Dr. Gridlock: Metro fare increase; safety; who replaces Catoe?

Robert Thomson
Washington Post Columnist
Monday, February 1, 2010; 12:00 PM

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock. He was online Monday, Feb. 1 to discuss Metro, another cold weather weekend and the District's new parking fees.

The transcript follows.

The Dr. Gridlock column receives hundreds of letters each month from motorists and transit riders throughout the Washington region. They ask questions and make complaints about getting around a region plagued with some of the worst traffic in the nation. The doctor diagnoses problems and tries to bring relief.

Dr. Gridlock appears in The Post's Metro section on Sunday and in the Local Living section on Thursday. His comments also appear on the Web site's Get There blog. You can send e-mails for the newspaper column to drgridlock@washpost.com or write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

Dr. Gridlock also hosts his own discussion group, Taken for a Ride, where he tries to help ease your travel pains.


Robert Thomson: Welcome, travelers. I see questions in the mailbag about both driving and transit issues today.


Tysons, Va.: I live in Rockville and work in Tysons and regularly go to Caps games. I used to park at 12th and Constitution and walk over to Verizon. Based on the original description of the new parking rules, I thought that might be far enough away, but apparently not. I drove around for awhile and the only legal parking I could find was near the homeless shelter on D Street. Is there any way to find out where there is longer term affordable parking? It may not sound like alot, but $15-20 20 times a year is significant and I'd like to minimize that without putting myself or my car at risk.

Robert Thomson: The District this month changed the parking rules for central Washington by extending the meter-paying hours to 10 p.m. and also requiring payment on Saturdays.

That covers just about anywhere from which a person is likely to street park and then walk to Verizon Center. That was part of the idea. The District and many of the downtown merchants want those spaces to turn over during the evening. They also want to ease traffic congestion generated by drivers wandering around endlessly in search of non-existent parking spaces.

Do the District would much rather that people who need extended parking find a parking lot or garage. One online source of information about the location and cost of parking garages is BestParking.com.


Washington, D.C.: Dr. G,

At the end of your chat last week, you said you'd look into the status of the 14th Street Bridge rehab. The project website hasn't been updated in a long time, and we're all wondering when to expect the middle lane closures (which will likely be a traffic disaster) to begin.

Robert Thomson: Yes, the schedule is certainly different from my original understanding of it: The right lane closure, which has been in place since last spring, will continue until mid-May. At that point, part of the next lane over will be closed off, as phase two begins.

There are eight phases of lane closures all together. All lanes of the northbound span should be completed by August 2011. The most difficult part of the rehab project is likely to be those middle lane closings. There will always be four lanes open at rush hour, but the traffic shifts resulting from those center lane closings are likely to slow traffic more significantly than was the case during this long first phase of the project.


Arlington, Va.: Dr. Gridlock,

Could you please explain why the morning Orange Line commute has become a nightmare? Over the past several weeks, it has become common for rush hour trains to be spaced 6 or 7 minutes apart, leading to packed trains and overcrowded platforms. I board at Virginia Square, and it is virtually impossible for anyone to squeeze onto the train, so the platforms get incredibly crowded as commuters have to wait for several trains to pass by before they can even try to get on.

It seems obvious that Metro has already begun some service cutbacks -- until this month the rush hour trains were usually 3 or 4 minutes apart. But how come it has been done without any public announcement?

Metro can't actually believe that this type of service is acceptable during rush hour, can they?

Robert Thomson: Metro says it has not cutback service. And the Metro board did not approve any service cutbacks last week. Instead, it chose to impose a 10 cent surcharge on all fares from March 1 through June 30 to avoid any cutbacks in train or bus service.

Yet I continue to hear questions and comments similar to Arlington's. They are especially common among Orange and Red Line riders. People say the trains are getting farther apart and getting more crowded.

This is despite a slight decline in ridership. Long distance trips -- say, from Vienna to Metro Center, or Shady Grove to Dupont Circle -- have declined relative to short distance trips, say, Rosslyn to Foggy Bottom.

A couple of known issues:

-- The trains weren't meant to be operated under manual control all the time. The idea system involves automatic train controls. The whole system is operating more slowly and less efficiently than it should be.

-- Trains may start off on schedule at 5 a.m., when Metrorail opens, but they get thrown off schedule in the same way that buses do. Extra time spent loading and unloading rush hour crowds at downtown stations throws off the schedule on the entire line. Some trains arrive closer together than they should. Others are more widely separated.


Washington, D.C.: I was looking back through your Q&A's and couldn't find anything about why the trains are still pulling all the way to the front of Metro platforms. I thought this was originally done in the aftermath of the June 22 accident, while WMATA was figuring out why that train had not stopped automatically. Seven months later, why is this still the case? It creates serious foot traffic flow issues at some stations (e.g. Gallery Place red line to Shady Grove). And P.S. I am also over the jerkiness of the manual driving. Sometimes it seems like the drivers are trying to see how many riders they can topple over as they stop-start-stop-start into a station.

Robert Thomson: You're exactly right about why it was done: It was a safety precaution imposed while trains operated under manual control pending the outcome of the investigation into what caused the June 22 accident, which preliminary information suggests had to do with a problem in the automatic control system.

The investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board continues. Once it is complete and a report is released, Metro will act on the recommendations. Let's say the recommended fix involves replacement of some elements of the automatic train control system. Metro will have to organize the replacement and carry it out before returning the trains to automatic control.

Metro officials continue to say they can make no estimate on when the trains will return to automatic control. As long as they are under manual control, the policy of pulling to the front of the platform is likely to remain in place.


White Flint to Farragut North: Hello Dr. Gridlock,

What a terrible time for me to become a new metro rider. Today's ride (Friday, Jan. 29)was especially memorable because the trains were already filled at White Flint but the driver kept taking passengers. Then, we had to unload at Dupont. Seriously, do I get the privilege of feeling like a caged animal everyday?

I'd like to know why: 1. Metro did not include an entrance from Old Georgetown road? 2. Metro does not schedule trains that pickup at Shady Grove, skip past several stops, until the cars reach Dupont or FN? Even at 8:30am, the trains are usually filled and it's the Shady Grove crowd.

Ugh. It's like a catch-22.

Good day.

Robert Thomson: Here's a Red Line example of the same thing we were just talking about regarding the Orange Line. You don't have to be too many stations from the start of the line to encounter a completely jammed train.

It's hard for train riders to believe there has been any decline in ridership during the economic downturn. It doesn't match up with their daily experience on the platforms and the trains.

Metro is not likely to build a new entrance for any station unless the local jurisdiction wants to pay for it, not when Metro is trying to find $189 million to close the budget gap for the fiscal year starting in July.

Metro trains do occasionally skip stations when ordered to do so by the Operations Control Center. Usually its done when the trains are bunched up and Metro needs to get them back on schedule -- or closer to schedule.

It's highly unlikely a train is going to be skipping a couple of stations in a row. There's no way a train can easily pass the train ahead of it.

It's just awful to be jammed into a crowded train car. It's certainly not the way people want to either start or end their days.


Expert in Mass Transit: I have to defend my good friend John Catoe from the unwarranted, slanderous sniping he has received in your town. You didn't realize it, but you hit the crux of the issue here: "Extra time spent loading and unloading rush hour crowds at downtown stations throws off the schedule on the entire line."

At some point, people, you have to decide whether or not you want to board the train. John Catoe can't fix the fact you couldn't get out of bed this morning, or your partner nagged you out the door. He can't fix the fact you missed a light, and now you are sprinting for the train door and holding up everyone else.

We, John Catoe's peers, named him the best public transportation manager in AMERICA for a good reason. With the nonsense he has to deal with, between Federal interference and snotty passengers, he has worked MIRACLES with your joke of a system. It's about time, commuters, that you took a look in the mirror and figured out what role YOU play in the delays you face.

Robert Thomson: I think this will get a lot of response from riders. I do think there are things riders can do to help themselves. (Including something as simple as not stopping to admire the view when passing through the train car doors.) And I do think that some riders expect more from the general manager of an aging transit system than any human can deliver.

But riders do have a right to be upset about the current state of the transit system and to demand improvements.


Washington, D.C.: On stopping at the front of the platform: I used to hate this idea, mostly because of the red line to Shady Grove at Gallery Place, but I kind of like it now. It is nice being able to predict, precisely, where a train is going to stop. It works great for me personally - I usually ride in off-peak times and have plenty of time to wander to the exact point on the platform where I need to be.

But on reflection, I still think it kind of stinks in a lot of cases. The Gallery Place situation is the most obvious, but there are plenty of stations like that, where all or many of the people come in at one extreme end of the platform (Farragut North, Union Station, and Takoma come to mind). That means a -lot- of people running two car-lengths to get on their train. That's just dangerous. Yes, it would be awesome if people didn't run, but, cmon, this is human nature we're dealing with here.

Anyway. A smattering of thoughts. I wish there was a way to make this work for everyone.

Robert Thomson: The situation on the Red Line platform at Gallery Place seems to become more notorious every day. For those unfamiliar: Riders coming from the lower platform, the Green/Yellow Line one, encounter a wave of people who have just gotten off the Red Line train. Irresistible force and immovable object.

The station's design and the large number of people using it at rush hours don't work well with having the six-car trains pull to the front of the platform. The last car is too far away from the mezzanine where people are trying to move on and off the platform.

Farragut North is a special problem right now on the Glenmont side. People entering from the L Street side have to maneuver past a wooden barricade installed while the ceiling is under repair. It makes the platform very narrow at a point where people are going to be hustling to catch up with the train, which has pulled to the front of the platform.

Aside from such special problems, most of the regulars have learned to deal with the front of the platform stops and know where to stand. I'm worried about what happens when we get back into tourist season.


Silver Spring, Md.: Does WMATA have a lot of railcars out of service, which would affect rush hour service? Do you have any access to information on how many railcars are out of service for scheduled or unscheduled maintenance? Would such information be (gulp!) available to the public? Thanks.

Robert Thomson: I don't have a list of rail cars out of service. The couple of things I do know: Metro officials, including Dave Kubicek, the Metrorail chief, say they have not reduced the number of trains in service. Metro always keeps cars in reserve so that it can add them into rush hour service if need be.

Adding extra trains onto a line is difficult, especially during a time when they all are under manual control.


Silver Spring, Md.: D.C. parking meter rules:

Doctor, you forgot a couple other reasons why D.C. decided to change the parking meter rules: more revenue for the city from the meters and more revenue for the city from tickets.

As a balance to that comment, I will add that the credit card parking meters are a nice addition; many of us WANT to pay the the city's reasonable rates for parking but we need meters that are not broken (!) and do not require a fist full of quarters.

The more things change ...

"In 1936, a proposal to try meters in the District was denounced by the American Automobile Association, which said they would "saddle a further load of double taxation on the shoulders of car owners."

"Congress, which then exercised a stronger grip over the District, fought over the issue for the next three years before the first nickel was dropped into a "trial meter" on F Street."

"Some observers that November afternoon predicted that people would stop driving into the city, and others were delighted at the prospect that there would be plenty of parking spaces."

"Neither proved true. Within a week, someone made an unsuccessful attempt to break open a meter, and Robert W. Waldron made history as the first Washingtonian hauled into court for not paying."

He had a pretty good case by today's standards: Time had been left on the meter by the previous parker, so why should he pay? But Judge John P. McMahon ruled that the law said everyone had to pay with their own nickel, so he fined Waldron $5."

washingtonpost.com: District's new parking meters take credit cards (Washington Post, Jan. 29)

Robert Thomson: Yes, the District has said all along that one of its goals was to make more money from the parking meters. That doesn't seem at all odd to me. Seems like the cost of parking should at least in part be an issue of supply and demand. The District says that by raising the price at meters in the most popular areas to $2 an hour, it's matching what many other big cities are charging.


Washington, D.C.: Can you please look into what these "scheduled adjustments" are that cause trains on the red line (maybe others too, but I only ride the red line) to stop at stations for about 5 minutes every single day during rush hour? If these are not stealth service reductions I don't know what they are. Every day for a month these have been going on, and no, it's not due to a train malfunction or some other delay. These are service reductions and I wish the Post would call Metro out on it.

Robert Thomson: Rush hour riders on most lines are familiar with schedule adjustment announcements, and yes, this is very annoying. Many people are riding trains rather than driving because they want a reliable trip. If the trip isn't reliable, they say, might as well drive.

Metro's Operations Control Center uses two techniques to balance out the train traffic on a line when the trains get bunched up. OCC either halts trains for a couple of minutes, or it has them skip stations.

Metro acknowledges that there are some special problems on the Red Line. A readjustment of the schedule on the line -- to bring the schedule closer to the actual running times -- was lumped in with the service cuts proposed by staff and rejected so far by the Metro board.

Here's what the Red Line readjustment would do: Metro would schedule different running times for peak and off-peak periods. Four minutes would be added to peak period running time, making it 65 minutes end to end; two minutes would be added to off-peak period running time, making it 63 minutes end to end. Metro would widen the scheduled time between trains at peak periods from five to six minutes.


Arlington, Va.: John Catoe's "good friend" must not ride our Metro system, especially during rush hour. Sure, sometimes people rushing to catch the train do hold things up. But the bigger problem is the poor design of the rail cars which makes it hard on an over-crowded train for those who want to get off to disembark and those trying to get on to make it into the train before the doors close. I don't see people dawdling. And no one wants to get stuck missing a train because it is usually so long until the next one comes along.

Robert Thomson: The rail cars were designed for a different era. Back then, the idea was that people had to be lured from the comfort of their cars onto the trains. So we got carpets and cushions and so forth.

Well, it worked. Now the trains are jammed. Metro has considered some options about redesigning cars. It did remove the poles around the doors in the most recent design to try to get people to avoid clumping by the doors and blocking people from getting on and off. That change wasn't universally popular.


It's matching what many other big cities are charging: Well DC's metro isn't run like the "big boy"cities, so why should they charge big boy prices for parking on the street?

Robert Thomson: To get more people to jam onto the trains?


Rockville, Md.: To whoever follows Catoe: Please, be a good communicator. Make those who work for you better communicators, all the way down the chain. Heck, make one of those canned announcements that clearly states that the reason for the longer waits between trains in the mornings is due to the schedule being off. Make it so no one has to dread approaching an employee in a booth, or on a platform. Don't tell us that you're doing something that makes us safer (e.g., sticking the older cars in between the new ones) when you haven't actually shown that it DOES make us safer. When something goes wrong, make sure the alerts are timely, and correct. Good luck to you, whoever you are.

Robert Thomson: I think Metro consistently underestimates the amount of information that riders need and doesn't address many of the topics that are very important to riders.

Our chat today is but one example of how baffled riders are -- baffled if not downright suspicious -- about how the train schedules are being set. Metro, as an organization, needs to get out in front of these issues and openly discuss them. This credibility gap has been particularly wide since the June 22 crash.


Washington, D.C.: I'm not sure if the writer is in fact an expert in mass transit and I'm not sure if I would phrase it the same way, but I'd like to endorse the comments of "Expert in Mass Transit." This may not be the only problem or the biggest problem, but it is one that passengers can control directly.

As a regular metrobus and train rider, I believe some simple etiquette and awareness by passengers would have a tremendous effect on the efficiency of the transportation services. For example, don't stand near the doors if there is room elsewhere, it only slows down loading and unloading thus slowing down service for everyone. Also, get out your bus fare or smartrip card as the bus is approaching, not after you've stepped onto the bus. Etc......

Robert Thomson: I tell you all from time to time that about half the letters and comments I get are complaints about something government did or didn't do. The other half involve travelers' complaints about each other. Metro riders are well aware of the bad behavior they see displayed by fellow passengers. Some bad behavior, but mostly just not-so-smart.


Washington, D.C.: Please be a reporter. What does "scheduled adjustment" mean? This happens on every single ride from Silver Spring to Union STation during rush hour on the red line. The train stops at a station, the driver says that and it sits for a good 3-5 minutes. What is this? Sounds like a service reduction by metro. I wish you wouldn't just take metro's answers at face value. They have murdered over 12 people this year afterall.

Robert Thomson: There is not a "schedule adjustment" on every single ride from Silver Spring to Union Station. There are enough of them to annoy thousands of riders. Withdrawing trains from service would make the Red Line trip smoother. Trains would be less likely to get bunched up behind other trains. There would be fewer service adjustments.


Interesting observation: Hi Dr. Gridlock - this morning as I boarded my crowded Orange Line train I noticed there was a D.C. police officer (I think) whose weapon was in clear sight on his belt. I felt that my fellow passengers were unusually cooperative in not blocking the doors and moving to the center of the car, and someone even made space for a man pushing a stroller. A miracle! Do you think we need more armed law enforcement to make people behave on trains?

Robert Thomson: I think we need more transit police, and we need them to be more visible on the trains and in the parking areas. The current force is spread too thin.


Arlington, Va.: Metro is closing the Rosslyn station (plus Arlington Cemetery) over the President's Day weekend. The notice on the Metro web site is extremely complete but I note that I was riding down the Court Hosue elevator with about six people on Friday night and nobody paid attention to the notice of this event until I mentioned it. This will cause major trauma for those who fail to read about it.

Robert Thomson: Yes. Metro, and people like me, need to do more to get the word out about the closing of Rosslyn Station scheduled for the long Presidents' Day weekend. I do think Metro has done a good job publicizing its recent track work programs, like the one over MLK Day weekend. But we all underestimate what it takes to reach a huge mass of riders.

One thing I'm planning is to use next Sunday's Commuter page in The Post to explain what riders should know about the President's Day weekend disruption. Plus, I'll keep reminding people on our Get There blog.


10 cent fare surcharge: Dr. G, Will the regional bus services be piggybacking on Metro's 10 cent fare surcharge this spring? Will my SmarTrip card be charged an extra 10 cents if I transfer from a Fairfax Connector or RideOn bus to a Metrobus? Will Metro let anyone know their March 1-June 30 policy before February 26th? Inquiring minds want to know.

Robert Thomson: The Metro surcharge is a very unusual thing. Pretty much a desperation move on the part of the transit authority. From March 1 to June 30, expect to pay 10 cents more for any trip on Metrorail, Metrobus or MetroAccess. Expect to pay it whether you're using cash or a SmarTrip card. If any bus to bus transfer is free for you now, that shouldn't change. Metro has made no change in its transfer policy.

The suburban bus systems meanwhile are making their own decisions about fare increases and service cutbacks, based on the budgets of the jurisdictions that finance them.


Friendship Heights: With the new Obama administration policy that will provide more money for transit improvements should DC put on hold its plans for the K Street Transitway and focus instead on the more urgent need to separate the Blue and Orange line thru downtown DC to accommodate the surge in riders that Metro out to Dulles will generate?

And is there any indication that other planned transit projects in the region (eg the purple line) are poised to move up their time lines to take advantage of this new formula?

We always hear that money is the problem but finally there is a significant policy shift that could remedy that problem and it is unclear to me if this region is ready to take advantage?

Robert Thomson: The region's transit agencies pounced on the federal stimulus money because they had plenty of maintenance projects ready to go. But there's only so much the local jurisdictions can do to speed up long term projects that still are in the planning stages. They also need to line up their local sources of funding.

On your first issue, the K Street transitway would be a District Department of Transportation project. DDOT has an exciting plan to expand its transit system, but it has yet to unveil a financing system. The plan to split the Blue Line service so some trains come into the District on the Yellow Line Bridge over the Potomac is a Metro plan, completely separate from the District Department of Transportation. I'm not sure there's any big financial issue involved in that. That one is more an issue of transit logistics.


Verizon Parker: I've got the same issue as the Caps fan. I park, feed the meter for two hours and hope for the best. A parking ticket is $15 and you'll pay at least that much to park in a nearby garage.

Since the new year, I've been to two games and have not been ticketed.

Robert Thomson: It's the first time I've heard a traveler say that the District is inefficient about giving out parking tickets.


Farragut West: It seems the city needs to add turn arrows at all intersections where a light is green for traffic going straight, but the walk/don't walk indicators tell pedestrians not to walk, so that cars can then turn.

Pedestrians just don't respect the don't walk sign - they cross in intersections because the light is green, making it impossible for cars to make a turn. I deal with this every day on my commute, and elsewhere throughout the city.

Robert Thomson: This is true. But travelers will say back that they see plenty of the opposite: Cars failing to yield the right of way to pedestrians in crosswalks.


Fairfax: I always complain, so I need to note that Metro had the Dunn Loring station lots and sidewalks well cleared today! They used enough salt to turn the Chesapeake into a local Dead Sea, but cleared.

Robert Thomson: We've been lucky so far this winter in that our storms arrive on weekends, giving Metro and the region's road crews time to respond when the highways, streets and parking areas are less crowded.


Rockville, Md.: To White Flint rider:

Are you prepared to give huge discounts to riders at Rockville and Twinbrook just to have an express from Shady Grove?

Unfortunately the system's design wasn't built for express trains. This is just one of its design faults in addition to too small platforms, too little space for maintenance to be done, escalators in the elements, and no recognition of the fact that people/companies were moving to and working in the suburbs even at the time the system was on the drawing board.

Robert Thomson: Yes, it all seemed like a good idea at the time.


Washington, D.C.: My understanding was that the decision to stop trains all the way at the front of stations was that it came from incidents where operators forgot they had eight cars, and opened doors with the last car still in the tunnel. Anyone else remember this?

Robert Thomson: Yes. And I very much supported the decision to stop the trains at the front of the platform rather than continue to take chances that doors would be opened in tunnels and riders would pop out onto the tracks.


Hyattsville, Md.: Hello, Dr Gridlock.

When I take Metro to to work I start on the Green Line but have to transfer to the Red Line to finish my trip.

The platform at Gallery Place is scary most mornings becuase of the number of people there. Then comes a train that is already completely crammed full. A few people get off and many more try to board. A couple of mornings I have found myself unable to back away from a crowded train and so get crammed into it. The momentum of the crowd is stronger than I am.

Robert Thomson: Good description. I think Metro needs to come up with a solution that's specific to conditions at Gallery Place. That could be putting more personnel on the platform to direct traffic.


More on parking: I hate to use Bethesda as a model, but they have city-sponsored parking garages with reasonable rates. I echo the sentiments by the poster that parking around the Verizon Center can run upwards of $15-20 for a game. Most of the restaurants are now charging the same amount - validated - for parking and dining at their restaurant. It all seems like such a merry-go-round - I can't afford to pay that and eat out as much, so I don't go, they need to make up the lost revenue so they hike up the rates. The solution, obviously, is more public parking and/or public transportation. Or, vote with our pocketbooks to go elsewhere.

Robert Thomson: The Action Committee for Transit, a riders' group, makes the case that parking in Montgomery County is too heavily subsidized by the county government and that the prices should be higher.


Red Liner: Any idea when the Bethesda escalators will be fully functional? It's been MONTHS since they were.

Robert Thomson: I understand the problems with repairing these big, exposed escalators is quite significant. But what's gone on at Bethesda -- and earlier at Dupont Circle -- just shouldn't be allowed to happen. You can't have that many big escalators out for months.

At Bethesda, two of the three escalators are out. The latest dates for completion of the major repairs: Feb. 11 and Feb. 13.


What the heck?: Hi, Dr. G.,

I was driving to work last week at about 7:00 a.m. in the right lane of Washington Blvd in N. Arlington when a car came up behind me. The driver started tailgating me, flashing her lights, and yelling and gesticulating. (She was so close to my bumper that I could practically see her lips forming swear words in the rear view mirror.) Ultimately, she swerved into the left lane and passed me then zoomed off into the distance.

I was going 35 mph--the speed limit--in the right lane in a residential neighborhood with lots of stop lights, etc. My lights were on, and I'm sure that this was just a road-rage situation.

What the heck? Chill out people.

Robert Thomson: I think most people who would participate in a chat like ours are not inclined to behave in such a manner. The issue for the rest of us is not to get sucked into responding in kind to such rage. You don't have to prove your righteousness to a complete stranger.


Olney, Md.: Hi, Dr. G.

My husband and I were out in that mess on Saturday because we had tickets to American Ballet Theatre at the Kennedy Center. We also had dinner reservations at Ruth's Chris, which we could have canceled, but the ABT tickets were non-refundable.

As they had cost $168, I didn't want to basically throw that money away. As it turned out, we made it there and back safely, but it took two hours to get to Ruth's Chris in Arlington (love the view). The Kennedy Center said when I bought the tickets that if the artists could get to the theater, the performance would go on. Well, the artists were staying across the street at the Watergate, so no problem! I wish the Kennedy Center had a more customer friendly snow policy. And I wish that ABT would come in April or October or anytime but the dead of winter!

Robert Thomson: It's always been an issue that the Kennedy Center, a major cultural resource, is not convenient to the subway system.


What is the correct speed limit to drive on the beltway?: I got a ticket the other day for going 62 (speed limit is 55) I thought you could go up to at least 10 miles over...Got an $80 ticket...do points come with that...and of course scoresof others were whizzing by...I think they are trying to raise money.

Robert Thomson: If local jurisdictions want to raise money by enforcing the speed laws, more power to them. No police officer I've talked to has told me it's OK to go 10 mph over the speed limit.


Richmond, Va.: My family is considering a move back to DC and I get nervous when I read chats like yours. Should we bail or do we just hear the worst of the worst? I used to ride the red line and occasionally there would be glitches but... wow, not things seem horrible. Is there anything redeeming about mass transit in DC? Or should we just sit tight? Thanks for your chat.

Robert Thomson: Hi, Richmond. We do have problems, but I think most locals who join our chat know that we want to vent and see if we can share information about solving problems. So you'd probably get a skewed view of our transportation system.

For example, we have one of the nation's most extensive transit systems. Bad as it can perform sometimes, it's still one of the Washington region's most valuable resources.


Arlington, Va.: re: supposed transit expert

A lot of us who complain about the DC system have regularly used other systems around the country and around the world. Boston doesn't have a bypass track either, and yet somehow I only had two or three disastrous commutes in five years, vs. two or three disastrous commutes a week in DC.

New York has 20 million people in its metro area, and yet I only had three huge commuting problems that I can recall from the three years I lived there. And I've never lived in London full-time, but whenever I've visited there's been nothing wrong with the tube.

And you won't believe how polite and helpful their employees are to tourists, especially in comparison.

Does the DC population have its head up its rear about a lot of things? Sure. Snottiness is kind of a science around these parts. But that doesn't change the fact that our transit system is shamefully, abysmally run.

Robert Thomson: In Boston last year, 49 people were injured in a Green Line crash. Transit officials said the operator was texting his girlfriend.

I love the NYC subways, but growing up in New York, we never suspected they might be an operational model for the world.

We've got plenty of legitimate problems with our Metro that need solving, and we should press for solutions. But I disagree that there's us at the bottom and there's everybody else at the top.


Another Transportation Expert: I'm a transportation expert. I do not know John Catoe. I do not work for Metro. I do ride Metro often.

I am willing to cut Metro a little slack when it comes to performance, only because I know that it can be difficult to run a "perfect" transit system. If you have the same number of trains running on the line (by defintion, no service cut), but the trains run slower, they will come less often. Many of the times when a train goes out of service, it is because people jam something into the door. And even under perfect conditons there will be delays.

So I'm willing to cut Metro a little slack there. Where I'm not willing to cut Metro any slack is when it comes to people getting killed in the system. Suicides aside, it is unacceptable for there to be any deaths on Metro, passengers or employees. Metro needs to ensure that its people are communicating with each other and that its equipment is in the proper working order, all the time (none of this fluttering crap). Metro needs to ensure that its drivers are not driving recklessly, whethere driving a hi-rail vehicle at excessive speed in reverse without looking where you are going, or whether a bus driver schleping a bus around town with a suspended license. The buck stops with John Catoe on those issues. He is ultimately responsible, and he needs to step up and fix these things. I can tolerate delays, but I expect to get to my destination alive.

Robert Thomson: Got a bunch of responses to the Transit Expert comment high up in the chat and will show them to you before we quit.


Washington, D.C.: If I understand "expert in mass transit" logic, while Mr. Catoe has no responsibility for all of Metro's faults, accidents, decline, and deaths, because they are all the fault of some other Metro employee, he does deserve the $400k salary and the national awards for all of the good things that happened on Metro -- presumably equally none of his doing but equally that of all of the other Metro employees. If you want to take credit for the successful take-offs, then you need to accept responsibility for the crash landings too, no?

Robert Thomson: Comments about Catoe today have been both for and against.


Potomac, Md.: re: Expert in Mass Transit ...

Hear Hear! As a transplanted New York/New Jerseyan, I totally agree with his/her opinion. If D.C. area wants to consider itself to have a world-class system, then it has to be willing to bite the bullet and spend the cash to make it so.

Continue to whine and complain and make Catoe the fall-guy, undeservedly, for the endemic long-term problems of Metro just seems par for the course around here.

Robert Thomson: Thanks for joining me today for yet another lively discussion. We wound up with quite a few comments on Metro. I didn't get a chance to publish them all. I have a few unpublished ones I'd like to post on the Get There blog, so take a look.

And write to me any time at drgridlock@washpost.com. Stay safe, and we'll chat again next Monday.


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