Stranded Metro riders can’t measure rebuilding progress

November 19, 2013

Rebuilding efforts can sometimes be difficult to see — literally. New signs like this at Farragut North are popping up, but stations remain dimly lit. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

Red Line riders encountered more delays Tuesday morning, because of a disabled train on the outbound tracks at Silver Spring, though this was nothing like the long waits they experienced several times last week.

Many riders wanted to comment on the situation during my online discussion Monday, and I’ll share some of them with you here, but some notes of my own:

The problems that occurred last week show why riders are confused or skeptical about the long-term rebuilding program that began two years ago. Work has occurred on all lines, but extra attention has been paid to the Red Line, since it’s the oldest. So, riders very legitimately ask, shouldn’t things be better now? Metro officials say things are better, and they point to overall performance statistics, or cite the number of track fasteners replaced.

I’m not dismissing that. I think they really have made progress. Some stations have better lighting, platforms have been repaired so people aren’t stepping on chunks of torn-up terracotta, many signs have been improved, and that nasty ceiling at Farragut North looks a lot better. It’s too much to expect a rider to care about any of that after being delayed an hour and a half on a morning commute that should be much more reliable.

The rebuilding strategy is just that: a strategy. The path we’re on — a massive, $5.5 billion rebuilding program to replace and upgrade infrastructure — wasn’t the only possible approach to the transit system’s deficiencies. Maybe it was the best course, or at least the most practical way of maintaining service while still doing the rebuilding. But how would riders who endured last week’s delays have any way of judging that? Based on their experiences, it would be entirely understandable for them to conclude this strategy isn’t working.

The rebuilding began without a great deal of public discussion, and since then, the transit authority hasn’t paused to provide the sort of progress reports that riders can relate to. I mean a periodic “Here’s where we are, here’s where we’re going.”

For rail, I mean the line by line, station by station progress reports that would be most meaningful to customers. General Manager Richard Sarles did create the quarterly measures known as the “Vital Signs” reports, and that was good. But riders have trouble relating to systemwide percentage measures of on-time performance, or rail car reliability or escalator availability. And they certainly can’t count rail fasteners and track ties replaced.

When riders who experienced the Red Line delays hear such measures of progress, they channel Charlie Brown: “Tell your statistics to shut up.”

Here are some excerpts from comments made by riders during Monday’s online discussion.

Red Line woes: “Last week was tough. While I was able to soldier through on Monday and Thursday, Wednesday was so bad that I ended up not getting to work. When I got to the station, the sign said half hour delays, while not good sounded doable. At Bethesda, there is no way to see the platform until after you’re through the fare gate. There was a jam packed train and the platform was over two-thirds full. The folks coming up the stairs were leaving after being unable to board a train after an hour and a half. I turned around and followed them out, called work and burned a vacation day.”

On-time service: “I see Metro is touting that the red line is “on time” something like 93% of the time. I guess the problem is that when it’s not on time, it’s REALLY not on time.”

Metro delays: “… the major delays every morning (and they are every morning now) need to stop. While I understand that the lack of maintenance in the past has been a significant source of the problems that Metro is tackling now, the problems are still the current problems and they need to be fixed yesterday.”

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Local
Next Story
Lori Aratani · November 19, 2013