Talkin' Transit, WMATA

Metro Goes Metal?

Metro announced this morning that they are working to redesign the underground stations of its system. They are considering multiple new concepts, and have made a video to highlight a few options they’re considering for Bethesda station. The options include an anti-slip zone at the bottom of the escalators, and replacement of the traditional “Metro Brown” with sleek metal panels. Concrete barriers will be replaced with glass ones in the mezzanine section, and the standalone pylon lights will be replaced with taller winged standards that will include PID displays.

The concepts they’re playing with are still virtual, but it will not stay that way. Look for Bethesda station to get a few of these new concepts over the next few years, with the renovations being completed in 2015. The station will also be getting new escalators during the process, so if this is a regular spot for you, it’s probably going to get delightfully inconvenient (which is not WMATA’s new slogan, even if maybe it should be.) over the next few years.

Talkin' Transit

A Longterm Vision for Metro

If there’s an agency that could use some good news, it’s beleaguered WMATA.

This morning, in an attempt to show they’re thinking about more than just the years and years of capital repairs they’ve embarked upon, the transit agency this morning unveiled a plan to carry Metro past 2025 and to 2040 with clear goals that include the separation of the Orange and Blue, and the Yellow and Green, lines underground through the center of the District of Columbia, as well as push the boundaries of rail further out to as far as Centreville, Bowie and Potomac Mills. 

The agency won’t be able to do that, though, without raising at least an additional $1.24B in revenue – per year – between 2015 and 2040. 

This wish list is divided into two buckets: 2025 (+$500M/yr) and 2040 (+$740M/yr). The 2025 list includes the money to run 8-car trains throughout the system during peak periods, new pedestrian connections between Farragut North and Farragut West, and Chinatown/Gallery Place and Metro Center, and some transit coordination between regional powers.  The 2040 list is far more ambitious, and includes new tunnels along M Street NW through Georgetown, and along 10th St NW from the river up to Thomas Circle, which would allow the yellow and green line to split through the core, as well as the orange and blue lines to split through the core.

I think, before most jurisdictions agree to outlay significant monies to boost Metro’s longterm vision, a clear path forward is necessary to the end of a system that is so delays as to be useless on the weekends, and full of consistent nagging problems on the weekdays.

Metro has an image problem – backed up by a failure to deliver problem – that it will need to combat in the public eye before the metro area will be willing to add $1.25B to the WMATA coffers.

You can read their press release or the Executive Summary (PDF), or check out the Post’s info graphic on the new plan.

All Politics is Local, Business and Money, Talkin' Transit

Ax grinding 102: Sparks off the grindstone

I swear I’m done with this metaphor after this.

Senator Durbin has fired back at Parkmobile over their Dodd-Frank posturing. It brings us to a point in the discussion where everyone gets to be right, maybe, depending on what your perspective is.

Durbin accurately states in his letter, below, that the Durbin amendment only addressed debit card fees. He also states, sort-of correctly, that it didn’t cause Parkmobile’s processing fees to rise.

However what Parkmobile originally said was “increased costs triggered by recent federal legislative reform enacted by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act’s Durbin Amendment.” That triggered by is so ambiguous as to be unassailable, though it’s similarly meaningless when it comes to assigning real blame.

For example: “Dennis the Menace’s mid-grocery meltdown, including wailing and juice-box-throwing, was triggered by his mother demanding that he stop urinating in the cereal aisle.” I don’t think it’s the trigger to blame there; Senator Durbin certainly doesn’t feel his amendment is to blame either.

As I pointed out yesterday, the management staff of Fontinalis probably feels differently about regulation. Founders have worked at Goldman Sachs, UBS, Highbridge Capital, Booth American, and other equity firms. On a whole these are people who aren’t going to be be regulatory fans, and where Durbin points the finger at processing firms for making up lost revenue by jacking up other charges the Fontinalis folks just see the person who originally pushed down on the lump in the waterbed.

Durbin’s letter below the jump.

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News, Talkin' Transit

Ax grinding 101: Parkmobile goes full Dodd-Frank

DCist and GGW have both weighed in on today’s Parkmobile email blaming an increase in their service costs on Dodd-Frank. If you’re scratching your head about what a law largely addressing Wall Street behavior has to do with your parking meters then you’re a pretty reasonable person.

Here’s the answer as it’s grounded in reality, though you need to follow a chain of events: one of the few Dodd-Frank aspects that came close to directly impacting consumers was an extension of authority to the Federal Reserve to make sure that credit card swipe fees were “reasonable.” The swipe fee is the base charge the merchant pays when you buy something by credit or debit card – you swipe and the merchant pays a base processing fee plus a percentage of the purchase.

If you’re buying a flat-screen tv then the percentage, called a discount rate and usually in the 2% range, is the big chunk. If you’re selling gum or slurpees, however, then the approximately $0.30 swipe fee is the big deal. But you as a merchant suck it up and accept it because consumers are paying more and more with plastic even while the credit card companies spend millions to run commercial that portray people paying with cash as slow line-clogging buffoons.

However one thing that has stuck in a lot of people’s craws for a long time was the banks continuing to charge swipe fees on debit card purchases that were just as high as the credit cards. They felt that since the bank had instant access to the consumer’s balance and were at a lower risk for fraudulent charges that they should see some decrease in their side of the equation too. Card processors said no thanks, we kinda like this billions-a-year with low-risk thing.

Schumer’s Durbin’s amendment was just one more salvo in this war which has included lawsuits and other sabre-rattling. The Fed was now in the business of setting a price and they settled on around $0.21 though there’s some additional complexity.

The common-sense reaction to this, then, would be “then why didn’t my Parkmobile costs go DOWN?” Well, because debit cards aren’t the only part of the equation. The banks liked their profit margins, so when that revenue stream dried up they took two actions – they cut back on debit card rewards programs and they raised prices in some other areas… including costs related to charge cards.

You can argue whether or not it’s a good thing that those other areas had been cheaper when money was being made off the debit card users. Certainly if your style of credit use meant you are now paying more then it seems like not such a great move. But the bottom line is this: Parkmobile is raising costs because, presumably, the bottom line went up.

So if you get to here and ask “then why didn’t Parkmobile just say that the fee was going up because credit card processing costs were going up rather than mentioning Dodd-Frank?” Well, that’s where the ax grinding part comes in. When you’re a company under a larger umbrella that works in areas of “product management, domestic and cross-border expansion, government relations and the capital market” and your founding partners have been in bed with Goldman Sachs and other private equity firms… then maybe you’ve got larger feelings about financial regulation than just what a credit card charge costs. So why not stir the pot and point some fingers at something you’re not all that fond of anyway?

UPDATE 26 October 4:23p – I mistakenly identified this as an amendment to Dodd-Frank originated by Schumer; that’s incorrect, it was Durbin.

Talkin' Transit, The Daily Feed

[Updated] The Uber Conundrum

Photo courtesy of danpeerflix
I’m coming to get ya @patdryburgh cc @uber
courtesy of danpeerflix

Late yesterday, in an email to their customers, Uber’s DC operations group sounded the alarm about the Taxicab Modernization Act that is before the Council today.  The email read, in part, “The Council’s intention is to prevent Uber from being a viable alternative to taxis by enacting a price floor to set Uber’s minimum fare at today’s rates and no less than 5 times a taxi’s minimum fare.”  The language that has Uber riled up here has to do with a new class of taxi service in DC, the sort that Uber provides.  

The new sedan service is designed to build a place for companies like Uber to operate free from intervention from the DC Taxicab Commission’s regulations, which would require the cars have metering systems, GPS tracking, and those godawful advertising systems like you see in New York Cabs, amongst other things. So long as they were to abide by an initial minimum fare that was 5 times the minimum fare of the taxi system, Uber would get to stand free and clear of the taxi system.

One small problem. Uber wants to charge less than their current $15 minimum for their new UberX service which is designed to send less luxurious vehicles (hybrid cars, in fact) to pick you up throughout the city.  This new law would torpedo their plans to charge customers less for the new hybrid service.

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Talkin' Transit, The Daily Feed

Metro like you haven’t seen it

Metrodistort

Map by MV Jantzen

We all have our own internal mental map of the Metro that takes into account weekend track work, single tracking, transfers between lines, transfers to buses, and I suspect they look an awful lot like MV Jantzen’s Distorted Metro Map. The cleverly-done HTML 5 app moves the iconic map around a polar scale, putting time distance between station at a premium instead of a clear map, moving stations into closer proximity if they’re closer by time than necessarily by distance.

There’s also a bad-ass Pac-man mode where you get to gobble up the stations like power pellets, which, frankly, is all I’ve ever wanted to do to the Red Line.

Talkin' Transit, The Daily Feed

Metro Board authorizes new Station Names for map

Photo courtesy of
‘DC Metro Spiral (Names)’
courtesy of ‘thisisbossi’

The Metro board today met to consider some station names and changes to be made ahead of the next redesign of the map and authorized a number of changes to stations you may know and love. Here’s the skinny, straight from Metro:

  • Navy Yard becomes Navy Yard-Ballpark.
  • King Street becomes King St-Old Town.
  • Waterfront-SEU will drop SEU, because the university no longer exists.
  • Forest Glen will be shown on the map with the universal “H” symbol to indicate the location of Holy Cross Hospital.
  • Foggy Bottom and Medical Center will also be shown with “H” symbols reflecting proximity of hospitals.
  • New York Ave-Florida Ave-Gallaudet U will be renamed “NoMa-Gallaudet U.” “New York Ave” will be shown as a secondary name for one-year to assist customers during the transition.

Four stations were unaltered, due to public familiarity with their names, despite their length:

  • Grosvenor-Strathmore
  • Georgia Ave-Petworth
  • Franconia-Springfield
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

The new names will take effect next year when the June 2012 Metro Map hits the streets.  The cost to rename the stations is estimated to be approximately $400,000, though no formal figure is available.

Talkin' Transit

Talkin’ Transit: Metro’s New Map, and a Survey

Metro Map

Part of Metro’s new Map

Metro’s iconic map is at a turning point. The new Silver Line that’s being constructed out to Dulles Airport presents a challenge for the transit system’s existing map, as it would push outward the boundaries on the system past the edge of the page. As part of the upcoming changes, Metro has released a draft map (that we’ve excerpted from above) and a survey to go with it.

The heart of the changes, for now at least, have to do with changes in the green line (to more correctly display its geography), and the orange and yellow line service extensions that operate during Metro’s rush hours.  The yellow line now shows a dashed line (though a striped line is also proposed in the survey) down to Springfield, and up to Greenbelt, and the orange line has a dashed section out to Largo.  Mysterious and ghostly is how they’ve chosen to draw the Silver Line outward through Tysons to Dulles for now, largely postponing the question of where the map’s new boundaries will be.

Greater Greater Washington’s David Alpert has dissected the map with regard to the site’s mapping contest, and has a series of great recommendations and observations. Definitely give it a look.  Also, Metro’s Barbara Richardson spoke with the Post’s chat group this morning at 10am, and that chat will likely be instructive with regards to what Metro was considering with regard to the map.

Personally, I think the new map is a welcome improvement in a number of ways: it highlights the increased service to Fort Totten on the yellow line and differentiates between the extended yellow line service to Greenbelt in a manner that’s elegant, and also does the same for the orange line out to Largo. It also thickens the orange/blue line between Rosslyn and Stadium-Armory to allow for a silver line when the time comes for it to actually run. This is a ground-work laying map that will hopefully serve us until 2013 when the new map, and new line, debut service out to Tysons.

Music, Talkin' Transit, The Features, WMATA

Metro’s Music Man

Jason Mendelson: Photo Credit - Maryanne Drury

Photo Credit: Maryanne Drury

The same love felt in Billy Strayhorn’s ode to the of the rails of New York City in the jazz standard “Take the ‘A’ Train” is still alive and well today a few hundred miles south here in Washington.  While the Duke Ellington orchestra is no longer around to send their musical echoes into the night, recent Tampa transplant and current Alexandria resident Jason Mendelson aims to commemorate DC’s own transportation network with his very own collection of songs for each (and eventually) every Metro station.

Embarking last November on his epic Metro musical mission, Mendelson has already released the first volume of Metro songs with the second already in the works, which you can listen to here.  While the flashing red lights along the edge of the Metro platform will likely never double for footlights, WeLoveDC had a chance to recently talk to the man behind the music himself.
Talkin' Transit, Technology, The Features, We Green DC, WMATA

Mastering Metrobus, or, S.T.R.E.A.M. (SmarTrip Rules Everything Around Me)

Photo courtesy of

courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

I’ve been participating in the Zipcar Low Car Diet challenge this month, and something that I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten more transit-dependent is that a lot of intelligent, resourceful people are completely confounded by any bus that’s not the Circulator. If their destination is not close to a Metrorail stop, they drive to it. I humbly submit that this is completely ridiculous; the bus is just not that hard.

However, it IS true that Metrobus lacks the navigational simplicity that Metrorail has. The Metro map gives you a nice sense of the finite nature of Metrorail: there are only 5 lines, and they’re, well, lines; they go to all the stops in order one way, and they go back along the same stops the other way. That’s it. Have you seen the full Metrobus system map? It’s a freaking mess. It’s not even one map; they had to split it into three.

So with the goal of making it all a little less daunting for the novice Metrobus-rider, here are a few things you need to know: Continue reading

Talkin' Transit, The Daily Feed

Just how fucked is Metro, exactly?

Metrofscked

I’ve always wanted a website that could tell me exactly how totally and unrepetently fucked Metro was at any given moment, and now I have my wish.  Designer Joey Brunelle built the website, and is still handtuning the application to display how fucked, or not fucked, the metro system is at any given point.  It’s a pretty amazing little web-app, it shows you how many trains are in service, where they are on the map, what the wait time is like for individual stations, and allows you to switch seamlessly between lines.

Nice job, Joey!

Of course, there’s a worksafe version for those of you who still feel the need to watch your language around your bosses.

Talkin' Transit

Talkin’ Transit: Parking Edition

Photo courtesy of
’281|365′
courtesy of ‘Danilo.Lewis|Fotography’

I hate parking meters. I think they’re an awful concept. Not because they make you pay for what you use, but rather how they make you pay for it: with change.  As rates have increased in the downtown core to $2/hr, it means that you need to carry with you rolls and rolls of quarters if you’re going to do any parking in the core that isn’t in a garage.

We started to see pay-by-phone metering last year, with a number of trials in Dupont Circle and in Foggy Bottom with a pair of services that work on a zone-based system.  Call a number, enter a credit card (the first time) and then enter the zone where you’re parked.  Bam, you’re good for as long as you’re within the limit for the zone.  If you only intend to stay for 50 minutes, that’s all you pay for, instead of the potential for overpaying at a traditional coin meter.  It’s a revolution.

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Talkin' Transit

Talkin’ Transit: The Longest Walk

Photo courtesy of
‘portraVC_TEST_ROLL6′
courtesy of ‘dr_kim_veis [''o ]‘

One thousand one hundred feet. Does that sound like too long of a walk? What if you had bags and were headed to an airport?

That was the decision in front of the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority Dulles Corridor Committee this morning, and it seems the answer was, “yes, it is too far to walk.” The committee, as reported by WTOP’s Adam Tuss, voted to support a below ground station that would bring the Metrorail extension to Dulles about 500 feet from the terminal.

The problem is that this is going to come at an additional cost of about $300 million. That’s roughly half a million dollars per foot that we move closer to the terminal.

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Talkin' Transit

Talkin’ Transit: Mind the Gap

Photo courtesy of
‘Horton #23 (26/365)’
courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

I was getting ready to head to work on Monday when I noticed that Twitter was all atwitter about the Orange and Blue lines being a mess. I usually head into town from Court House after 9:30, and usually congestion issues have worked themselves out by then.

But this was much bigger. A power cable outside Federal Triangle needed replacing, and this caused Metro to single track trains for roughly the duration of the morning rush hour. Even after rush hour ended, there were still residual issues with trains clumping and having to slow down.

I was trying to assess if I should work from home that day and looked at the next train arrival times for Court House. To my utter amazement, I saw that the next three trains were 8-car trains. When I decided to go in, I also saw that the two of the next three trains were also 8-cars. I was shocked, and dropped a note to Metro to find out what was going on.

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Talkin' Transit

Talkin’ Transit: Performance Fares

Photo courtesy of

courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

Most of us work in jobs where our performance matters. Every year, your boss sits you down and tells you what you did right or wrong, and if you’re good, the rights outnumber the wrongs and you get a raise. For some, the raise doesn’t come, and for others, you get fired. Companies like to pay based on performance because it motivates people.

If you go to a nice restaurant, and you order your meal, and as they’re bringing everyone else’s food out, they explain to you that they screwed up your order. Maybe they dropped it on the floor, maybe they realized they sold the last rabbit too late for your order, or maybe the waiter forgot to enter it. No matter, really. They usually apologize and, more often than not, they will take the hit and not charge you for your meal. Better restaurants go a little further and offer you a discount on your next visit, or a free dessert.

Both situations have one thing in common: the income is related to the performance. You get paid more if you do well. You have to lose money in order to correct a mistake. I think Metro could learn a thing or two in the realm of customer service and performance.
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Talkin' Transit

Talkin’ Transit: Weekend Edition

Photo courtesy of
‘eat right. get lots of sleep. drink plenty of fluids. go like hell.’
courtesy of ‘Jess J’

Two weeks ago, Metro’s board heard, again, about the possibility of eliminating late night service on the weekends. This has reopened the debate about what direction Metro should be going, and whom it should be serving.

Two of the most vociferous opponents of such a change on the WMATA board have recently left, and the new board seemed more amenable to the idea.

There are those who believe that late night service is a big boon to Metro’s bottom line and that it should be continued. Others, especially within Metro, argue that closing the system earlier would give them the equivalent of 45 days more maintenance time per year, and lower costs for overtime.

As always with Metro, it’s a balancing act. On the one hand, the system is overloaded during the rush hours, has long lead times in the evening, and pretty crappy service on the weekends. It is constantly facing budget shortfalls, and its funding is always under attack. It is aging, and it isn’t in a state of good repair. It wasn’t designed to handle the service we’re asking of it, and we won’t fund it well enough to even make it run “normally”.
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Talkin' Transit

Talkin’ Transit: Sarles in Charge

Photo courtesy of
‘Metro Blogger Roundtable’
courtesy of ‘Samer Farha’

Last week, Metro’s new, permanent General Manager and CEO Richard Sarles held a blogger roundtable to talk about system safety, improvements in customer service, and bag searches. You probably read about it here and there, so I’ll leave the recap to below the fold and tell you about my impressions of Sarles and why I think he’s going to be the most important head of the system for the foreseeable future.

Sarles is a relatively soft spoken guy, but he’s got a gravitas that lets you know he’s both in charge and very well versed in the details of the system he runs. He’s also very much an engineer, having come to management at NJ Transit later in life. He understands the system, and strikes a pragmatic tone in his talk with us.

He brings that engineering background to the role of GM, and already has a systemic plan to return the system to what’s referred to as a “state of good repair.” That means, essentially, that the critical systems of transporting people have to be well maintained so that they do not pose either a safety or breakdown hazard. And that’s a long way away.

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Talkin' Transit

Talkin’ Transit: CEO Sarles

Photo courtesy of

courtesy of ‘erin m’

We are putting building blocks in place – making safety investments, improving our tracks and rail system, putting new buses in service, expanding staff training and designing new rail cars – while it may not be immediately evident and there are inconveniences along the way – we are literally building a new Metro for our customers and employees. — Metro’s GM/CEO, Richard Sarles

As we reported yesterday, Metro’s board named Richard Sarles as the permanent General Manager and Chief Executive Officer. It’s a move they should have done in the first place, and one that I said might happen when we first heard of Sarles.

Over ten months, Sarles has brought an engineer’s attitude and has been acting less interim than his title would have implied. He said he wasn’t looking to come here full time, but he always seemed to want to make an impact. “I came to Metro as the interim general manager,” he said at the board meeting yesterday, “simply wanting to help put the agency on the right path.”
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News, Talkin' Transit, The Daily Feed

The Ripple Effect, or why your commute sucked last night

Photo courtesy of
‘SNOW’
courtesy of ‘erin m’

Last night’s horrific commutes ranged anywhere from 3-5 hours on the short end to 12-14 hours, we’re hearing, with most of those higher numbers west of the city.  Take a look at a couple screenies that Greater Greater Washington put up last night that show pretty much every road west of the Potomac River over capacity with no cars moving.

You can see the snowfall trends in the storm thanks to the Capital Weather Gang’s Submit-a-Report map, and it seems to have aligned a few trends that made things massively difficult for everyone to get around.  Read on for all the details.

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News, Talkin' Transit, The Daily Feed, WMATA, WTF?!

WMATA responds to 23 Dec incident

Photo courtesy of
‘Steppin’ Out, WMATA Style’
courtesy of ‘Kevin H.’

Metro has released a statement regarding the incident first reported on Unsuck DC Metro that has horrified many: six armed men reportedly boarded an Orange Line train on December 23rd, and allegedly robbed and beat passengers aboard that train, and according to some accounts, the Metro operator did not respond to emergency calls made from within the car.

The incident is pretty horrifying, and suggests that perhaps MTPD should spend a bit more time on trains rather than ineffectively searching our bags.  The Statement is below and in full, and says that MTPD apprehended suspects within 30 minutes and recovered the stolen property.

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