Highs and (mostly) lows of Washington’s Metro

July 1, 2013
(Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)
(Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Thirty-six years ago today I was standing on the Metro platform at Crystal City with Theodore Lutz, then the Metro general manager. It was opening day for the first completed segment of Metro’s Blue Line — National Airport to Stadium-Armory. Things were running smoothly. Lutz, later a vice president with the Post, turned to me and asked, “You know what’s wrong with an all-new system?”

“No,” I said.

“It becomes all-old at the same time,” he replied.

My editor, Fred Hiatt, filed his complaints about the all-old system in an op-ed column this morning, the same day Dana Hedgpeth and Scott Clement reported on a Post poll that found “a large majority of Washington area residents continue to have favorable views of Metro.” So do I, most of the time, although I quit using Metro to get to night Nationals games because I had to wait 40 minutes for a southbound Yellow Line train after transferring at the Archives station.

Some of the readers who have commented on these articles are fairly positive about Metro, but there are several complaints about surly station attendants (that’s not new).

Some comments from the Hiatt column.

Plenary said, “Delays are to be expected from time to time with any system, no matter how well it’s managed and maintained. At the end of the day, I’d rather deal with an occasional unexpected delay than a daily expected traffic jam. My biggest problem with Metro is that far too many of its employees are completely incapable of containing their contempt for the passengers. I recently witnessed an employee, ironically with an “ask me a question” sign on his back, literally get in a passenger’s face and shout her down when she had the gall to ask him why the train was being held on the platform for an extended period of time. She was visibly shaken by it.”

Grahll wrote, “I have been taking Metro since 1997, and I do think the station staff have become surly, rude, and unhelpful in a way I never saw before. I never saw the kind of rude behavior I am see now, 10 years ago. But then, they work in a worsening, dysfunctional system.”

Joseph McColley said, “The problem with you and me, Fred, is that we both lived in Japan, where despite the 36 million-Tokyo-Metro-population, trains come on time, all the time, every two minutes. You and I, Mr Hiatt, have lived in a city where the metro works, where the workers are diligent and courteous, and where a 6-minute-late train is not considered “jikan dori” – on time. The Washington Metro is a thorn, that stabs at both the heart and head, and irritates my whole being because I, like you, know it can be a whole lot better!”

Smith66 said, “As long as Metro is the private playground of corrupt DC politicians, it will always be a bastion of corruption and incompetence. There is only one way to fix it and that’s to privatize it, and eliminate the union contracts which drive up wages to ridiculous levels. All of the suburbs have pulled out of metro bus and most have moved to contractor operated bus systems. They are cheaper and better run. Just think of what metro could be if you had private management.”

But FergusonFoont said, “What an idiotic comment! If Metro were adequately funded out of the Federal treasury as it should be, it could provide a testament to show the world what a democracy can accomplish for the benefit of its people. Privatize it and it falls apart. Public transportation seldom is run beneficially at a profit.”

AnonPoster, “Sorry, but I all I could really ponder was the amazingly ironic hidiousness of it all as I was flushed from an 8 car inbound Orange this morning at 7A at VA Square, and of course the next few trains were all 6 car. I can’t properly express my feelings for Metro in this forum, so we’ll just leave it at Metro Sucks!”

OpenDC said, “I really doubt the validity of this poll. Did they poll the metro board & DC council members? I have lived in DC since 1983 and I have stopped riding metro because of the delays, filth, inattentive staff and vulgarity and rudeness of metro riders. I have not heard a positive remark about metro from locals or visitors in years.”

But cdierd1944 wrote, “It is surprising that Metro gets such high marks given the fact that there is a constant barrage of negative media reports every time something goes wrong. The simple fact is that millions ride Metro every year and arrive safely and timely. Metro is not perfect, it never will be. But, consider the alternative. If you work downtown and think Metro is expensive, check out the price of parking. When I compare Metro with the next best alternative for the masses, there is no comparison–Metro wins hands down. We should be thankful that we have such a wonderful public service available to us.”

Cassopolis said, “Before Metrorail, the region had a reasonably effective bus system, many of whose routes were discontinued to force passengers onto subway trains. When functioning at its best, the system of trains beat buses; at their worst, I am not so sure.”

We’ll close with Heels, who wrote, “I know there are lots of complaints but overall, I would much rather ride the metro than to sit in traffic on I-495 … Generally speaking, there are few delays on my morning and afternoon commutes. I can usually depend on metro getting me to work and home in the time I have allocated. It takes me 1 hour to get to work and 1 hour to get home and most days, that usually happens…”

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