Metro: Roads and Rails

Steven Ginsberg and Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 9, 2006; 11:00 AM

Do you think Metro has grown unreliable and become downright unpleasant? Or are you happy with your commutes on rail and bus? Does the thought of the intercounty connector (ICC) keep you up at night or does it seem like it's long overdue? And what of the moves by Maryland and Virginia to encourage the private sector to build road projects, such as widening the Capital Beltway?

Washington Post staff writers Steven Ginsberg and Lyndsey Layton were online Monday, Jan. 9, at 11 a.m. ET to answer your questions, feel your pain and share the drama of getting from Point A to Point B.

A transcript follows.

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Steve Ginsberg: Good morning commuters! It's been a long, long time and oh how we have missed you. So Merry Holidays to you and a Happy New Year. For a little fun today we're thinking we'd like to hear about your time-saving, traffic-avoiding shortcuts, whether locally or anywhere else. And with that, let's get to it...

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Beltsville, Md.: Commuting is nice, but the fact that there are no restrooms on the commute is not so nice. Not commuting during the winter, for this reason.

Steve Ginsberg: Umm. Okay.

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Lanham, Md.: I enjoyed your article about Metrobus's problems. Metro "rebutted" your article on their Web page in generalities. After I filed numerous complaints about the S line running 30 minutes late on a Saturday night, Metro finally sent out a street supervisor to Silver Spring to find out the problems. Operators were running on their OWN schedule, not the Metro schedule.

Division superintendents act like kings of their domain. If they don't want to answer a customer complaint, they don't -- and get away with it until the Superintendent finds out they're not answering. When Metro customer service told former Superintendent Steve Ramey that Northern wasn't responding, he went ballistic.

Metro needs more on street supervisors to find the "hidden" rush hours you mentioned.

Great job again.

washingtonpost.com: Progress Has Passed Metrobus By (Post, Dec. 27)

Lyndsey Layton: Hi Lanham,

Thanks very much. One rider told me that when she asked her Metrobus operator why the bus was late, he said that the schedule was merely a "suggestion" and not a commitment by the transit system.

I don't necessarily blame the drivers - it seems that from the front lines to the top tiers of management, there's a casual attitude toward schedules.

It's been pretty well documented that Metrobus system needs a commitment to schedules and enforcement by managers on the street.

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Falls Church, Va.: Tim Kaine has promised to be focused on transportation as governor. When it comes to funding public transit in NOVA, will he hit a wall due to indifference from downstate legislators that don't want to give up their unequal per capita tax benefits? I can see lots of good ideas being planned (hopefully ones that are better than private toll roads) such as new rail initatives, but they will not get off the drawing board.

Steve Ginsberg: I think first we have to see whether Mr. Kaine proposes to do anything significant with public transit. He's said a lot about dedicating himself to transportation and has held nearly a dozen town hall meetings to talk to voters about it, but he has yet to say what exactly he wants to do about it. If he proposes any major transit initiatives aside from rail to Dulles, he may well encounter resistance not just from down staters, but also from those outside the Beltway, where it's not as popular. Bringing together these coalitions on transit or anything else is the crux of the transportation challenge.

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Maryland: Build it and they will come. The Branch Ave Metrostation and the Green Line grew so fast that it is like trying to squeeze a fast growing teenager in last year's winter coat. It hurts. The transportation needs of Southern Maryland are not being met. Local jurisdictions allow house builders to decide where to build versus building roads and mass transist and then direct development to it.

Metro officials and local government officials should ride Metro buses and Metro rails three days a week and get out of their ivory towers and cars.

Lyndsey Layton: Actually, Metro managers work in a concrete building downtown that is less of a tower and more of a squat, non-descript 70s office building. But you're point is well taken.

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Arlington, Va.: I thought Metro was going to test some 8-car trains and help improve capacity on the Orange line. So far this year, the Orange line has been as crowded as usual. This morning, I even rode a 4-car train, which I thought were being eliminated. What gives?

Lyndsey Layton: Hi Arlington,

I believe the testing is scheduled to begin next month. So hang on.

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Washington, D.C.: I know Metro sometimes monitors these chats. They then pick and choose what they will respond to. For example, several weeks ago you had many complaints about frequent escalator outages. Metro addressed only one of these complaints, apparently the only one where service would soon be restored. I ask that in any submissions from Metro personnel today, the employee indicate how many times in an average workweek he or she relies upon Metrobus or Metrorail.

Lyndsey Layton: I think we've got a theme emerging here, folks.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for the excellent article on problems with Metrobus service. Like others you interviewed, I have complained to Metro about the 30s buses only traveling in packs and have been told that it is due to traffic, even though I know that is not true. I think Metro thinks such lies are an easy way to get rid of customer complaints. What Metro fails to realize is that such lies cost them good will. Because of such lies (on this issue and others), I no longer have any confidence in Metro management. Though I take public transportation daily, I will not advocate for a dedicated funding service for Metro while it is under the same management (and that includes the Board of Directors who saw fit to reward Richard White for a poor job). Metro's lies about the sources of Metrobus problems mean that there will not be improvement. You can't improve on issues - or get additional funding to address issues - that you deny exist. Someone should let Metro know that once good will is lost, it is extremely difficult to get back.

Lyndsey Layton: Good morning, Washington. Yours is an excellent point - it's very hard to spin anyone whose knowledge is based on direct experience. The riders know the score.

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Alexandria, Va.: I just wanted to send a kudos to Metro for the new entrance at the King Street Metro - love it! Makes my walk just that much shorter and I really do appreciate it.

Lyndsey Layton: Here's a refreshing blast of Metro love from across the river. Thanks.

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Woodbridge, Va.: So what is up with VRE lately? A 2 hour delay in December, a derailing last week - just goes to show that there is no perfect way of getting around here. And it's "funny" how problems always seem to be on the Fredericksburg line and never Manassas.

Steve Ginsberg: VRE has always had to deal with special challenges because CSX owns the tracks it runs its trains on and it also shares them with Amtrak. That arrangement often leaves them bowing to CSX's interests at the cost of the local commuter. As far as last week's derailment, it's too soon to tell who among them is responsible for it.

Not sure what you mean about it being "funny" that all the problems are on the Fred line. (Also not sure why you put "funny" in quotes.)

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Arlington, Va.: I took the 5A bus from L'Enfant Plaza to Dulles on December 20 and it was sure packed. The bus also didn't have space for peoples' luggage to be easily accommodated and I do wonder whether Metro could consider running those longer busses, the ones with a break in the middle, during busy periods to absorb the crowd. As the Post story on Metrobus noted, the 5A is the only line going to Dulles.

Lyndsey Layton: Or take a cue from the Metrobus line that runs between Greenbelt and BWI - it uses buses specially outfitted for luggage.

The problem with the 5A bus is this - it was originally launched as a jobs bus to carry District residents to jobs at the airport. Metro didn't envision it as a bus line to take air travelers to Dulles, as weird as that may sound. So the agency has been running regular buses without special accommodations for luggage and on a schedule that doesn't coordinate with the peak hours for airport passengers.

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Washington, D.C.: Governor Kaine seems like a breath of fresh air on transportation. I am worried, though, that the early attention to transportation has raised expectations too high, and that Governor Kaine will take the blame for a predictable failure to reach consensus during this General Assembly session. Any thoughts?

Steve Ginsberg: I think that is a very real and very possible outcome of what's going on right now. One of the reasons so little has been done over the years is because politicians recognize the immense challenge of bringing people together to do something about transportation. The soon-to-be governor does not strike me as someone who will shy from the challenge, but we have yet to see exactly how he plans to overcome it.

To do so, he'll have to convince people in disparate parts of the state with entirely different needs that something cohesive needs to be done. At the same time, he'll have to deal with conflicting constituencies within regions, like Northern Virginia, where many people want roads and many others really, really don't. And then there is the thorny issue of new money. Is Kaine going to raise taxes? fees? or does he think the state has enough money to do what it needs to do?

It'll be fun to watch it play out and a master stroke if he, or anyone else, can make a real difference.

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Ashburn, Va.: Hi guys, have you ever heard of a farecard being demagnatized because of it being near a cell phone in your pocket? I was heading into Gallery Place after the game Friday night and I had this problem where it wouldn't take my Metro fare card. At least the station manager was able to help me out pretty quickly.

Lyndsey Layton: Hi Ashburn,

Yes, that happens frequently that there ought to be some kind of warning about keeping your Farecard separated from your cell phone.

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Washington, D.C.: I know we've been through the issue of the useless electronic boards that Metro refuses to use to provide customers with information. This is in keeping with Metro's belief that withholding information from the public is a good business strategy (such a strategy always blares BAD MANAGEMENT to me). As previous posters noted, this withholding of information causes customers to run whenever they hear a train. I ask that any chatters who believe these boards should provide information about train schedules, complain to Metro. I know this is unlikely to work, but I think it is important to register these complaints directly with Metro.

Lyndsey Layton: Well Washington, if it's just you complaining, they'll write you off. And if it's you and me, they'll think we're both pesty. But if it's you and me and Steve and the whole chat, in 10-part harmony, they'll think it's a movement. The Metro Message Board Massacre Movement!!!

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Washington, D.C.: I would like to post a comment early on why it is important for us to support MWAA's bid to take over the Dulles Toll Road, so they can hasten development of Metro to Dulles Airport...Most major cities of the world that are of real consequence and a real place to live and conduct commerce have two or more airports with good public transit: NYC has JFK, LaGuardia & Newark; London has Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, Paris with CDG and Orly. Remember airports are only part of the puzzle: rail connections to those airports (well, except for LaGuardia) that is efficient and affordiable is key.

Steve Ginsberg: It's true that many major cities and world capitals have rail connections to their major international airport(s). And that's a factor in the push for rail to Dulles. But that's also a prestige thing to some degree, no? Adding Washington's name to the list makes for a nicer list, but doesn't really do anything to change the number of people who would use it everyday.

And I would guess that Washington is fairly secure in its status as a city of "real consequence" with or without Dulles rail. I'm pretty sure I've heard it referred to as the "most powerful city in the world" and I'm almost positive someone has called it the "capital of the free world."

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Confessions of a Dorker:: I hope that any new design of the Metro cars takes into account the reason that people crowd the doorways: the lack of vertical poles further back. The rail running along the ceiling is too high to hold on to for most people and too awkward to reach when wearing a coat or jacket. If Metro would install more vertical poles, people could move into the center and still hold on when the train is moving.

Lyndsey Layton:

Dorker, your train has come in. Look for additional vertical poles in the next generation of Metro rail cars.

(Do you think Confessions of a Dorker would be a good title for my next book project?)

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Arlington, Va.: The bus system is a disaster. Recently I waited for the 23 bus going from Ballston to Tysons. This was at rush hour, when buses should have been common. Two scheduled buses never showed up. Then a 23 bus stopped about I and about 10 other people got on. The the bus drove in the wrong direction. Turns out he stopped in the wrong place; his bus was actually going in the opposite direction. He drove around for a while to let us off at an official stop. By the time we all ran back to the original bus station, we had missed the next scheduled "real" bus. Bottom line was that we had to wait another half hour for next bus (the 4th or 5th that should have arrived during the time we waited).

Lyndsey Layton: HE DROVE IN THE WRONG DIRECTION? What is this, free form Metrobus? Ohmygosh. Did you report this?

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Also Woodbridge, Va.: Not really a question, just a comment/vent. I have to agree with the comment on VRE's service. My husband and I commute on VRE from Woodbridge to Navy Yard/Capitol Hill respectively, and there seems to ALWAYS be something wrong with the train system. The only reliable thing about it these days is that it's UNreliable and late. This morning, there was a 25 min+ delay. And it does always seem to be on the F'burg line. I can't even recall ever hearing being advised of delays on Manassas line. I don't know if CSX just maintains their tracks so poorly, but it's really getting annoying.

Steve Ginsberg: There is definitely an ongoing tension between VRE riders and their CSX masters on the Fred line. Has it sent any of you back to your cars?

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Arlington, Va.: Those of us in Northern Virginia have to remember that for every $1 we send to Richmond we get less a quarter back. I am sorry Kaine is just going through the motions. Both he and his handlers know this. They will blame those down state lgislators for their failures to deliver. Only solution is seccession!

Steve Ginsberg: There is a certain irony in talk of the northern part of Virginia seceding FROM Richmond. But that's for another chat. I don't think Kaine is going through the motions. I think he fully intends to propose some changes to the state's transportation system. What remains to be seen is how extensive those are, how he plans to make them and whether he can succeed in doing so.

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Vienna, Va.: What's the status of Richard White, the METRO CEO? As more and more information comes out about METRO's problems, they seem to be in large part due to a management void. Will White be gone? Will there be a big house cleaning? On a related note, do you expect local government leaders to force a greater sense of opennes at WMATA?

Lyndsey Layton: Hi Vienna,

White is still the CEO at Metro but I don't expect that to be the case for very long. Whether there will be a big house cleaning - and I know that plenty of Metro employees are wondering about this - depends on White's successor. I do think that some local government leaders want to pry open the agency and make it more accountable. Last week, Rep. Al Wynn asked the Metro board to immediately appoint an independent inspector general, which would be a good first step. The board plans to take up that issue next month.

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10 part harmony Metro massacre: Wow, an Alice's Restaurant reference. Very Cool. Arlo will be happy.

Lyndsey Layton: Do you think Arlo has ever ridden the Red Line?

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Arlington, Va.: There is often a mile plus backup on the Dulles Toll Road (at the main toll plaza) EZPass lanes heading from Arlington to Dulles in the morning. At the same time, the full-service lanes are only 4-5 cars deep. This is idiotic.

When will we have the highway speed (65+) toll sensors like they do in New Jersey?

Steve Ginsberg: Given that we recently learned that VDOT hasn't even spent the money to enforce those EZ-Pass lanes, I'll be surprised to see any major changes anytime soon. It's a shame that a system designed to speed toll paying cannot work because the state hasn't made accommodations for all the people who are trying to use EZ-Pass.

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Arlington, Va.: The closest to Arlington and Alexandria Gov.-elect Kaine came during his transportation listening tour was to the West Falls Church Metro, which was billed as a Fairfax event.

Our needs in Arlington and Alexandria are different from our neighbors in Fairfax. We depend on Metrorail and Metrobus, as well as pedestrian-friendly street, far more than anywhere else in the Commonwealth.

Why didn't he come up our way to hold a mass transit-specific meeting?

Steve Ginsberg: Not sure why he didn't go to Arlington/Alex., but I was at that Falls Church meeting and there was plenty of talk about transit.

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Reverse Commuter: I am one of the few people who have a reverse commute on the metro (from Farragut West/Mcpherson to King st.) When I get off the train in the city after work, not only is it basically impossible to get to the escalators leaving the platform, it is equally difficult getting to the escalators leaving the station. There is no reason to walk 10 wide, leaving nowhere for people leaving the station to exit!

Lyndsey Layton: You could scream "My water has burst- make way!" but that's less than effective if you're male. It's true, Farragut West and McPherson have just about reached capacity, in terms of platform size. But look on the bright side - at least you get a seat on the train in from King Street.

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Herndon, Va.: Steve, to be honest I don't think there really are any shortcuts left in this area. The only shortcut I have is to take the Greenway and spend a few bucks to avoid the mess on 28 somedays. Although, GW south bound was a great alternative to get downtown Friday night instead of 66 or riding in on the Orange Line.

Steve Ginsberg: A region with no shortcuts! Can't be. Are we also a region without any more scenic drives? Used to be lots of roads around here (Rt. 15, Route 29 in Va.) that were strikingly beautiful to take. It's hard to think of any of them anymore.

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Bethesda, Md.: I just wanted to say my father is a former Metro bus driver. I asked him about the "ontimeness" issue. He used to be docked pay for being late to a stop. He would like to see the rules enforced a little stronger himself as he is a current rider in NOVA.

Lyndsey Layton: When was your dad working? I don't know of any recent instance when a Metrobus operator was fined for being late. In most cases, the supervisors have no idea whether a bus is late or on time or 10 minutes early.

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Montgomery Village, Md.: Time-saving, traffic-avoiding shortcuts? Unlike other metropolitan areas, the DC area lacks alternate roads so we're all on the same roads no matter what the conditions. The only real solution is to move from the DC area. My daily commute from Montgomery Village to Rosslyn gets progressively worse every year so my solution is to get in my car at 5:00 am, and I've got plenty of company on 270 at that hour! As the metropolitan area has grown to encompass Frederick County, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, the roads have become almost intolerable. Commuting by Metro takes a minimum of 1-1/4 hour (if a train is at Shady Grove when I get there, and another is waiting for me at Metro Center so I can transfer to the orange line). Going to work in the middle of the night is outrageous but it reduces my commute to a half-hour. When I tell my schedule to friends outside D.C., they think I'm joking. But I'm not laughing.

Steve Ginsberg: Alls I can say is: sorry, that sounds awful.

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Arlington, Va.: At the end of 2004, Metro CEO Richard White made several promises in the "Back to Basics" iniative. Among these was a system for what were termed "instant refunds" whereby station managers would give you back money you spent for going nowhere (you're charged the $1.35 minimum fare even when exiting the same station you just entered).

They had announced that they would announce this program in early 2005. Yet, it's now 2006 and still no plan.

Any chance you could look at the status of this and other promises made? There's a sense that Metro is able to put out press releases, but not actually do what they promise in them.

Lyndsey Layton: Certainly, I'll take a look. Thanks.

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Arlington, Va.: Northern Virginia -should- be its own state, this would eliminate SO many problems with transportation funding.

Steve Ginsberg: Oh I'm sure that's true. I can't even conceive of any differences of opinion between people in Prince William/Loudoun and Arlington/Alexandria. I'm sure 66 would be widened, no I mean, not widened, wait, no I mean Metro would be extended, no I mean would never be extended . . . nevermind. I'm sure you're right. I'm sure everything would be swell in the state of Nova.

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Re: Dulles: "Most major cities of the world that are of real consequence and a real place to live and conduct commerce have two or more airports with good public transit" - what about BWI? It's right in the name.

Steve Ginsberg: BWI does count, but if we're talking about the name it should be noted that Baltimore comes first. And it also should be noted that taking the train to that airport isn't the easiest thing in the world, since you also have to take a bus from the train stop to the terminal.

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Alexandria, Va.: As a daily Metrobus rider, I enjoyed your recent article about Metrobus problems. Over the past few months, I've encountered breakdowns, fare machines inoperative(meaning no fares were taken) and dirty buses. I have emailed Metro w/my complaints, but I have yet to see any difference or any change in attitude. What has been Metro response to your story? Has management finally taken responsibility?

washingtonpost.com: Progress Has Passed Metrobus By (Post, Dec. 27)

Lyndsey Layton: Hi Alexandria,

In a nutshell, Metro's response is that the agency knows it has problems and is spending some money to make some improvements. There has been no specific response to the various issues raised by the story.

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Ashburn, Va.: I think it's funny that everyone who does not live along the Dulles Toll Road thinks it's a wonderful idea to sell the toll road to a private company (or allow the airport administration to take it over) to raise tolls to pay for the metro to come out so that all of those other people can take the metro to Dulles. Meanwhile, many people who actually live along the toll road and pay the tolls wouldn't use the metro as often (many people work nearby or in other VA suburbs not reachable by metro). I think if everyone wants this metro line so much they should suggest a toll on the access road or an extra tax at Dulles airport, see how desparate they are for it then. It's just too easy to continue raising tolls along the toll portion of the road because it doesn't effect them in the least.

Steve Ginsberg: There's always this complaint from drivers when they're asked to subsidize rail lines. One of the counter arguments is that the rail line would reduce congestion and make their drives better. I'm not so sure that'll happen, at least in the long term. But it's also true that everyone pays for billions and billions in road projects that they never use, whether they drive or not, and almost none of those have added tolls while all transit riders pay for each ride they take.

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Arlington, Va.: What is the status of creating improved rapid transit (bus rapid transit, streetcars, etc.) on Columbia Pike in Arlington? Central Arlington has long been choked by traffic; and not being close to Metro, something has to be done so the area will not languish in the future.

Lyndsey Layton: Hi Arlington,

Metro just completed a study of various alternatives for improved service along the Columbia Pike from Arlington Cemetery to Bailey's Crossroads. The study team recommended something called modified streetcar and now it's up to the local governments to begin the lovely contest for federal funding, which would include an environmental assessment and preliminary engineering work.

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Glover Park: Lyndsey, have you gotten any feedback after your Metrobus article? Has Metro started more closely monitoring its routes? If not, here's some: The 30-series bus I took home last night at around 11:45 was 10 minutes late (it's usually 3-5 minutes early, actually, at that time of night). There were few other cars on the road.

Lyndsey Layton: Thanks, Glover Park.

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Also Woodbridge, again: It's the rock/hard place dilemma. We haven't decided yet which is worse - unreliable train performance or non-moving traffic on I-95 and ever-rising gas prices. We were able to grab other VRE folk to HOV in this am, but something's gotta give...

Steve Ginsberg: That sounds like an unsavory choice, to say the least.

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Virginian: I agree that there really aren't any "shortcuts" any more, at least not that save any significant time or distance across the region. Maybe you can find some "back ways" in individual neighborhoods, but even then you wouldn't want everyone else to know about them.

A lot of times I'll travel on local roads to avoid the Beltway or the other interstates, but they aren't necessarily shorter routes.

Steve Ginsberg: I hear ya. Sometimes I'll turn off the interstate just so I can keep moving. It satisfies my sense of adventure for a little while and then I realize I'm just as far from home and not saving any time.

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Cap Hill, Washington, D.C.: Every morning when I take the metro, I wonder if metro's customer service woes could be solved on many levels by removing the glass enclosures that metro station managers sit in and opening them up.

They remind me of prison guard rooms that I would see on shows like "Oz". They immediately set up a situation where customers can look like threats to station managers. They inhibit communication and allow managers to cloister themselves in the cubicle and not respond to customer issues.

I know there probably are safety factors involved with them being there, but to me, they create a barrier between communication between metro staff and customers before the conversation even starts.

Lyndsey Layton: Hi Cap Hill,

You make an excellent point. The best station managers are on their feet, outside of their kiosks. The worst are barricaded behind that horrible plexiglass, pretending they can't hear you.

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Georgetown, Washington, D.C.: Has anyone thought of using our pitiful taxicab system in Washington as part of a "group ride" system that is popular elsewhere? In New York, people in droves on the Upper East Side line up in AM rush to pile into cabs together to Wall Street. As long as our bus system is dysfunctional, at least we can use our other underutilized assets to compensate.

Steve Ginsberg: I haven't heard of anyone doing this. On a related note, I'm wondering if anyone has stopped using taxis because the price has risen so much? What used to be a bargain is now out of range a lot of times.

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Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: In response to the reader to reminded us of BWI - although the MARC train is a comfortable way to get to the airport, the shuttle between the train station and the airport can get filled quite quickly. I flew out of BWI during the holidays and was stunned to wait at least thirty minutes to get on a shuttle. And there's no way to walk to the terminal, even if I tried - no sidewalks, no red painted line to point me toward the airport. I've ridden B30 and it's beautiful - zooms straight to the airport and drops me off at my terminal.

Steve Ginsberg: Right-o. One of the real perks of the Dulles rail plan is that the station would be right in the main terminal. People say it'll take a long time with a lot of stops to get there from downtown D.C., and that's true, but getting dropped off in the terminal also saves all that aggravation and time spent parking your car, lugging your luggage to a bus stop, getting on the bus, circling those huge parking lots, lugging everything off the bus and into the terminal. That whole deal takes 20 minutes at the least.

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Arlington, Va.: Why do the Blue and Orange Lines share the same track from Rosslyn to Stadium-Armory? If Metrorail could somehow split out the lines and have one run a route that broke off at Stadium-Armory, stopped at Union Station, the new convention center, Dupont Circle and on the edge of Georgetown and then intersecting again at Rosslyn (where the Orange goes off toward Falls Church and the Blue goes down to Alexandria), that would allow for more frequent trains on both lines.

Yes, it's incredibly expensive to build a new tunnel, but the current configuration makes it so that, in effect, we have only one line, the Bluorange (as I've heard it called by many people). Especially now that the Orange Line extension to Dulles is in the works... that will only mean more congestion problems from Rosslyn to Stadium-Armory.

Lyndsey Layton: I think Blorange is easier on the tongue than Bluorange, don't you?

Several years ago, planners at Metro said the solution to the service problems on the Blue and Orange lines, and the future demand that will be placed on them because of the extension to Dulles was this: a new subway line through the heart of downtown that would also include a stop at Georgetown.

The response? The silence was deafening. Nobody wants to spend billions on a new subway line that would disrupt downtown for years.

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Calling 7B Riders: Thanks for all the work checking out the Metrobus system. I'm wondering if any other riders on the 7B line in Virginia (from the Pentagon to Southern Towers) have experienced problems lately? In the last week, I've had a driver (the same driver) refuse twice to drop me at a designated stop, insisting that drivers have been stopping there but aren't supposed to. (7B is clearly marked on the stop's flag, and other drivers continue to stop there.) I've placed a complaint to Metro, but if other riders have encountered the same problem, I'm encouraging you to do so, too....I ended up having to walk 15 minutes to my house from the next stop where the driver would let me off.

Lyndsey Layton: Any other 7B riders out there experience this?

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20906: Yesterday I received a call (unknown name) that had a TX phone number. Turns out it was someone calling about a Metro survey. Anybody else get the call?

Lyndsey Layton: That's the marketing firm that Metro hires to do customer satisfaction surveys. As you can imagine, I sit by my phone, praying that one day I'll get that call. Hasn't happened yet. What did they ask?

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Washington, D.C.: Excellent article on metrobus - covered all the problems. Or enough of the problems. I dunno. A lot of them. In a very nice way.

Lyndsey Layton: Gee. Thanks very much.

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Rockville, Md.: I know I am late in the chat, but I need some assistance. When does I-95S become backed up in the afternoons. I have to drive to NC this afternoon and am thinking of leaving here at 2pm. Will it be bad by then???

Steve Ginsberg: Leave now! Leave now! You have no hope otherwise!

Okay, maybe if you leave at 2 you'll be okay. Theoretically you should be. But I'm not making any promises about I-95 south in the afternoon. You can check www.trafficland.com for vidoes of the highway to get a sense of traffic.

(And next time don't you be coming so late. This train/bus/carpool/maglev leaves promptly every other Monday at 11 a.m.)

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for the article about metrobus and all the ways it stinks. I once fainted right on M Street on a hot summer's day while waiting far too long for a 30s bus, only to have seven show up all in a row. I should have sent Metro my hospital bill!

Lyndsey Layton: Did they pick you up and carry you onto one of those buses?

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Washington, D.C.: This question is not really about commuting, but I'm giving it a shot anyway...I have an 8:45 flight out of dulles on Friday morning. What's the best way to get there? I was thinking of driving and doing long term parking but I've never been there before and wasn't sure how much time to allow...Thanks!

Lyndsey Layton: Hi Washington,

I'd allow lots of time, like a half hour, to get from the parking lot to the terminal. The last time I parked in their satellite parking, I had to flag down a maintenance truck and beg for a ride because the shuttle service was so slow.

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Arlington, Va.: People constantly complain about Metro personel, so I thought it would only be fair to mention that I had a problem with my Smart Card at the Pentagon station this morning, and the woman I spoke with was both friendly and helpful.

Lyndsey Layton: Hooray! Here's a shout out to the lady at Pentagon who fixed Arlington's SmartCard this morning! You rock, station manager!

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Washington: The reason that taxi group rides aren't as popular here is that drivers can charge more for extra passengers, unlike in NYC. I would be curious, though, to see an analysis showing new DC taxi rates compared against those in other major U.S. cities. For years, the local taxi industry and their political allies on the Taxi Commission have touted the zone system as keeping fares affordable. I am beginning to think that D.C. fares are on the higher end of the range, while at the same time the age and condition of much of the taxi fleet seems almost Third-World.

Steve Ginsberg: Not to mention that you often get charged different prices for the same trip and it changes if it's rush hour/gas prices are high/it's snowing, etc. etc. It's almost to the point where it's not worth the confusion, cost or hassle.

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Bristow, Va.: The VRE problems on the Fred line (relative to Manassas) are well known to riders, and simply reflect the fact that the Manassas line is owned by Norfolk Southern from Alexandria on out, while the Fred line is owned by CSX. The NS tracks are in much better condition, and NS is a much better-run railroad. Improvements currently underway, such as the Quantico bridge, will supposedly help things, but problems with CSX remain a thorn in VRE's side. This was even pointed out to me by VRE-riding coworkers when I was considering whether to move to Stafford or western PW, and affected my decision. Any problems we get on Manassas are usually due to the shared track from Alexandria to DC, or to flooding concerns during heavy rains (we have some low bridges over streams around Clifton). I would have given up on VRE long ago if I had to take the Fredricksburg line, and probably switched to slugging.

Steve Ginsberg: Can you e-mail me at ginsbergs@washpost.com? I'm interested in the fact that you based part of your living situation on which VRE line works better.

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Washington, D.C.: Lyndsay, what are the guidelines for "Minor Delay", "Delay" and "Significant Delay" on the Metro? There is nothing worse than the PA system announcing a "minor delay" from a situation that has been resolved, while I've been standing on the platform for 15 minutes. How do they decide when a delay is minor or not?

Lyndsey Layton: Lord knows. I asked Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein just the other day what constituted a "significant delay" and she said it was a delay that was significant. Mmm. Ok.

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Alexandria, Va.: So, I was recently online trying to find out the metrorail schedule so I could be sure to be on time to catch the last train home after a night out. What I discovered is that the weekend schedule does not include train times for Saturday yellow and green lines toward Huntington and Branch Avenue. I suppose this doesn't have a huge impact on many people (I managed to make it home anyway), but it's such an obvious mistake that the most cursory proofreader should have noticed and fixed. It's pretty ridiculous.

Lyndsey Layton: Alexandria, thanks. Memo to Metro: please include the Saturday schedule for Huntington and Branch Avenue trains on the website.

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Washington, D.C.: Is there any way to get the District to delay its Roosevelt Bridge improvement project until they reopen all the lanes on Henry Bacon Drive next to the Lincoln Memorial?

As it stands, the District plans to shut down a rush-hour lane on the bridge while they simultaneously have a lane shut down on Henry Bacon drive coming in from and going out to Memorial Bridge--the end result being that two rush-hour lanes will be shut down going into and out of the District on adjacent bridges from Arlington, Virginia (and with already overcrowding during rush hour on the Orange Line).

Alternatively, if we can't get the District to limit construction to one lane, could we convince Metro to have more than one line crossing between Arlington and downtown (they have plenty of bus lines crossing the line between Maryland and DC)?

Steve Ginsberg: Sorry. I'm afraid we're stuck with both.

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For early Dulles Passenger: Blow the extra $6 per day on the Daily Lot. Cheap insurance, and you can walk to the terminal from one of them.

Lyndsey Layton: There you go.

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Woodbridge Va: Steve Ginsberg: But it's also true that everyone pays for billions and billions in road projects that they never use, whether they drive or not, and almost none of those have added tolls while all transit riders pay for each ride they take.

Ok, since almost all road construction and maintenance is financed with gas taxes: how exactly do non-drivers pay for road projects? If you look at the federal budget, drivers pay for 100 percent of federal transportation projects including everything from bike trails to transit and everyonce in awhile better highways. The same is true in most states. The fact is, drivers almost always subsidize transit riders. The reverse is never true.

Steve Ginsberg: In Virginia, where you live, a portion of your sales tax as well as several expensive fees are used to fund transportation projects.

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re: the Blorange line: Lyndsey,

Yes, it would cost billions and disrupt K Street for years, but we are reaching a point where Metro will be so jam-packed that we will have no choice. What's the latest prediction on when we reach critical mass on Metro? 2015? 2020?

I just don't see any other way out than the solution that was met with deafening silence. If London could build a new Jubilee Line tunnel this past decade, surely we could build what we need to in downtown DC.

Lyndsey Layton: The arrival of eight car trains will create some breathing rooms but various stations will start to run out of physical space (platforms, mezzanines, entrances, etc.) on a staggered schedule within the next five years.

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Airports and Rail: An earlier poster mentioned the NYC area airports as examples of good air/rail connections. Odd example, since none of them has a direct connection on a rail line (such as the Blue line at Reagan National, or light rail at BWI). Newark and JFK only got people mover connections to the rail lines in recent years, and LGA has none at all.

Steve Ginsberg: None are as good as the connection to National, where nearly one in five flyers take Metro to the airport. That's the highest percentage in the nation.

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Washington, D.C.: I hope the person complaining about the toll road subsidizing rail (which might actually help him/her by reducing congestion) has written to his senator about the $224million bridge to nowhere.

Steve Ginsberg: More thoughts about the rail versus road funding equation.

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The Metro Message Board Massacre Movement!!!: Actually it should be The Metro Message Board Anti-Massacre Movement!!!

Does the fact that I know that make me a huge nerd?

Lyndsey Layton: No, no, we welcome you with open arms. Now all we need is a first stanza.

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Washington, D.C.: I could travel on the exact same route, and have vastly different prices from cabs. What a ripoff here! Why can't they run by meter instead of zone? I know many people who don't take cabs because they are ripped off constantly.

Steve Ginsberg: And more cab comments...

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Washington, D.C.: Re: Delays - Lyndsey, you're going to get another smackdown on the Metro site. Which I find hysterical, because their rebuttals are complete and utter panda fodder.

Lyndsey Layton: Well now that's a new one. I'm proud to be the target of any panda fodder.

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Re: cell phones: Lucky commuter whose station manager was so helpful. Mine told me if I wanted it fixed I needed to go to Metro Center...and my home station is Van Dorn. So basically, if I want my $10, I have to wait until I go through that station or make a special trip. Gee, thanks.

Lyndsey Layton: Ok, so I got a little excited prematurely. Sorry, that stinks.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for taking comments and questions. I'm hoping someone from Metro is reading this discussion. Is there any explanation for why there are such long intervals between trains on the Green line everyday? During the height of rush hour, if you don't get your timing right, you can wait anywhere between 5 and 10 minutes!! Okay, 5 minutes is one thing but anywhere from 8-10 minutes seems ridiculous to me at 8:30am.

Lyndsey Layton: From your keyboard to Metro's computer screens.

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Lyndsey Layton: OH no. We're out of time. I hate that. Sorry if we didn't get to your posting but we sure are glad you took the time to chat with us. See you in two weeks. And happy new year!

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