Metro rider: I'm paying for this?

Thursday, March 10, 2011; T24

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Is there an average number of offloadings that Metro finds tolerable? I've always been disgusted with how much I pay for a train ride. I pay the same price whether I arrive without a hitch as I do when a train breaks down and I have to wait for another. Has Metro ever looked into discounting these rides? It might give them the right incentives to keep up maintenance.

Dan Martin, Fairfax

DG: Ridership isn't much affected by downturns in train reliability or upturns in fares. The transit authority doesn't offer refunds for problem rides and isn't considering doing so.

This winter, riders endured service disruptions for a variety of reasons. Metro keeps score of these things. The record for Feb. 15, for example, shows nine trains were taken out of service because of equipment failures, including problems with doors and brakes.

Another type of score card records overall performance by month. In January, trains were considered on time in 88 percent of trips. That's not good, considering Metro's target is 95 percent, although it is better than December's lowest on-time rate in a year.

Door malfunctions remain a key problem. In January, it caused delays of four minutes or more 91 times, up 30 percent from December.

Another performance standard that Metro calls "rail fleet reliability" measures the mean distance between train delays. Metro considers it a better measure of its rail car maintenance.

Fleet reliability took a big hit in January, decreasing by 14 percent. The transit authority said a decline in the reliability of middle-aged rail cars was mainly to blame. On the 2000 and 3000 Series cars, a third of the Metro fleet, the chief culprits were malfunctioning doors. For the 5000 Series, the report cited brake problems and mechanical problems with the train controls, in addition to door problems.

Metro's maintenance staff are analyzing problem patterns in the hope of isolating and fixing the specific systems most likely to go wrong. That could improve preventive maintenance. One frustration Metro officials noted in their December report is the difficulty in replicating brake problems in the car shop. Such problems, the report said, are "directly tied to customer interaction and design of the door interlocking systems, which must be fully closed for the train to move."

Riders are doing something wrong when they are near the doors, but Metro can't figure out what. The transit authority said it is increasing the number of train announcements asking riders to stand back from the doors when they hear the closing chimes.

Many of us have been yelled at over the loudspeakers by train operators who threaten to take the train out of service if we don't stop messing with the doors. There's a bit of blaming the victims in this approach. Metro has known about the vulnerability of its train doors for years and has yet to find a solution.


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I drive in the Washington area quite a bit, and I have a question that deals with the District's pedestrian crosswalk law. When a light indicates Walk/Don't Walk, it is pretty clear what pedestrians and drivers are supposed to do. But what about crosswalks without lights?

I have seen people just stroll into moving traffic as if the crosswalk is a kind of shield against being hit. Is that what was intended by the law, that pedestrians no longer have to exercise any reasonable care in crossing a street? Do pedestrians get to be a roving stop sign, halting traffic whenever they approach the curb to cross the street?

I have noticed a nasty trend of some drivers at intersections. At a light, there will be an oncoming car indicating a left turn. When the light turns green, the driver turns left in front of me as I proceed straight, cutting me off. I was taught that left-hand turns must yield to oncoming traffic going straight.

Paul J. Seifert, Cheverly

DG: The D.C. driving manual offers these words to live by: "Laws govern the right-of-way, but never put these laws ahead of safety." Both walker and driver need to use common sense. Drivers should proceed cautiously, watch traffic signals and be ready to stop for pedestrians. Walkers shouldn't step out when a driver doesn't have a reasonable chance of stopping in time.

Walk/Don't Walk signs are for pedestrians, not drivers. A driver who fails to stop and yield the right of way to a pedestrian within any marked or unmarked crosswalk can receive a $250 fine and three points on a driver's license. But D.C. traffic law also says: "No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb . . . and walk or turn into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield."

When two cars meet at an intersection, D.C. traffic law says: "The driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard."

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