Metro brings in outside expert to assess escalator and elevator problems

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 3, 2010; B05

Metro is bringing in an outside expert this week to assess chronic troubles with its escalators and elevators, which are vital to the smooth functioning of the system.

The consultant is expected to spend several weeks on the assessment and will specifically look into problems at the Woodley Park, Bethesda, Dupont Circle and Foggy Bottom stations, according to Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel.

"The assessment will include a review of the program and will look for efficiencies in the day-to-day maintenance of the escalator and elevator system," said Taubenkibel, who added that the consultant will review "specific escalators and elevators that have, historically, been problematic for us."

Interim General Manager Richard Sarles has pushed forward the assessment, as well as a reorganization of the department that repairs escalators and elevators, in response to frequent rider complaints. Dozens of Metro's 588 escalators and elevators are out of service at any given time, including 63 Tuesday, according to the Metro Web site.

Sarles came under pressure again last week from members of Metro's board of directors, who said riders were up in arms over the broken conveyances. "Woodley Park is now notorious for the problems associated with the escalator there," said Jim Graham, a board member from the District. "Can you please assure me you will get a handle on this issue?"

Sarles replied that the consultant would focus on "whether the standards we have are adequate."

According to data from Metro, the problem has been getting worse. Metro's average escalator reliability has fallen for the past three years, from 93.7 percent in 2007 to 93 percent in 2008 and 90.5 percent last year. Metro was built with escalators as an integral part of the system, and most riders encounter several escalators as part of each trip. Replacing the escalators, however, has proven difficult because parts are unavailable; in some cases, the companies that built the original escalators are no longer in business.

Sarles has also brought in someone to focus on customer service. Sarles appointed Barbara J. Richardson assistant general manager of customer service, communications and marketing. She began May 3, according to Metro spokeswoman Angela Gates. The department was formerly that of corporate strategy and communications and was headed by Sara Wilson, who left in April when Sarles took over from former general manager John B. Catoe.

Previously, Richardson owned a marketing and communications consulting firm, which she started in 2007. She worked for Amtrak from 1994 to 2006 in several roles, including vice president for marketing and sales, chief of staff and vice president of marketing and communications for the Northeast Corridor. She was also director of public affairs for the Federal Railroad Administration in 1994 and director of communications for the New Jersey Department of Transportation from 1990 to 1994, Gates said.

Gates said that Metro did not put out an announcement on Richardson's appointment. She is one of the few senior Metro officials Sarles has hired.

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