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Metro Board Puts Aside Food Vendor Issue

Board members asked the transit authority staff this morning to come back with more information to address their concerns about the station vending plan, but they said they don't want to see a proposal that includes food sales. (See previous entry.)

They do want to see a retail vending plan that focuses on small businesses. Some more specific information about the design of the vendor setups and about station locations would be welcome, they said. They expressed concerns about trash removal, as well.

Opposition to the food vendor portion of the vending plan was overwhelming among the riders that I heard from. They just said no. It exposed the underlying problem: Riders don't trust Metro to enforce its most basic rules. They also don't trust each other to obey the rules.

The board members clearly heard what the riders were saying, but many also had their own strong views against selling food in the stations. They didn't even want to advance to the next stage on that by allowing the staff to request proposals for selling food. But we will hear more about other vending possibilities in the stations.

By Robert Thomson  |  May 28, 2009; 10:48 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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honestly, who wants to really buy anything except food / drinks in and around the metro stations? i feel like take away / packaged food / drink items would be the biggest draw. metro needs to worry more about its income and less about people taking food / drink into the system.

Posted by: odenton | May 28, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Metro should not be in the food and vending business. Running a big city transit system is enough of a challenge.

Instead, Metro should simply let a contract for all of the concessions in their Metro stations. Turning over the retail operations to an experienced concession manager is the best possible options. Metro will get a big cash payment up front, and the concessionaire will take responsibility for signing up vendors and collecting rents.

There’s nothing new here. This is exactly what is done today at every major airport in the United States. Many shopping malls are run in the same manner, with a real estate developer contracting with a vendor to run retail operations.

The recent survey of Metro ridership has proven, once again, that Metro has a very attractive customer base; median annual income in excess of $100k. If WMATA sells the exclusive retail rights to this audience, companies will line up to make aggressive bids.

As is the case with every concession management contract, Metro would have the ability to be as proscriptive as it wants to be regarding the types of vendors and the selection of goods available for sale. Anything can be written into an RFP; including language stipulating that cleaning staff must be hired to deal with the inevitable increase in trash and debris.

WMATA staff lack the knowhow and experience to manage this epochal venture on their own [and I don't mean to knock the professionals at WMATA]. I say, draft an RFP and let bidders present innovative plans for delivering retail services to Metro riders.

WMATA's managers will be free to focus on their core business; and riders will enjoy a subway system that addresses more than simply their trasnportation needs.

Posted by: IHeartDC | May 28, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Metro should focus on increasing their profits with their core business. If they wish to pursue being in retail management or developemnt they should develope a business model that utilizes land directly adjacent to existing and new stations. This could include residential, retail, office or mixed use developments. From the numbers I have seen the bottom line impact of retail in the stations would be minimal at best.

Posted by: supascience | May 28, 2009 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Glad they decided to "table" the issue. There are other ways to get Metro revenue besides food and drink.

Posted by: info40 | May 28, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: The staff people also thought food and drink would attract more vendors this time round. They didn't include that possibility when they sought vendor proposals three years ago and were disappointed with the poor response from potential vendors.

Metro Board member Chris Zimmerman, on the other hand, is among those who thinks that riders would love a chance to buy goods and services right along their commuting route. So he was saying, Why bother bringing food into the equation?

Metro was going in this direction -- the vendor proposal -- partly at our behest. We keep telling Metro it should find more ways to raise money besides fare increases. We talk about more advertising and about vendors in stations.

I do think there's a way to make the food vendor program work, because I saw it working this month on the BART system in California. But riders showed they are very upset about it, and don't trust Metro to stop the eating and drinking on the trains.

Posted by: rtthomson1 | May 28, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse

I for one am against food vending at Metro stations. I have been to other cities in the country and every time I come back home I tell people how our Metro system is far better than the ones in major cities. A lot of that has to do with how clean our stations are. The moment we allow food into the metro systems we will have to deal with the underground rodents that would come for that food left on the ground and trash cans. I just don't have faith in the general public to always dispose of their trash properly. I see kids every evening on the trains after school and they can barely keep their gum in their mouths. I can only imagine the mess they could cause if they were allowed to bring real food and beverages onto the train. I am sure the Metro can think of other ways to gain revenue and not mess up the wonderful system I think we have right now.

Posted by: antztaylor | May 28, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Oh and I forgot to mention this. I happen to live right next to the Branch Ave Metro station and in my building on the ground floor there are to be shops available. I think getting good retail companies there would help the metro. I also heard of a rumor that there were plans to build a Town Center in that area as well. Great retail will bring the people who could travel by Metro.

Posted by: antztaylor | May 28, 2009 1:32 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: antztaylor, one of the Fairfax board members, Jeff McKay, was looking over the list of stations proposed as vending locations and had what I thought was a good comment: He asked the staff to put more emphasis on stations that are isolated from services; places, for example, where people might want to drop off dry cleaning and pick it up without having to go far out of their way. I buy that. I even think they could come up with a workable plan on food sales, but the Metro staff would need to be real specific to satisfy the board's concerns on that part of the plan.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | May 28, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Hmm well I think Mr. McKay makes a good point and I think the Branch Ave station would be great for that. I know the Branch Ave station was one of those to try this vendor thing out first. My condo building and others around it, have retail space available. I know the Branch Ave station has a lot of people who would love something like a Dry Cleaner, Nail Salon, or a Bank available that they could go to right away. Maybe shopping stores aren't needed but stores that provide services may be more the route to go. Thank you for responding to me :-).

Posted by: antztaylor | May 28, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

"Riders don't trust Metro to enforce its most basic rules. They also don't trust each other to obey the rules."

Yeah, that sums up my view!

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | May 28, 2009 4:58 PM | Report abuse

What makes anyone think that Metro will get better proposals than they did last time?

Posted by: eandab2003 | May 28, 2009 8:08 PM | Report abuse

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