Metro riders bewildered by planned, unplanned disruptions — and lack of communication

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

That expression you used at the end of your column last Sunday, “Metro’s communication skills,” just may be the mother of all oxymorons.

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— Winston Geize, Vienna

During the past week, thousands of Metro riders were disrupted. Sometimes it was an emergency. Sometimes it was on purpose, as Metro launched its Rush Plus service. In each case, riders complained about a lack of information or were unsure about their options.

The emergency that caused the biggest disruption was Wednesday’s problem with the arcing insulators between Woodley Park and Dupont Circle.

From the morning rush until early afternoon, trains had to share a track around the area where crews were working to fix it, creating delays in both directions throughout the Red Line.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I had the misfortune of being on the inbound Red Line during rush hour Wednesday morning. I know that mechanical and electrical things sometimes break down — no surprise there — but I’m amazed that Metro still cannot provide accurate information or assistance to customers caught in these situations.

While the inbound Red Line was at a standstill, Metro’s information boards and Web site displayed the following message: “Red Line Delays — Red Line trains continue to single track between Van Ness & Dupont Circle.” Not exactly a complete picture. A more accurate message might have said, “Inbound Red Line unavailable — please use other transportation options if you have them.”

After waiting about 20 minutes on a non-moving train, I decided to find a bus that was heading south, in the hope of eventually getting to work. The station manager at Takoma was trying as best he could to help individual passengers get to the right buses, and doing so with a great deal of patience and good humor, but Metro had no other personnel on the scene. By this point, the station was overflowing with stranded passengers.

— Charlotte Stichter,

Takoma Park

Throughout the week, a variety of more-common mishaps also disrupted service. All the incidents congeal into the frustration expressed Wednesday morning in a tweet from ravensfan20008:

“Just once — just once — I’d like Metro to have a day where absolutely nothing went wrong. I wouldn’t even care if they went back to a day like this afterwards. Just to know what it feels like.”

Riders feel battered and bewildered. There were so many unplanned disruptions that even Orange Line riders who stood to gain from the Rush Plus trains weren’t sure if they were winning or losing. The only commuters who seemed sure about Rush Plus were Blue Line riders: They were sure they were losing.

During unscheduled disruptions, Metro uses its Web site, e-mail alerts and social media much more effectively than in the past. For Rush Plus, Metro developed an extensive campaign using electronic and print communication to explain the new rush-hour schedule.

None of the communications programs goes far enough. Circumstances call for some serious hand-holding. Given the magnitude of the Rush Plus changes, it’s not enough to hand out brochures to riders entering stations. Metro staffers need to be more available on the platforms, where riders are most likely to realize what they don’t know.

Don’t expect a rider to be impressed that Rush Plus clears room in the Rosslyn tunnel for the Silver Line or adds more service in the central part of the District.

Commuters rarely think about a transit system. Transit is the Point A-to-Point B route they take every day. They need Metro managers and staff out there helping them make their best choices.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or
e-mail drgridlock@washpost.com.

 
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