been following the news closely. Nor could they know how little it takes to overwhelm Metrorail. Of course, there are maddening differences in how well the PA systems work at stations -- some, such as Pentagon and Rosslyn seem to work pretty well, others, such as Courthouse and Ballston are pretty useless.

For commuters, what are the alternatives, then? I remember walking home to Rosslyn from the Federal Triangle area on the day of the Air Florida crash. That was the day in 1982 when DC was hit by a snowstorm, a fatal Metro accident at the Smithsonian station, and the airliner crash. Unfortunately, not everyone who uses Metro is healthy enough to do a 90 minute or 2-hour walk in an emergency situation.

The Federal government and most private sector employers being open on Monday and requiring us to be on the job, how then to get to work? Some of the people who live in close-in suburbs don't have cars (proximity to Metro is one reason they chose to live there in the first place.) The buses in North Arlington aren't equipped to pick up all the riders who have to bail on Metro.

So, options are kinda limited.

And there's an additional wrinkle (no pun intended). As the population ages, we're going to see more and more people who once drove but no longer feel able to, due to failing eyesight and other issues. How are they going to get around, especially during the day after younger relatives who work early-starting schedules have headed off to work? Given the debates we've read about who uses the seats intended for seniors and others with needs, will they be able to get a seat on Metro, especially if Metro takes out some of the seats to pack more people in? Yikes.

I tend to think Metro somewhat is the victim of its own success. Transportation officials have been encouraging people to rely on public transportation for years. But look at the Orange Line on a day when the Nationals or Redskins are playing! Jam packed!

For one reason or another, Metro may be facing an increasing expectations gap in terms of service. I think Dan Tangherlini is headed in the right direction with his attempts to improve communications; let's see what Metro learned from all this!

Posted by: Longtime Metro Rider | July 1, 2006 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Hi - obnoxious copy-editing comment here. Could you maybe take up the convention that multi-paragraph quotes get a " mark at the beginning of each paragraph? It would make it a lot easier to see where a commenter's words leave off and yours begin.

Posted by: h3 | July 3, 2006 10:32 AM | Report abuse

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