Metro Response Undermines Rider Confidence
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I used to brag that I lived in D.C. where unlike New York, the Metro is clean. Unlike Boston, the Metro is easy to use. And unlike Baltimore, the public transportation is safe. I don't brag about D.C. transportation anymore. It's not because of the June accident -- tragedies and mistakes happen. It's because of the response after the accident.
Jennifer Dein, Washington
When the transit authority faces an emergency on Metrorail it typically focuses on solving the engineering problem. Meanwhile, it rarely mobilizes sufficient resources to help tens of thousands of customers get where they're going, or at least tell them what's going on and what alternatives they have.
In the midst of an extended emergency following the June 22 Red Line crash, Metro still is focused on the engineering. Metro's leaders are vastly underestimating the amount of information they need to share with riders and when they need to share it. They are vastly underestimating how visible Metro personnel, from top to bottom, need to be in handling this crisis.
Instead, they don't look like they're in control of the situation, and riders -- a skeptical bunch to begin with -- are noticing. They know the trains have been slow and the schedules unreliable. They know a train may hold for minutes at various points, or that they may be told to get off and wait for another train to pick them up.
What they don't know is why, or why they're paying for a rush hour level of service they're not getting.
As I look at Metro's Web site now, I see this information front and center: "Expect Continued Delays on Red Line ... Takoma Station open through Thursday rush hour." (That's Thursday as in yesterday.)
When I click on the link, I read this: "Metro Red Line riders should expect fewer and slower-moving rush hour trains on the line at least through Thursday morning's rush hour (July 23) while the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) continues its investigation into the cause of the June 22 train accident near the Fort Totten Metrorail station."
For people who ride the trains every day, including Fridays, and may be trying to plan travels for the weekend and next week, this useless information. But it's not just a question of updating a Web site. Metro officials need to be far more aggressive. The ride is disrupted. Conditions on the platforms and trains can vary greatly from trip to trip.
Metro people should be out there talking to riders and guiding them -- every day. Do you riders think the rush hour platforms are under control? Have you seen and heard Metro personnel out there directing people and explaining what's going on? Are they handing out pamphlets to those of you who don't catch every newscast or routinely check the Internet for updates?
No, we're not seeing the crisis management that this situation calls for. In trying to deal with the very important engineering problems arising from the crash, Metro leaders are making another important and longstanding problem worse: They're undermining the confidence of their customers.
July 24, 2009; 8:15 AM ET
Categories: Metro | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail delays, Red Line crash
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