Test Driving

August 16, 2013

Most folks in Washington are wondering when they’ll ever get to board a DC Streetcar. As for me, I spent a few minutes last Saturday wondering if I’d ever get out of one.

There was a temporary technical glitch during the DC Streetcar open house, a public celebration for the forthcoming transit network, at the testing and commissioning site way down South Capitol Street. While waiting my turn for the “photo op” in the driver’s seat, the door suddenly slammed shut — nearly squashing former WMATA spokesman Steven Taubenkibel, who’d shown up just for fun. (Apparently, his kid likes trains.)

After a few tense moments spent watching a mechanic fiddle with the controls from the outside, my fellow passengers and I were released from our sleek, red prison and free to get back to the festivities, which were kind of awesome. At sign-in, I scored a DC Streetcar-branded lollipop and pair of sunglasses, along with a raffle ticket for a chance to ride on the very first streetcar trip along H Street. (I lost.)

There was a tent with popcorn, snow cones and face painting. And there were a whole lot of people like Amanda Bouza, 48, and her husband, George Bouza, 44, who were giddy over the possibility of the streetcar coming to their neighborhood. From Congress Heights, they said, they’d love a quick way to get across the Anacostia River. Not having to rely on their car would translate into some economic stimulus, George promised. “I could have more than one beer,” he said.

Those days are still years away in the plans, but the future of the DC Streetcar was displayed on colorful posters showing squiggles crisscrossing the city. Another streetcar — with permanently propped-open doors — was covered in signs highlighting features of the interior. I got a tour from the District Department of Transportation’s Ralph Burns, who pointed out where the SmarTrip readers and fare boxes will be placed throughout the cars to allow for a speedy boarding process. Riders will be on the honor system, although a team of fare enforcers can show up at any time to ask for proof of payment.

DC Streetcar operators will have to stay completely focused on the road, Eric Anderson told me. He knows because he’s one of the “Magnificent Seven” who were picked from 540 applicants to be the first streetcar crew. “On a straight track, you can’t move to the left or right,” he said. “You need to pay attention to identify the situation ahead, whether it’s pedestrians or vehicles.”

Given how seriously Anderson takes his role as part of the “new generation of operators,” I know where I’ll find a better photo op than the one Saturday: on the streetcar the morning Anderson settles into that driver’s seat to take his first load of passengers.

Details: DC Streetcar is slated to debut by the end of the year, starting with service along H Street and Benning Road. Find out about the eight planned lines that could eventually connect the city at dcstreetcar.com.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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