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

Weekend Metro Work to split Blue & Orange lines, close Foggy Bottom

Photo courtesy of
‘Metro Fail’
courtesy of ‘Karon’

Get ready for an ugly weekend of transportation.  Starting at 10pm on Friday night, Metro will stop all Blue and Orange trains at Rosslyn and Farragut West and turn them around, meaning the only line across the Potomac this weekend is the Yellow line.  Hanging at Metro Center and going to Court House or vice versa?That’ll be Metro Center to L’Enfant, to Pentagon, to Rosslyn, to Court House. Sure, there’s a shuttle between Farragut West and Rosslyn, too, but will it save you any time? Not so sure about that.

Yeah, that’s going to be awesome.

On top of that, add in red-line single tracking between Friendship Heights and Van Ness, and New York Avenue and Rhode Island Avenue, and your Red Line trip is going to be a lot longer this weekend, too.

Couple all this delightful convenience with the fact that Metro drivers are pooping and peeing in their traincars, and you’ve got some warm fuzzy feelings for Metro, I’m sure.

Talkin' Transit

Talkin’ Transit: Pressing On

Photo courtesy of
‘Metro Emergency Call Sign’
courtesy of ‘[F]oxymoron’

I’m a fan of open and honest communication. It’s the best policy. You lay out your position, you let everyone know what is going on, you keep them informed. They might not be happy with everything that you do, but they will see that you are making an effort and that you are, at least, trying to keep them updated.

Metro seems to have a love-hate relationship with this concept. Last year, Metro tried for a little more openness. They invited bloggers into their HQ for a no holds barred talk with both the former General Manager John Catoe as well as his replacement, Interim GM Richard Sarles. We covered both events, and we were happy to see WMATA headed in a more clear and open direction.

But I’m beginning to think these things are flukes. Last week, WTOP’s intrepid transportation reporter Adam Tuss called out the agency on Twitter for not answering questions about the recent violence at L’Enfant Plaza. Metro eventually caved, but not until after he threatened to “slam them on air.” Continue reading

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

WMATA issues statement in wake of beating video

Metro Emergency Button>
Metro Emergency Button by Mr. T in DC

By now, I am certain that you have seen the video, or heard about the incident that took place at L’Enfant Metro this past weekend, where a man was beaten by a group of teenagers while they took video of the incident. Metro has now issued a statement after the fact condemning the incident. It’s after the break. Continue reading

Talkin' Transit

Talkin’ Transit: Zimmerman’s View

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘pnzr242’

As you might have heard by now, Metro’s longest serving board member, Chris Zimmerman, has elected to step down. I spoke with Mr. Zimmerman this morning about his decision to step down, and about Metro in general.

Despite the persistent reports that he resigned due to frustrations with funding, Zimmerman told me that he stepped down because of time constraints. At the beginning of the year, Zimmerman will become chairman of the Arlington County board. “I have a number of things in Arlington that are very important to me that I really need to spend time on,” he said. “The Metro assignment has become quite consuming, and at some point you have to decide what to focus on.”

That doesn’t mean he isn’t concerned with Metro’s funding. “My concern about Metro in the future is that we have not been committing the resources necessary to operate at the level that the region expects, and we’re seeing the consequences of that. That’s not something that can be fixed from within the Metro board.” He adds that he expects to continue to be involved in Metro and other transportation issues, and in finding a stable source of funding for the agency.

Read on for what I thought was a frank and wide-ranging discussion of the issues the board and the region have ahead of them.

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Talkin' Transit

What’s really happening at those WMATA “random” stops

Screen capture from the WMATA youtube video of today’s first bag swabs

I know – you expect me to say “security theater” and gripe about their ineffectiveness. I may, at the end, but let’s stick to the somewhat interesting factual description for the moment.

Although the WMATA press release doesn’t explicitly say-so, the general description from observers and media indicates that WMATA isn’t doing full bag checks on everyone they wave over. Instead they’re doing a quick swab of the outside of the bag and only asking folks to open it if there’s a positive result. It’s unclear whether this is an effort to make the process faster, a recognition of how difficult it is to effectively visually inspect a bag, or an effort at avoiding constitutional challenges by allowing them to claim they only really invade your privacy if they have a slightly better cause.

Be that as it may, maybe you’re interested in how this works. Let me tell you about it.

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

Blinking ornament in bomb-proof trashcan causes 90 minute fustercluck at Pentagon

Photo courtesy of
‘Christmas 2008 – My Tree – 12-21-08’
courtesy of ‘mosley.brian’

I understand being cautious in a world where new plots to assault Metro riders are announced daily (and that’s just by WMATA! *badum ching*) that you have to be cautious in a situation where you figure out that you might well have something a bit hazardous on your hands.  This morning’s incident at Pentagon Metro, that closed the hub station for 90 minutes during the midst of rush hour, is one case where the caution lead to massive amounts of commuting frustration over a battery-operated Christmas ornament.

My question: why the hell did it take so long to figure out that it was a Christmas Ornament? I mean, I get not wanting to put your hand down in there to pull it out and have something go off, but why not just put that bomb-proof trashcan on a dolly and wheel it right out of the station so that life can go on while you figure it out?

Talkin' Transit, The Features

Talkin’ Transit: Ridership Patterns

Photo courtesy of
‘Escalators sure are pretty’
courtesy of ‘Karon’

As some of you read, I’ve returned to riding Metro after a few months driving to work. The cost of parking is still such that taking Metro often makes more sense.

Apparently, though, it makes less and less sense for many people. The Washington Post reported that due to the increase in fares, bus ridership was down 7%, and while Metro ridership remained the same, Metro found that up to 3% of riders had moved their commute from the highest fare times.

In a way, this is exactly what’s needed to manage capacity. Market forces tend to balance out between supply and demand. Of course, it’s naive to think of a mass transit system in those terms.

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News, Talkin' Transit, The Daily Feed

Metro shortens timeline to meet NTSB recommendations

Photo courtesy of
‘Order is repetition of units…..’
courtesy of ‘LaTur’

Metro’s Finance & Administration committee today approved a $15.7M “budget reprogramming” to shorten the process to meet the NTSB recommendations after last July’s fatal train crash.  Included in the budget modification is the replacement of the track circuits that lead to the issue, installation of event recorders onboard the 1000- and 4000-series, conduct a comprehensive safety analysis of Automatic Train Operation and the beginnings of the replacement process for the 1000-series.

The use of the safety language surrounding ATO suggests to me that we’re looking at 2012 at the earliest before ATO returns to Metro, meaning that your commutes across town are going to remain herky-jerky for the forseeable future.

The funds are coming from within the Capital Improvement Program, nominally coming from a delayed project with the CIP 025 line item reserved for Track Maintenance Equipment, which has been delayed.

Talkin' Transit

Talkin’ Transit: Metro Roundup

Photo courtesy of

courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

There’s some changes coming to SmartBenefits in the new year, and you might want know about them now for your long term planning health.

Metro tells us that starting January 1, 2011, there will be two changes to some benefit programs mandated by the government. The first change is a limit on how much money a person can get for transit. The new limit is $120, a full $110 less than it is this year.

The agency says that of about 285,000 people that receive a transit benefit, about 90,000 will be affected by this. This change comes about as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expires at the end of the year.
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Talkin' Transit, The Daily Feed, WMATA, WTF?!

Faux Metro Ads

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘futuraprime’

I love this series of fake Metro ads from Evan Hensleigh on Flickr.  As bad as it’s been, it’s good that we cans top and laugh a bit at what we’re experiencing out there with Metro’s collapse over the last three years.  My personal favorite is the one with the ad, but the broken train indicator ad is a very, very close second.

I’d love these to get put up on trains as guerilla ads.  Who do we talk to about making that happen?

Talkin' Transit

Talkin’ Transit: The Future’s Bright

Photo courtesy of
’30 Oct 2010 – No 377′
courtesy of ‘B Jones Jr’

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.
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Talkin' Transit

Talkin’ Transit: Back to the Grind

Photo courtesy of
‘Blocking traffic’
courtesy of ‘theqspeaks’

A few months ago I was given the opportunity to drive into the office, mostly because of a free parking pass that was gifted to me for a “short while”. That time is, unfortunately, up. Starting with Thursday’s commute, I have no free parking anymore.

You’ll notice, I didn’t say, “I’m back to riding Metro.”

It’s not that I don’t want to ride Metro. It’s not that I don’t believe that we need good public transportation and fewer cars on the road. It’s just that I’m dreading the idea of becoming a regular Metro rider, again. So what are my options, and what was it like to drive in for almost half the year?
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Talkin' Transit

Talkin’ Transit: Trains!

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘ep_jhu’

Today’s Talkin’ Transit is an homage to Amtrak. Well, really, an homage to all things train. Amtrak just happens to be our primary ride, here in the Nation’s Capital.

What is it about train travel? There’s an old world feel to taking the train. It seems more civilized, certainly, than air travel. It’s less stressful, too. And, while driving might be faster and more convenient, it’s also more stressful (and depending on route, not cheaper, either).

Obviously, a lot of you like the train, too. Amtrak says it has 65% share of the DC to NY air/rail market — which, even with the various bus services left out, still seems like a staggering number to me. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, though: every time I head to a business trip in NY, the Acela seems more and more full. A little over three hours from the heart of DC to the heart of NY, and no one has asked you to strip naked.
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Talkin' Transit, The Daily Feed

Three Federal Agencies give employees access to Capital Bikeshare

Photo courtesy of
‘Do my nails clash with the red?’
courtesy of ‘fromcaliw/love’

Capital Bikeshare launched just two weeks ago, with installations popping up all over town.  The idea is simple: if you need a bike, grab your helmet and check one out from Capital Bikeshare and take your ride. When you’re done, return it to any Capital Bikeshare location.  Costs are pretty reasonable, with memberships starting at $50 a year.  Too pricy?  Rent by the hour with your credit card.

Better yet, if you work for OPM, GSA or DOT, you just got a free membership, courtesy of your employer.  The three agencies announced a partnership with Bikeshare to provide access to over 1,000 bicycles across the city for their employees to use as part of a wellness initiative.

Talkin' Transit

Talkin’ Transit: Future

Photo courtesy of
’31/395 – Daunting Entrance’
courtesy of ‘andrew.cohen’

In the mass transit world it always seems like it’s “us vs. them”. The drivers, with their greedy, self-centered, insistence that they have to drive everywhere vs. the saintly public transit lovers who are sure that you’ll love it if you tried it. Or, another way, the drivers, with their need to drive into their jobs from far away vs. the hippies who have no idea what it takes to get into work in the morning.

Yes, those are slightly exaggerated caricatures. And, yes, there haven’t been any pitched battles (yet). But the reality is that each side in the transit game is deeply entrenched. Car owners are loathto give them up, even when they have a transit option; transit lovers want, through increasing expense, to drive more people to public transportation. For many, it’s a binary situation, good vs. evil, black and white, ones and zeros.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. There’s no sane way to remove all (most, or even a sizable small fraction) of the cars from the road. For one thing, the infrastructure isn’t there: Metro and all of the regional transit agencies together couldn’t handle the load. Metrorail is averaging about 735,000 rides a day on weekdays (over the last 14 weekdays), and system capacity is roughly a million rides. And that capacity is only when the system is running 8-car trains in automatic mode.
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Talkin' Transit

Talkin’ Transit: News Wrap

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘volcanojw’

August was slow, and September isn’t getting much news on the transit front (lots on other subjects, though). I’m going to take a look back on some Metro news you might have missed this month (but not this, as you’ve all seen it by now).

Summer is almost done, so let’s talk snow, shall we? As you’re probably aware, I’ve got a thing about snow and the amount of money that the Federal government, Metro, and local businesses lost during the storm-plagued winter. Metro tells us that they are still recouping some of the $12.7 million that it cost them to clear the snow (forget about the monies lost while the system was shut down). FEMA has agreed to reimburse Metro another $1.76 on top of the million they’ve already granted them. Only $10 million to go…
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Talkin' Transit, The Features, WMATA, WTF?!

Talkin’ Transit: On the Tube

I’ll wait while you watch that video, possibly for the second (or third time).

After seeing yesterday’s video for Metro’s new Train Arrivals by Phone service, I figured I’d go look through some of the video that Metro has posted over the last few years to YouTube.

Below the fold, my favorites, including gems made for the inauguration, “Littering Rabbit”, and some behind the scenes at Metro videos.
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Talkin' Transit

Talkin’ Transit: Moving While Sitting Still

Photo courtesy of
‘Student in Computer Room, 1981’
courtesy of ‘LSE Library’

It’s only fitting that on a day where you need an ark, or at least a kayak, in order to make it to the office, we’re going to look at telecommuting.

I get to telecommute once or twice a week. I don’t do it out of any sense that it’s better for the environment or other green reasons. I do it because the company I work for lets me, and it’s a lot more convenient to be on a 7 a.m. conference call from my sofa. That’s right, most of my telecommuting days are marked by constant calls. By the time I’m done with the first or second, I don’t have enough time to hit the shower and get to the office. By the time I do have time to do that, it’s 1 p.m. and not worth the trip.

The ability to telecommute is one of the perks of my job. In addition to my regular one or two days a week, I can choose to stay at home if the Metro or roads are having a meltdown. That adds to my sanity and keeps me happy on days I’d otherwise have gone mental.
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News, Talkin' Transit, The Daily Feed, WMATA, WTF?!

NTSB v WMATA in Board on Board Battle

Photo courtesy of

courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

Yesterday, for the first time in recent memory, the NTSB took a field trip. Their board joined Metro’s board at the auditorium yesterday for the WMATA board meeting yesterday. During that meeting, Metro made a couple of public statements, one from its interim GM Richard Sarles, and one from Board Chair Peter Benjamin, on the subject of the accident review and the progress that WMATA has made since then. Of course, Metro isn’t just silently accepting the conclusions of the NTSB, and yesterday’s board meeting had at times what appeared to be Sharks vs. Jets moments as WMATA faced off with NTSB over the recommendation. The Post has a good accounting of the meeting, but it doesn’t seem to cover any interaction between NTSB and WMATA.

Somehow, it seems, though, that several of the WMATA Board members hadn’t seen the animation of the accident until yesterday, which is mind-boggling to me. Did they also just get the findings yesterday? I recognize that the WMATA Board is not one with full-time members who only do oversight and nothing else, but it seems to me that they should’ve seen that the day of the hearings, no?

Regardless of acceptance of blame, WMATA’s board needs to show a dedication to safety both for its riders and its staff, that just doesn’t seem to be there right now. While WMATA is taking steps in the right direction, they don’t seem to be organized around the issue. A hotline is a good start. Clearing the wayside is a good start. But bellying the 1000-series cars without doing any kind of testing? That’s just reactionary.

Talkin' Transit

Talkin’ Transit: All About Trust

Photo courtesy of
‘Empty Ride’
courtesy of ‘Samer Farha’

“There is no more valuable currency to a transit system than the trust of its ridership. The accident at Fort Totten severely shook the faith of Washington area riders and the millions of tourists who visit this city. WMATA can win back that trust by taking our safety recommendations to heart, and, at its core, fundamentally changing its culture. This effort has begun, but there is still a long ride ahead.” — National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman, July 27, 2010

Trust. You can’t buy it. You have to earn it. Without it, you’re going to lose customers, no matter your business. When you get into your car, you trust the manufacturer to have tested all the design elements as well as the car you are in. You trust your mechanic to have kept the car in good working order. You trust yourself behind the wheel to keep you safe. The trust you have in each of these things comes from years of observation (by you, or by others you trust).

When your car fails in a way that should have been detected and was preventable, you lose some trust. Depending on the severity of the problem, you might decide to never buy a car from a certain manufacturer or you might no longer do business with your mechanic. And if it turns out that are unwilling to fix the problems or to get a reliable car or to drive in a safe manner, you wouldn’t expect people to continue to trust you to drive them around, time and again.

But that’s exactly what is going on with Metro. It took years of neglect, years of not caring about safety, for the system to get into a state where a deadly accident was all but inevitable. The NTSB report found that, in the words of chairman Deborah Hersman, “the layers of safety deficiencies uncovered during the course of this investigation are troubling and reveal a systemic breakdown of safety management at all levels.”
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