Now: Metro Considering Station Vendor Plan
Metro Assistant General Manager Nat Bottigheimer presented the plan to Metro board members at the transit authority's downtown headquarters.
He says the problem when Metro asked for vendor proposals three years ago is that food was excluded. It's the most lucrative opportunity for vendors, so only three proposals were received and none was satisfactory. That's why the staff is coming back today with a plan that includes food sales.
He said the staff is well aware of the concerns you've raised about the food issue and will return to the board to review the plans when the vendor proposals come in.
David Alpert of the Riders' Advisory Council said to the board's customer service committee just now that he's personally optimistic about the plan. He said he hopes the staff will cast a wide net to find a variety of vendors. RAC members expressed concerns about more eating and drinking on Metro, adding more trash on the trains.
Board member Jim Graham, who represents the District, says he's very happy to see this program coming before the board. But thinking of the food sales issue, he added that "I'm very concerned that once we open this door it will swing wider and wider and never be able to close." He also wants to make sure that small businesses have an opportunity to be involved. This issue has to do with the part of the proposal that allows a "master licensee" to contract to set up vending at many stations. His fear is that this procedure will shut out the small guys. Of the food enforcement issue, he said: "I don't want to arrest little girls with French fries."
Board member Catherine Hudgins of Fairfax County made an important point: She said she would like to make sure that this goes hand and hand with an enforcement campaign.
Board member Chris Zimmerman of Arlington: "There's a feeling that we aren't doing anything at the moment." He said later that the food issue should be separate from the issue of selling stuff. There should be plenty of people out there who want to sell umbrellas, DVDs and other items close to where thousands of people walk every day. Why not first find out if somebody wants to sell that stuff, before adding in the food issue?
Board member Anthony Giancola of the District: Food is coming on now. He's a daily rider on the Red Line and said he thinks he sees a police officer about once every 100 rides. There doesn't seem to be enforcement at the station entrance or on the train itself. Issue more tickets, he said.
Board member Peter Benjamin of Maryland: This proposal is a good idea to assist our customers. Dry-cleaning sites, or postal vending, for example. But what's the idea of a food item packaged to discourage consumption?
Answer from Bottigheimer: We don't really know. We're going to have to see what the industry has to offer. We can review that with the board and with the public after we get the proposals back.
GM John B. Catoe Jr: I can tell you what it's not. It's not a vendor selling ice cream cones. But again, we won't know exactly what food products till allow till we get the proposals. Our intent is to take food out of the system not into it.
Board member Jeff McKay of Fairfax County: He said he likes the vendor concept, but is concerned about trash removal from the system. He made the good suggestion that some other stations should be considered for participation, particularly the ones, like Van Dorn, that have limited services around them now. He also joined the call for stepped up enforcement. Portion of proceeds from vending contracts should go to enforcement.
Board member Marcell Solomon of Prince George's County: Joined Graham's call for focus on small businesses.
This is the proposal before the Metro board this morning: Give the transit authority staff approval to issue a Request for Proposals for a three-year Retail Demonstration Program at a minimum of 12 Metrorail stations.
These are stations under consideration so far: Anacostia, Fort Totten, Gallery Place, Metro Center, Branch Avenue, Glenmont, New Carrollton, Shady Grove, King Sreet, Rosslyn, Vienna and West Falls Church. (Proposals could come in for all 86 stations, and the staff would look at them.)
We've focused on the food vendor issue, but the plan is broader than that, allowing a variety of retail sales. The transit authority says the stations for the pilot program were selected because space is available and the station has an average of at least 6,000 people entering.
Here's what the vendors could set up:
-- Fixed retail services, which could include automated kiosk vendors that sell items other than food.
-- Fixed retail services that also sell food items packaged to discourage consumption in the Metrorail system.
-- Mobile retail service vehicles that sell items other than food.
-- Mobile retail service vehicles that sell food packaged to discourage consumption in the Metrorail system, such as take-home dinners.
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