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Metro rider protests crowding at Gallery Place

Among the letters I've received since inviting travelers to comment on Metrorail conditions is this one that focuses on crowding but also discusses Metro's financial plight. Several of the letter's themes -- including the crowding at Gallery Place -- are quite common now in my correspondence.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I take the Yellow and Red lines every day on my commute from Huntington to Union Station and back. A few comments and observations: Whoever designed the Gallery Place station should be reprimanded.

The platforms there, especially the Red Line ones, are entirely too narrow. I see crowds there every day that make it almost impossible to get on and off the train. People are packed so tight at rush hour that even a linebacker would have trouble moving through them.

Second, train operators -- especially Red Line ones -- are entirely prepared to shut the doors on passengers as they are entering and leaving the train. They plea that, "There is another train right behind." But that train is generally not just "right behind," and it is usually just as crowded as the first one.

Third, I would be quite willing to pay a little extra to have service improve -- not just not deteriorate. Fourth, Metro-funding jurisdictions need to step up and and realize that if all of us -- or even many of us -- who take the subway and bus each day were to take to the roads in our cars, the gridlock would be horrendous. They would be faced with a public outcry for more roads the likes of which has not been seen here for years.

Finally, people who commute to work in their cars need to understand that they are able to do so only because many of us don't drive to work, but take Metro instead. Opposition to raising Metro's revenue that comes from a vocal few should not determine public policy.
Jim Currie

We've been discussing why the trains seem more crowded despite declining ridership. I think there are several likely explanations for that. One is that ridership is not down all that much. When rush hour conditions combine with manual control of the trains and longer stopping times at the busiest stations, we get crush conditions. (Metro says it has not reduced the number of trains, or the number of eight-car trains.)

The Gallery Place situation is unusual, resulting from the design of that station's mezzanine and the policy of stopping all trains at the front of the platform as a safety measure. Two tides of humanity collide in the narrow channel where some Red Line passengers are trying to get off the platform while others, coming up from the Green/Yellow platform, are trying to reach it.

We almost certainly should go for the 10 cent per ride surcharge that the Metro board is considering this month to avoid service cuts. But do keep in mind, as Jim Currie does in his letter, that this merely means that things won't get worse for four months.

Almost immediately after the board decides that case, we're going to get hit with something much worse: Fare increases AND service cuts to help close a $175 million gap in the budget that takes effect in July. This will be confusing and disheartening to many riders. Some will say, Didn't I just agree to pay more to avoid cuts? Why are you putting us through this again?

At the moment, I don't see any way around this. But we need some new ideas to help us avoid going through it again next year.

By Robert Thomson  |  January 20, 2010; 9:36 AM ET
Categories:  Metro , transit  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail crowding  
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What I have seen at Gallery Place is Red Line trains departing empty because the jam of departing passengers prevents passengers from reaching the trains.

Last week while I stood on the platform, trying to get to the Green Line while THREE Red Line trains arrived, discharged passengers into the mess and left before passengers had a chance to board any cars except the last.

This week I have experienced holds at Galludet and Union Station which I hope are designed to allow trains at Gallery Place more time to take on passengers.

The best solution is for Red Line passengers coming from Silver Spring to Yellow/Green Line destination to transfer at Fort Totten. A longer wait is not worth wondering if you will be shoved off the platform.

Given that Metrorail sloppy safety practices have chewed up many dollars in wrecks and damages this year I am hesitant to support a fare increase. It's clear that they are not putting a high enough priority on good safe service with the resources they already have.

Posted by: RedBird27 | January 20, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

I do the opposite path as RedBird in that I leave the green line and head up to the Shady Grove side for one stop. And yes, it is often impossible to get on (and off) the train due to everything said in Mr. Currie's letter and Mr. Thomson's response.

I want better metrorail service, but what bothers me are the numerous employees seemingly standing around not doing anything. The platforms are crowded, people are pushing, things are dangerous and they continue to stand around without any regard for what is going on. I for one will be glad to see Catoe go b/c in my opinion conditions have only gotten worse since he arrived (anyone remember the cloth seats he wanted to introduce? or the more standing room only cars?). Good riddance.

Posted by: misspamelatorro | January 20, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Metro needs to make the first car on the ed line (headed to Glenmont) discharge only, this would force people to mvoe up the platform. Countless times in the afternoons I see the plaform mostly empty up to the first two cars and then it spacked This is due to the flawed station design, but also due to the fact that everyone wants to be in the first two cars for Union Station.

Posted by: GlenBurnie | January 20, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Why does Metro run so many Blue line trains at rush hour? Waiting for Orange line trains (6 car, by the way) at Rosslyn, I watch half-full Blues ( sometimes back-to-back) go by. Then comes a stuffed Orange line train. There are many times I must wait through 4 or 5 trains before finding one I can get on. And I'm not talking about one I can get a seat on, just one I can fit on period. There need to be more Orange line trains and certainly some 8-car trains. I know everyone in the system has a problem, but one has to wonder when the last time Metro actually took a look at train loads at certain points. Good luck to us all.

Posted by: jckdoors | January 20, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

My big pet peeve with the Red Line is that at Metro Center and at Gallery Place, there are operators who will consistently slam the train doors on people who are trying to *get off* the train. They decide that, come hell or high water, they're taking their 25 seconds to unload the train and then you're done.

End result? More people holding doors, just so that folks can get off (cars 4, 5, and 6 of any given red line train at Metro Center have a HUGE number of folks disembarking). And more people being inconsiderate and shoving their way in before everyone's done getting off, because otherwise they'll be left behind.

And even when I have seen Metro employees on the platform -- which hasn't happened in a while, but they used to be a fixture -- none of them says or does anything except the occasional "the next train is 1 minute away" grumble. Can't they communicate to the train operator that another 20 people want OFF the train, and that if they're allowed to disembark, there will be more than enough room for everyone on the platform to get on?

Posted by: EtoilePB | January 20, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Maybe I'm a bit thick, but seeing the overcrowding (which happens on most of the lines at rush hour) says to me that people are still riding...lots of people. Where is our money going now? How, with so many people, could there possibly be a shortfall? The only answer is mismanagement of those funds.

There's no reason Metro should have gone into the red on Inauguration Day...there were around 2 million riders that day alone, and many stayed in town a couple days before and after. Each of those riders had to pay their fare, and there couldn't possibly be so many Metro employees who worked overtime to have sucked up that funding. Nor could there have been so many breakdowns that would have needed repairing.

During tourist season (which is most of the year) there's increased ridership from people who probably put more money onto their tickets than they need, creating more funds. Every other day, there are thousands of people who commute using Metro, either the buses or the train. There shouldn't be a shortfall, and that's what Metro needs to explain before they go around making it impossible for people to use the system. If no one uses it, it won't make any more money...and if it's not making money now, that's not a good choice for Metro.

Posted by: akchild | January 20, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Metro needs to get its employees on the platform at Gallery Place to coordinate with the train operator via a radio to ensure that departing passengers can get away from the train, THEN allow embarking passengers on, without anybody be shoved to the ground or onto the train. And paint arrows on the floor of the platform to direct the flow of human traffic.

Hello, this is not rocket science, only common sense. Can't Metro figure this out?

Posted by: WashingtonDame | January 20, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

@EtoilePB: your idea makes way too much sense for WMATA to employ it.

Posted by: misspamelatorro | January 20, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Routine Green Line rider here who transfers to Blue/Orange to get to Federal Center SW... I have noticed increased times between cars and I haven't seen a 8 car train on any line in months. Something seems out of whack with what Metro is claiming

Posted by: mccullo31 | January 20, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

@Washington Dame: I like your idea about the arrows. A big yellow one saying " KEEP WALKING FORWARD TO BOARD TRAIN" Most of us will comply.

@akchild: What we pay for a trip doesn't cover the entire cost of the trip, let alone produce a profit. WMATA does not make aprofit from selling fares. That's why they need the Fed and the counties and states to pay up. It's a needed service, but its most definitely subsidized by public money.

From what I understand though, Washingtonians pay more in fare for each trip than any other rail rider in the United States does. That means WMATA should be getting more subsidies in order to be in line with other rail systems.

Posted by: xrvax | January 20, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Metro riders don't protest, they just whine a little bit and then bend over and take it.

Posted by: member5 | January 20, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Mr Currie, wholeheartedly. I'd be willing to pay more to get service to improve. And local jurisdictions and the Fed, need to step up and fund Metro properly, as MR Currie poiints out.

Posted by: Max231 | January 20, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if a long-proposed capital improvement would help - a pedestrian tunnel connecting Gallery Place with Metro Center. There is a similar proposal to connect the two Farragut stations. But then - this is wishful thinking - there is no money to operate and maintain the system, much less improve it.

Posted by: jcflack1 | January 27, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse

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