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 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 himself, 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 shuts. Metro wants to accommodate even more passengers in the years ahead and, through possible car redesign, to get them on and off more efficiently.
Refresher on the Rules
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Now that I have a teenager with a learner's permit, I'm finding there are things I don't know, such as the proper following distance. Where can I find current Maryland driving rules? Thanks.
You can pick up a Maryland driver's handbook at any branch of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. Some of the branches closest to you are in Beltsville and Largo, and the state MVA headquarters is in Glen Burnie.
You can also request that one be mailed to you by contacting the MVA online at www.marylandmva.com.
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 that Maryland does not, suggesting that Maryland is the better choice.
There seems to be some question, however, as to 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: the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial (Route 301) Bridge and 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.