Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What's the Kindest Act you've Seen on Metro?

Metro seems to bring out the worst in a lot of people. One reader once commented that Metro is "thunderdome between the faregates." That's often true, so it's nice to hear stories like this.

From Lindsay:
The other morning on the Orange Line, I saw a blind woman standing in the middle of a car on a super packed train.

As we approached Foggy Bottom, where the morning Orange crush is most crowded, I noticed the woman begin to look as if she was going to get off the train there. I wondered how she was going to make it through the crowd.

When we pulled in, she wasn't making much progress through the crowd. I'm not sure if it was indifference by the people or that people didn't think there was any place to move, but when the doors opened, there was no way she was going to get out in time at the pace she was going.

Just then, this guy leapt out of one of the inside seats and in a stern voice, said "let the blind woman out of the train."

He then made his way up to her, asked her something and then began to politely but sternly clear the people out of the way as she held his arm.

They made it out, and he had just enough time to hop back on before the doors closed.
What's the kindest act you've seen on Metro?

Other items:
Metro's new alert system (WAMTA)
Va. can't block union labor on Dulles rail (Examiner)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Teflon Death Star"

Metro chief spokesman Dan Stessel still hasn't apologized for his callous remarks about sexual harassment.

To me, this latest Metro PR nightmare sheds light on two issues that perpetuate Metro's dysfunction, and until they both improve, there will likely be no unsucking DC Metro.

First, accountability.

There is none.

This idiotic remark alone shouldn't cost Dan his job, but he should say he's sorry. I think any honorable public figure who'd made equally misguided remarks would apologize, but this is Metro.

So what does Metro's leadership think?

I wrote Metro's GM Richard Sarles expressing my concerns about Dan getting away with his egregious remarks. From the manager who the board praised for providing better communications with riders, I didn't even get a canned response.

Sarles has his head in the sand and/or is surrounded by yes men. Until he demands more of his underlings, he and Metro will continue to fail.

Then, I emailed the entire board, including chair Cathy Hudgins individually, expressing my concerns.

From them: nada. Not a one had anything to say. Not even a "I'll look into it."

Here's the email I sent to the board:
I am writing to ask that you look into why Metro's chief spokesman has not been made to apologize for his insulting trivialization of sexual harassment.

I've written the GM asking the same question, and despite your notion that he's improved communication, he has been silent on the matter. Does a GM who doesn't demand accountability from his employees, especially the face of the organization, really deserve a bonus?

Lack of accountability is the NUMBER ONE PROBLEM at Metro, and letting a high-profile employee get away with insults like this sets a poor example.

I'm hoping that you will see to it that Metro apologizes publicly for this callous stance on a serious issue.
Please feel free to copy that text or write your own and send to:, and Maybe you'll have more luck with a response.

What I think Sarles and his clueless board don't seem to get is that letting Dan get away with this not only leaves a good chunk of Metro riders with a very bad taste in their mouths, but it is enabling to all the other "bad apples" Metro has on its payroll. (See yesterday's post or this unbelievable report of sexual harassment not being taken seriously by Metro as just two of way too many examples.)

I've talked to several of my sources and they all said that there's a culture of ""who gives a sh*t" permeating Metro at all levels.

One said in an email:
I look at the downtown boys and see they aren't made to answer to anyone. Look at all the preventable screw ups and no one has paid a price. I don't see another train system in the country with so many breakdowns, disasters and near disasters. And the waste! Everyone here knows they can get away with nearly anything, and a lot of them try. Do you see now why there are so many belligerent Metro employees? Their bosses answer to no one, and they know they'll never have to answer to anyone.
Another said that above-the-law attitude "works its way down the ranks."

So this is a bigger issue than just being insensitive to sexual harassment. Dan, as the face of the organization, is allowed to insult riders with impunity. It's the same as a surly station manager only on a massive, hugely public scale. He's the SPOKESMAN!

But in the end, Dan's statement appears to be perfectly fine to Metro's top brass and board.

This foot-in-mouth incident also brings to light another major reason Metro continues to suck: mainstream media enabling.

I haven't seen one single media outlet take Dan to task for his comments.


Dan's pretty much their only source, and if there's another source, Dan's usually the broker. Piss Dan off, and risk getting cut off.

It's access journalism at its worst.

What was the Washington Post's most interesting article about Metro recently? A rewrite of a presser about a rescued bald eagle. That'd be a fun little feature story if it appeared against a backdrop of solid, insightful and hard hitting journalism about how Metro operates, but I'll let reader Tom elaborate in a letter he said he sent to the Washington Post's ombudsman. He said he got no response.
There is a widespread feeling that the reporting by the Post's transportation team, particularly the Dr. Gridlock column, has been "captured" by WMATA. Many readers have noticed that the Post tends to report statements by WMATA general manager Richard Sarles and chief WMATA PR spokesman Dan Stessel uncritically, including assertions that, far from being factual, are statements of opinion, forecasts for the future, or just plain spin.

Moreover, the official statements by WMATA leaders and PR personnel are often the only sources for Post articles about WMATA and the Metro system aside from semi-informed or uninformed comments from the "rider in the street" (or Twitter messages culled from a search of the messaging service).

WMATA's vast troubles -- which include serious safety issues, mechanical unreliability, and criminal activity, to say nothing of what appears to be gross mismanagement -- are a huge issue that affect a high proportion of Post readers every day, many of whom have no choice but to ride Metro. Yet increasingly those who wish to be informed about what's really going on with WMATA are forced to turn to alternative media sources, including the Unsuck DC Metro blog and TBD On Foot.

These outlets seem to be willing to be critical of WMATA and publish information that casts WMATA in a negative light in a way that Dr. Gridlock and the Post team, some of whom openly admit that they are sympathetic to WMATA's excuses and want to see WMATA prosper and succeed (as do those of us who think that
sunlight is required) do not.

Notably, the Unsuck DC Metro blog has cultivated numerous sources inside Metro and inside similar transit agencies elsewhere in the country who provide a healthy counter-perspective to Metro's PR spin.

To be sure, use of such sources is not in keeping with the Post's default policy on anonymity -- but this is a default that Post editors regularly allow to be reversed in other news areas, such as national security, where whistle blowers may face obstacles to speaking up.

Certainly the state of Metrobus and Metrorail are of similar importance to the Post's local readership.

This brings me to the topical trigger for writing today: the offensive and indefensible recent comments of Mr. Stessel dismissing sexual harassment of passengers by Metro employees and the cavalier attitude with which passenger-on-passenger harassment is treated by Metro as a minor issue.

Specifically, Mr. Stessel said that "One person's harassment is another person's flirting," even in the context of appalling stories of wolf whistles, lewd comments, and physical groping. And despite numerous anecdotes in which Metro personnel refused to even take a report of harassment, he trivialized the problem by saying "It really isn't a big issue," because there have been only a few reports.(And of course this leaves aside the well-known and chronic underreporting of sexual harassment in general in all contexts). This story has been widely reported by alternative local media following his comments to a local TV outlet, and set the stage for testimony before the DC Council on the issue by women's rights activists.

Although Dana Hedgpeth published a story relating to the upcoming testimony, so far the Post has not reported on Stessel's appalling comments -- or on the generally dismissive attitude WMATA takes towards this issue -- at all.

Considering the prominence that the Post has given to other out-of-line and offensive comments in recent years by politicians, actors, and other local government officials, the Post's silence reinforces the impression that the Post is "in the tank" for WMATA on this and other issues.
Until the Post and pretty much the rest of the media kicks their dependence on Dan, develops some other sources and critically questions the things Metro says, I don't expect more accountability from Metro. And without accountability, I' don't think Metro can be unsucked, no matter how much money we throw at it.

As one Metro source told me, "Metro's a Death Star made of Teflon, and no matter what you throw at it, it all slides off, and business as usual limps along."

Other items:
Nifty little song and video inspired by Metro (The42Bus)
Rescued eagle's prospects not good (WTOP)

Monday, February 27, 2012

"Rude, Just Rude"

via @mathewbrown @unsuckdcmetro No passengers allowed to enter Dupont Circle north escalator.

For some time during Friday's afternoon rush, Metro closed off the Dupont North entrance, the only open entrance to one of Metro's busiest station as the Authority has closed the south entrance for 8.5 months to replace the escalators.

It sounds like the problem was relatively quickly resolved, but the poor reaction of the Metro employees at the scene compelled two people to write.

From Tonya:
I am normally one who gives Metro a break, but on Friday, they just crossed the line.

I'm a physically disabled person with a bad knee. I showed up at the Dupont station on my way home only to find no way to enter, but what I want to point out is the rudeness of the Metro employees at that scene.

They were not only unhelpful, they mocked riders who merely asked them why they were not able to get into the station. I have never been so insulted in my life.

For the majority of the people, I'm sure it was only an inconvenience to walk to Farragut North, but for people in my situation, it was an impossibility, yet there was not a hint of compassion in any way the Metro police and employes behaved.

To snicker and murmur insults at your customers like you were watching animals at the zoo is something beyond the pale. It's rude, just rude.

I wish I had another option to get to and from work, but I don't. I'm tired of handing over my money to these fools.

Metro used to be a real point of pride in this city, but it has sunk to depths of depravity no one could ever imagine.
From anonymous:
It was right after they opened up an escalator for people to walk down. There was a Metro employee leaning near the opening (that was a nice touch, made it harder for people to file over there) and he was scowling/glaring at passengers and appeared to be talking to himself or Metro police (they were standing behind him).

He was talking about how we couldn't just walk to another station or take the bus - had to get on this escalator.

Then the Metro policeman made a comment like "yeah - gotta to get home - always in a hurry."

They were basically making fun of passengers for being upset and not wanting to walk to Farragut North or pay even more money to take a bus to Farragut North.

It just added to a very frustrating evening.

There were a lot of angry passengers waiting at Dupont North.

They offered little or no information.

Just that it was closed and people had to go elsewhere (they offered the 42 bus or Farragut North - but gave no directions).

They also said the elevator was closed to passengers. Ah Metro - only how many more months to go? Haha.

If I treated my clients the way some metro employees treat passengers - I'd be fired.

I also liked WMATA's excuse that they must have two escalators that go up at all times. Never seemed to be a problem at Dupont South - which was lucky to have one functioning escalator - ever.
Looks like Metro was quick to place blame for the closure:

Other items:
Budget hearings start tonight (WMATA)
Metro "speed interviewing" new engineering applicants (Examiner)
City Paper blasts Metro's survey
Teen cut during Metro Center fight (WJLA)
Metro does "social media" in private (FixWMATA)
Developers eye Silver Line (Examiner)
Metro assists injured bald eagle (WaPo)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Those were the Days

click for larger

Photos via DC Metrorail Safety Facebook page

The below were taken in 1976. Really amazing and horrifying how little has changed since nearly 40 years ago.

Photos via bengtm

Other items:
Virginia votes to cut Dulles funding (Examiner)
Happy Sarles turned down performance bonus. Sad he was even offered. (Examiner)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Another Landslide

Another landslide closes the A83 Rest and Be Thankful with the road expected to remain closed until at least Friday.  This time debris has not landed on the road but the remote monitoring system triggered an emergency closure. This landslip occurred after nearby Tyndrum recorded 54mm (2") of rain in 24 hours.

Also announced today is a project to remove a bottleneck on the A82, which is the main route from Glasgow to the west highlands and the diversionary route when the A83 is closed.

Related post:
Rest and be Thankful, but not about Climate Change

Don't Participate in Metro's Survey Charade

Can you believe we riders fund Metro's ham-fisted, arrogant, super expensive and insulting PR/Marketing staff with their endless antics?

First, there was the "no Metro" report, an utter waste of every penny that was spent on it.

Then, there was Stesselgate ("One person's harassment is another person's flirting." ), which he still hasn't elaborated upon, as he said he would.

I mean how moronic can these six-figure salary types be?

But even worse is this new survey in which Metro ostensibly "asks customers for their thoughts in prioritizing services that support Metro's day-to-day rail, bus and MetroAccess services, as well as ways to fund Metro and new fare options under consideration."

My B.S. meter went red when I saw this question:
Which would you prefer?

*Metro should maintain its accelerated construction schedule to finish as soon as possible.
*Metro should slow down even at the risk that there may be more breakdowns and disruptions.
Say what? Like the "no Metro study," this false choice tells me this survey is an utter farce.

Still, I had to confirm my doubts.

I showed this survey to an acquaintance who does polling for a living. While they didn't have time to give me an in-depth analysis, they did say the following:
It's a very obvious push poll. Useable input from customers is not the goal here as every possible answer is clearly steered in one direction, and there are no chances for further elaboration. I would guess most of the data collected--if it really is--will be used for internal rationalization and politicking. It's a charade as an outreach tool.

After that, I checked with a Metro "insider" (their term).

According to them, the survey is completely a PR product and was done by Alison Simon, Director of Customer Research, who works directly for Barbara Richardson, Assistant General Manager for Customer Service, Communications and Marketing. She is Dan Stessel's boss and another Sarles crony.

According to the source, Simon is "Richardson's hire and likes to spend $$$$. She's your new Mystery Rider Girl!" (another $252,000 for starters)

Great! The past mystery rider program made all the difference in the world!

The source did not know the amount spent on this survey, but the worthless "no Metro" PR stunt cost $200,000 of YOUR MONEY.

About the survey, the source said the following:
The survey is set up to give only the alternatives that Metro finds acceptable so that they can say to the board, look here's what the public said! But, there is no place for [customers] to say cut the contractors, improve efficiencies, fire the flack!

There's only one open-ended question.

Will it be weighted more heavily than the public hearings? Will there be a flood of response?

It will be tabulated and spun to the outcome Metro desires.
When pressed for an example, the source said that in the future, Metro could use the survey data to tell the Metro board something to the effect of "according to the survey customers rated transit police higher than clean rail cars."

Ranking what should be Metro's core competencies--sufficient police presence and clean cars, safety, on time performance, for example-- should NOT be something put up for a public vote or ranking.

These are all things Metro should do well no matter what, and anything outside them should be looked at for savings. Metro has a LOT of highly paid "experts" who are supposed to allocate funds so that we have a decent mass transit system here in the DC area. Just because they can't doesn't mean Metro can shirk the task off to the public.

Metro should be ashamed to even have asked the public to rank the crucial and vital jobs Metro is supposed to do well--and doesn't--at all.

Spare us your expensive marketing surveys and get on with running the subway and the buses!
If you want to let Metro know what you think, go to a public hearing. Of course, Metro's PR geniuses forgot to say what time these hearings will start.

Another take
Another take

Other items:
Riders complain about sexual harassment on Metro (Fox)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Passing the Suck

Ever noticed how often there are train malfunctions to start off rush hours?

A very reliable Metro source shed some light as to why that happens.

Apparently, a rail yard like West Falls Church is expected to have and report a certain number of cars ready for revenue service each morning. With West Falls, it's 144 cars, the source said.

The source said that a lot of times, just before the trains are set to roll out for revenue, a train might call the tower and report, for example, a last-minute propulsion problem with one or more of the cars.

According to the source, the yard will--incredibly--OK that train to go out for revenue just so West Falls (or any of the other yards) can make its morning number to report to downtown.

"The tower will say 'call it in when you get to East Falls Church,'" the source said. "Once it goes on the mainline, it's not [the yard's] problem any more."

Then, the source said, "the sh*t goes down; that's why you get trains going down very first thing in the morning."
"Metro is a kingdom, and there are all these little fiefdoms. You all live under the king, but [your fiefdom] is your domain. You collect taxes. You rule that area. You don't come in my area. I don't come into yours. Nobody cares about the final result. It isn't about making sure everything runs the best it can. It's all about [making sure] the blame doesn't come back on you. There's no 'this is what we're trying to achieve.' They're trying to achieve something different from what the guys downtown are. This place is about screwing over someone else. Sarles and these guys are insulated from this."
Other items:
Dan Stessel comes across really well in this piece on sexual harassment (WUSA)
Dust at Court House "likely" or "probably" concrete dust
Metro is failing at social media (The Shortest Road)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mystery Dust Causes Concern

Metro Don't Care

From "daily rider":
Wondering if anyone else has had this happen to them.

I've complained to and complimented Metro a few times over the past years. Usually, the complaints are about something I think is pretty bad (usually sexual harassment by Metro employees), not petty stuff. Nothing has ever come of them, but I continue to submit so that I have a legal paper trail should anything happen.

The last time I complained via the email address, I was shocked at what I received in response. Here it is:

"Thank you for contacting Metro. We value your comments and welcome your feedback. To better serve you, we have created a detailed customer comment form so you can let us know how we can assist you, how we are doing, and how we can improve. This form allows us to respond to your comments more quickly and accurately.

We hope you will take the time to fill out our form so we can assist you with your Metro questions. Make sure you bookmark the link so you can use it in the future."

Say what? Instead of a form letter saying they'd get back to me (they never have), I was directed to SUBMIT MY COMPLAINT AGAIN via their online complaint form! Did my complaint via email ever register? Who the hell knows?

Email is by far the easiest way for most people to contact them, yet they appear to not accept email any more. Do they really care about what we think? This makes me think they couldn't care less.

Oh, and that online complaint form is so tedious--I can see a good chunk of people just saying f-ck it and not bothering.

If this is some kind of "clever" campaign to reduce the amount of complaints they get, I bet it works.
From Jen:
I recently emailed Metro with a question about SmarTrip. Instead of a reply, I was directed to their website to fill out a form. Any idea why they would do that? Seems pretty dumb.
From Tom M., who submitted this story and cc'ed Metro's email customer service email address:
OMG -- They cannot handle an email comment! The bureaucrats just automated a response to drive you to another automated system that is likely to "fold, spindle, and destroy" anything you submit?

THIS passes for customer responsiveness in a region far too accustomed to poor service -- from public agencies, retail outlets, food and bar service, etc. What a load of B.S.
I emailed Metro chief spokesman Dan Stessel to ask about this apparent shift in gathering feedback a couple weeks ago and never heard back.

Guess I'll have to submit a form.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How Green are Green Fingers?

Gardening turns out to be very eco un-friendly... The Independent

According to an article in this morning's Independent, gardening is not very environmentally friendly but I think that it depends on your approach.  This is my approach to minimising the negative effects of gardening:


I keep a compost heap for garden waste and vegetable trimmings which reduces the amount of waste being carted to a landfill site and produces a compost suitable for use as a soil improver.  Personally, I find it too coarse for use as a potting compost so I use a commercial peat-free compost for potting and other general purpose uses. I have successfully grown  potatoes in bags with a mixture of the peat-free compost and earth.  

Read more »

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Who Causes Door Problems?

Oops. Hello third rail. This is most definitely not a rider's fault.

A spate of recent offloads can be blamed on door problems with the 2000-series cars, according to a very knowledgeable Metro source.

"We're having a lot of problems with the 2000's doors," they said.

They said the doors may actually be fully shut, but certain switches may not be thrown to indicate to the operator that the doors are fully shut, leading to an offload.

The source added that Metro management has been notified of the problem, but to date, no solution has been offered.

"That tells me they don't know what the problem is," they said.

In late 2010, there were systematic issues with the doors on the 4000-series cars, causing Metro to yank them all from service.

Despite all of this, Metro loves to blame the door problems (and escalator problems) on riders. Sure, it's sometimes true, I guess, but when I recall the times I've been offloaded for a "door problem," the train has never been bursting at the seams with riders. Doubtful those were riders' fault.

Given Metro's opaqueness, I guess we'll never really know.

But, for the sake of argument, let's accept that some percentage of door issues are the fault of riders.

Even so, it is NEVER OK for Metro operators to rudely berate riders in the officious, threatening tone they often take. They other day, one operator was yelling at riders as if we were criminals at every stop from Metro Center to Rosslyn, all the while threatening to offload.

But again, let's be forgiving and look at it from the operator's point of view. They're pressured to get moving, so maybe they get a little worked up and let loose on the riders.

Then you just have to turn to Twitter for more Metro callousness. Metro is more than happy to set you straight about who's at fault. The "not blaming" one is classic.

Other items:
Dulles tolls could triple to pay for Silver Line (WaPo)
Metro's oversight of IT contractors lacking (WMATA)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Don't Drink Booze on Metro

Egg man: Eating hard boiled eggs and throwing the shells on the floor. Via Wes

Via Alex

I've gotten a lot of emails about the enforcement of the no eating or drinking rule.

It took a couple months, but Metro finally got back to me with information about the number of eating and drinking citations they issue.

From Jan. 1, 2011 to July 31, 2011, Metro issued only 11 eating citations and eight drinking (non-alcohol) citations. On the other hand, they issued a whopping 888 alcohol citations.

Here's the list if you're interested.

I also asked them for the amount of the citations, but Metro said "WMATA does not set the fines for violations of public ordinances or laws. This is set by the local governments. Therefore, our files do not reflect the citation costs."

Interestingly, MTA's new chief opposes a ban on eating and drinking in NYC.

Other items:
Metro will "stipulate to liability" in Red Line crash, issues no apology (Examiner)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Money Making Scheme

I saw this posted on Facebook:

Local farmer produces solar power but wants to produce more, looks into it and finds out that high powered floodlights can be used to generate power at night but this uses twice as much energy than it creates.....

no problem.

Contracted unit price per unit 7 pence, feed-in tariff price per unit 44 pence
2 units @ 14p = 1 unit @ 44p = profit 30p

The floodlight have been ordered.....

I do think this may catch on!

EcoWarriorMe comment: The farmer will be disappointed. Solar panels (photovoltaic panels) are in fact only 15-20% efficient, which means he will use at least five units to generate one unit of solar electricity. Add to that the inefficiency of the lights with up to 80% of the electricity consumed being wasted as heat, the sums just don't add up, never mind the wastefulness of out all.

What next? Giant hairdryers to power wind turbines, perpetual motion machines or cold fusion?

Darwin Award Aspirant

And the Darwin Award nomination for February, 2012 goes to this guy who appears to be dancing in the middle of the cars.

Given Metro's jolting, stop-and-go ride, it's amazing this guy was not killed.

From D.:
This guy was dancing in between the cars. Scared a lot of people, made some laugh.
And if you're in the Valentine's Day spirit, check out last year's post.

Other items:
Feds could trim Metro money (Examiner)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Farragut North Station -- More Particulates than a Hard Rock Mine Tunnel

From Tom M.:
I would guess the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) would consider an immediate cease and desist order on WMATA once they measured the particulate levels in the air at Farragut North in the morning these days and compared them to occupational and health standards.

The dust is thick from the construction work overhead.

Concrete is a horrible dust generator when you're working with it, particularly cutting it.

They've been working and cutting for months.

The dust is too thick, and it is generally dry and "uncontrolled." That means traffic from passengers, and more importantly, the wind generated by the moving trains keeps the particulates constantly in circulation where human lungs, bodies, clothes, etc. can serve as "filters" for WMATA.

I work in the hard rock mining industry. I know a good deal about health and safety standards. I've been in plenty of mine shafts and been adjacent to plenty of working faces. I don't have the instruments to measure this in DC, but at Farragut North, it is the Metro riders who are getting the shaft.

Why doesn't a crack cleaning crew address this mess AFTER overnight work and BEFORE daily operations begin?

Granted, passengers have far less "dwell" time in the station than a miner has in a shift below, but with the ongoing and glacial pace of the work, WMATA is neglecting to clean up the dust to cut the unnecessary dose of it we're getting in the morning on "doors opening."
Other items:
Metro spending $51 million on consultants (Examiner)
Metro board member consults for consultants (Examiner)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wind Energy Costs

Following the recent attack on wind farms by MPS, I wanted to look at the cost of wind energy in fairly broad terms.  The latest attack on wind farm development is by a list of over 100 hundred Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum (I counted 2 Labour, 2 Lib-dems, one DUP, with the remainder being conservative) who wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for a ban on any subsidies and tightening planning controls to make it easier for people to block developments. This coming from a government that wants to reform planning to include "presumption in favour of sustainable development".  They appear to rate wind farms as unsustainable while new housing on greenbelt is perfectly sustainable; we have so much green space that we can build on it now without limiting future generations ability to build on it too!

Read more »