Metro riders soon will be able to use pay telephones while waiting on station platforms, the Metro board decided yesterday, reflecting a new willingness to make the transit system more user-friendly.
Board Chairwoman Mary Margaret Whipple said the board also is likely to improve lighting in Metro stations, provide more signs, install more Farecard vending machines that accept $10 and $20 bills, create a 24-hour telephone assistance line for riders, place mailboxes at station entrances and find a way for riders to use credit cards to buy Farecards.
The changes are among the 1,800 suggestions submitted by riders since the board asked for "great ideas" in February.
"We said we were looking for great ideas that would improve service and make riding trains and buses more convenient for passengers," Whipple said. "We got so many excellent suggestions from riders that it will require some time to consider all of them."
Most of the ideas are not new. In fact, most of them have been around since the subway opened 14 years ago and since Metro took over local bus service 17 years ago.
But Metro's directors, managers and architects, many of whom have worked for the agency for close to 20 years, have long resisted any proposals that might "commercialize" or "clutter" a system that was conceived as another monument for the nation's capital.
The old guard has most fiercely fought off any change -- no matter how convenient for the passenger -- that might interfere with the visual purity of Metro's award-winning, spare design.
The information kiosk at Metro Center, the art program that has placed paintings and sculptures in some stations and most recently the appearance of the first automatic bank teller machines in subway stations are among the changes that were initially resisted, but which now are signs of a new willingness to change at Metro.
For passengers, it's better late than never.
"It's going to be a convenience," Rich Karstetter, of Woodbridge, said about the telephones as he waited on the platform at Metro Center. "I'm a salesman and sometimes need a phone pretty quick."
Jeff Howard, a Reston computer consultant, reacted to the news in true Washington fashion. "It certainly will make the time you spend on the platform more productive," he said. "The only problem I can see is the line of people waiting to use them."
Pay telephones are available in Metro stations, but are on the mezzanines near the fare gates. Riders have suggested installing the phones on the platforms for years, and Whipple could not say why the idea was not adopted until now, after 30 riders made the suggestion in response to the Great Ideas campaign.
The telephones will be installed over two years at no cost to Metro, and will generate an estimated $150,000 a year in revenue for Metro after they are all in place.
"It's absolutely the perfect great idea because it's going to provide convenience for people and some money for Metro," Whipple said.
One idea that already has been put into action is the suggestion to include newspaper recycling bins at all stations.
Metro officials also have approved a suggestion to provide a transit system information display at the bus stop at 11th and H streets NW, near the Convention Center and across from the Grand Hyatt Hotel.
Other ideas that Whipple said are likely to be adopted include:
Selling the Family/Tourist Pass at all 61 Metro stations. It is now sold only at one station and nine other sales outlets.
Providing better information at bus stops, such as the bus numbers, schedules, routes and maps.
Providing plastic Farecard holders to protect the cards.
Providing lighting and public phones in bus shelters, with a "hot line" to Metro.
Installing signs at subway entrances that are closed on weekends or that close early to indicate where the nearest open entrance is.
Showing the Maryland Rail Commuter Service (MARC) connections to Metro stops at Rockville and Union Station on the Metro system maps that are displayed in trains.
Developing an indicator in stations that will tell riders which color train is coming next at the stations shared by the Orange and Blue lines and the Blue and Yellow lines.
Providing basic Spanish training to bus drivers on routes with substantial numbers of Spanish-speaking riders.