Metro Board Rejects Proposal for Take-Home Food Sales
Friday, May 29, 2009
So much for buying a chicken dinner at a Metrorail station on the way home from work.
Metro board members decided yesterday that proposals for retail kiosks in subway stations will not include food or beverages, overruling a staff recommendation to broach the idea. It is the second time in three years that the board has said no to food and drink sales at stations.
Although members welcomed retail sales of umbrellas, newspapers, flowers and dry-cleaning services in stations, they were unanimous in their belief that food sales would lead to more eating and drinking in the system. There was also concern about trash removal. Eating and drinking on trains and buses are among riders' top complaints, and they say Metro police do not enforce the rules.
"I'm very concerned that once we open this door, it will swing wider and wider and never be able to close," said Metro board chairman Jim Graham.
Under the staff proposal, food and beverages would have been required to be "packaged to discourage consumption." An example would be take-home frozen dinners, said Nat Bottigheimer, Metro's planning and development chief. Explained Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr.: "It's not ice cream cones or hot dogs or Cokes."
But, Maryland board member Peter Benjamin wanted to know, where does one draw the line? What about prepackaged ice cream?
Board member Anthony Giancola, a daily Red Line rider, said students who ride the system to and from school "are the worst violators." He said he sees a police officer about once every 100 rides, with very little enforcement at station entrances or on the train itself. He suggested that transit police issue more tickets.
After nearly an hour of discussion that included complaints about lax enforcement and worries about overzealous enforcement (the 12-year-old handcuffed for eating a French fry in 2000, the woman jailed for chewing a candy bar in 2004), board members agreed to keep food and beverages out.
Virginia member Chris Zimmerman said there should be plenty of vendors who want to sell items other than food. "They sell umbrellas, they sell newspapers, they sell flowers and they rent DVDs," he said.
Members also wanted to make sure that small businesses have a chance to be involved. The original proposal called for a "master licensee" to contract to set up vending at a minimum of 12 stations. Members said they want to open up the bidding process to focus on small businesses.
The board also asked that the staff reconsider the location of stations chosen for retail kiosks. The stations were initially selected based on available space and ridership. But Virginia member Jeff McKay said some of the stations have vendors in the surrounding areas. He suggested that isolated stations, such as Franconia-Springfield and Van Dorn Street, which have no nearby retail services, be included as well.
Metro officials are expected to rework the proposal and bring it back to the board next month.