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Depending on escalators

Bethesda Station leads my list for complaints about busted escalators. They used to be about the long ones between the street and the mezzanine, but now they are about the two between the platform and the mezzanine. One is undergoing a long-term -- very long term -- rehabilitation and is scheduled to be back on June 25. The other is turned off to serve as a staircase so people can walk up or down.

Bethesda is a very heavily used station, so there's lots of crowding to get on and off that one escalator. People get angry, especially at rush hour. There's a long line of riders on the platform waiting to go up, then another train pulls in and some of those passengers don't go to the end of the line. It's bound to get nasty.

Yes, people should behave better. But the underlying problem is that the transit authority, which always tells us it's the most escalator-dependent transit system there is, needs to act as though it depends on its escalators. For Metrorail to work, the escalators have to work.

Is relief on the way? Post reporter Ann Scott Tyson writes Wednesday that a Metro consultant is going to spend the next several weeks assessing Metro's escalator system, paying specific attention to chronic problems at Woodley Park, Bethesda, Dupont Circle and Foggy Bottom.

I like the idea that Metro is focusing its attention. The problems are widespread. This morning, I count 68 escalators and elevators out of service. See Metro's list of stopped elevators/escalators. But this shouldn't be an insurmountable difficulty. Start by attacking chronic problems at heavily-used stations.

The problems are mostly with the equipment, but they are also with the communications about the equipment. Metro needs to inspire public confidence that it can deal with both issues. Metro board member Jim Graham, who also represents Ward 1 on the D.C. Council, highlighted that last week.

During the board's meeting, he noted that it became obvious several years ago that escalators were out of service for months and riders had no idea when they'd be back in operation. Metro marked the elevators and escalators with yellow banners listing when the equipment was due back in service. He cited the recent example of a Columbia Heights Station escalator that bore what he described as a tattered banner referring to repair dates in 2009.

"Can you please assure me that you're going to get a handle on this issue?" he said to General Manager Richard Sarles. "We know that elevators and escalators do break down, but we need to communicate with our riders and other stakeholders clearly and efficiently." Woodley Park is now notorious for the problems associated with the escalator, Graham said.

Sarles said the problem at Columbia Heights -- both the sign and the escalator -- has been fixed. More generally, he said, Metro is reorganizing to hold specific groups of employees more accountable for with regard to service at specific stations.

Also, he said, "We've brought in an outside expert to evaluate -- specifically using Woodley Park and a few other stations, like Bethesda, as examples -- the maintenance effort that's been underway there, including routine maintenance as well as rehabilitation, whether that's adequate, whether the standards we have are adequate, and to make recommendations where we can have improvements over and above what our staff is doing."

Graham: "I think this long ago reached the point where if this is not done we need to take some kind of action against those employees who are responsible for doing it. The message has been very clearly sent, it should have been reinforced by staff, and at this point, if people are not doing it, there needs to be some action in terms of their record or other disciplinary action so that people get the message that this is an important aspect of our customer relations as well as our operations."

Yes, Sarles responded, we will hold people accountable. But he also said that the signs he's seen at the escalators generally have had the appropriate information about return to service dates.

Are you seeing what the general manager is seeing? Let me know if you see out of service escalators and elevators lacking information -- or up to date information -- about what's wrong and when they'll be fixed.

By Michael Bolden  |  June 2, 2010; 9:11 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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Wow - what a timely posting, as I had yet another "Metro Morning."

One of the street escalators at the 12th & G exit of Metro Center has been out for MONTHS. The only activity has been when someone changes the date of when the escalator is to be back in service (May 24th by the way, but it doesn't note 2010, so I guess it's open-ended).

Clearly there has been no work done on the equipment as it is covered in trash and I've seen the same branch for over a week now. And to make matters worse, the second escalator was turned off this morning, but the station attendant couldn't be bothered to turn around the sign stating that none of the escalators were working - I would have headed toward another exit.

Maybe if were to witness some sort of work being done on this escalator, I would be more understanding. I'd be interested to know how long this particular escalator has been out of service, what actual work has been done in that time and what the problem is. It just seems like they shut down an escaltor, throw an arbitrary future date on the sign and then forget about it.

Posted by: bdk64 | June 2, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

When I commuted on the Metrorail, the thing that I hated about escalator outages was that people think they're entitled to use both sides of a stopped escalator regardless of the presence people going in the other direction. That is, if a train pulls in, people stream up the stopped escalator in two lines and they don't care if people might want to go DOWN that escalator. That's fine if an escalator is merely stopped and there is another one available for people going the other way (although I recall encountering situations where both escalators would be stopped, but still open as stairs, so people would try to monopolize both of them), but if there is only ONE escalator serving as a set of stairs for people going in BOTH directions it's a much bigger problem. Some of the people going the wrong way get downright uppity about not wanting to move over, too....I always thought I ought to carry a full-sized golf umbrella for use as a battering ram.

Posted by: 1995hoo | June 2, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

That 12th & G escalator hasn't been out for months - it's been out for at least 2 years. I think they leave it like that because there are stairs next to it and an elevator on the same corner. The problem on 12th & G is not so much access, it's just bad for Metro to have the dumpy escalator sitting in disrepair for years at a time. It doesn't instill confidence that they're addressing other areas of disrepair - ones that have an impact on safety and efficiency. Given their safety record in the last year - the proof is that they aren't.

Posted by: eguertin | June 2, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

One factor that some may be overlooking is the unruly teens who hit the emergency-stop buttons and run away.

Last month, some teens hit the emergency stop buttons on a bank of escalators in Woodley Park as I was exiting the station. When I returned to the station, the escalators were STILL turned off! I notified the station manager that the escalators were off, and he immediately left his booth to turn them back on.

If you see a stopped escalator that isn't usually stopped -- SAY SOMETHING. The station manager may be able to restore the escalator power easily.

Posted by: stuckman | June 2, 2010 10:45 PM | Report abuse

"That is, if a train pulls in, people stream up the stopped escalator in two lines and they don't care if people might want to go DOWN that escalator"

1995hoo, this is a huge pet peeve of mine. When all of the Bethesda street escalators were out for a week (the really long ones), people in the evenings getting off the train would use all three as an "Up". This seriously annoyed me because many people going down go down very slowly (it's a looooooong way so I can understand it being hard on the knees, etc.). Faster people would pass them on the left as usual. It worked so much better when there was a "fast lane" on the left and slower people kept to the right. But when riders felt entitled to go up whichever ones they choose, there would be huge bottlenecks. I really wished WMATA had people directing traffic or signs saying "This is the up escalator." "This is the down escalator".

As for the current situation with the single escalator on the platform, it amazes me every morning that 5 year olds can grasp the concept of getting in line and waiting your turn, but adults push and shove their way into the line just so they can be first. I'm delayed by about 30 secs, maybe a minute by waiting in line. It's really not that dire.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | June 3, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

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