Metro rider with luggage nearly defeated by transit system

Columnist August 14, 2013

Dear Dr. Gridlock: I recently had not one, but two truly challenging, unpleasant experiences with Metro at Gallery Place and would like to know how I can avoid such problems in the future.

My first challenge was to arrive at the station, having returned to the District via Reagan National Airport. I had heavy carry-on luggage on wheels and a weighty bag, all of which I can manage at my advanced age when the escalators and elevators are working.

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. View Archive

None were working when I arrived on the platform, forcing me to risk back injury by carrying both bags up the non-moving escalator steps, with no help from anyone nearby.

Eventually, I got to the top, heart beating rapidly, and ran for the oncoming Red Line train as a crowd awaited its arrival.

I tried getting near the door, allowing many passengers to exit first, which took time. When I was halfway through, the door closed on me and a young man. My luggage and his backpack got stuck, and the door would not open to allow us to enter, creating a sense of panic.

Metro riders know it’s not unusual to find some elevators and escalators out of service at any given time. But unsuspecting travelers toting heavy luggage get a double whammy when those services are unavailable and trains are so packed that boarding with bags can be traumatic. What to do in that situation, one traveler asked? You could: Take a cab. Or, check the status of escalators and elevators beforehand at Metro’s Web site if you want to take the train. In any case, take care not to jostle or bump other passengers with your heavy load. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

What does someone carrying heavy luggage or other objects do when escalators and elevators aren’t working, and when the Metro doors close on you and won’t open to let you in?

N. Kulakow

Potomac

DG: Many travelers will identify with some part of Kulakow’s experience. Among them would be the family whose luggage got trapped by the closing doors of a Red Line train at Union Station on Friday. This was five cars back from the operator’s cab, but it should have been possible to tell that a big group with big luggage was boarding so the doors could have remained open a few more seconds.

The operators are trying to keep the trains on schedule, but keeping to the schedule isn’t worth trapping riders.

On the elevators and escalators: The transit staff’s statistical scorecard puts escalator availability at 90.7 percent overall and elevator availability at 96.8 percent. It’s important that Metro should publish those stats, as well as daily service reports, so riders can track performance.

The overall scene is improving, but riders don’t experience the overall scene. Like Kulakow, they experience a handful of stations.

As I looked at Metro’s daily service report recently, I saw it included: two escalators and one elevator out at Dupont Circle; two escalators out at Glenmont; three escalators out at L’Enfant Plaza; two escalators and an elevator out at McPherson Square; three escalators out at Pentagon; three escalators out at Smithsonian; and an elevator and two escalators out at Van Ness.

Multiple outages at heavily used stations heighten the aggravation for riders beyond what statistical summaries show.

Now, some travelers will say the best practical advice I can give Kulakow and others in that situation is: Take a cab. And really, there’s not much a rider can do about out-of-service equipment or an operator closing the doors too soon.

Riders heading into town with lots of luggage can, at least, check the status of the elevators and escalators on Metro’s Web site at www.wmata.com.

I know travelers with heavy luggage are in just as much of a hurry as other travelers, but please be aware of your surroundings. It’s usually during summer tourist season that I hear from transit riders complaining that they’ve been jostled, bumped and otherwise abused by luggage inadvertently shoved at them by unwary travelers.

Changing numbers

Dear Dr. Gridlock: Why did Fairfax County Parkway needed to be renumbered from 7100 to 286?

Joe Rusz

Herndon

DG: The renumbering, which occurred last year, makes more sense to accountants than to drivers.

In February 2012, Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board upgraded the status of the Fairfax County, Prince William and Franconia-Springfield parkways to primary roads.

The designation, based on such factors as types of traffic and overall traffic volume, made the routes eligible for federal maintenance and improvement funds.

Primary routes get lower numbers, so the Fairfax County Parkway became Route 286, the Franconia-Springfield Parkway went from 7900 to 289 and the Prince William Parkway from 3000 to 294.

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