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Taming Tourists: What Commuters Want

Readers often rise up when a writer begins to recite versus: Drivers vs. transit users, drivers vs. pedestrians, regular commuters vs. newbies ...

That's what happened last week when I posted an item about tourist season in DC. Now that the two weeks of cherry blossom festivities and spring breaks have ended, I thought it might be time to reflect on what we've been through and what we'd prefer not to go through again.

Although last week's posting wasn't focused specificially on how tourists use transit, many of the commenters were. Their anger was directed partly at the tourists and partly at Metro and other agencies. People said that when they try to guide tourists, the visitors snap at them. They think the agencies should provide more guidance and enforcement.

For anyone who missed the discussion, here's what I thought were the main themes and some sample comments.

Crowd Control:
"Tourists treat our city like a theme park, where we are all Disney characters there for their amusement and suburban commuters treat our neighborhoods like super highways, driving fast through our streets just to get back to their suburban nests."

"There's a nasty incident waiting to happen when somebody comes to a complete/clueless stop at the end of an escalator and people behind keep getting machine-fed into them."

"It amazes me how mothers with strollers expect everyone to get out of the way so that they can walk two or three across and have their conversations."

"Stand to the right. Stand to the right. Stand to the right. Apply to the head."

"Ever notice how if one tourist crosses the street, all the others in the group think they get to go even if the light changes?"

"How about people learn about the system before they use it?"

Signs, Signs, Signs:
"Metro is experimenting with using credit cards at some of the parking garages. As this is probably aimed at tourists can someone at Metro please make signage visable."

"Something about getting the tourists to step away and let people out of the trains before trying to crowd in would be nice too -- the natives oddly enough seem to have this down and scootch to the sides of the doors, but the tourists don't. C'mon now, we actually have one bit of courtesy down pat, can't we use it?"

"Please place larger signs so tourists know to STAND to the RIGHT!!"

"Put the rules on the farecards: 'Locals never look at these, but tourists do all the time. You could also say that the farecard will be needed to exit.' "

"A lot of the highway signs around here seem to assume that the driver already knows where he's going."

"I did hear announcements from my Metro driver this morning providing more specific instructions on Metro etiquette, so they are making some effort. Visible tourist information would be another good idea."

Even locals may have problems:
"It's not just tourists! DC residents are no better on Metro than they are behind the wheel of their cars and have as much problems using Metro as anyone else - because they spend weekdays driving to work; on weekends, when they want to go downtown, they take Metro - and find themselves helpless."

On the Other Hand:
"Please, no more annoucements on Metro. We are bombarded by enough sound, why do I have to put up with even more (barely comprehensible) annoucements?"

"I suppose what it boils down to for me is that people should just use common sense. Unfortunately, common sense doesn't seem to be too common nowadays!"

"Everyone does something for the first time, and everyone does something stupidly that they do regularly."

Couple of things about signs and announcements:
-- I too think there aren't enough to guide people through trains and traffic, but let's be careful what we wish for. Once you start a new commute, visit a stadium or arena for the first time, or get to know a new neighborhood, many of the original getting-around problems diminish. If we had a sign to deal with every problem we've observed, will we overload ourselves and everyone else with information?

-- I get letters of protest about the "doors closing" announcements. If you regular Metro commuters had to endure additional platform and train announcements every day for the sake of the visitors, would it drive you nuts?

By Robert Thomson  |  April 16, 2007; 7:11 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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