Riders are down on Metro's escalator repair problems

By Robert Thomson
Sunday, July 18, 2010; C02

Two writers pose frequently asked questions about Metro's escalators.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Monday evening around 5:30, when I attempted to descend into the Dupont Circle Metro station via Q Street NW, one up escalator was working but both down escalators were not, and I wasn't about to take the hot elevator, which takes several minutes, not to mention the wait. (I carry a rolling bag, am no spring chicken and cannot walk down.)

So I walked to the south entrance, where the down escalator was working but the up one wasn't. That was my good luck, though it was annoying to have to walk the few blocks between entrances. But there were several people attempting to walk up who were having difficulty, stopping for long periods and looking pained. At least two were older and limping. The crowds behind them were very patient.

Something has to be done!

-- Alice Markham,


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Let me start by saying that I have been a daily Metro rider since the Red Line opened and am committed to public transit. The last year has challenged that resolve. I read your column on the Bethesda escalator repairs and the frustrations exhibited there are right on the mark. [Dr. Gridlock, May 13.] The single escalator to the platform has been a first-class mess. The riders just don't trust anything Metro says. There is a sign at the top of the blocked escalator that says repairs to be complete June, which a rider crossed out and wrote "whenever."

One of Metro's major problems is its inability to communicate in a meaningful manner. I go down that escalator about 10 times a week, and there were not more than a couple of times anyone was working on it.

If there was a communication saying "waiting for parts" or "we can't afford overtime," at least people would have some understanding, but as it is, everyone thinks Metro should be able to do this in a week if the work was round-the-clock.

Metro riders are generally intelligent folks and understand that the system faces massive problems, many of which result from design flaws at the inception, such as over-reliance on escalators. But the Metro administration should work with us to instill confidence that when new, permanent leadership is in place, it will have a plan to restore the system to its former stature.

-- Grant Callery,


If one escalator in a bank is turned off for use as a stairway while another is under repair, then generally speaking, Metro wants the remaining working one headed up, rather than down. Sometimes, Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said, there's a mechanical problem with an escalator and it can't be directed up. Taubenkibel said the directionally challenged escalators are just one more thing mechanics have to fix.

Although riders agree that up is the positive direction, they would rather just have everything fixed. In this great country of ours, they dare to ask, can't we have escalators that go up and escalators that go down?

Riders thought the problem with the two escalators between the mezzanine and platform at Bethesda was already getting old when we discussed it in May. One escalator was out for long-term rehabilitation, and the other was turned off so people could walk either up or down.

Bethesda is a really popular station. Many people want to walk up. Many want to walk down. It's very difficult for them do that on one escalator at one time.

The rush-hour lines at the escalator have been horrendous. And these riders almost always add that they rarely saw evidence that anyone had worked on the escalator under long-term care.

When mechanics pull apart these aged escalators, Taubenkibel said, they often find surprises and must craft a solution for the individual escalator that could include creating new parts.

Okay, no point in assigning a mechanic to stand there, just so riders have someone to glare at.

Metro has long recognized that the equipment problem is huge. But the people problem is pretty big, too. The repair program seems completely focused on the equipment, rather than the people who use it.

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. Personal responses are not always possible.

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