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Report Card

It looks like we might have made it through the worst of the weather and the commutes (he said with fingers crossed.) So that means it's time to assess how our local transportation departments did. Tell me what you think they did well and where they need to improve. And I will do my best to get answers to any questions y'all have over the next couple of days. I say the next couple of days because many officials are still out there working hard to get everything back in order, so it may take a little time to get answers.

So let 'er rip...

By Washington Post Editors  |  June 28, 2006; 11:54 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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Next: Assessing Performance

Comments

The worst part of the commute was by far in DC where the metro police really failed to provide any useful help. They were not posted at nearly enough traffic lights, would often divert traffic onto roads and then fail to have someone at the next intersection to move people through the dark light. They failed to enforce parking restrictions on the roads they did have open, often blocking much needed lanes of traffic. They really seemed to lack a plan for dealing with this and their presence during the situation was scant. I saw emergency vehicles and even the Vice-President's motorcade have difficulty getting through the traffic because the police failed to recognize where they were needed in order to move traffic along. It's really scarey seeing how difficult it was to move in the city considering there might be a time when we need to evacuate in a timely manner. This was a bad wake-up call.

PS - Do drivers in DC not understand that a dark signal automatically means a four way stop? Metro bus drivers were the most guilty in not following that law during the past week.

Posted by: Sean | June 28, 2006 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Metro - communication is the key. When I boarded the bus at the Smithsonian, I asked the driver if this was the bus going to Metro Center. His reply - "I guess so." We headed up 14th Street, then made a right onto Pennsylvania Avenue. A couple people got off the bus when it was between Freedom Plaza & the Federal Triangle Metro stop. I figured that the driver would head up PA Avenue, then head north up 13th or 12th Street, towards Metro Center. Instead, he turned right down 12th Street, to pull up in front of the Federal Triangle Metro stop. Keep in mind that this station was closed at the time. When I asked him again if the bus was going to Metro Center, he said that he had to check with his supervisor. At that point, I just got off the bus and trekked to my office.

Drivers - it's amazing to me how many people still drive in the rain without their lights on. It's not a matter of seeing in front of you - it's so that we can see your vehicle through the road spray. With regard to non-functioning traffic lights, you practically get run over if you slow down & stop at the intersection, not to mention the horn blowing by the morons. Speaking of which, I left my office last night with a headache from listening to all of the people caught up in traffic around 12th & New York Avenue. People - do you think that laying on your horn is going to make the traffic move any better?

While I'm sure that many people would grumble, I think that drivers should have to take a written exam when renewing their licenses every 5 years. Many new laws have been enacted since we took our exams when we were 16 years old.

Posted by: BK | June 28, 2006 12:49 PM | Report abuse

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.

Posted by: OrangeLineHater | June 28, 2006 1:23 PM | Report abuse

The basic cause of overcrowding on metro is that everyone thinks that there is room on the train for one more person (namely: them) even when their a$# is sticking out on the platform and blocking the door!

Posted by: Anonymous | June 28, 2006 1:59 PM | Report abuse

WaPo ran a good article on the Orange Line overcrowding last year. See
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A54434-2005Apr14.html
and
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A54434-2005Apr14_2.html
What it described was conditions during a "normal" commute. Add problems caused by inclement weather (snowstorm; flooding from record heavy rains; track problems) and it really becomes a mess. I think most riders understand that Metro pretty well is locked into design and route decisions made when the system was planned during the 1960s. (Two track railroad, everything runs through downtown, where most commuters were presumed to be headed in the '60s when plans were formulated.) But it would help if the communication of emerging and ongoing problems were clearer, in form and substance. A text alert stating that there is a "10 minute" delay between Smithsonian and Federal Triangle -- such as I received yesterday afternoon and this morning -- doesn't warn riders that their commuting time may double, that a train may hold at Rosslyn for almost 15 minutes, etc.

Posted by: Longtime Metro rider | June 28, 2006 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Even more frustrating is when a train is holding at a station and the conductor does not say WHY it is happening, or says train will be moving "shortly" or "momentarily" and the train continues to sit 10 min later...what exactly are they doing up there when not driving the train anyway, seems like a few announcements wouldn't tax their resources too much!

Posted by: Anonymous | June 28, 2006 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Metro really needs to do something about train crowding. I'm sure people have already gotten sick or injured from the tightly packed crowds. Metro workers on the platform would be a start. I don't know how you make riders more courteous -- I think even signs aren't enough; you need authority figures in their faces telling them that what they're doing is rude and is causing unnecessary discomfort to others. I'm thinking of the people I saw in the middle of my train car Monday morning who were taking up the space of 2 people by holding their newspapers or books out in front of them so they could read -- while I and many others were crammed in by the doors, almost unable to breathe. Or the 20-somethings who sat blithely while elderly people right next to them struggled to stand.

And as others have mentioned, a better estimate of delay times from Metro would be helpful. As would just plain information about what's going on. Dan T. is doing his best, I'm sure, but it's become very unreliable and unpleasant to ride Metro, even before this debacle.

Posted by: Arlington | June 28, 2006 2:47 PM | Report abuse

On a typical day, we Orange Liners experience overcrowding, conflicting messages from Metro employees, and significant delays between Courthouse and Federal Triangle. So, in some ways, they performed better under this crisis than expected.

The real problem I have is that the system seemed to regress as the week went on. Monday evening, I was surprised they rebounded from the morning's debacle so quickly. But then Tuesday and Wednesday, we seem to be back to their usual uninformative ways. Although I'd like to make allowances for three days of rain, I'm ultimately disappointed. The problems Tuesday and Wednesday were fairly simple...communication, accountability, accuracy. You'd think those things would get better as the crisis wore on, not worse.

Posted by: Arrrlington | June 28, 2006 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Why does the Post traffic map persist in listing "Metro Rail" as the problem when the problem is with commuter rail? Metro Rail means the subway, not any rail in the metro area. This example says it's with the Red Line, but the Red Line is innocent:

3:05 PM 06/28/06 Transit
Metro Rail - Red Line Southbound at Union Station
Delays for rail services. Irregular service: REPORTING THAT ALL BRUNSWICK LINE TRAINS HAVE BEEN **CANCELLED** FOR TODAY. CAMDEN AND PENN LINES ARE RUNNING REGULAR SCHEDULES. CURRENTLY - PENN LINE TRAIN 431 IS 20 MINUTES LATE.

Posted by: Daedalus | June 28, 2006 3:40 PM | Report abuse

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.

As for inside the trains, maybe I'm too pessimistic, but I'm afraid we're stuck with the inherent characteristics of various Metro riders. (Or, in a few cases, the poor parenting done by those who allowed them to grow up to be totally self absorbed adults.) It's the same as any public space (grocery store, parking lot, shopping mall, etc.) Yes, I see some very courteous and gracious people among the regular riders, who try to help others. But day in and day out, I also see incredibly rude and selfish behavior by people who ignore those who clearly need seats more than they do. (Yes, the worst offenders often are 20-somethings.) Or who stretch out across two seats and put their feet, clad in dirty shoes, up on seats meant only for sitting on, etc. Call it a basic lack of consideration. If such people ride the rails during normal conditions, I'm afraid we can expect to see 'em on our trains during events such as Monday, as well. Along with all the usual bad characteristics inherent in their makeup. (See some of John Kelly's online recent chats and columns for some interesting insights on giving up seats to those who need 'em, etc.)

And, of course, the train operators vary in how well they do, also. I've ridden on trains on the Orange Line with operators so good about keeping us informed about what was happening down the line that I actually sent in comments to WMATA to commend them. I want to reinforce that type of behavior, which can mean the difference between a harrowing and a tolerable commute. And I've ridden on trains where lengthy delays and stops and starts are accompanied only by (indifferent) silence from the train operator. With so many variables at play, it really is hit or miss what you're going to encounter on any train or in any car.

Posted by: Longtime Metro Rider | June 28, 2006 3:50 PM | Report abuse

The buses to and from the Pentagon through my neighborhood maintained their schedules throughout the week. The DASH bus system is great, very dependable.

Metro's performance on Monday though was very disappointing. Here was a perfect opportunity to show post - Katrina, etc...that those in charge had actually taken disaster planning seriously, and there was an actual workable plan in place. Its quite obvious that wasn't/isn't the case. We can all agree there isn't anything that can contain a foot of water; stations close and trains have to move more slowly. But that doesn't excuse the complete breakdown in communication between the station/train operators and the riders. Use the intercom, use the signboards and most importantly use a pre-discussed, practiced and vetted plan in case of an emergency. They have to do better and quite frankly I want someone in charge to answer some questions as to why they weren't better prepared. How can I have confidence in the transit system I ride everyday when they can't even handle some standing water? What if it had been a major emergency or an evacuation? Does anyone right now think the DC Metro police and Transit Authority could handle that situation? If not then why not? 5 years after 9/11 and major rainstorm completely shuts down the nation's capitol. Nice job.

Posted by: Parkfairfax | June 28, 2006 4:00 PM | Report abuse

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.

Posted by: MD | June 28, 2006 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps Metro can start raising capital for the new and redesigned cars it needs by taking a cue from the airline: charging double fares for passengers who take up more than one seat width. On any given train during rush hour, at least one third of the passengers on Metro flow well over the halfway point on a two person bench or make trying to squeeze in next to them difficult and digusting. Aside from filling seats, oversized standees (and they tend to congregate by the door) make exiting and entering and moving to the center of the car more difficult. So why not pay more when you are more?

Posted by: Herndon | June 28, 2006 4:09 PM | Report abuse

One thing Metro could improve upon is making sure that all announcements over the station PA systems are made by someone who is articulate, can enunciate, doesn't have the microphone pressed to his/her lips when speaking (thus eliminating the pops and puffs of sound this causes), and doesn't sound as if they are speaking with a mouth full of cotton. Announcements made in the past few days have been of such poor quality that a person has difficulty understanding one word out of two, at best.

I wonder if the most frequent announcer during recent morning and evening rush hours is a 'manager' who thinks he is the only person qualified to make announcements? In my opinion, announcements that are not understandable are even worse than no announcements at all.

Posted by: Mike in Baltimore | June 28, 2006 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Excellent point, Mike in Baltimore. In the online chat he did on Monday, Dan Tangherlini promised to check out issues such as unintelligible station announcements. I hope he actually goes to some of the stations during rush hour and watches the crowds and listens for the announcements. I think some of Metro's communications problems could be resolved if those involved in making decisions about style, format, methodologies, etc., actually put themselves in the position of the harried commuter who is trying vainly to get enough info to assess what's going on!

Posted by: Longtime Metro Rider | June 28, 2006 4:49 PM | Report abuse

This happened a few months back (not sure if the conductor was corrected or fired), but on SEVERAL different mornings on the orange line, as we were pulling into the foggy bottom station, the conductor would announce "Foggy Bottom, first station stop in the district of COLUMBUS" At least he would get the station stop right, but you would think that not knowing the name of the city would raise a red flag!

Posted by: hiyo | June 28, 2006 4:54 PM | Report abuse

My biggest issue wasn't with the transportation departments. I understand that signals will go out, and I understand that a certain portion of drivers will ignore protocol and drive selfishly. Why, however, did the law enforcement agencies not moanage traffic at the dark signals better? I drove through Independence and 14th Streets yesterday at 5:45 pm. There were no police directing traffic at one of the largest intersections in town. The two police "directing" traffic at Independence and 7th were merely standing in the middle of the intersection, giving no guidance at all. It would seem that out of the 30-some odd law enforcement agencies in the District that one of them could provide officers to direct traffic during rush hour. It's embarrassing and worrisome that they can't handle the after effects of a natural disaster such as this.

Posted by: soon to be ex-DC resident | June 28, 2006 5:07 PM | Report abuse

http://www.horizonsignal.com/power_outage.html

How about upgrading the technology and getting some signals that will work in a power outage? They could probably ask for the money from their Homeland Security grant-o wait they already spent that.

Posted by: Tysons | June 28, 2006 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Bridges over Rock Creek - why can NOBODY tell us which ones are open and which ones are closed? Getting crosstown has become quite the adventure.

Posted by: sfw | June 29, 2006 11:15 AM | Report abuse

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