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Dr. Gridlock
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Posted at 11:46 AM ET, 04/25/2011

Why not eliminate Metro escalators?

This letter says money-strapped Metro needs to face reality about long-term costs, and suggests the transit authority replace many of its escalators with stairs. But when I ask riders about this, they are divided. I’d like to get your opinion, too. First, the letter.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am a former D.C. resident and an ex-New Yorker with experience on a far more basic subway system, and I am also a public transit professional having served in managerial and technical roles in light rail, heavy rail and commuter rail systems all over the United States.

New York City Transit is low-tech but works very well for the most part. WMATA from its inception, seems a bit gilded, with lots of frills that are nice but not essential and add to the cost and complexity, and impact reliability. So now the operating and maintenance cost piper must be paid and those costs increase every year (didn’t anyone consider that?).

Anytime you add a feature (flashing platform lights, and so on) it increases the operating and maintenance cost over the years and such costs invariably go up.

Plainly someone in management needs to explain that if you want this, then your annual operating and maintenance expenses will increase by some amount. It’s just a cold hard fact. Then decide if it is worth it.

One major suggestion is WMATA should eliminate all short escalators and mezzanine escalators and just replace them with stairs. You’ll actually move more people and faster too, and provide a significant reduction in operating and maintenance costs.

Then WMATA could focus on the long and vital escalators that really need maintenance or repair. Stairs work fine on New York City Transit. WMATA provides elevators from the platforms for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, so why are the short escalators necessary?

Paul K. Stangas, Metuchen, NJ

This is the kind of debate that’s worth having. Should Metro’s leadership and the transit system’s riders engage in a fundamental reassessment of the service plan?

Isn’t Stangas talking about the same sort of reassessing of resources vs. desires that’s occurring at the federal level now?

At the local level, we’ve fallen into an annual pattern of hand-wringing over what services might have to be cut or what fares and taxpayer subsidies increased. We’re going through that right now with the Metro plan to hold hearings on weekend service cutbacks.

Think bigger, as Stangas says, and maybe we can avoid the annual angst.

But I do sense that it’s easier to frame the debate than to find the answers. The escalator issue is a good illustration. Last month, I posed the question about eliminating some escalators to save money and resources at the transit authority, and to eliminate one hassle — busted escalators — that riders regularly confront.

I got back a mix of responses that included many well-founded defenses of the current system.

You can see examples in my Sunday Dr. Gridlock column.

But this new letter offers a similar defense of the escalators.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Amazing how perspective changes with the years. 20 years ago, or even 10, I had nothing but scorn for the lazy folks who would not walk an extra block or climb an extra staircase. Now things are different.

Knee replacements or just plain aging have changed my view. And it is almost as hard to go down as it is to go up. It’s like the difference in perspective between a pedestrian and a driver.

Escalators have liberated elderly, mothers of young children, people with baggage to carry and others, as Therese Martin said in her letter Sunday, and kept them out of their cars. In New York, as she said, people offer to carry my tiny suitcase, and I let them, hoping they are not going to run away with it, contemplating telling them there is a dead squirrel inside, and feeling smug I live in a 21st century city.

Please don’t let them take the escalators away.

Lucy Mallan, the District

By  |  11:46 AM ET, 04/25/2011

Categories:  Metro

 
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