Some Food for Thought on Metro Etiquette

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

As one who has commuted daily for four years from Shady Grove to Union Station, I've seen it all. I am thankful that I am a reasonably fit, more-than-six-footer, so I am able to absorb the body blows inflicted by oblivious backpack-carrying, roller-bag-pulling, ear-bud-wearing and cellphone-texting people. I am thankful no one has spilled hot coffee on me.

Lately, I see much more eating and drinking on Metro. It's mostly in the early morning, and most often coffee. I also see fewer signs indicating it's not allowed, and I hear very few announcements about it.

I contacted Metro and got the usual platitudes and rhetoric. If I take what was said literally, riders are being asked to enforce Metro's rules. Why aren't there more signs and announcements?

As for the backpack and roller-bag problem, when it's crowded, I carry my backpack in front of me. That way, I can control it and not whack someone. I do, however, walk on escalators. It's a simple way to get some exercise and, what the heck, most of the escalators aren't working anyway, so it's necessary. And, I walk on the left. Here again, the key word is "walk," not run.

R.J. Nicholson


The transit authority has more signs than ever on the trains and in the stations, and there also are new announcements advising passengers on the rules of the ride. Still, the signs can be hard to spot, and not everyone hears the announcements.

Transit police say they enforce these rules. Although Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn has an authorized strength of more than 400 officers, he points out that they are responsible for a huge area, patrolling 86 stations, 106 miles of track, more than 800 rail cars, 1,500 buses, nine bus garages, eight rail yards, more than 55,000 parking spaces and more than 12,000 bus stops.

So should we police each other's behavior? That's a tough call, and riders need to decide based on the circumstances. If the message can be delivered as a friendly, "I'll bet you didn't know. . .," then I think it's fine. But there's no point in having a dialogue become a confrontation.

Nicholson's letter refers in part to a dialogue we've been having in the column about Metro etiquette, particularly in regard to how we can avoid clobbering each other with bags.

By accident, I mean.

There are relatively few confrontations aboard Metrorail and Metrobus, considering that the services carry a million riders a day. That's something positive to keep in mind about Washington travel, when you're watching someone enjoying an onboard picnic.

Noise Pollution

This Metro rider fears that yet another prohibition is falling by the wayside.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Recently, there has been an increase in the number of people who listen to music without headphones while riding Metro.

The music can get quite loud. I was under the impression that Metro had a rule that there is to be no music unless headphones are used. I, for one, would appreciate it if people would use headphones.

Kathy Schrecengost

Manassas Park

As with the ban on food and drink, there's no statistical way to measure whether this rude behavior is increasing. Washingtonians tend to be so quiet aboard trains that even with headphones, a loud iPod can be heard through the rail car.

In the Dark in D.C.

On several April afternoons, homeward-bound commuters had plenty of time to listen to tunes as they crawled through downtown intersections at which the signals had gone dark.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Okay, I don't know who the bigger idiots are here, but it took me two hours to get through the District home to Woodbridge on the commuter bus. At least Interstate 95 was empty.

Not only were lights not working around the Mall, but there were no police around directing at any intersection that I could see, all the way up 14th Street. As you can imagine, by the time I got home last night at 7:30, after having caught the 5 p.m. bus, I was a raving lunatic with an exploding bladder.

It doesn't take a brain surgeon to know that rush hour will be approaching and that lights must be checked to make sure they are working. At the very least, install a police officer.

Kimberly Hoover


The District has a poor record of controlling traffic through downtown intersections, but use of traffic control officers from the D.C. Department of Transportation is improving that. I just wish there were more of them to deploy in emergencies, such as the ones that occurred when many signal lights were blacked out in a power failure.

There is a stockpile of generators that can be used to restore power to some of those signals. The problem early on was that the city workers deploying the generators got stuck in the same afternoon rush-hour congestion that was plaguing the drivers and bus passengers.

Honestly, Metro

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

With all due respect to the people who do good work at Metro, I have to ask whether there is something in their organizational culture that encourages dishonesty.

Yet again, in the face of a problem train ahead of the crowded rush-hour train I was on, rather then telling customers the truth, they gild the lily. Train schedules are being adjusted, managed or coordinated, we're told, only to approach Farragut North and have the driver admit the train ahead had been offloaded. This was obvious to everyone by the crowds on the platform.

Just a little honesty would go a long way to repairing Metro's image, at least with this longtime rider. We're adults (mainly) and can handle it. But yet again, I wonder whether Metro can say the same.

Peter Levine

The District

I think Metro is trying to do the right thing. Honestly. But the faster it puts out information, the less likely it is to be right.

The late afternoon of April 21 was a tough one for Red Line riders. These things happened, according to Metro records:

4:41 p.m.: A train at New York Avenue was taken out of service because of a mechanical problem.

4:44 p.m.: A train at Rhode Island Avenue was delayed because of a mechanical problem on the track.

5:38 p.m.: A train at Farragut North was taken out of service because of a mechanical problem.

When congestion develops because of a problem on a line, Metro does hold trains to spread them out. And when a train has a mechanical problem, the staff's first choice is to get it going again rather than unload all the passengers. Operators down the line are told to inform passengers why their train has stopped. Sometimes the reasons can change in just a couple of minutes.

Dr. Gridlock appears Thursdays in the Extras and Sundays in the Metro section. Send e-mails for publication to drgridlock@washpost.comor write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Include your name, community and phone numbers.

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