Dr. Gridlock: Your traffic and transit questions

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Robert Thomson
Monday, June 7, 2010; 12:00 PM

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Robert Thomson: Welcome, travelers. Thanks for joining me via computer on what should be a great day to be outdoors. Let's look at some questions about Metro developments and driving issues.

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Metro increases: What do you think of Metro providing the proposed fare hikes in its online trip planner program, when its Board still has to vote on the increases? If I were a Board member, I'd be concerned that this appears to be a done deal before I actually get to vote on it.

Robert Thomson: I'm okay with Metro modifying the Trip Planner for dates starting June 27, when the new fare increases are scheduled to take effect.The board approval later this month is a formality. What I didn't like was the board meeting in secret last month to fight out the details of the fare increase. That was the key session, not the one coming up later this month.By the way, we have our own version of the Fare Calculator:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/metro/metro-fare-calculator/

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Legacy MetroChecks: Hi. I recently stumbled on some old Metrochecks while cleaning some closets. they still work in the turnstiles; however, they do not work at the Farecard machines as I was trying to consolidate them on to my SmartTrip card. Do you know if there is a way to consolidate these? I was thinking that I should be able to stand in the lines at Metro Center and have them do it; but was wondering if that was 1) still and option and 2) if there was an easier way to do it.Thank you.

Robert Thomson: I think what you encountered is the dollar limit on how much you can take off a Farecard. This was the limit imposed by Metro a year or two ago when it became apparent that some people were using fake cards to defraud Metro.I think the easiest thing for you would be to keep using the old cards in the fare gates, and spend them down.

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Metro Security: Metro recently announced it was spending $2 million on radiological sniffers and other terrorism prevention measures. But Friday's incident on the Red Line shows once again that the biggest threat to commuters on Metro, aside from Metro itself, is urban teens who should have been in school and a lack of Metro police to deal with them.Meanwhile Sarles reports that 90 percent of trains are running on time. Any commuter can tell you that stat is a farce. When do we get accountability? Senator Mikulski, can you please step up again?

Robert Thomson: Metro has what many commuters would consider a broad definition of what it means for a train or bus to be on time. But we should encourage Sarles in issuing these new performance reports. It will be clear from month to month whether things are getting better or worse when he issues these reports. I wouldn't focus on the "90 percent," but rather on whether the percentage is going up or down.On the transit police: I rarely hear from a rider concerned that transit police aren't doing enough about terrorism. I frequently hear from riders concerned about young people disrupting the trains.I've often written that I'd like to see an expansion of the transit police so that more officers could be riding the trains. That would inspire confidence, more so than seeing a few more bomb-sniffing dogs on the platforms.The transit police force is too small for the ground that the officers must cover.

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HOT lanes: Your HOT lane "primer" still doesn't answer two of the biggest questions. What's to stop some one from switching their transponder to "carpool" even if they are alone? If there's no photo enforcement how will they know? And for me the biggest question is, how does these lanes not end up just as gridlocked as the beltway? There's an inevitable merge point between the HOT lanes and the regular lanes. If the beltway isn't moving the traffic in the HOT lanes will stop moving too.

Robert Thomson: This was the Commuter page feature I wrote for Sunday's Post. You can find it here:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/05/AR2010060503388.htmlEven though the HOT lanes won't be done till 2013, lots of us are very interested in how they will work, from a driver's point of view. Transurban is a private enterprise. It wants to make money. If a lot of freeloaders get to use the HOT lanes with impunity, it hurts the bottom line.The monetary incentive for the HOT lanes operators is a confidence builder for the rest of us who would like the thing to work.State police will enforce the rules under a contract with the operators. At least at first, they tell me, the police will be monitoring the passage of cars under the toll sensors that communicate with the transponders in the cars. (Everyone using the lanes must have a transponder.)If a device in the police cruiser tells the trooper that the passing car is on the carpooler setting and the trooper doesn't see at least three persons, the trooper can go after the car.(Do you have as much confidence in this as the HOT lanes operators?)The other part of keeping traffic moving, besides keeping out freeloaders, will be dealing with breakdowns and crashes. The lanes will be loaded with sensors to detect traffic problems. Again, the profit motive inspires confidence. The operators have a financial interest in clearing the lanes and keeping traffic moving.

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new Metro cars: I rode on one of the new Metro cars last week in morning rush hour on the Orange Line, and I thought I'd pass on what I noticed. I love the flooring; it was a damp day and the floor was still the least slippery Metro car floor I've ever been on. The openness around the doors really allows passengers to enter quickly, and prevents a lot of the congestion in the doorways normal to that time of day. The ergonomic seats are wonderful as well. I wonder about the longevity of the cloth on the seats. Also, the cloth does make it more difficult to slide over to the window seat after that person exits.One thing I noticed was the ride. It was very bumpy and lurched. I'm hoping it was the driver, not the car. It felt a lot like one of the worst automobile rides I've ever had, where the driver had one foot on the gas pedal and the other on the brake, and pressed them alternately in a nice little rhythm. Fun for the driver, maybe, but it was literally nauseating. Several other passengers were also looking a little green.

Robert Thomson: Thanks for the feedback. What you were seeing was one of the three 6000 Series cars that Metro set up to test various floorings and seat covers. I don't believe Metro has made a final pick for the interiors in the 7000 Series, the ones that the Metro board just agreed to buy. Everything else you experienced was the same as you'd get on any other 6000 Series car. The seat configuration is the same, and the ride is the same. Your description of the bumpy ride probably involved going over track switches. You'd likely feel about the same in any type of Metro rail car.

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Route 50, MD: What are the chances of DOT posting signs on Rt. 50 eastbound, just following the 495 interloop and merge section and just before the small airport on the right side of the highway, of "maintain your speed". Without fail traffic comes to a grinding halt daily because some drivers are absolutely incapable of maintaining their speed. Once you hit the top of the hill it's usually all clear until Annapolis, and I think a simple sign like that would do wonders for the commute home! Thanks!

Robert Thomson: Just one spot like that? I can think of lots of points on the Beltway where speeds diminish on an uphill. Happens on the Wilson Bridge, too.(And you are thinking it's the uphill, right? Not drivers wanting to watch the airplanes land?)

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Metrorail Station opening: On Memorial Day Sunday, I had returned a rental car and was waiting, along with 20 or 30 others, for the National Airport Metrorail station to open at 7:00 a.m. At 7:05, still locked tight. At 7:10, likewise. By now people are getting angry. Finally at 7:13 a woman moving with no sense of urgency at all strolls out to unlock the doors, presumably either not understanding or caring about the obvious mood of the crowd.If the trains start running at 7:00, shouldn't people be let into the station and onto the platform 10 or 15 minutes EARLIER, not LATER?

Robert Thomson: I certainly can see how that would be annoying. If it's any comfort, I think you probably didn't miss a train. The trains start running from the ends of the lines at about 7 on weekends, but wouldn't reach the airport station till later.

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Info for motorcycle commuters: Dr. Gridlock, I learned last week that Arlington County intends to install meters this summer to charge for the few small areas of designated motorcycle parking on the streets. Just wanted to share that with fellow commuters who depend on those designated areas to avoid paying full fare in the garages.A side note, the person I spoke to told me the county asked the garages to designate motorcycle parking, but the garages refused, and demand full price for a parking pass even though we can fit 3-4 bikes or better in the space of one car. We can also park in spaces too compact for cars, but apparently the garages wont recognize that.

Robert Thomson: Do you think it's unfair for the county to start charging for motorcycle parking?

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Ohio Drive: Hi Doc -What is the thinking (if any) behind scheduling the Ohio Drive construction during rush hours??!!! I was just looking forward to the summer traffic decrease and now this is creating serious delays coming from the TR Bridge to get to Independence in the morning. Argh. And for 6-8 weeks? (Which likely means 10-12 weeks). Why can't this be done at night or between rush hours? Thx

Robert Thomson: This second phase of the National Park Service's reconstruction of Ohio Drive, which began last week, certainly is annoying a lot of drivers. This is what the park service says about the traffic patterns:The reconstruction of Ohio Drive is now in its second phase, which will continue through July. (The entire rebuilding project is scheduled to be done in late fall.) The project affects the roadways between Independence Avenue SW at the intersection of Ohio Drive SW, near the Lincoln Memorial, northward to the southern end of Rock Creek Parkway, the area immediately south of the Kennedy Center.During morning rush hours, 6:30 to 9:30 a.m., Ohio Drive will be open to two lanes of inbound traffic only. At off peak hours, one lane will be open in each direction. During the afternoon rush, 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., it will be open to two lanes outbound only. The ramp from Ohio Drive to Lincoln Memorial Circle will be closed at all times. There may be extra lane closings at nights.The fastest way to get the work done would be to shut the road. But of course, that's rarely done. On any local road construction project, what we usually get is a compromise between driver inconvenience and taxpayer expense.On this project, they are working at night. If they worked only at night, it would take a lot longer, and traffic still would be slowed through the work zone during the day.

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Washington DC: The picture of the new cars for the Silver Line showed quite a bit of open space for standing - but very few poles for those of us who can't reach the overhead bars. Metro knows about this - this can't be new to them. Why on earth would they go with a design that again makes it tough for a decent percentage of their riders?

Robert Thomson: There's no final design for the interiors of the new cars, the 7000 Series. In fact, they're going to be built in such a way that Metro can set up the interiors with several different seat configurations.I've not heard anyone suggest there's going to be an airport design, something that might maximize floor area for airport passengers with luggage. The new cars may find themselves on any of the existing lines as well as the new line.Many riders complain about the design of the newest cars currently running, the 6000 Series. They say, as you did, that there aren't enough poles near the doors and they can't reach the overhead bars along the aisles. Metro hoped to deal with that by installing the handgrips along the bars. Are they not working for you?

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Transit Police: If they would just actually start writing tickets for people that bring food and drink on the trains, then hiring some more officers to keep order would pay for itself. All it takes is for one selfish fool to lose control of their Starbucks when the train lurches to really spoil someone's day that is dressed up to go to work.Just last week I got on the train to encounter a seat with a half eaten bag of cheese curls on it. What's the point of the rule if you hardly ever enforce it? Every single one of these people has to walk past a station manager to get to the platform who could say something to them.

Robert Thomson: I've got a letter about eating and drinking coming up in my Thursday column. It's a constant complaint. I share it. I wish there were more enforcement of the rules against eating and drinking.One thing: I really doubt the fines would offset the cost of hiring more transit police officers. Chief Michael Taborn was telling me that an officer can't just write a ticket to a juvenile. The officer has to take the juvenile to the station, taking the officer -- as well as the juvenile -- out of service. That's probably not worth it.Anyway, the officers' goal with illegal eaters isn't to write tickets, it's to get them to stop eating on the trains. Writing a ticket is a fallback.

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Rockville, Md.: We met a couple of members of the Metro police at a recent community meeting. If they were representative of the entire force, I think Metro needs to raise the requirements.While they were nice and polite, brawn wise I don't think they could match up with the teens riding Metro.

Robert Thomson: Metro police might not have been expecting a rowdy crowd at your meeting. They might not have sent the muscle.

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New cars, bumpy ride: Actually it probably wasn't the new car or switching tracks, it is the manual driving that is causing that bumpy ride. Some train drivers are better than others and I come up green a lot lately. I may have to start taking dramamine before riding metro.

Robert Thomson: The bumpy ride has to do with the tracks, I think. The lurching probably has to do with the drivers. As you note, some are better than others. Things should be getting better because they're getting more experience driving. But this won't really be solved till the trains are back on automatic control. No date for that yet.

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Chain Bridge: I emailed you with a similar question last week. What are the start and end points for the reverse lane on Chain Bridge? All last week during my morning commute into D.C., there were cars in the center lane heading towards VA. Does the reverse lane end before the end of the bridge?

Robert Thomson: That shouldn't be happening on the bridge during the morning rush. Other Chain Bridge users, are you experiencing this? Is there not enough inbound traffic to fill up the two lanes, now that the lane has been restored?

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The old escalator argument: Not a question but more of a comment: since Metro has always been reluctant to post "walk to the left, stand to the right" signs on its escalators, I make it a point to inform friends and family of this rule when visiting DC--with the caveat that they WILL get plowed over by the locals if they don't heed the official yet unwritten rule.And the feedback I have received from friends and family is that this knowledge beforehand has been of great help.

Robert Thomson: Yes, it's tourist time. Locals head off on vacation, which cuts crowding in the Metro stations, but we have that influx of tourists who spread out across the escalators.I find I can deal with that. What I really hate is when people get to the end of the escalator, step off, and stop to gaze around.

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Metro car design suggestion: Dr. Gridlock, Has Metro ever considered just eliminating the arm rests on the metro seats? I've often thought the arm rests made getting into and up from the seats so restrictive and who really needs an armrest on the metro anyway?I'm a pretty small person and they annoy me so I can't even imagine how much they must annoy larger people. If there were no armrests, even I'd be more willing to sit down and immediately slide over because I'd know it'd be a lot easier for me to get back out again, esp when the trains are packed.

Robert Thomson: I don't recall much discussion of the arm rests as an obstacle. We had that phase when Metro was thinking about putting more seats against the walls of the cars, and decided not to do it.Most of the configuration discussions have had to do with getting more passengers into the cars, not with making them more comfortable once they're aboard.From riders, the most common complaint I hear is about people who won't slide over but instead take the aisle seat.

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Ft Totten/Union Station incident: Can you clarify when metro Police learned there was a potential violent incident brewing? It seems to me that other ridrs on the car should have known about and reported something well before the fight spilled out onto the Union Station platform.I understand that there might have been fear to use the intercom, but why not get off the train and call it in?

Robert Thomson: That's a good question. I don't know when police first learned about the Red Line rowdies on Friday. If I were aboard, I wouldn't want to call the operator from the intercom in the rowdies' car. But I would get out at the next station and move to another car to do so, or call transit police from my cell phone.

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Response to motorcycle information: I think it's unfair to charge full price for motorcycles. I am also curious how they intend riders to use a multi-space meter, then secure the receipt to the bike. Perhaps they will do numbered spots like the lot near Courthouse metro? I think it's unreasonable for garages to charge full price, considering bikes can park in spaces too small for cars.I think the combination of limited, expensive street parking and full price garage parking reduces the advantage of commuting by motorcycle and encourages me to start driving my car again. Which means more congestion on the roads, more fossil fuel consumption, and more emissions in our atmosphere. I suppose planners would prefer I turn to public transit, but I wont, it's slow and aggravating. And apparently dangerous if you are wearing nice shoes.

Robert Thomson: I got several responses when I asked for opinions about the fairness of parking fees for motorcyclists. I push out the others now, too.

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Motorcycle Parking: If they want to charge for motorcycle parking they could at least let us use the bus lanes, as they do in other major cities. You set aside lanes for bikes but fail to allow motorcycles to use those lanes? Do you think that's fair?And I'd be happy to pay a reduced amount for parking my motorcycle, if the District (I live in DC/MD) would provide additional parking spaces for motorcycles.

Robert Thomson: It's not like motorcyclists would jam up the bus lanes, but what happens when they come upon a stopped bus? Do they just weave out into the regular travel lane?

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Motorcycles: The fee for a parking garage is a flat rate for using their garage to park your vehicle - it doesn't matter how big that vehicle is, or whether it is a motorcycle or a car. If it was $10/day, and you can fit 6 motorcycles in one spot, then that's $60 for them - why would they charge you less?

Robert Thomson: I don't see the issue as the same for the street parking, a government/public thing, and for the parking garages, a private enterprise thing. If it's not a self-park garage, aren't they charging for providing the person to park the vehicle, whether it's a car or cycle?

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I hate NextBus: I hate NextBus. I hate NextBus. I HATE NextBus. If I want an inaccurate idea of when the next bus will arrive, I can get that from the posted schedule. In my experience, an inaccurate idea of when the next bus will arrive is the best you ever get from NextBus. But it also gives wildly inaccurate information, including reporting arrival times for buses that are not operating at that time.This weekend, I tried it again, and again had two bad experiences. In both, NextBus reported the next arrival time as the scheduled time (so is it even providing an estimate?). In one, NextBus said the bus would arrive at 8:09 am. I got to the stop at 8:02 and waiting there until 8:30--no bus. In the second case, NextBus said the bus would arrive at 10:13 am. I saw the bus go by at 10:05 as I was approaching the stop (at least I saw the bus go by so I did not wait in vain).On weekends, just missing a bus is obviously a bigger deal because of the limited service (in the case of these two lines, one runs only every 40 minutes on Saturdays, the other every 30 minutes).And when will Metro have buses who are considerably ahead of schedule, 'hold for schedule adjustment' as trains do?

Robert Thomson: I love, love, love the IDEA of Next Bus. I think it would help so many people get over the threshold that keeps them from trying out the bus system.But too many people are telling me that they'd rather rely on the printed schedule. Also, I've had my own experiences with the bus arrival times being way off. Metro stats back us up. It isn't accurate as often as we need it to be.

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Short riders (like me): "Many riders complain about the design of the newest cars currently running, the 6000 Series. They say, as you did, that there aren't enough poles near the doors and they can't reach the overhead bars along the aisles. Metro hoped to deal with that by installing the handgrips along the bars. Are they not working for you?"No, they don't work for me. I still can't reach the ones that are only a few inches below the horizontal pole, and even the nylon ones force me to stretch my arm out full-length, which is uncomfortable. Why can't Metro install short horizontal poles from the ceiling to the seat back corner closest to the aisle? That works for me and the other shorties of this world.

Robert Thomson: I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, but want to ask this: Are the hand grips that run across the tops of the seats n0t helpful?By the way, I just hate those nylon grips that run down the center rail of some cars. They're like spider webs in the face.

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College Park, Md.: Will Metro ever put credit card readers on the exit of the College Park metro parking garage? At least once a week I get stuck behind a very confused tourist trying to exit.

Robert Thomson: This is a common experience at many of the Metro lots and garages. If Metro is going to continue to run this huge parking system, it's got to make it easier to pay.Actually, I think an expansion of the credit card payment system -- now available at just a few stations -- is going to come soon.

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Cheese Curls and Murphy's Law: And you know that when you pick up that half-eaten bag of cheese curls so you can sit down, that's when a Metro Office will ticket YOU for eating on the train.

Robert Thomson: Not illegal to possess food on a train, only to make it disappear into your mouth.

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eating/drinking/smoking on Metro: I totally agree with the poster that Metro has failed on enforcement of the no eating/drinking/smoking rules. If the goal is to get people to obey the rules, then the answer IS to write tickets. I see the same offenders time and time again--they know it is against the rules, but they don't care and know they will not get ticketed. In my decade of taking metro every weekday, I have NEVER seen anyone ticketed and I have never seen a transit police officer speak to an offender unless another Metro customer has asked them to address it.I don't like the eating and drinking violators, but at least that has an indirect effect on me. I commute to an outside station and people smoke on the platform often -- directly harming me -- and yet Metro will do nothing. This station also often has transit officers there and even for non-juvenile offenders, they do and say nothing to the smokers.

Robert Thomson: No transit officer has ever put it to me this way, but doesn't it just seem like human nature for an officer not to want to get into a hassle with a rider over eating, drinking or smoking?The officer is first supposed to try to persuade the person to stop doing whatever the person is doing wrong. If the person hassles the officer about it -- and around here, there's a decent chance that's going to happen -- the officer is going to have to do something, issuing a ticket or taking the person into custody.Then the person, and the officer, are going to become famous.

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Metro air conditioning: As we get to the warmer months, it seems Metro's AC is less reliable than it's been in the past. This morning, a passenger fainted because the temperature in the car was very high. Ironically, all winter they kept cool air blasting in many cars.

Robert Thomson: Things are definitely not okay with Metro's aging equipment, but I do want to offer one tip in case it helps some people not familiar with how the system works: If one car on a train is hot, it may be just that car. Try another car at the next station.(And report the offending car to Metro, so they'll fix it.)

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Chain Bridge traffic: I've found that the morning commute on the Chain Bridge in from north Arlington is much improved now that the third lane is restored. The afternoon commute seems to be just as bad as its ever been and I think the signal at Chain Bridge and Glebe Rd is to blame. There is simply not enough green time for traffic headed down Chain Bridge Rd from GW Parkway) to continue either across the bridge or head up the hill on Glebe into Arlington.I routinely use the out-of-the-way route of Georgetown Pike and Old Dominion Dr through McLean and into Arlington to avoid the Chain Bridge/Glebe intersection in the afternoons. Its not uncommon for the waiting line to begin at GW Parkway and it takes as much as 45 minutes to drive 1+ mile down to the intersection with Glebe Rd. Could traffic engineers look into retiming this signal, perhaps in conjuction with the signal at the Canal Rd/Clara Barton end of the bridge? Traffic headed inbound on the Chain Bridge to a right on Canal does not need to cross the outbound rushhour flow on Canal Rd so it seems like this is an easy signal adjustment.

Robert Thomson: There was bound to be some adjustment needed on the lights after the lane was restored. The one on the Virginia side is an Arlington County light and the one on the Canal Road side is a District light.

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"From riders, the most common complaint I hear is about people who won't slide over but instead take the aisle seat.": It seems to me this is the problem of the person who is too timid to say "excuse me" or otherwise to ask to be given access to the inside seat. Put differently, it's like someone who sits in the aisle seat at the movies or in church. That person was there first and gets to choose the seat he prefers.There are a lot of perfectly good reasons for taking the aisle seat on the Metro. For example, I'm 6'1" and I find the inside seat to be EXTREMELY cramped. The aisle seat lets me sit at a slight angle so that my knees aren't jammed into the next seat. (I prefer to sit in the side-facing "priority seating" in part for just this reason.)I'm happy to let anyone have the inside seat, but if you don't ask, I won't know you'd like to sit there. DC-area folks need to stop assuming that everyone else is operating with some kind of evil "up-yours" attitude at all times. While rudeness is seemingly ever on the rise, it seems to me that a lot of people actively look for reasons to be offended, and this is a prime example of that sort of thing.

Robert Thomson: I have to agree about the asking part. I hear complaints from riders who are entitled to use the priority seats. But when the seats are occupied, they won't ask the occupant for the seat. The rule isn't that the seats must be kept vacant. It's that they must be given up when a person asks for them.(Me, I never sit in them. I don't want the guilt of thinking that someone would like the seat but won't ask.)

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More from the shorty: "A.Robert Thomson writes: I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, but want to ask this: Are the hand grips that run across the tops of the seats n0t helpful?" The seatback hand-grips are OK, but only one person can hold them, and frequently you have to get underneath somebody's newspaper or backpack to grip them.Vertical poles are easier to hold. I just wish that Metro would actually take into account the interests of all its riders, including the elderly, who often need to hold onto something, regardless of height.

Robert Thomson: Yes, that makes sense.But let me add this: I think any car design is a compromise. I know lots of people complain about the lack of poles around the doors in the newest cars. But I've also heard people in wheelchairs talk about the benefits of the open space around the doors .

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troubles every day: The blue and orange lines seem to be experiencing a lot more troubles lately. Almost every morning now there are HUGE crowds at Rosslyn due to some breakdown or other. Are we really going to accept these higher fares coupled with deteriorating ervice?

Robert Thomson: Most likely, yes. Did service get better after the last fare increase? No, but more people rode.I'm saying that's the reality. I'm not saying travelers should accept things. Getting involved in the Metro Riders' Advisory Council is one way to help. At the other extreme, yeah, if you have an easier and cheaper way to get where you're going, you should use it.I find most commuters get set in their ways and are too willing to put up with travel problems.

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Handgrips on seats: They're useful for short people but if you're short you have short arms so you have to be close to the seat to use them. And if you need to share with others it can be tough...

Robert Thomson: I think I understand this. In a really crowded car, it is difficult to slide your hand between a couple of other passengers. It's just not something we're comfortable with.

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Ticket for Eating: Remember how people took Metro to task for enforcing this policy a couple of years ago.

Robert Thomson: Yes, and not just Metro as an entity. The individual officer gets highlighted in a way no officer is going to be happy with. All of a sudden, people stop writing in to say that Metro needs more vigorous enforcement and start writing in to ask if we're living in a police state.

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Jerky ride: I do not see much improvement in train operator skills, no. There are a few who can smooth the ride out, but most of them do not. As we move into summer, the combination of poorly air conditioned cars, crowds, and the jerky trip often leave me feeling queasy (trip is betwee Shady Grove and Union Stattion..

Robert Thomson: Yeah, that's a really long trip. If a rider's going to queeze, that's plenty of time to do it. Slightly reducing the number of trains at peak periods so that it can spread them out better. This won't make the drivers any better, but there's a chance it will cut down on the frequent starting and stopping that operators do when the trains get bunched up.

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Circulator Bus: I am a regular rider on the Navy Yard/Union Station Circulator bus. I've heard that buses are supposed to operate in ten-minute intervals, but I regularly wait as much as 50 minutes in the afternoon, which often throws off my commute and daycare routine.It's obvious that this service is completely (and improperly) driver-regulated, but there appears to be no method of inquiring or complaining on Circulator's website.Is there any way that you know of to reach somebody in charge?

Robert Thomson: Since the Circulator is sponsored by the District government, I'd use the Mayor's complaint line, the 311 number, to report your experience. If you happen to use Twitter, I'd send a message to the Twitter site of the District Department of Transportation. Lots of transportation departments use the new media now, but I've found that DDOT is doing a very good job interacting with travelers about information and complaints.More generally: I hope the Circulator service, which I've always loved, doesn't expand to the point where it's got the same operating problems of a large transit service. DC should be careful about this in assessing the many requests to expand the Circulator into more parts of the city.

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Metro Lurching: It's been almost a year. If they haven't figured out manual control by now, they never will.

Robert Thomson: I think some have. But some won't get it -- just like some car drivers never improve -- and also, it's not like the pool of operators is exactly the same as it was a year ago. There are always new operators coming in and needing to learn.

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Ticket for eating on Metro: TO all of those who complain that they never see any one get a ticket for eating in Metro. It does happen and it happened to me in the Metro Center station and the officer went out of his way to make sure I was as embarrased as possible while writing the ticket. So it does happen and I try to warn everyone I see eating in the system.

Robert Thomson: Thank you. I know this will come as a surprise to many riders.

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My experience with NextBus: I was waiting for an L8 on Wisc Ave at Friendship Heights station . NextBus said that two L8s were arriving, minutes apart. Eventually I could see two buses with L8 designation on Western Ave. Then the first L8 on the NextBus readout disappeared but both busses were still there, waiting.My guess? The first bus stopped being an L8, therefore "disappearing" from NextBus. Eventually, after some long, cold minutes, the second bus came around the corner and allowed us to load. This was one of those cold, snowy, blowing days in Feb.

Robert Thomson: Yes, there's a bunch of things that can go wrong. It could be in the GPS equipment aboard the bus. Or it could be in the computer system that analyzes the GPS information and makes the prediction about the bus's arrival times.

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Robert Thomson: Travelers, thank you -- as always -- for a lively discussion. I hope you get some useful information out of them, or at least a chance to vent.I know I get lots of useful information: Reports from the field, tips about things I should check, reminders about continuing problems.I'll be away next Monday, but please stop by in two weeks.Drop me a line anytime at drgridlock@washpost.com.


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