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Dr. Gridlock
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Posted at 02:55 PM ET, 12/20/2011

Confusion, but calm, during Metrorail disruption

Train operators weren’t aware of the break in service on the Blue and Orange lines. Platform personnel didn’t know where the arriving trains would be going. The electronic display signs were next to useless. The station announcements were complicated and infrequent. People passing through the fare gates had no indication there was a problem.

Besides that, things worked pretty well around noontime in Metro Center, which had suddenly become the terminal for Blue and Orange Line service while the transit authority got riders off stalled trains near L’Enfant Plaza and gradually restored service.

During the hour I spent at Metro Center, I saw or heard just about every communications problem that riders complain about during rail emergencies.

Yet the scene was not chaotic. Riders were clearly frustrated with the interruption of their trips and a lack of easily available information about what to do. But they remained calm. Platforms, escalators, stairways and shuttle buses did not get crowded.

Every Metro person I encountered, whether transit police or regular staff, was polite and helpful, sharing what information they had. But you had to ask them. And that meant you had to know there was a problem in the first place.

Sure, there were clues in announcements over the loudspeakers and — every once in a while — on the platform information displays. But if you were an average rider, giving average attention to your surroundings, you would have known only that something was going on. Not what was going on.

Can’t Metro give somebody a bullhorn?

This was my experience, and I’ll be curious to see whether commenters saw it the same way.

The operator of our Red Line train told us about the service disruption as we pulled into Metro Center. He didn’t get it quite right: He said there were no transfers to the Blue and Orange lines at Metro Center and that we should look for shuttle buses.

There was no service heading east at that time. But riders could board trains heading for Virginia. On the Red Line platform. We saw no Metro personnel or posted signs and heard no announcements. Many riders went downstairs to the Blue and Orange Line platform.

I did hear announcements over the loudspeakers describing the break in service. The announcements were clear but way too detailed for an average person to absorb without repetition.

And it would be several minutes before the announcement was repeated. In between, I heard several slow, clear, prerecorded announcements about thwarting pickpockets. Those were helpful, but probably not the most urgent piece of business.

The platform message boards displayed a normal schedule of trains in both directions. They would occasionally flash up information about the disruption, but appeared to linger longer on the routine announcements about elevator outages.

Several transit police officers and several supervisors were on the platform and available for questions. But it was possible to linger quite a while on the platform without knowing there were no trains in your direction.

When one train pulled in, an officer advised passengers to wait to hear an announcement about where the train was going. Many people just got on. The train signs finally switched to “Vienna.” More people got on, and the train doors closed. No audible announcement from the operator to confirm the destination.

I asked an officer how to get to Capitol South. He told me to go upstairs and take a shuttle. I asked which exit to use. “12th and G,” he said. All proper and correct. But that was the only way I would have know about the shuttle.

At 12th and G, there was no obvious boarding point for the shuttles. There were no signs. Metro had several people at the corner, and they were very helpful. If you asked.

I looked left and saw a “Not in Service” Metrobus boarding passengers in front of a Capital Bikeshare stand. Must be the shuttle.

Eventually, buses pulled in marked “Shuttle,” and they pulled up to a more obvious stopping point at the corner.

Meanwhile, people at street level walking into the station — and I do mean walking, because they had to use the staircase down — had no way of knowing that if they wanted to go east on the Blue or Orange lines they would have to come back up again to take the shuttles.

In fact, they could easily have gotten through the fare gates and down to the platform before learning that.

Bottom line at Metro Center: Riders were delayed and confused, yet they found their way.

But Metro, you’ve got to be more assertive in your communications.

By  |  02:55 PM ET, 12/20/2011

Categories:  Metro

 
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