Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Rowdiness on Metro is not practiced just by teenagers during rush hour. I have experienced young and older adults engaging in loud conversation. It is disruptive to other riders who are trying to read, catch up on work material or working on laptops.
When you are trying to finish work under a tight deadline, the last thing you need is disruptive adults or teenagers.
I find it ironic that we prohibit people from playing music without headphones and glare at people with ringing cell phones, but we permit loud conversations in all languages.
But not all subway systems are the same. I have been on the London subway, and people there speak in lower tones or not at all. I learned that it is considered impolite there for riders of any age to talk loudly on the subway.
Maybe Metro could encourage polite behavior in its prerecorded messages we hear daily. Another solution, used by some commuter rail lines, is to designate and label some subway cars as "quiet" cars. Plus, Metro could add signs reminding people to pick up trash, not leave a bag or briefcase behind and talk quietly.
In addition, Metro public relations materials could provide teachers with guidelines for taking students on Metro.
Some people are just loud. We try to get away from them, but can't in an enclosed environment. So what is Metro to do, assign "sound police" to roam the cars with decibel meters? Where do you draw the line on what is acceptable volume and what is not? Quiet cars? Do we think loud passengers in need of a seat will suddenly become respectful and stay out of quiet cars?
I sympathize with you. I once had a dinner at New York City's Russian Tea Room that was ruined by a loud talker at the next table. And, of course, talkers sitting behind you are the bane of serious movie- and theatergoers.
But Metro is mass transit, with 600,000 passenger trips a day. Other than changing cars at the next stop, I'm not sure what can be done.
Avoid Angry Drivers
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I live out in the western Fairfax County suburbs and often commute on Interstate 66.
The HOV-2 lane is a wonderful thing, but it seems to be causing a lot of stress for its users. I admit I feel a lot of glee when I see HOV violators pulled over by police. Stopping violators eases the commute for drivers legitimately using the HOV lanes.
What bugged me the other day, though, when I was driving home with my 13-month-old daughter in the HOV lane, was the driver behind me who held up two fingers, which I took to be an attempt to remind me of the two-person requirement for our HOV-2 lane.
I resisted the urge to reply with a single finger of my own, but it struck me as an inappropriate concern for this person.
I would much rather he had simply concentrated on his own behavior, or, if it really bothered him, had his passenger call the police.
Perhaps you could suggest to people that they pay attention to their own behavior, rather than policing other people's.
I'm afraid that some drivers' tempers boil over at the number of cheaters in the HOV lanes. Lack of both police enforcement and voluntary compliance aggravates the situation. The driver clearly thought you were a solo driver ignoring the HOV-2 rules.
If you sense anger behind you, I recommend that you simply move out of the HOV lane momentarily, let the Aggrieved One pass, and then slide back into the HOV lane. Perhaps the angry one will see your child safety seat when he passes. Either way, wish him well and forget about it.
Beware Broken Meters
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
On a recent trip into the District, I found a parking space close to my destination and used my rusty parallel parking skills so effortlessly that I was strutting with pride, until I discovered the parking meter was broken.
However, there was a shiny new sticker on the meter telling me to call a number if it was broken. I did so, and within seconds received a report number which I displayed in my car window. I also was told that if I received a ticket, I could submit a letter with the report number and avoid a fine. I was truly impressed with this wonderful system.
Motorists can park at a broken meter without fear of becoming mired in bureaucratic hell, a valuable parking spot is utilized, and the city receives timely reports of broken meters.
Now, I don't know how quickly the meters are actually fixed, but this system made me think for a moment that the District was really getting its act together. End result: no ticket, no fine and no bureaucracy, and I got a warm, fuzzy feeling about D.C.
Don't get too warm. Chances are you'll receive a letter one day saying that since you haven't paid your ticket, the fine is doubled. That happens to people. They write to me to complain. The city says your ticket can be dismissed if you report a broken meter immediately, but that doesn't mean the ticket will be dismissed.
The scenario you describe is how the system ought to work. The city claims to have 95 percent of all the parking meters working at any given time, and says your calls help them fix the ones that aren't.
Nevertheless, I won't park at a broken meter. That's because I read my mail.
Rider Won't Stand for Metro
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I don't think we need a test to find out the results of taking away seats on Metro trains. I ride 45 minutes to and from work, and I have a bad knee and sciatica, which make it very uncomfortable for me to stand for long periods of time, no less on a moving train.
If I have to stand for 45 minutes each way, I will stop taking the train and will start driving to and from work. Many other people like me will do the same thing, and our streets will become more and more clogged with traffic. Metro is making a big mistake taking away seats.
The only way around this is to leave the first three or four cars of a train with the current seat configuration and allow people traveling longer than 30 minutes to sit in those cars. People with health problems and children would also be permitted to travel in the cars. All of that would require special ticketing, and it sure would complicate matters.
Metro should leave the trains as they are and just add cars. I would be willing to pay a slightly higher fare to pay for that. The price of gas has risen, so driving is no bargain.
I can't imagine how you would enforce priority seating for the needy. Metro "seat police" standing at each door to turn away the unworthy? What about the disabled people with no sign of disability? Should a doctor's certificate be required to show the seat police?
One of the biggest problems with Metrorail involves people trying to get on and off the trains. Right now, it's everyone for themselves, pushing and shoving. Exiting passengers congregate at the doors because that's where they have to be to get out.
Metro is trying to spread the passenger load down the aisles and away from the doors by installing new aisle grips for standees, removing some seats and removing the vertical bars near the doors. Metro will test one or more seating reconfigurations starting next spring.
People are complaining to me that they sometimes can't get onto or off a crowded train before the door snaps shut. Metro wants to accommodate even more passengers in the years ahead and, through possible car redesign, to get them on and off more efficiently.
Metro Parking Schedule
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Recently, at the GALA Hispanic Theatre at the Tivoli, I talked with friends about Metro parking fees. We all had taken Metro to the theater.
My local Metro is the New Carrollton station and, according to the lot attendant, parking fees are collected until midnight.
My friends said that at their local station (I think it is Silver Spring), fee collecting stops at 7 p.m.
I am writing to find out if there is a discrepancy in the times that stations collect parking fees. Before the Farecard payment system, New Carrollton stopped collecting at 10:30 p.m.
Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel says the Metro parking lot at New Carrollton is staffed from 9 a.m. to midnight Mondays through Thursdays, and from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. Fridays. Parking is free on the weekends.
Metro does not operate any parking facilities at the Silver Spring station, he said. Your friend could be using a county lot, or a private one, in the vicinity.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
You have observed that some states charge a monthly fee for E-ZPass and Maryland does not, suggesting that Maryland is the better choice.
There seems to be some question, however, whether drivers in the Maryland plan benefit from the discounted tolls that E-ZPass users get in some other states, such as New Jersey and New York.
If Maryland users don't get those discounts and travel regularly in those states, the "no-fee" Maryland plan can become a loser in just one or two trips. Can you clarify that point?
A related aside: Delaware recently raised its fees on Interstate 95 to $3 and eliminated the discount previously granted E-ZPass users.
The E-ZPass system is interchangeable in the 11 states that belong to the consortium, including Maryland and Virginia. E-ZPass is useful to pass through toll gates in those states without having to stop. However, to use an additional discount plan in any state, you need to have signed up for an E-ZPass with that state.
For instance, Maryland offers three E-ZPass discount plans for frequent users of three facilities: (a) the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, (b) the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial (Route 301) Bridge and (c) the Baltimore area toll facilities. You can add those discount plans to your Maryland E-ZPass account and have the fares deducted automatically, or you can pay in advance for the discount plans in cash.
But if you have your E-ZPass account in Virginia, let's say, you would not be able to use those additional discount plans in Maryland.
Maryland does not charge a $1-a-month administrative fee to join E-ZPass. Some states do charge such a fee. That is why Dr. Gridlock suggests signing up with Maryland. To do so, or for additional information about E-ZPass, log on to www.ezpassmd.com.
The basic E-ZPass is mainly for convenience and not discount savings, Mr. Fullerton. You'll have to add up the discounts you would lose in other states to determine whether a $1-a-month savings in Maryland makes sense for you.
Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.
Dr. Gridlock appears Thursday in The Extra and Sunday in the Metro section. You can write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers.