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Metro in Decline - Tarnishing the Silver?

A trip to the National Zoo was a great experience - except for travel to and from on Metro. The very same Metro coming to Wiehle Avenue next year.

The View from Over Here

 Last Sunday, Fran and I, along with our daughter, son and budding naturalist
grandson headed for the National Zoo in Washington, DC.  We hadn’t been there for several years.  And, we were not disappointed. 

 It seems to have grown bigger and even better—with over 2,000 animals from 400 species.  It is a lovely, exotic place with animals viewable in relatively spacious, well-appointed quarters — with the possible exception of the reptiles. We thoroughly enjoyed it, although my grandson with the insatiable appetite for the animal kingdom felt, at the end of a long day, that we had not yet seen absolutely every single animal in the Zoo.

 We travelled to and from the Zoo on Metro.  There, the experience was not so good.  I hadn’t used Metro much — if at all — this year.  It seemed to have changed rather dramatically for the worse since my last travel on the system.

 When we got to the Vienna Station, we conquered the business of getting fare cards and a couple of refilled Easy Passes with little difficulty.  We had planned ahead, knew the cost of our roundtrip fares and had brought smaller bills to work with the machines.  And, it being a Sunday, the place wasn’t jammed.

 OK - until we got to the turnstiles to head down to our train.  Only two or three turnstiles were working going in, and those were not working well.  Several people had trouble getting their fare cards read or accepted by the machines.  Some made it through after repeated attempts and changing to other entry turnstiles.

A couple of travelers just couldn’t get the cards to work, and finally succeeded in getting the attention of not-very-attentive Metro staff chatting among themselves in the kiosk ten feet away. As we headed down the escalator to the train area, one person still had not cleared the entry barrier.

On the platform, I noticed the train seemed much longer than I remembered. It had 10 or 12 cars.  When we finally got rolling towards DC, I noticed that there were no announcements of the next station over the P.A. system.  Another  sign of slipping service. 

At Metro Center, we successfully transferred from the orange line to red to get to the Zoo.  On the red line train, stations were announced over the loudspeaker….I think.  However, the speaker obviously had a pillow to his/her face and could not be understood.

Upon arriving at the Woodley Park station on Connecticut Avenue, we headed for the escalator up to the street.  WAY UP to the street.  I had thought the Rosslyn Station had the biggest escalator, but the one at Woodley Park looked quite a bit higher.  So much so that we joked a bit as we rode up about how the Metro escalators were famous for breaking down, and how lucky we were that it was operating just fine.  Sure enough, we had put the hex on it. 

About 10 yards from the top, the escalator ground to a halt—and did not re-start.  Not bad for us, we were almost at the top anyway.  Way back down below, however, we could see a lot of less fortunate passengers waiting, contemplating the long climb in front of them.

On our return trip to Vienna after a really nice family day with all the animals,
we again experienced difficulty with the turnstiles.  And, as the train went from station to station, the stations remained anonymous as the loudspeaker announcements continued in unintelligible mode.

 Why write about the apparent decline in quality of Metro service?  Perhaps I’m doing so because I realize that Metro is actually coming here to Reston very shortly and about to become a larger part of our lives—potentially.  Why-O-why does it have to go to pot just as it is finally arriving in Reston?! 

Who can I call or write to in order to complain about the poor service and appeal to for action?  OMG, this can’t be right!  The Chairman of the Metro Board
is none other than Reston overlord, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins!   



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the-stix August 08, 2012 at 10:03 AM
Metro service and maintenance issues are not news and in my view, are due to a less than creative corporate group-think starting with the board, and a lack of a reliable or adequate operations funding stream. There are 15 WMATA board members, (my guess all Democrats), and operational funding from fare and advertising shortfalls is covered by contributions from the District of Columbia, Maryland, Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Fairfax County, and Falls Church (all Democratic dominated administrations). What is needed is a massive house cleaning to create an aggressive problem-solving mind-set to address Metro issues that are not going to go away by the usual band aiding every year. And it wouldn’t hurt if the DOT (currently La Hood) would take some ownership for the ‘national’ commuter rail system as well, perhaps by diverting a 'few pennies' from the Obama administrations dubious high speed rail program. Federal workers travel too!
Stealth Ops August 08, 2012 at 12:23 PM
The supreme irony of all of this is the fact that Metro continues to increase their fares, cannot fix their funding gaps, and yet the level-of-service continues to degrade. None of the individuals in the current metro board, nor it's chairman, know how to run a metro system. The people on the board should at least have an idea of what mass transit is, how it operates, what are the problems, what could be potential solutions and most important of all, how to increase ridership. Why has ridership decreased? The alternatives are getting to be more even every day... would you spend $20 a day to parking on DC and sit on traffic carpooling (where the cost can be divided by 2-3 people? Or spend $4.75 on metro parking and $5.75 in the morning, $5.75 in the afternoon (a total of almost $17 a day) to sit on a crowded metro car, with no air conditioning during a hot summer (or no heat during the winter)?
Paula August 08, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Once upon a time, Metro was a clean, well maintained, enjoyable ride. Now, it's a roll of the dice for every trip you take. How unfortunate that this sloppy service is the best Metro can do for residents and visitors. I feel the most sorry for communters who have to choose the lesser of two evils -- either sitting in horrendous traffic burning up expensive fuel along with their valuable time, or, riding on Metro and enduring train breakdowns, unbearably hot and crowded cars, and more increasingly, crime. Somewhere along the line, Metro was allowed to become less accountable. Employees began to display negative attitudes and complaints were routinely ignored. How can Metro be improved? It needs a complete overhaul, starting with the entire management structure down to every employee. An independent, unbiased firm needs to do a thorough examination of Metro's finances, employment policies and management team. That information then needs to be implemented into an improvement plan that is also overseen by an unbiased, independent firm. Metro didn't become a train wreck overnight. It has been a slow, insidious decline throughout the past twenty five years. To help motivate the powers that be at Metro, put your pen in hand or computer to keyboard and start voicing your complaints. Encourage others to do the same. Nothing is going to improve with Metro until the public demands change and works hard to get it. Otherwise, we will be stuck with a broken system forever.
Glenn August 08, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Interestingly enough for those of us who have had a chance to try metro systems around the world is the low rating our system gets. It certainly has the most attractive underground stations. But with the exception of subway station designers, most people don't care that much. Is it clean, reliable and comfortable? Those are the important questions. Our subway system fails all three of these tests. It is time for us to consider selling the system. Offering to lease it for 20 years for $1 and offering to continue the massive subsidies now being paid, escallating at the same rate as over the last 20 years, will bring several capable firms to the table. More importantly, it will bring a fresh view of how to attract new customers and revenues. Only with clean, reliable and comfortable service. And with service more attuned to Virginia's needs than we are currently getting. Having worked with commuter rail for many years, our Metro system is a disgrace. And needlessly so.
the-stix August 08, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Privatization of the Metro system is a great idea. The problem is the “offering to continue the massive subsidies” as part of the deal. It is unlikely that those providing the subsidies today would be willing to make such a long term commitment. The long term funding commitment is a major part of Metro’s problems. If the funding partners were willing to provide a guaranteed long tem revenue stream today, I am sure we would see vast improvements even with today’s Metro enterprizs.
Skip Endale August 08, 2012 at 07:56 PM
John, thanks for closing your opinion piece by sharing your agenda, putting down "Reston overlord, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins!". You put together some fine poetry but I don't see any statistical data that supports your claim of a "decline". Take it from someone that knows, someone that rode the oldest subway systems in the world: NY City and Buenos Aires.
Tammi Petrine August 09, 2012 at 01:01 AM
Metro is a complex organization with enormous challenges. I do agree however that employee attitide is a huge component of public discontent. There is absolutely NO reason for bad attitudes and those with same should and can be replaced with persons who take pride in their organization. Please do take pen to paper, keyboard to computer and let the management know how you feel. My spouse has ridden Metro for decades and comments on the same conditions that John encountered. Luckily he is patient and knows the drill but heaven help newbies who are stuck! The nation's capitol should not put up with a sub-par transport system. Reston especially should not given that 54% of our line is being financed by DTR tolls. Restonians deserve better on all fronts and hopefully our supervisor will come up with alternative financing sources for the Silver Line as promised. Note to all: if you are not part of the solution, you ARE part of the problem. Let the powers that be know of your frustrations but please, no personal attacks. They are demoralizing and disrespectful. Only if we all work together for better systems, will we get what we need and lead peaceful, positive lives.
Lucinda Shannon August 09, 2012 at 01:37 PM
I ride the metro every weekday to commute from Reston to DC. I used to complain about it, I got so fed up that I said I was going to start driving. And then I went back to riding the metro and realized that I’ve been using this system reliably for 10 years. Yeah, some days it is overcrowded, sometimes it breaks down, and it is not cheap, but it works. I’m surprised that so many people would complain that they want the quality of a service to be improved and then attack the people or systems supporting that service, demanding that support be reduced further. Public services, like transportation infrastructure, schools, police, fire departments and such are not private services and they should not be treated as private endeavors. Our Metro system is one of the few transit systems without a dedicated funding source. If you want these services to be maintained and improved, then support them. Vote for the representatives who support them, pay more taxes, and use the systems.

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