Tuesday, January 3, 2012

When the Wind Blows

How the mighty have fallen -
Mature tree in Pollok Park destroyed
in December storms
It has been fairly windy in Scotland over the past year. Back in May, unseasonable storms battered the country causing one fatality, power outages, travel disruption, damage to crops and felling many trees.  We do not normally have such high winds during the spring and summer when the trees are in full leaf so they were more susceptible to damage and many mature trees were lost.

The next big storm was in September when the tail end of Hurricane Katia brought heavy rain, flooding and more trees down. It was not nearly as severe as Huricane Irene that struck the north east US a couple of weeks earlier but it still caused at least one fatality and significant disruption.

A relatively calm and mild but wet autumn followed as local government prepared for heavy snow like that which caught them out last year. Then came hurricane force winds on the 8th of December. They had been forecast a few days in advance with the Met Office issuing red alert and the authorities were taking no chances: closing most schools, recommending that people don't travel at all if possible and leave work early to avoid the most severe winds.  The main concern was that the strongest winds were forecast to occur during the afternoon and into the evening rush hour, meaning more people on the roads, hence a greater probability of accidents, people getting stuck and congestion preventing the emergency service getting about.  More trees came down as expected, knocking out power lines, closing roads and disrupting trains but the ferocity of the storms were perhaps a little less than expected.

December continued to be blustery with strong gales on Christmas Eve causing some localised damage (a neighbour lost part of his shed roof) then the next big one hit on the third of January.  This time central Scotland was hit hard as were parts of England and Wales.  The forecast was for strong winds but only an amber alert, rather than the red alert issued for the 8th of December storms so people didn't expect it to be as bad.

The damage was widespread and dramatic:
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Trapped in Twinbrook

From Dave:
On the afternoon of Dec. 27, I got to my car at the Twinbrook parking lot in Rockville at 6:13 p.m. I know this because I called my wife, telling her I could stop at the store to pick up dinner. I didn't exit the parking lot until 7:01. Why? Because I was held hostage by Metro.

When I pulled out of my space, I drove toward the exit and immediately knew something was wrong. There was a line of 20 cars in front of me, none of them able to exit.

I immediately knew what was wrong.

The SmarTrip reader wasn't working.

I know this because the same problem happened a few months ago, only this time it was worse.

When the SmarTrip reader isn't working, Metro doesn't just open the gate and let you out.

Instead, they make EACH car fill out a form stating that you're unable to pay prior to exiting. This form is meant to be used when someone doesn't have the money or SmarTrip balance to exit a lot.

This allows the parking attendant to take down the drivers information, and lets the attendant open the gate.

It should not and is not intended to be used when Metro's machines are malfunctioning and can't read a SmarTrip card.

The form is long, cumbersome, and takes several minutes to complete. When 50-plus people are trying to exit a parking lot, you can immediately see the chaos that would result if each of those cars had to fill out this form before leaving.

How can Metro justify keeping each car in their parking lot for that long?

Why should the riders be held hostage for so long because of a malfunction of Metro's machines?

I had money on my card to exit. I even told the attendant I could pay in cash.

It didn't matter.

He refused to let us go until I filled out the form.

I asked him what he would do if there was an emergency. He didn't seem to care. He said I should call the police and maybe they'd let everyone leave. But his supervisor wouldn't authorize him to raise the gate.

To make matters worse, the second gate to exit was blocked by the parking attendant's car.

When this happened a few months ago, no car was parked in the other exit lane. When another customer asked what would happen if he just drove out, the parking attendant said "nothing," so he did just that. Seconds later, the other 20-plus cars did the same.

This time, that wasn't possible.

I called Metro's customer service number to try to see if they could do something. I spoke to a representative, and he seemed helpful--at first.

He took down the information I provided about the situation and contacted his supervisor.

What did his supervisor suggest?

He said they'd send another parking attendant out to take down the information so they could speed up the process!


When I asked what else could be done, he told me nothing.

He didn't care about what I and many others were going through. He wouldn't let me speak to his supervisor. When I told him that this is why the agency he works for is failing, he couldn't have cared less.

By this point, I had been waiting for about 30 minutes. Everyone waiting was honking their horns as if their life depended on it. People were getting out of their cars yelling.

I seriously thought a mob might form.

If I had been driving an SUV, I would have driven around the gate, but unfortunately my sedan didn't seem like it could make it, especially with all of the mud around from the rain all day.

By this point I was so frustrated I called the Rockville police's non-emergency number. They were helpful and sympathetic, but had to transfer me to Metro Transit Police, since it was their jurisdiction.

When I spoke to Metro Transit Police, they said they'd send someone over. Whether or not they ever made it, I don't know.

I finally exited the lot at 7:01. When the parking attendant asked me to fill out the unable to pay form, I wrote a few choice words on it, and he opened the gate, and I left.

I was finally free after being held hostage in Metro's parking lot like a caged animal because their machines were malfunctioning.

I've been riding Metro for almost eight years. I've experienced a lot of horrible things done by Metro during that time, but this takes the cake. This is an all-time low, even for Metro.

The parking attendant supervisor who wouldn't authorize the gate to be lifted should be fired, Metro should issue an apology to each person impacted by this incident, and each rider should be able to park for free for a year as a result of this inexcusable action.

This is just further proof that Metro doesn't care about their riders, the customers that pay for the agency to exist.

This might be my breaking point when it comes to Metro. In 2012, I might be exploring other ways to get into downtown DC each day.

At least when you're stuck in traffic driving, you made that decision, where as with Metro they make the decision for you.
Other items:
Dude, where's my SmarTrip balance? (Examiner)