Or at least the future will have mobile data.
Since my return to semi-regular Metro use, I’ve been wondering about a few changes and enhancements that have been promised (or needed). I asked Metro to comment on several items, including what’s going on with the continued roll out of cell phone service in the rest of the system.
Last year, Metro and the various mobile companies launched service inside the 20 busiest stations, and I think everyone is rather happy with the result. The agency is under a mandate to launch service throughout the rest of the system by October 2012. I noticed that at Court House, the visible infrastructure was installed, so I wanted to know if roll out was going faster than planned or if it would be phased in.
But Metro won’t say anything other than they are on track to implement service in the remainder of the system by that date.
Another thing I noticed while riding the system: the SmarTrip card takes considerably longer to trigger the gate. I didn’t pay this much heed when I was using the Metro rarely, but now that I’ve returned to regular commuting, it is a bit of a nuisance. Not only is stride broken by the slower access, but in order to get consistently through, I have to take my wallet out.
This got no reaction from Metro, but two other SmarTrip issues — refilling the card online as well as automatically topping up a card — are both being worked on. “Both the ability to add value online and to automatically refill your card are very important customer enhancements that Metro is diligently working on,” said spokesman Ron Holzer.
Unfortunately, Holzer said that no launch date has been set, though Metro still expects both projects to launch in 2011.
One more thing I noticed is that the pattern of train ridership where six car trains would wind up with fewer passengers at the front but packed at the rear, and where eight car trains would have fewer riders in the rear than in the middle seems to be continuing.
During automatic train operation, the cars stop at preset points. Where they stop seemed to be based on the design of the stations, and where people would likely be in a station. But because there were so many incidents where the last few doors of eight car trains remained in the tunnel instead of on the platform, Metro decided to have all trains stop at the front of the platform.
It’s good to know exactly where each train will stop and that it will always be the same at each station. And it’s great to know that there’s little chance that a train operator might leave passengers stranded in the tunnels. But, since June of 2009, it’s meant that people tend to move toward the front and middle of the platform to insure they get onto a train, leaving the rear of the platforms, and thus eight car trains, empty.
This is a disparity that should have worked itself out. After all, we passengers are given reasonably accurate signage indicating the number of cars in a train. Unfortunately, it hasn’t. I still think the reason is that people are not 100% confident that those signs are accurate. And if there’s a chance your announced eight car train might be six, you’ve missed your chance to get on board.
On Metro’s end, I really believe this is a training issue. Metro did the expedient thing to make the problem of operators not stopping in the correct location for an eight car train go away, but it still strikes me as little more than a band-aid over a wider problem of training.
Unfortunately, Metro doesn’t see the issue of the balance in the cars as a problem. Mostly, patterns of car ridership are different from line to line and station to station, based on personal experience. Unfortunately, there’s no hard data to support my gut instinct. Because of the difficulty of keeping track and the variability over time of day and other factors, Metro doesn’t collect that date.