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Complaints on Monday's Metro Disruption

I've gotten a couple of complaints today from riders affected by Monday afternoon's service disruption on the Orange and Blue lines downtown, and I'm wondering if any of you had similar experiences. The writers are complaining about a lack of information, as well as about the disruption itself, which followed a report of smoke in the tunnel between Federal Triangle and Smithsonian.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

It is rush hour, 6:30 p.m. on a Monday, a large and restless crowd is on the platform at Metro Center downstairs. For almost 15 minutes no information displays on the monitors, no trains pass by (4 the other way), no announcements of any sort and the Manager loitering on the platform knows nothing.

Even better, he informs a concerned customer that he has no way to communicate with the office - no radio, only shoes for walking there. Good thing there wasn't an emergency or a mob scene down there. Train showed up and Metro just moseys along.

Peter Levine

And a variation on those themes ...

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Yesterday, 2/26/07, @ about 3:10 I went through the turnstile at Eastern Market to board a train to L'Enfant Plaza. After several minutes, passengers were told that due to an incident at the Smithsonian station, service had been suspended to Federal Center and L'Enfant Plaza for the foreseeable future.

The station manager on duty did not know what to do to void my entrance to Eastern Market. I exited the Eastern Market Station and took a taxi to my destination. I'm out $1.35 for Metro service not rendered.

Barry Bellinger

By Robert Thomson  |  February 27, 2007; 2:01 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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Cry me a river Barry.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | February 27, 2007 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Wow, Arlington. Are you serious? It may seem like a $1.35 to you because you are not factoring the cost of a cab (to do what Metro could not) and the inconvenience of the situation. Metro has a long history of not fixing simple customer service issues unless there is a large public outcry.

Posted by: Bethesda | February 27, 2007 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Argh, you'd think there'd be a way to do that, turn around and such -- shouldn't the machine read the card as coming the same station and charge you nothing, or is this some complexity of Metro I'm missing?

(Or maybe at least just read the SmarTrip cards for turnarounds?)

Posted by: About Barry's tale.... | February 27, 2007 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Yes, it was pretty bad, but I suppose it could have been worse. Allegedly, there was no service from 4 to 5 p.m., but when I approached the platform at 5, there did not seem to be a lot of people. That changed pretty quicklky, though. One of the uglier days of recent memory.

Posted by: YesItWasPrettyBad | February 27, 2007 3:00 PM | Report abuse

You think you have problems? Took me over 4 hours to get to work yesteday on the MARC Camden line. There was no snow or ice either.

I left my apartment at 7:20 for the 7:49 that had mechanical problems (we heard a vague announcement at about 8:00). It was delayed several times before they cancelled it. Then they said the 8:40 was going to "couple" to the broken train (there were people on this broken train). It too would be delayed. It was a 10 minute delay that turned into a 20 minute delay which turned into a 30 minute delay! After that nonsense at Savage and the fact that I had to go to the bathroom (there is none at Savage), I left at 9:20 and drove to Odenton where at 10:00 they announced that the 10:12 train would be 20 minutes late. I got to my office at 11:30.

Posted by: Columbia, MD | February 27, 2007 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, there are no refunds once you enter the station. And, sure, the amount is small, but that doesn't make it right. If a person enters and exits the same station within a short period, there should be no charge to the smartrip or the fare card. There's no excuse for Metro to provide no information about delays outside the station, but then still to charge customers who come in anyway, expecting a prompt trip.

(Isn't there already a timer on even the plain cards so people don't use two cards for longer trips and use the same one to exit/enter at each end of the trip?)

Posted by: ah | February 27, 2007 3:23 PM | Report abuse

The scene on the Orange/Blue Line yesterday was made worse by a) no relevant information from any Metro official and b) over-crowding at the McPherson Square stop to the point that they had to block the turnstile and allow the crowd to thin-out on the platform.

My wife called to tell me about the delays and I tried getting info before I left my office only to find the Metro Web site slowed to a crawl and rendered unusable.

Really makes you wonder what would happen in a "real" emergency. Kinda scary.

Posted by: Blue Line | February 27, 2007 3:25 PM | Report abuse

1)why is it so difficult (read: impossible) for Metro to get that information to customers BEFORE they go through the faregates? Every time (and it happnes so very often) I've had a delay, the message boards outside the gates are telling me about elevator outages: BFD. Hello- if the technology is too complicated for Metro, how about a chalkboard on an easel, like any restaurant can manage with their specials?
2)I'm a MARC Penn customer, where the problems are much the same: they KNOW it will be an X minute delay, but they'll [lie and] minimize by half, or more. If they somehow don't know the exact delay, they could instead say, "At minimum an X minute delay" or "X:00 at the absolute latest"- but they don't do that.
3)and both systems give the "We're sorry for any inconvenience." No, they're not. "Sorry" would mean a free trip- not idle words.

Posted by: Same old, same old | February 27, 2007 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Columbia, why didn't you just drive in at that point?

For Barry's comment. I feel you, I've lost a lot of money because of a Metro foul up. We'd put $20 on a paper card for my cousin. We couldn't get him a SmartTrip card as the machines were down, and all I had was a $20 and didn't want to carry tons of change or use the credit card because the machine seemed to have been tampered with. Just didn't look right to me.

So four of us go on the train into DC with cousin. Go have some fun, eat, hang out, etc. Cousin, not knowing the system, decides to follow closely behind my girlfriend's brother because he'd seen us go back-to-back with SmartTrip (got the timing down finally). Well, he tried to leave Vienna and the card got stuck. Wouldn't let him out and the only way to correct the card is to go to Metro Center during regular business hours. I work in Tyson's.

Does Metro really think they are doing anyone any favors at this point, or is there going to have to be some major scare for them to realize that they need to shape up. All it takes is one more major disaster with Metro in the next year or so and they are going to plummet because enough people have lost faith.

Posted by: Jarrod | February 27, 2007 3:27 PM | Report abuse

I was a stalwart Metro defender for years. I have now had it and, even though I live in Dupont, I am car shopping. I have spent more time on the Red line platform in the past three weeks--both waiting for trains that do not come and then not being able to get on the trains that do--than in the past year put together. We rarely know what happens. It should not take over an hour to go four stops on the Red line. I left the platform to catch a taxi myself last week, cursing the $1.35 lost (it's the principle!) as much as the time.

Posted by: fed up | February 27, 2007 3:49 PM | Report abuse

I didn't drive because for starters, I believed the announcement when they said 10 minutes! It would have taken me just as long (as the drive and wait at Odenton) since it was the middle/tail end of rush hour, and remember schools had a two hour delay in MD.

Driving to downtown DC during the week is not something I've done before, so I'm sure I would have gotten lost. Plus -- I would have had to pay for parking (and where?)! And then have the horrors of driving back during rush hour. Yes, I could have driven to Greenbelt, but again I'd have to pay for parking and the metro to Farag Norht when I've already paid for my MARC ticket.

I was just venting! Some people don't realize how good they have it sometimes. :0)

Posted by: Columbia, MD | February 27, 2007 4:10 PM | Report abuse

On the $1.35 the easiest is to just walk out the swinging gate and the next time you get just walk up to the station manager and in a polite voice explain what has happened and they will let you in through the swinging gate and you don't end up paying. 15 years of dealing with late trains and I've never had a station manager try to charge me for it. Please think for yourself, Metro has a difficult enough job running the trains without having to provide adult daycare.

Posted by: JJ | February 27, 2007 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Honestly, my hatred for Metro just builds by the day. Yesterday I waited 45 minutes to board a train. This was the third time in so many weeks that there was a major disruption in Metro and there was no/insufficient information. And the announcer always says "We regret any inconvenience." Oh really? Then how about not charging me rush hour rates when I just waited an hour to board an overcrowded, impossibly slow train that will just break down in a few stops anyway (another incident I experienced this winter). The whole purpose of mass transit is to transport people. If you cannot even do that, what am I paying for?

Posted by: Woodbridge Commuter | February 27, 2007 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Given that it is 2007, the SmartTrip system needs to be enabled so that a trip can be canceled from the card if the trip is not taken. This should happen at the point where I want to cancel my trip by walking back out of the station. (I believe one possible way to have a trip canceled from the card is to email WMATA; they will look up the trip, see that it was not taken, then -- what, mail a fare card for $1.35? Bunk.) For yesterday's smoke fracas and the trip cancellations caused by the recent rail accident at the Convention Center, Metro cleaned up, taking in lots of money for trips that were not completed. Metro cleaned up by keeping fares, collecting more money from those who went back outside and boarded a bus, and who, like me, had to take a cab and never got on board a Metro vehicle. In response to JJ's puerile comment, I say that it is WMATA's responsibility to take care of its paying customers fairly and safely and that, as such, has nothing to do with adult day care.

Posted by: PKP | February 27, 2007 5:01 PM | Report abuse

I had a similar experience with Metro not giving proper information about train status and had to leave the station. I was charged the base fare at the time. Metro said that it had rendered a service the moment I put the farecard into the faregate. I told them that I do not come into a Metro station to look at tracks. I received a fare coupon to use for a one-way trip from central customer service. As I do not ride Metro often, I could not use it before it expired.

I don't expect adult daycare, but I do expect customer service when I have to pay money.

Posted by: To JJ and Barry | February 27, 2007 5:07 PM | Report abuse

I think for most of us, the frustration with Metro comes from the lack of communication. Yes, we live in a post-9/11 world where all suspicious situations (i.e. smoke, packages) must be addressed as if they were the real deal. But Metro, PLEASE communicate these situations more effectively and specifically with your customers. Last night, after the alert that Fed Triangle and Smithsonian stations were closed, it would have been helpful to know the extent and nature of the delays.

Posted by: Blue Liner | February 27, 2007 5:26 PM | Report abuse

I don't agree that you can just leave the station through the gate, and then come back the next day and everything is ok. Every time I do this, they take my pass, and swipe it through. So I do get charged. They are not going to just let you in for free the next day, unless you are a woman or if you are black. Then you get special privileges.

The other thing that is maddening about metro is when there are significant delays, you still pay rush hour fare. So I boarded a train at like 9 one morning. I arrived at my destination at 11. Rush hour fare. Thanks.

Posted by: Cliff | February 27, 2007 5:46 PM | Report abuse

To Jarrod:
When the card your cousin had would not let him out, it most likely was because he didnt pass it through to enter, as you stated he entered right behind others in your party, a la smart card style, with a paper card. Well, to fix that, all you have to do is walk over to and go reach around to the entrance gates, putting the card in from that way and taking it back, then exiting. That way your card has been "marked" or whatever in the appropriate sequence. I've done this for people in my party who had messed up their entrance, and it worked like a charm. When you understand how the cards work, there's no mysticism involved (save for demagnetized cards, which are the bane of all wallet carriers.)

Smart trip doesnt give you a free exit if you dont take the trip. I tried that at DCA one time. After exiting the platform thru the gates, I wanted to walk to the other side, as I was looking for a friend and did NOT want to walk alll the way down , into, and through the airport to get to the other side. So I took a chance...and lost money. For my walk from one side of the platform to the other, I was charged 1.35. Lesson learned.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | February 27, 2007 5:55 PM | Report abuse

You can drive from Glenmont to Dupont in 35 mins in an average rush hour...40ish to get to 14th in Independence....parking costs a buck an hour at the meters and 15 bucks if you know where to go for a good garage and 22 if you dont...I havent taken Metro in 2 years and wonder why anybody still does.

Posted by: 20902 | February 27, 2007 6:06 PM | Report abuse

To address ah's comment about paper cards "timing out", yes, it is true that the cards time out. I forget if it is 4 hours or 6 hours after you enter the system.

As a rail fan, I once spent a day riding the entire Metro system (yes, I was bored out of my mind that day), and found myself stuck inside the system some 8 and a half hours after I entered at the same station. Station manager just shook his head when I told him what I did...he kept my $1.35 farecard and let me out through the swing gate.

Posted by: Rail Fan | February 27, 2007 11:20 PM | Report abuse

Remember we need to give Metro more money to expand transit because . . . well be cause we have to.

Posted by: Stick | February 28, 2007 7:20 AM | Report abuse

When I tried to do that (reenter at that station) with the paper card, it wouldn't let me do it. The machine told me to see a station manager. Believe me, I try everything I can think of before asking the station manager.

As for not getting your $1.35 back and not get a service, think if just 1,000 people were inconvenienced and didn't ask for their money back. That's $1,350 Metro just made for free. Figure that probably 10,000 people a month are inconvenienced (is this not a reasonable number public friends?) that's $13,500 a month which equals $162,000/year. I think we just figured out how Catoe is getting his raise. I wish I could defraud people into giving me that much money every year!

Posted by: Jarrod | February 28, 2007 9:50 AM | Report abuse

how i wish that one day, everyone who normally rides metro would just stay off the trains and buses. just stay home, work from home if possible or else just stay out, let metro spin its wheels for 24 hours. perhaps the lost revenue would get the attention of those who run the system and dont care about those stuck riding it.

Posted by: Feb 27 | February 28, 2007 10:17 AM | Report abuse

My big concern about Monday is that the station manager didn't have a radio and was thus out of the loop during what could have been a major crisis. With all the 9-11 money that every other utility and agency in the District has spent on communication, why is it that Metro hasn't done something as simple as purchase radios or install some other way for station manager to be updated on these disruption

Posted by: ECoates | February 28, 2007 11:49 AM | Report abuse

**how i wish that one day, everyone who normally rides metro would just stay off the trains and buses. just stay home, work from home if possible or else just stay out, let metro spin its wheels for 24 hours. perhaps the lost revenue would get the attention of those who run the system and dont care about those stuck riding it**

How do we put this together! Anyone ever used the web to do this sort of thing? If you post at least a starting place, I am so willing to help!!!

Posted by: merzydoats | February 28, 2007 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Jarrod: Cousin, not knowing the system, decides to follow closely behind my girlfriend's brother because he'd seen us go back-to-back with SmartTrip (got the timing down finally).

Are you saying you cheat the system with SmartTrip, and your cousin got caught trying it with his fare card?

Posted by: huh? | February 28, 2007 12:52 PM | Report abuse

To huh, when using SmarTrip cards, you don't have to wait for the gates to close and can piggy-back making it faster. That's one of the advantages of SmarTrip. Like the good Dr. Gridlock himself, it's taken some time to get the timing down right (usually as the person in front hits the gates), you can swipe your card and go through. It's a nice feature, when it works. Otherwise, watch the midsection.

Posted by: Jarrod | March 1, 2007 10:04 AM | Report abuse

To Everyone posting comments on this blog...Suggestion:
Copy & Paste your comments onto WMATA's comment section. I know this may seem a waste of time, but everytime I experience what all of you have gone through, I post it on their website. I always get a response, maybe not what I want to hear, but it gets their attention. I have been taking the Orange line Vienna/Metro Center for almost a year & everyday I'm disgusted with them. I don't know how we could all impact Metro significantly but something has to be done. I esp like Jarrod comments along with the rest of you but somehow we must take ACTION. Any suggestions?

Posted by: GDA | March 1, 2007 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Cliff: What kind of privileges do you get from being a woman or being black that I dont know about?

Posted by: Kamantha | March 1, 2007 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Also when you have to wait on delays with the train system and you have to catch a bus after that it messes you up.

I have had that happen to me. And ended up waiting 40 mins for the next bus at RI Ave station.

Posted by: Kamantha | March 1, 2007 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Metrorail is impossible to use unless you are a tourist with lavish free time.

If you have deadlines and appointments, forget it.

Posted by: abdul rahim | March 1, 2007 5:22 PM | Report abuse

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