Metro will give special training in customer service to station managers, train operators and others who deal with the public in the face of rising complaints about uncivil transit employees.
"People complain about rude and discourteous behavior by station managers. That tells us we need to focus on it," said James Gallagher, Metro's deputy general manager for operations, referring to the special training, which is to start by Oct. 1.
As the 28-year-old subway system wears out and service deteriorates, unhappy passengers are venting their frustrations at the most visible Metro employees. Those workers need "brush-up skills" in how to deal with it, Gallagher said. In July, Metro received 71 complaints about rail employees, compared with 47 in June.
Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said yesterday that one station manager faces "very serious disciplinary action" after a pregnant woman and her husband complained that he screamed at them, brandished a broom and pushed the husband because they inquired about a broken escalator last week.
"There have been some very unfriendly station managers before," said the woman, Jade Lee Freeman, 32, who has been riding Metro regularly for six years. "But I've never dealt with somebody like this. I was terrified."
Metro officials said an investigation into Friday's incident revealed mistakes on the part of the station manager. "He exhibited several poor behaviors," Farbstein said. "For example, he was anything but polite and courteous. And as a result, it is being treated as a very serious disciplinary matter."
Public dissatisfaction with Metro appears to be rising after some recent events: Flooding at the Silver Spring Station hobbled the Red Line for nine days; transit officials caused severe crowding on late-night trains by shortening them to two cars; and a Red Line operator abandoned a packed train during rush hour because her shift had ended.
"Train performance is going down, and people expect a lot from us," Gallagher said. "We know we're not delivering as good a service as we can. So we really have to emphasize customer service, because we know we're going to have problems on the railroad."
The transit system is getting more selective about candidates for the 308 station manager jobs and this month rejected several because they were not suited to deal with the public, he said. "Being a station manager is a tough job. Lots of people are coming at you, and they want information, and, in a busy station, it's constant," he said.
Farbstein would not identify the station manager involved in Friday's incident at the Potomac Avenue Station. Metro had already decided to retrain its employees before the incident, Gallagher said.
The station manager was suspended, pending the outcome of an investigation that was completed yesterday. He has worked for Metro for four years.
Freeman and her husband, Robert, also 32, live in a Capitol Hill rowhouse three blocks from the Potomac Avenue Station. On Friday, they planned to take Metro to the Kennedy Center to see "The Producers." The couple walked to the station about 6:30 p.m. and found two of the escalators operating in the up direction, away from the train platform, while the third escalator was not working and was being used as a staircase.
Jade Freeman is two months pregnant, often nauseated and easily fatigued. She had a difficult time walking down the frozen escalator, lagging far behind her husband.
When Robert Freeman reached the bottom of the escalator, he walked over to the station manager's booth and asked if he knew that none of the escalators was moving in the down direction.
"He said, 'Yeah, but it's easier to walk down than it is to walk up,' " Robert Freeman said. He said he countered that it was difficult for anyone who is elderly, disabled or pregnant. "He sort of waved me aside, and I was like, fine, these guys are unpleasant."
Metro policy dictates that when a station contains a bank of escalators, at least one should be moving in each direction. In this case, the station manager should have reversed the direction of one of the ascending escalators, Gallagher said.
Robert Freeman said he passed through the fare gate and headed toward the platform. About that time, Jade Freeman had reached the bottom of the broken escalator and approached the station manager's booth, unaware that her husband had stopped there moments earlier.
"I asked him if the escalator was broken, and he didn't say anything," Jade Freeman said. "He pushed his seat back and threw up his arms, very annoyed. I put my ears on the little holes [in the plexiglass of the booth] and said, 'Um, is the escalator broken?' He got up and just started saying things. He wasn't answering my question; he was throwing tantrums."
Jade Freeman said that after asking for the station manager's name, she went through the fare gate and saw him repeatedly slam his name tag against the glass. He opened the door to the booth and stepped out, she said.
Robert Freeman rushed back to his wife. "He was coming at me," Jade Freeman said of the station manager. "He said, 'Get the [expletive] out of my station.' "
The station manager picked up a nearby broom, the couple said. "He turned to me and said, 'You think you can come down here and harass me because you're white!' " said Jade Freeman, who is Asian. Her husband is white; the station manager is African American.
Then he tossed the broom aside and shoved Robert Freeman in the chest, the couple said.
Jade Freeman called police on her cell phone. A criminal investigation continues, Farbstein said.
"You don't walk down into the Metro expecting to be assaulted by the guy who's there somewhat to assist us," Robert Freeman said.
The couple took a cab to the Kennedy Center.