When you’re spending more than a billion dollars on a program to fix the transit system, there’s got to be some good news somewhere. Metro General Manager Richard Sarles showed good instincts this morning in delivering some of that news where it would be most appreciated.
According to a statement from Metro, Sarles told a meeting of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce that the transit authority now plans to replace the problem-plagued bank of three long escalators at the entrance to the Bethesda Station.
Those escalators have long served as a convenient symbol for riders’ daily encounters with busted Metro equipment. Bethesda is a very busy station, and the entrance escalators are very long. They also break down a lot, and sometimes all three are stopped at once. It’s very challenging to walk up one of those stopped escalators, but it’s also difficult to walk down.
Among the escalators my readers complain about, Foggy Bottom ranks above all, probably because there’s only one entrance and exit to the station, the escalators there also break down a lot and often are all out at once, and the situation creates long, slow lines to walk up or down.
Other top sources of complaints are the escalators at Dupont Circle and Union Station. Metro keeps a running count on its Web site of the out-of-service escalators. As I write, the list shows that 120 of the 588 are out of service for various reasons.
So I find two things to especially like about today’s announcement. The first, of course, is that Metro plans to replace the Bethesda escalators.
“We can’t keep doing band-aid repairs and hope they will last – it’s time to just replace the entrance escalators at the Bethesda Station,” Sarles said, according to the Metro statement.
The second good thing is that the general manager is highlighting it. Dave Kubicek, the deputy general manager, recently remarked that riders now encounter a lot of brown wood in the transit system, as Metro blocks off equipment for repairs.
We need that aggressive program, but it can be discouraging to see so much of Metro torn up for repairs. Sarles, the guy at the top, is doing the right thing every time he goes out and, in effect, says, We know you hate this particular thing, and we’re going to fix it. (Step 2, of course, is delivering on the promise.)
Now, there are are several things that could dampen riders’ enthusiasm about today’s announcement. Under this schedule, the Bethesda escalator replacement would begin in early 2014, though Sarles said in the Metro statement that he asked his staff to review the maintenance schedule to see if there is any opportunity to accelerate the project.
Second is that the announced program of escalator replacements in Metro’s capital plan now includes four stations: Bethesda, Foggy Bottom, the south entrance at Dupont Circle, and Pentagon. That’s 12 escalators out of the 588.
When Metro riders see escalators torn up, it’s more likely that they’re undergoing an emergency fix or a long-term rehabilitation than that they’re being replaced.
Many riders would say that they all should be replaced, either by new units or by stairways. (Foggy Bottom is getting both new units and a stairway.)
The cost of replacing all the escalators would be staggering, and well beyond Metro’s current financial means. Meanwhile, many riders like the option of using the escalators rather than walking, even on the shorter escalators between the mezzanines and the platforms.
In total, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said, the Capital Improvement Program has more than $150 million for the rehabilitation and replacement of elevators and escalators. That’s 31 elevators to rehabilitate, 144 escalators to rehabilitate and now a total of 12 escalators to replace.