The DC area Metro service is failing and local area politicians seem helpless or unwilling to make the changes needed to right the situation in a timely manner.
Recently, I decided to visit a friend in Bethesda after work. On the return trip back, I was riding the Metro in the direction of Shady Grove, the final western stop for the Red Line. As we approached, the ride grew slower and slower. Due to the hour (around 6:30), each car was packed to record claustrophobic levels- levels that one would probably consider unsafe in an elevator. As we chugged along, we found ourselves at a long stop under Medical Center. It was there we were kicked out.
Upon exit, we found the commuters in the platform across from us bound for DC were also being booted out. Everyone surged up the escalators and soon thousands of stranded Metro riders were milling about outside of the National Institutes of Health campus and the Naval Medical Center. There was no instruction from Metro employees, no reason given, no idea whether buses were coming. We were simply dumped.
Being fit enough to do so, I jogged on towards the next stop, Grosvenor-Strathmore. Along the way, I passed hundreds of my fellow evacuees walking along the sidewalk, some trying to flag down cabs. Grosvenor was closed as well, with a helicopter hovering overhead. I press on in the direction of Rockville. Along the way, a Ride-On bus that was ordered not to stop for passengers took pity on me and gave me a free ride. Why had Metro disrupted and stranded so many people without a word of explanation, no emergency plans, and no visible assistance?
Tragically, a customer ended their life by leaping from the mezzanine at Grosvenor and onto the electrified track as reported by the Washington Examiner. While one shouldn’t gripe about being inconvenienced by something so significant as a person’s death, one can legitimately complain about the lack of emergency preparation and communication witnessed by Metro in response to these problems.
These issues are arising in the wake of the Red Line’s awful safety record, as reported by the Washington Post, and during rate hikes fueled by a $190 million deficit for the current fiscal year. While it is understandable that deficits will result in increased fees, it can not justify the continuing ineptitude of the service Metro provides. When the fee hike began, I witnessed gates not functioning, fare distribution kiosks out-of-order, and general disorder at Shady Grove, problems reported throughout the region.
I guess I was lucky in one respect- I missed out on the all-out brawl that took place on the Green Line, as the Washington Examiner reported. Remember when potential terrorist attacks had commuters unnerved? We and our elected officials may have reason to be far more concerned about flashmob and general violence on the Metro, it seems.
What’s being done to improve the system, you may now ask? The National Transportation Safety Board has given its safety “recommendations” a year after the Fort Totten accident, recommendations that will, supposedly bring cars and tracks up to appropriate safety levels. Note that the new cars on order will begin to arrive in 2013.
My response? I bought a bike and I turned my lunch-time run into a full-fledged run / commute in the evenings. While I still take the Metro in the mornings, I’m making an effort to avoid the Metro as much as possible, for my wallet and increasingly for my personal safety. I can’t justify paying for a service that is so clearly incapable of coping with crisis. Until Metro’s escalators work reliably, its trains don’t appear on the platform literally smoking (I have witnessed this recently), and we see improved emergency response from the system and its workers, I’m no longer willing to make Metro commuting a major component of my life. I may even have to (shudder) buy a car and brave DC-area traffic. But I wouldn’t be the first person with environmental concerns forced to take that step, and we have only ourselves, the Metro, and our elected officials to blame for the poor public transportation planning impacting the region.
Kytja Weir, “Apparent suicide snarls Red Line commute” Washington Examiner
Michael Bolden, “Metro peak a.m. fares start Monday” The Washington Post
Ann Scott Tyson, “Metro posts new fare signs after mix-up delays rate increase” The Washington Post
Ann Scott Tyson, “Since Red Line crash, efforts to improve Metro safety have lost momentum” Washington Post
Ann Scott Tyson, “More than a year after Metro crash, NTSB reveals safety recommendations” Washington Post
Michael E. Grass, “Friday Night Rumble: Not Yet a Flashmob-Sparked Metrorail Brawl” Washington City Paper