Metro’s General Manager Richard Sarles answered riders’ questions on a range of topics — from broken escalators to rude employees, safety, new rail cars, SmarTrip cards and people eating food in the transit system — during a Thursday morning chat on washingtonpost.com.
Sarles was hired last year as interim general manager but officially took the helm as the permanent GM and chief executive officer in January. He runs an operation with a $2.5 billion budget, 11,000 employees, 86 rail stations and about 1,500 buses. Metro’s launched an aggressive attempt to repair and fix its aging rail system with a $5 billion capital improvement plan.
Here are excerpts from Thursday’s chat. You can also read the complete chat here.
Q: With the recent problems in the system with robberies and car thefts will metro ever increase its police staff that has been at its same level of deployment for almost 25 years?
A: The size of the police force has increased commensurate with ridership. As a result of crime trends over the last year, MTPD has redeployed resources using the MetroSTAT system and we have seen an overall reduction in crime — including a 1/3 reduction in serious offences as compared to the same period last year.
Will the new, or modified, trains (cars) have the capability to know when they are not being detected by the Automatic Train Control system?
Q:You seem to be a person of high integrity and good intentions. I admire you a great deal for taking on the task of improving Metro. Kudos to your team for tackling the big infrastructure improvements (track repair, escalators, etc.), but the biggest issue is the culture at Metro, specifically the behavior of your front-line employees.
Mr. Sarles, do you *regularly* ride Metrorail and interact with the employees? I have been doing so for 20 years, and please believe me that the attitude and demeanor of customer-facing staff has become surlier over time. Today, it's unusual to meet a helpful or nice staffer. The majority of them are unhelpful and rude.
My personal belief is that this behavior is tacitly condoned by the employees’ union; others may disagree.What specific steps are you taking to fix the problem of rude staff that don't pay attention to customer service?
A: I'd like to start out by saying I ride Metro six days a week.
Our customer service performance is uneven. I receive commendations and have observed front-line personnel going above and beyond to be helpful to customers. Our challenge is to have all of our employees reach that same level of quality service. We will be enhancing training, but I also need the feedback of customers about specific incidents when they are not treated well so we can address that with the particular employee.
Q: I'm one of the lucky 5000 to participate in the Smartrip online enhancement. It's great for adding value via credit card. It's TERRIBLE for the bus passes. If I don't know right away, as opposed to three days later, when my pass takes effect I can't use it well. Please fix the bus-info delay.
A: SmarTrip is old technology and data is stored on the card, not on a central server. It can take up to 24 hours for changes to be reflected on Metrorail.With regard to buses, the system for uploading data is not as fast as for rail. So, I'd allow a couple of days. This is part of the reason why we are moving toward a new "open payment" system.
Q: At Gallery Place on the Red Line heading to Shady Grove due to all trains pulling to the 8 car marker, when a 6 car train pulls in that leaves a 150ft. gap at the rear of the train, right where the green/yellow line is. Can you start having 6 car trains stop at a point where the trailing car is closer to the tunnel, or if not have ALL trains enter at 15 MPH (drop speed commands). It's only a matter of time before someone is struck by a train due to crowding.
A: I understand the crowding issue. For safety reasons, the policy was enacted when we went to manual train control to have all trains pull to the 8-car marker to ensure that all doors open on the platform at all times.
We have staff at Gallery Place during peak periods to encourage people to spread out. Ultimately, when we return to automatic train operation, we'll be able to return to the previous practice of centering trains on the platform.
Q: Mr. Sarles, a lot of the maintenance Metro has to do is to clear a sizeable backlog and/or respond to newly discovered equipment problems such as interlocking replacements recommended by the NTSB.
When do you project that this backlog or newly discovered maintenance need will be cleared and we will be back to a more "normal" amount of maintenance needed? Can you guys post something on Metroforward to keep the public informed of your progress?
Why during a escalator rehab, I rarely see tech working on the unit? I know parts can't take that long to get, and if so why not wait until all parts are onsite BEFORE taken the unit off-line.
I'm sure passengers would rather have two units to walk on versus sharing a unit when no work is being done...Best Practice idea - perform escalator inspections, order parts, upon parts arrival remove unit from service and perform 3 shifts of repairs (24-7)?
A: When the staff or contractor is doing an escalator overhaul, sometimes only by taking apart the unit do they discover all the parts in need of replacement. Since the escalators are old and a manufacturer may no longer exist, it sometimes takes longer than we would like to get all the parts needed for a repair.
Q: When was the last time a ticket was issued for eating or drinking on Metro? Do you think that enforcement of these basics would improve rider behavior in general (broken windows theory)? Will you make enforcement of these etiquette issues an initiative before or after people start bathing themselves on the train?
A: Let me say this: Last year, MTPD issued 6,628 citations for eating/drinking/smoking on the Metro system.
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