Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Metro, Metro, where art thou?

The continuing news about the Metrorail collision, unfortunately, gets worse and worse, with the death toll at 9 people. It's chilling to think about the crash, because even if you weren't on the train, you might have been about to take the train, or know someone who regularly takes the train. That the weather was beautiful (no ice or witheringly hot temperatures to deal with), makes the trains' malfunctions all the more distressing.

As scary as the situation was for people at the collision site yesterday, I empathize a lot with the confused people in the subway station, waiting to find out what to do, what happens next, that sort of thing. Unfortunately, there's a LOT of room for improvement of communication at Metro rail stations to passengers.

The last time I was in the station when there was a problem of some type was a few months ago. Who knew what delayed the trains that morning? There was no announcement from Metro management, of course.

Now, being a longtime Metro passenger, I knew that I could get off the train and use my Smartrip card to take a bus, which I did; this enabled me to be merely a bit early for my appointment, instead of way ahead of time. How many passengers know that they can use the smartrip on the bus as well? Does Metro announce this possibility when there are major system delays? (Answer: Are you kidding?)

Unsurprisingly, the "M" word--maintenance--rears its ugly head. The fact that Metro users take it on the chin financially because there's no dedicated source of funding (other than occasionally begging Congress and local jurisdictions) means that maintenance, too often, gets short shrift. Sadly, I'm not surprised that the NTSB has found that an old train that should have been replaced is part of the reason for the crash.

Finally, can there finally be a real Metro board? You know, comprised of people who regularly USE the system. The fact that the head of the Metro board, Jim Graham (who's had his own recent troubles) doesn't regularly use the system (which, sadly, is not unusual for the Metro board), has insulted Metro passengers by implying that they are not busy people, unlike him, is a real travesty. You can't tell me that this indifference doesn't affect the running of the system, because for people who don't use the system, any problems that come up are mere abstractions, so there is no sense of urgency to repair them.

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It's been a rough couple of weeks in town--the shooting at the Holocaust museum, in Columbia Heights, and now this crash. Ugh. I need to chill to this classic Roy Ayers tune, "DC City," to put me in a better mood.

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