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Mixed Results on Metro Communication

Metro, which has been working on improving its communications with riders, showed last night it still has a way to go.

Power problems plagued the Orange Line during the afternoon rush on Monday. Metro's eAlert, an e-mail notification to subscribers, said:
"Disruption at Dunn Loring-Merrifield. (Due to a power outage, all of the station's escalators and elevators are out of service. Shuttle bus service has been established between Dunn Loring and Vienna. The station remains open.)"

That was mostly true, except for the part about the shuttle bus service. Many aspects of Metro's action plan for the afternoon were fully described in an advisory from the transit authority's public information office. Metro posted that notice on its home page and sent it to media outlets across the region to be broadcast or posted online. But riders would not have known about them from the eAlerts or from announcements made in the stations.

For example, riders would not have known that Metro's plan called for every other train to turn around at West Falls Church.

Meanwhile, on the trains and platforms, little information was reaching passengers. At 5:35 p.m., I was aboard an Orange Line train that reached Foggy Bottom and was taken out of service because of what the operator described as a "problem at Rosslyn."

The passengers aboard the crowded train got off calmly and waited. So did the train. Meanwhile, there was nothing on the electronic message board about the power problem farther down the line. The board indicated that an eight-car train (ours) was boarding. The next two lines indicated that two six car Orange Line trains would follow, but showed no arrival times.

The message board did show that there were delays on the Red Line.

People on the hot and jammed platform were debating whether to take cabs to their destinations. At 5:46 p.m., a station announcement asked us to "please be patient. Trains will be servicing the platform as soon as possible." I saw no Metro personnel on the platform. Meanwhile, the train that had been taken out of service remained in front of us.

At 5:47 p.m., the train doors opened.

Nobody moved. Then the operator told us the train was back in service toward Vienna. He told us there were delays on the Orange Line toward Vienna. "The good news is there are two Orange Line trains directly behind us. Please stand clear of all doors."

It was a good, clear announcement. He told the many people on the platform that they need not crowd aboard this train because there were two more coming, and gave plenty of time for the repeated message to be understood before he closed the doors.

After that, the train operated smoothly to West Falls Church. Before Dunn Loring, I heard no announcement that the station's power was out and that the elevators and escalators were not working.

At West Falls Church, a big crowd boarded for the trip to Vienna, but by then it was easy for our train to accommodate the additional passengers.

The trip back downtown was much longer, leaving Vienna at 6:22 p.m. and arriving at McPherson Square at 7:38 p.m. But the train operator continued to make clear and detailed announcements about our situation. When the doors opened at stations, we also could hear announcements on the platform about signal delays that were affecting the entire system.

The operator told us how many trains were stacked up ahead of us to get through the Rosslyn tunnel. All through this time, both going toward Vienna and coming back, I had difficulty checking my Verizon cellphone messages to see if there was any additional information on the eAlerts.

At no point was there any information about other transit options for Metrorail riders, such as the possibility of taking the 38B bus, which parallels some of the Orange Line stops in Virginia after departing from Farragut Square.

By Robert Thomson  |  July 22, 2008; 8:28 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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Like all things Metro, improved communication will take several years to study, plan for, and then finally implement. (Much like NextBus.)

Look for improvement sometime in 2010-2011.

Posted by: BOHICA! | July 22, 2008 9:41 AM | Report abuse

I had an easy commute last night from DC to NoVA.

I just hopped in my car and drove home.

Posted by: Bob | July 22, 2008 10:11 AM | Report abuse

I've noticed that most Metro stations have electronic signs that are either blank or desplay information about out of service elevators. Would it be possible for Metro to find a way to display other information on those signs like when the next train might arrive?

Posted by: just a thought | July 22, 2008 10:30 AM | Report abuse

My husband was stuck first on the Green line and then (when he bailed) on the Red Line last night at around 6pm. He said no information was being given out in his stations (around the Convention Center, variously). He called me to check, and I found precious little information except a vague note about signal problems. The Red Line e-Alerts didn't mention the signal problem until several hours later.

Posted by: 74editrix | July 22, 2008 11:09 AM | Report abuse

I noticed that the email alerts seemed unclear -- my stop is Dunn Loring, so I didn't know how I was going to get there.

However, the communication about last Friday's problem on the Orange Line was the absolute worst I've seen. The train stopped at Virginia Square for several minutes and the operator announced a power outage at Vienna, which meant that some trains were stopping at West Falls Church and some at Dunn Loring (with shuttle bus service to Vienna). When we arrived at West Falls Church, the doors opened and the operator announced that he was waiting for word as to whether the train would continue on to Dunn Loring. We waited. A few minutes later, he announced that the train would go out of service and the next train would go to Dunn Loring. We got off and waited. The announcer told us that he would now in fact go to Dunn Loring, so we all got back on. Another outbound train came and the announcer told us that train might leave first, so we all walked there. Finally, he waived us back and his train went to Dunn Loring (and then Vienna because by that time the problem was resolved).

Why can't central control make a decision and stick with it??

Posted by: frustrated | July 22, 2008 11:13 AM | Report abuse

It was really only 12 minutes that we waited on that muggy platform at Foggy Bottom? I feel sure it was longer!

Also you forgot the repeated Metro announcement from the woman claiming the next train could come through "if only the train on the platform could leave." As if we, who had been kicked off that train at Foggy Bottom, were somehow responsible for it's not leaving.

Posted by: it sure felt like longer! | July 22, 2008 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Another related Orange Line Metro problem yesterday was the breakdown of all three elevators at New Carrollton's Metro parking garage at the height of rush hour in the 100 degree heat. I arrived at New Carrollton Metro station from Farragut West at approximately 5:30pm and walked from the station to the Metro Parking Garage. When I approached the three elevators, I noticed an abnormally large number of people waiting for an elevator, and we observed after 5 minutes that all three elevators were not operating. Two were stuck on the first level and would not open their doors, and the third was stuck on level 3. None would move when the "up" button was pressed. We pressed the emergency call button and received no reply. A fellow passenger told me that he had been waiting approximately 20 minutes prior to my arrival for these elevators, and they had not moved in that time. After waiting another 10 minutes and after another passenger called the elevator help telephone number listed on the wall (with NO RESPONSE), the several dozen passengers waiting had no recourse but to walk up the stairwell. At NO TIME in that more than 1/2 hour period did we have any Metro employee or maintenance person 1) pick up the emergency call number; 2)answer the emergency button that was pressed repeatedly, ringing the alarm bell; or 3)Come to post a note or sign on the elevators that they were out of service. Power was operational to the garage, as lights were on (and the attendant at the exit was sitting in a well lit, air conditioned booth). So in that 100 degree heat, we all had to climb the staircase. Most of us were parked on levels 8 or 7, and several persons had medical conditions (at least 2 with disabilities and who were parked in handicapped spots) and we needed to assist each other. When I finally reached my car and drove to the exit (at approximately 6:20pm), I informed the parking employee in the AIR CONDITIONED booth that the elevators were all out of order, and that no metro employees had come to help and that this was a very dangerous situation. She told me that she was only a parking attendant and had no jurisdiction over the elevator maintenance, but that other passengers had told her the same thing. Not only are the elevators at this station (less than 4 years old) constantly out of service for repair, the lack of signage is bad enough, but the attitude of metro employees (both parking and maintenance) yesterday made for a potentially injurious (or worse, fatal) situation for riders. We're fed up.

Posted by: out of breath | July 22, 2008 12:31 PM | Report abuse

But all along, we still kept hearing "Hi! Welcome to Metro!" every two minutes.

Posted by: Tom T. | July 22, 2008 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Dr G--

Now that you've had a little first hand knowledge, would you pleasestart calling BS on the Metro spokespeople whenever they say anything (since it is generally self-serving) and not just accept what is said? And especially start calling BS on Metro management ANYTIME they say ANYTHING (because it is self-serving)?

Posted by: cb | July 22, 2008 12:42 PM | Report abuse

to the Metro trolls reading this: last night was an abysmal failure. You get an F- for your total and complete incompetence. I had to wait 18 minutes at Archives for a yellow line train, and TWENTY-FIVE MINUTES at Pentagon City for a blue line. that's right, TWENTY FIVE MINUTES BETWEEN TRAINS. So, if you figure it out, the blue line I saw going to Franconia was the Blue line I boarded TWENTY FIVE MINUTES LATER to get to Rosslyn. I guess the only bright side is that there was no baseball game last night, so we had that going for us.

Posted by: Beth | July 22, 2008 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Yeah something was up on the Yellow line last night around 5:45ish, but there was no mention of it. I waited at Gallery Place for about 20 minutes or so for a yellow line. 4 Green lines in a row. I saw the Red Line delay scroll by on the sign one time, and I think orange line once, but that about it. Also the train arrival times were all messed up and not working so we had no idea what was coming next or when.

Posted by: Robbo | July 22, 2008 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Wow. Now I'm happy I stayed at work until 7, although I was cursing it at the time.

Posted by: h3 | July 22, 2008 1:03 PM | Report abuse

On the Red line at 6:30pm all the arrival time boards were dark; there were no announcements about delays on the Red line, though at Farragut North the platform was packed and it was 11 minutes between Shady Grove-bound trains (5 Glenmont-bound trains passed in that time, one nearly empty, but none were turned to help those heading toward Shady Grove. No email alerts either (there had earlier been alerts on malfunctioing trains, but those all allegedly had been cleared). We were forced to cram onto an overcrowded train with no announcement about the delay or whether there were other train following (remember the boards were dark). And we kept getting announcements about delays due to a switching problem, but there was no specifity to the announcements (where were the delays, or how long); and at one point Metro sent out within minutes of each other email alerts that (1) the switch problem was resolved and then, minutes later (2) the switch problems were continuing.

It is a mess. People should be fired, but you know they won't be.

Posted by: Bob | July 22, 2008 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Updated summary of conditions Metro has difficulty operating under:

1) Temps over 90 degrees
2) Thunderstorms
3) Temps under 32 degrees
4) Winds over 30mph
5) Wet leaves
6) Snow over 1"
7) Ice/Sleet

Tell me again how they're going to handle a 32 mile above-ground extension to Dulles? Or will they import the designers from other mass-transit systems that actually manage to move mass numbers people on time, including in the above conditions?

Metro is going for the trifecta of incompetence this summer.

Posted by: BOHICA! | July 22, 2008 2:47 PM | Report abuse

BOHICA, you're far too generous to Metro.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 22, 2008 3:06 PM | Report abuse

I too was stuck in the mess of waiting people for the Yellow line trains last night. I got to the Archives station around 5:30 and then waited 25 minutes for a yellow line train. At 5:50, there was an announcement that all lines were experiencing delays due to a computer problem. Then, 2 more green lines came. Finally a yellow, which of course was packed to the absolute gills with people.

I've given up being angry about it and instead accept that at least once a week, I will be late to an appointment or miss something altogether because of metro. It is what it is. Metro sucks to be sure, but getting angry over it every time is not worth it. (Someone remind me I said this when I go off about metro next time.)

But really, metro, can you get your act together? Or at least TRY?

Posted by: LV | July 22, 2008 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Can the people at Metro please turn on the air conditioning? Please? If we can afford to spend over $100 million to upgrade the PA systems (which is still pretty unintelligible) then how about just spending half of that and see how low we can set the thermostat? Two minutes on the Farragut West platform had me drenched in sweat. There should be warnings posted at the entrances, informing the elderly and anyone with small children to not hang out down there. It is incredibly hot, muggy, and there is no air circulation.

I am sick of sweating on metro platforms, so I am going back to driving my gas-guzzling SUV. The extra money that I pay for gas and parking is worth it if I show up to where I am going without being soaked in sweat.

Posted by: Joseph Sixpack | July 22, 2008 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Metro stations have air conditioning? If so, they probably turn it down when it's hot to save power. Stations are usually hotter than outside, I just thought that was normal.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 22, 2008 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Joseph Sixpack, when our Messiah and Fuhrer Barack Hussein Obama is president, you won't be too hot on platforms anymore. You'll still be sweating, the temperature will probably be higher, but you will LIKE IT!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 22, 2008 5:09 PM | Report abuse

And before Metro promises that it will be better "next time," please remember that they say this EVERY TIME. Metro pretends that each communication debacle is unique and says they'll have some high-level committee see what went wrong. But something different seems to go wrong the next time.

Will there ever be any accountability? We need information, not empty promises.

Posted by: nashpaul | July 22, 2008 5:18 PM | Report abuse

The 38B bus wasn't much better as an alternative; at about 6:15pm I noticed that the platform at McPherson Square was crowded and train was going nowhere; so I walked to Farragut Square and waited for the 6:35 bus. It came around 6:45pm but I didn't get to Ballston until 8:05; the traffic was so bad it probably would've been better to take the metro anyway! Yesterday I rode my bike to/from work.

Posted by: AMW | July 23, 2008 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Sounds like you whiners and Metro and a perfect match. The only thing worse than a late train, a station that's too hot, or a crowd on the platform is someone who thinks that their small, trifiling inconvience is interesting to someone else.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 23, 2008 12:13 PM | Report abuse

They are clinging to antipathy.

Posted by: Barack McChimpy | July 23, 2008 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Discrepancies between e-alerts and notices posted on the website and/or at stations are as common as they are unacceptable.

Posted by: mark | July 23, 2008 12:39 PM | Report abuse

While we at Metro understand your consistent complaints about the same things over and over again, we will be investing $32 billion over the next 47 1/2 years to hire a company to come in and tell us at the end of that time what we are doing wrong and how to fix it.

Seeing as how our riders really don't understand Metro as a whole, we appreciate your patience during this time. Please note that you are not to talk to any of these people we hire, much in the same way you are not to talk to station managers. You will be treated in the same fashion as the station managers currently treat you.

In order to pay for this company to come in and tell us what we are doing wrong (actually, we're giving them the money and they're not going to do anything but tell us we're doing a great job), we will increase fares by $35 per trip. We also need to pay for the station manager's starting salaries of $125,000 and their performance bonuses for fewest people interacted with in a day. Each day, we award another $50,000 to the station manager deemed to be of least service to you, our beloved retirement funds...I mean customers.

Your complaints will continue to fall on deaf ears as we are a monopoly and you don't have any other way to get around the traffic in this area. You could get into your car, but we all know you really won't.

Please be prepared to hear the same excuses for every problem you have heard so far. We can't do work because there isn't enough time when in fact the people down there working are told to slow down and take their time setting up and breaking down to the point they really only do about 30 minutes worth of work.

We really don't like talking to our customers so please don't e-mail us or think we actually read the blogs.

Thank you,


Posted by: Metro Front Office | July 23, 2008 2:06 PM | Report abuse

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