Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I'm a native Washingtonian returning to D.C. after 27 years in Chicago, and trying to use the Metro as much as possible. Because I'm often carrying my laptop and other material, I really rely on the escalators at Metro stops. I'm finding that maybe half of them don't work. Then I've either got to climb them or wait for the elevator, if there is one.

What percent of the escalators are not working and why?

Mel Schnapper

Washington

Metro for years said that 95 percent of the escalators were working at any given time. But the experience of the readers seems to find them much more unreliable than that figure suggests.

Why? Escalators exposed to the elements and union maintenance crews that lack sufficient training have been mentioned among the causes.

Metro has to figure out a way to fix the escalators or risk losing credibility with its customers.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Every time I take the Metro, I seem to encounter escalator problems. The problem will never get solved until there are consequences for not resolving the problems -- i.e., fire management, fire the union, or both -- and outsource the maintenance.

I'm reminded of an ice skating rink in New York City that city folks had been trying to stop leaking for eight years. Donald Trump volunteered to solve the problem and did so in less than three months and substantially under budget.

D.C. continues to remain a "broken system" because nobody has the political will to solve the problems.

Hal Van

Ashburn

Consider this: The chief executive of Metro is not elected. He is appointed by the Metro board, that in turn consists of local elected officials who rotate through the board positions.

It is difficult for the electorate to figure out who is responsible for such poor performance and exercise their feelings at the ballot box.

I'm afraid the current system encourages the status quo.

Kiss This Idea Goodbye

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Now that most Metro parking lots -- even Greenbelt's at the end of the line -- fill up in the morning, causing many folks to park illegally (and receive tickets), how can Metro justify all of those empty Kiss and Ride spaces day after day?

Greenbelt has dozens of Kiss and Rides, and short-term metered spaces, that are never used. If Metro were to install some long-term meters in some of those spaces, they could have guaranteed income every weekday -- and fewer people parking illegally (and dangerously).

If government officials want us to take public transportation, they need to provide us the means to do so, which includes parking spaces for those of us not near a bus line.

Jennifer Manning

Columbia

Metro should keep Kiss and Ride spaces available at all times because dropping off customers is an efficient way to use the property (as opposed to parked cars).

That said, Metro and the local governments have fallen behind in providing enough day parking for customers. I can't think of a better contribution to our transportation system than constructing more parking at Metro stations.

Hybrid Style

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You asked how drivers are enjoying the hybrid vehicles. We bought a Toyota Prius in October, and I am using it on my daily commute on the Fairfax County Parkway. I couldn't be happier.

It is designed for the type of driving the parkway demands: medium speeds (usually), lots of stopping and starting, etc.

It is great in traffic jams because it just shuts off and quietly waits until it is time to go again (that was a little unnerving at first). The fuel consumption seems to be dependent on the temperature more than in a regular car, since my mileage is running about 47 mpg in warmer temperatures and nearer 42 mpg in the frigid cold weather.

The car is comfortable for our three-person family to use on weekends, and great as a commuter car. I don't feel guilty about my single-person commute anymore, and it's cute!

Jenny Pate

Springfield

Few things in life are as satisfying as owning a car you love.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In response to Brian Broadhead's "Hybrids' Fuel Efficiency Goes Only So Far With One Occupant" [Dr. Gridlock, Feb. 27], I have to point out that Mr. Broadhead is grossly uninformed as to the efficiency of hybrids.

Mr. Broadhead asked: "What pollutes more, three people sharing a ride in a car that gets 25 mpg, or three people each riding in their own hybrid getting 40 mpg?" Mr. Broadhead needs to perform a simple mathematical calculation. Which is better for the environment, a regular car with two to three occupants, putting out 100 percent of the pollution that a regular car puts out, or a hybrid with one occupant putting out 10 percent of the pollutants of a regular car?

The question is asked, why should hybrid owners get special HOV exemptions when Mr. Broadhead doesn't? It's because we get better mileage and put out 10 percent of the pollutants of a regular car.

My Toyota Prius averages 45 mpg. While driving solo in the Interstate 66 HOV lanes during rush hour, I have had a man and woman in a large black Ford SUV hold up a sign that says "HOV-2," with the man then holding up two fingers. In return, I smile and hold up one finger. Guess which one?

What should be banned from HOV lanes are large SUVs and smelly diesel vehicles.

Bob Cochran

Reston

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Brian Broadhead's comments [Dr. Gridlock, Feb. 27] regarding emissions prompted me to write. Even before the current rise in prices, I had been tinkering with the idea of purchasing a hybrid car to ease the fuel cost of my 60-mile reverse commute from Gaithersburg to Owings Mills, north of Baltimore. I noticed that every hybrid I looked at received a SULEV rating, so I did some research and found the actual emissions standards at www.cleancarcampaign.org.

The SULEV standard requires less than 1/30 (a 97 percent reduction) the emissions of the current federal standard for some pollutants. Brian states, "What pollutes more, three people sharing a ride in a car that gets 25 miles per gallon, or three people each riding in their own hybrid getting 40 mpg? The answer to that should be pretty obvious."

It sure is. Three hybrids produce less pollution. Hybrid cars use half as much or less gas and pollute far, far less. One Web site, www.autotestreport.com, broached the question of how to test emissions when vehicle exhaust is cleaner than the ambient air.

D.C. does have horrible traffic congestion, but it also has horrible air. Because federal road-building dollars are connected to clean air, Virginia is trying to improve both with its HOV program. I say let the exemption for hybrids stay.

Cary Abend

Gaithersburg

A Bright Idea

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Please remind motorists that whenever they are using their windshield wipers, they should have their main headlights on. This is important for three reasons: They can see better; they can be seen better; and it's the law in Maryland and Virginia.

Joe Mihm

Vienna

Trashing the Roads

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

A surprising source of litter on our roads and highways is garbage trucks, especially those serving institutional customers.

On several occasions, I have seen such trucks spewing paper from the top. Motioning to the driver is as useless as a telephone call to the garbage collection company.

Michael Rae

Potomac

Provide me with details. I can call a garbage company. It may be that neither the employees on the truck nor the company is aware of the problem.

It is somewhat ironic that a company that is supposed to pick up trash is spewing it onto roads.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in District Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at drgridlock@washpost.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers.