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Unpleasant Epilogue to Movie

If you're going to this week's outdoor film festival at Strathmore Hall in North Bethesda, remember that the movies are free, but the parking in the Metro garage is not.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Here is a complaint I just sent to Metro. I was too annoyed to send it Saturday, but I've cooled down enough to be coherent now.

"From about 10:40 p.m. until 11:23 p.m. Friday night, I was trapped in the parking garage at Grovsenor-Strathmore station. Someone who walked to the exit to see what was going on said that all 4 exit gates were
blocked by cars that did not have [SmarTrip] cards. I don't know how many people were inconvenienced -- well over a hundred from what I could see. You need to authorize parking employees to let cars out -- even if you lose a few parking fares -- rather than hold numerous customers hostage for an extended period of time."

Catherine McHugh
Potomac

Metro's parking attendants do have a procedure for letting people through the gates, after taking down some information and giving the drivers forms to send in their parking payments. But the film festival is a different type of event from most on the Strathmore schedule. The main difference is, it's free. For ticketed events, Strathmore reimburses Metro for the use of its garage, said Steven Taubenkibel, a Metro spokesman.

The gates at the Metro garage on the south side of Strathmore off Rockville Pike would be open for 30 minutes after a ticketed event. Anyone leaving before the event ends or up to 90 minutes after the 30-minute window would have to show a ticket stub to the Metro attendant.

But at other times, as Strathmore states on the Web page giving directions, "Parking is $4, and a Metro SmarTrip card will be required to pay the $4 parking fare in order to exit the garage. Metro does not accept cash or any other form of payment."

On Friday night and again on Monday night, too many people either didn't know that or ignored it and expected to leave the parking garage for free. (Parking always is free on weekends.)

Metro attendants couldn't deal with the backlog of drivers with no cards to exit. By Tuesday night, Taubenkibel said, Strathmore Hall was prepared to aggressively remind movie-goers that they needed SmarTrip cards for the garage on these weekdays, and tables would be set up to sell them to people who don't already own one. The card itself costs $5.

(McHugh, by the way, had a SmarTrip card.)

So enjoy the free festival, but remember the card for parking through Friday night, or take the Red Line to Grosvenor-Strathmore Station and avoid the issue. The movies start at 8:30 p.m. Tonight, you can see "The Devil Wears Prada." Then it's "Resurrecting the Champ" on Thursday, "Dreamgirls" on Friday, "The DaVinci Code" on Saturday and "Happy Feet" for the Sunday finale.

By Robert Thomson  |  August 15, 2007; 5:02 AM ET
Categories:  Events  
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Comments

Yet another reason Metro should be able to accept cash and credit cards. They have attendants there who could easily take the money...though whether they could count it and give exact change is another problem. Maybe Metro can foot some of the expense and look like the good guy by printing up some signs that are prominent and place them at the entrances to the parking lot and between the lot and the facility.

Also, please let Mr. Taubenkiel know that forward thinking will help prevent a lot of these problems that were obviously going to happen. Learn from FEMA.

Posted by: Jarrod | August 15, 2007 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Metro Forward thinking? That will never happen in your lifetime or anyone's for that matter. They will always be reactionary, dealing with the problem after it has already occurred instead of proactively thinking about what could be.

Posted by: Metro? BAH! | August 15, 2007 9:18 AM | Report abuse

I never understood the SmartCard thing for parking. What if you're a tourist - how do you park? Can you buy the card on-site? Of course, then it costs more to park at the Metro than to drive downtown a park. Ridiculous.

Posted by: Al | August 15, 2007 9:30 AM | Report abuse

...and if they ARE going to require SmartTrip cards for parking, they need to make them more easy to obtain(i.e. make them obviously available at all stations).

Posted by: Anonymous | August 15, 2007 9:33 AM | Report abuse

There's free street parking all around Strathmore, why bother with the lot?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 15, 2007 9:36 AM | Report abuse

It seems to me that the organization advised people of Metro's policy, so I don't understand why anyone has standing to complain.

Posted by: Rich | August 15, 2007 9:46 AM | Report abuse

The people who are understandably furious from the other night *aren't* the people who belatedly discovered they needed a card, it's the people who were informed, followed the rules, and then were stuck for an hour because Metro doesn't afford its employees the flexibility to provide a bare modicum of customer service in a situation like this. It should have been obvious that they needed to find some way to let the people who were prepared to pay out of the garage. If I'm paying for parking, Metro darn well ought to let me pay and leave, somehow. Allowing every single exit to be closed? Ridiculous!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 15, 2007 10:01 AM | Report abuse

"I never understood the SmartCard thing for parking."

Um - does no one remember that the parking lot attendants were skimming huge amounts of cash?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A46413-2004May21.html

http://www.wmata.com/about/met_news/PressReleaseDetail.cfm?ReleaseID=338

Also, SmarTrip cards can be purchased at all stations with parking lots. And I'm not sure about the Grosvenor station, but I know at the Orange line stations in Virginia, they have big signs that remind people they'll need the cards to get out.

Not to mention - how many tourists are spontaneously going to the movie festival? You can't tell me that there aren't more locals than tourists here, and locals should know better.

Yes, Metro could have handled this logjam better. But some of those 4 drivers need to take some personal accountability. It's not as if it was Saturday and the gates were dropped - it was Friday night and fares needed to be paid. How hard is it to check out the Metro web site?

Posted by: Chasmosaur | August 15, 2007 10:03 AM | Report abuse

Also, it took 40 minutes for the other people in line to realize they could have used their own smartcards to let the first four drivers who didn't follow/understand directions out? Sure, they'd be out $4.00, but better that than being trapped in a garage for almost an hour! Come on people, you don't always have to wait for others to solve your problems, even if the situation is slightly ridiculous. It is what it is, deal with it.

Posted by: Arlington1 | August 15, 2007 10:11 AM | Report abuse

"Also, please let Mr. Taubenkiel know that forward thinking will help prevent a lot of these problems that were obviously going to happen. Learn from FEMA."

Learn from FEMA? You mean, the organization that did a stellar job with Hurricane Katrina? No thanks.

"I never understood the SmartCard thing for parking. What if you're a tourist - how do you park? Can you buy the card on-site? Of course, then it costs more to park at the Metro than to drive downtown a park. Ridiculous."

Yes, you can buy the card on-site at any station that has Metro-operated parking. If you're a tourist, you park by purchasing a SmartTrip card just like everyone else. I beg to differ about it costing more to park in a Metro garage than downtown though. Most downtown garages are $10 to $12 a day. Metro garages are about $4 for parking + $5 for the card which is $9. That's for the first day...on the second day (how many tourists come to Washington DC for one day only, and never come back in the next 5 or 10 years when the SmartTrip card would still be good??), it costs $10 to $12 for the downtown garage, and $4 for the Metro garage. I think the main problem is signage....the signs they have are not very prominantly located. Some tourists may see that they need a SmartTrip card but don't know what it is so they get confused. That was my reaction the first time I saw an E-ZPass lane at a toll booth.

Honestly if I were in charge, I would print up a brochure for tourists about "How to Use Metro". I would label the steps 1, 2, 3, etc., and I would label the various fare machines, gates, etc. prominantly with the same numbers. So if step 1 is to purchase a SmartTrip card for every car that you park in the garage, the SmartTrip machine would have a gigantic "1" on it. Then if step 2 is purchase a pass or farecard for everyone else, the passes/farecards machine would have a "2" on it. Put a "3" on the entry gate. Put a "4" on the pylons that list all the station names. This is all wishful thinking though...

Long term, I hear they will have "paper-based" (as opposed to plastic-based) SmartTrip cards, which will only cost about a dollar as opposed to $5. These will be much more tourist friendly in more ways than one....I hear that with this upgrade, we will finally be able to add the 1-day and 2 versions of 7-day passes onto a SmartTrip card so people who wish to use them don't have to make a choice between "do I pay more in fares by using a Smart Trip card or do I have to fumble with the paper card in order to get the discount?" (a typical Shady Grove to downtown commuter would save $6.50 per week using a pass over a SmartTrip card).

Posted by: Woodley Park | August 15, 2007 10:13 AM | Report abuse

"Also, it took 40 minutes for the other people in line to realize they could have used their own smartcards to let the first four drivers who didn't follow/understand directions out? Sure, they'd be out $4.00, but better that than being trapped in a garage for almost an hour!"

Pretty much every employed person's (except those on minimum wage) time is worth more than $6/hour, so you do the math and see if you'd rather be held hostage for 40 minutes or help a fellow person in need. If it were me, I'd probably use my card (if I had money on it) and consider it like a charitable contribution to my fellow man. Of course, if it happened everyday I wouldn't be so nice...

Posted by: Woodley Park | August 15, 2007 10:21 AM | Report abuse

As charitable and efficient as it would be to share your SmartTrip card with another person, it's not allowed because you can make only one paid transaction per ride/parking box. So, just as you can't use one SmartTrip card to pay your family's way to ride Metro, you also can't use one card to allow two or more vehicles to exit the parking facility.

Posted by: YourStrawberry23 | August 15, 2007 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Why does Metro charge $5 for the SmartTrip card in the first place? The card itself should be free.

The automated payment system is supposed to save Metro money vs. the cost of employees handling payments. Those savings should be more than enough to cover the cost of the card.

The parking garage situation could be easily remedied just by placing one of the ticket machines near the exit gate.

Posted by: Mac | August 15, 2007 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Just why is it that Metro does not accept credit cards for parking at all of its facilities? I now live in Omaha, Nebraska and the technology seems to work OK out here in the heartland. I just pop in the card and out comes a receipt along with an open gate. This seems yet another case of Metro forcing riders to pay for its lack of attention to good buinsess practices.

Posted by: Peter Gadzinski | August 15, 2007 11:50 AM | Report abuse

The SmarTrip requirement is one of the stupidest things Metro has done recently. There is no excuse for an organization deciding that because its own employees were stealing, that the solution is to inconvenience customers by requiring use of SmarTrip. Why not just find better employees? Or install credit card machines?

It is this level of idiocy that will push me back into my car. It's more expensive and wasteful, but it keeps me out of the subway tunnels where I'm dealing with constant incompetence.

Posted by: Mike in DC | August 15, 2007 12:00 PM | Report abuse

The reason why the card costs $5 is that the cards *do* cost some money for metro to make/buy from their vendor. Consider the opposite, that the cards were free.

1) Metro would have a budget shortfall because oh, let's make up a number, $3 million they would have to pay themselves. They would have to either raise fares or cut costs (and as we all know, they're *already* in a budget crunch)

2) People might lose the cards a lot more often because they wouldn't be 'careful' with them if they were free to get. $5 places a 'value' on them so people are more likely to hold onto them.

They are starting credit card payments at metro stations, which is a great advance for them, so one can only hope this will be the end solution.

Posted by: 20007 | August 15, 2007 12:04 PM | Report abuse

"As charitable and efficient as it would be to share your SmartTrip card with another person, it's not allowed because you can make only one paid transaction per ride/parking box. So, just as you can't use one SmartTrip card to pay your family's way to ride Metro, you also can't use one card to allow two or more vehicles to exit the parking facility."

WRONG!! You can use your SmarTrip over and over again at Grovsenor-Strathmore and pay $4.00 each time. If you were to be at White Flint (for example) - where the parking fee is different for riders and non-riders, you only get the non-rider discount once per trip. Grovsenor-Strathmore has only one fee for parking so you could have stood at the front of the line and charged each car $5 to get out. :)

Posted by: Anonymous | August 15, 2007 12:05 PM | Report abuse

A someone who has used the Grosvenor Metro stop since 1989, I am used to the cluenesses of some of the users of the lot (pre-gararge cash- those who took 20 minutes because they only had a twenty for a 1.25 (this was the 90's) for the daily fee, etc. Metro has smart card signs at the station entrance, by every stairwell entrance and in the elevators. The signs associate SmartCard with Parking. Some people refuse to read signs, others have the view that the signs can't mean them. Tourists are not the problem. They all ride out to Shady Grove. It is the Strathmore Hall goers ( of which I am one) who are challenged or have an overdeveloped sense of privilege.

Posted by: A Hardwick, Parkside, Bethesda | August 15, 2007 12:14 PM | Report abuse

I have no sympathy for the people without SmartTrip cards - these are locals, not tourists, who should know the drill and by being morons inconvenienced the multitude of those who knew and were ready to comply with the rules, which have received enough publicity over the last few years. Could metro do better? Sure. But a little personal responsibility goes a long way, and that is sorely lacking in this area, and this is just another example.

Posted by: Anon | August 15, 2007 12:53 PM | Report abuse

"Learn from FEMA."

Really? Really? We're going to try to equate a major disaster, causing thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of lives in ruins, with the minor inconvenience of an ill-conceived parking payment system? What next, claiming that Metro leadership is as bad as Hitler? Wow.

Posted by: Huh? | August 15, 2007 1:11 PM | Report abuse

"Why does Metro charge $5 for the SmartTrip card in the first place? The card itself should be free."

Well first of all the cards themselves do cost money to make (nothing is made for free) so the cost would need to cover at least that much, but the cost of the cards was also placed at $5 to generate extra revenue for metro (which is in a budget shortfall).

Personally I don't think it's an exorbitant amount to pay. Just skip that venti starbucks for one day. The time saved by using a smart trip is absolutely worth it.

People in this area also need to plan ahead a little better and check things out before just heading somewhere. Maybe I'm just a planner but I like to make sure I know where parking is, how much it will cost, how late it's open, etc.


Posted by: Laura | August 15, 2007 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Why does Metro even charge for usage of the parking lot late at night? For many years, you didn't have to pay to exit the parking lot after 10 p.m.

Sorry, just had to vent...

Posted by: Disgruntled | August 15, 2007 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Well, if you can normally get out of the garage free after Strathmore events (as the original blog post says), I can see how people were confused. But still - metro, you listening? - the whole system with requiring smartcards for parking is a major pain in the butt. I know why it was put in place, and I also know that there had to be better ways to solve that problem.

Posted by: h3 | August 15, 2007 2:02 PM | Report abuse

""Learn from FEMA."
Really? Really? We're going to try to equate a major disaster, causing thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of lives in ruins, with the minor inconvenience of an ill-conceived parking payment system? What next, claiming that Metro leadership is as bad as Hitler? Wow."

Please read the whole sentence in which it was used Mr. Limbaugh.

FEMA and the US government knew of the possible and emminent dangers involved with not shoring up the levees and did nothing but react when it was too late, no forward thinking which is why many died and the head of FEMA lost his job.

METRO knows of the possible and emminent dangers involved in not providing adequate customer service and safely moving people from place to place while properly communicating with them but are doing nothing about it. Again, no forward thinking. Posting something on your web site is not going to reach everyone. Having signs at the event along with people who can and will answer your questions will solve many more problems than a web site.

Metro reacts and is not, nor ever has been, proactive. It's great they're putting LED's into stations, but how does that help when your escalators continue to funnel people down to a platform that's already full because trains are delayed and nobody knows about it because nobody can hear the announcements. Again, lack of forward thinking. Concrete tubes make great echo chambers, they need to work on getting a sound system in place to inform people of what is going on, get people who can clearly speak into a microphone, then change the lights. Heck, get Bose to replace every speaker in exchange for a ton of advertising on the system. I wouldn't mind having to look at a Bose ad AND actually hearing what's going on.

Metro needs to realize there are going to be problems, but how do you 1. keep it from happening and 2. react properly, quickly and efficiently when it does happen.

Credit card machines are available at a lot of garages (apparently, not at a lot of garages in this area though) around the country. Easy to use, easy to install, easy for the customer. You don't need to reinvent the wheel, find one that's working somewhere else and have it put in here. I'm sure the machine company can do it quickly and efficiently without much of a delay.

Think forward, try to be one or two steps ahead of everyone and everything will go smoothly.

Posted by: Jarrod | August 15, 2007 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Metro fcuked itself when it ditched a woman-owned business doing the previous lot-tending whilst mandating smartrip cards. What you have now are tourists paying out the anal orifice for cards they'll never use again, while WMATA pays people to sit on their tuchaes in the booths doing NOTHING for 18 hours a day!

Tourists now see WMATA as an enemy. As well they should. Fcuk off!

Posted by: Laurel | August 15, 2007 2:45 PM | Report abuse

"Credit card machines are available at a lot of garages (apparently, not at a lot of garages in this area though) around the country. "

Metro will be installing credit card machines in many of their parking garages soon. Though just like everything else with metro, it's going to take a little while to get it done.

"Having signs at the event along with people who can and will answer your questions will solve many more problems than a web site."

There are many signs in the Grosvenor-Strathore metro parking garage stating that you need a Smart Trip card to exit. I just think that the majority of people don't bother reading these things. And it's not economical to have staff at every single garage directing people to do this. Strathmore should have made this more known on their own website, advertisements for the event, and at the event. I don't think this one is really metro's fault. This is yet another case of people who are complaining because they didn't have their hand held by someone telling them exactly what they need to do. Sometimes you need to find things out for yourself and learn. That is called life.

Posted by: Laura | August 15, 2007 2:55 PM | Report abuse

This is why I stopped using the garrage at College Park. Too often some clueless person either didn't charge their card up enough or doesn't have one because they apparently can't read got the gates all jammes up and everyone had to atempt to back up enough to get out. I use the surface lot over there now.

I have no particular sympathy for a bunch of people who just can't bloody read. Buy the dang card and make sure it's charged up next time.

Metro does need to get credit card readers into the garrages real soon though. It would help alot.

Posted by: EricS | August 15, 2007 3:10 PM | Report abuse

"Metro will be installing credit card machines in many of their parking garages soon. Though just like everything else with metro, it's going to take a little while to get it done."

Why? Why is it that in the private sector, they would never tollerate treating their customers like garbage and they would install the card readers as soon as they possibly could. Why is it that Metro takes years to do something that the private sector would do in weeks or months? It seems everytime I deal with a government agency I feel like I'm stepping into a time warp! Time to wake up and smell the coffee and adopt technology that has only existed for several years now!

Posted by: Time-machine | August 15, 2007 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Seems to me that it would be mighty convenient if Metro garages took E-ZPass, too, just like the car parks at JFK Airport in New York. But that makes sense, so Metro will never consider it.

Posted by: Rich | August 16, 2007 8:53 AM | Report abuse

I like the EZ-Pass idea seeing as most of us have it charged to our credit card anyway!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 16, 2007 10:14 AM | Report abuse

you mean the woman-owned business that was stealing fares? Yeah, that was admirable.

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