By Lena H. Sun and Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Metro officials announced yesterday that they are forming a group of managers to investigate and reduce the number of MetroAccess trips during which riders are stranded or picked up more than half an hour late.
Dan Tangherlini, who was sworn in Thursday as Metro's interim general manager, said the need for such a team means "our service quality isn't what we want it to be, and we need to try to address it. . . . The fact is, we are -- and have been -- stranding people or leaving them for a long time."
Tangherlini said improving MetroAccess service is one of his top priorities. The "critical management team," which is being formed, will be given two weeks to make improvements, he said. The announcement came after he received a pointed letter from Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) that described 11 areas in which MetroAccess is failing the public.
Van Hollen detailed problems with timeliness, travel times, communication, data, rude drivers, safety hazards, inconsistent use of promised technology, developmentally disabled passengers whose routines have been tossed into chaos by a constant shifting of drivers, pickup times, travel routes and trip duration.
Rides continue to be late or do not appear at all, and riders are unfairly marked as "no-shows" -- jeopardizing their future service -- when they had been dutifully waiting for a vehicle that never arrived, Van Hollen wrote.
The MetroAccess system "is simply unsatisfactory and has on occasion even been potentially life-threatening," Van Hollen wrote. "It is imperative that immediate steps be taken to address and resolve these problems as expeditiously as possible."
Metro officials said two people have been assigned to the seven-member team, and the agency hopes to have the remaining people in place by March 7. The team will then investigate the causes of missed and extremely late trips and work to reduce them by 50 percent by March 21.
According to figures provided by MV Transportation, the new contractor, MetroAccess delivered 4,307 trips Thursday, but 229 trips arrived more than 30 minutes late or not at all.
Riders who have been stranded or picked up late will be contacted directly by the team, which will include an experienced driver familiar with the region. Riders have complained about trip routes that defy common sense and drivers who do not know the locations of such landmarks as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill.
About 16,000 disabled riders who are physically unable to ride the subway or regular bus depend on MetroAccess. Since Metro switched to MV Transportation Jan. 15, the agency has received record numbers of complaints from riders.
Van Hollen and his staff met with managers from Metro and MV on Feb. 10 to discuss the troubles.
Despite assurances by Metro and MV that service is improving, the level and intensity of complaints from the public has not abated, Van Hollen wrote in his letter. "We have been inundated," said Marilyn Campbell, a spokesman for Van Hollen.
One great frustration is that some riders are experiencing problems again and again, even after the intervention of the congressman's office, said Karen McManus, one of his staff members.