Tamara Hiler stands an even 5 feet tall, and in her 32 years, she’s really only found one advantage for being that height.
“It helps with limbo,” she deadpanned.
But as she got on a Red Line train at Farragut North recently, it was apparent that despite her shorter stature’s advantage when scooting under brooms, it can pose challenges on Metro.
As she looked for something to hold on to for all the stops and lurches to Brookland, the new 7000-series train she was on seemed to be built for people at least several inches taller.
Unlike the older trains, Metro’s newest models do not have a pole near the middle door. Often, crowds block Hiler from the other poles, leaving only the rails that run horizontally high above the seats to hold on to.
“I have to stand on my tiptoes and really stretch,” she said, grimacing a little as she reached to get a grip with her fingertips.
For the nine months leading up to the birth of her daughter in January, Hiler did her commute on tiptoes while pregnant.
There were times when other standing women would glare at a man sitting obliviously until he got the hint and stood up. If no one thinks to help a pregnant woman, there’s not much chance of being offered a spot at the pole just for being a little shorter.
When you’re in this predicament of having nothing to hold onto, you improvise. And one of the pet peeves of riders — people in crowded cars with their backpacks on — becomes a blessing, Hiler said. She sometimes asks other riders if she can hold on to their backpack.
That can bring a quizzical look, she said. But usually she gets a nod.
Some women wear sneakers on their commutes and carry their work heels in their bags. So a male reporter, admittedly ignorant about the wearing of women’s footwear, asked Hiler if she’d ever considered wearing the highest heels she could find while on Metro.
Hiler thought this was a stupid idea.
“I can’t think of a worse situation to be in, both for comfort and stability purposes, than being stuck in really high heels on a crowded train,” she said.
Hiler has discovered she’s not alone in her frustration. Fed up after another commute of stretching like she’s reaching for the top shelf, she complained on Twitter.
“Can someone at @wmata explain to me why they’ve basically made it impossible for short people to ride on crowded trains?" she wrote.
“100%,” agreed 5-foot-3-inch Sarah Sattelmeyer, a Red Line commuter. “It can be challenging to hold on, and I’ve had times when I’ve fallen into other people.”
Hiler is aware that there are other riders, including the disabled, who have far worse challenges. But, she said, it just seems that giving her more to hold on to is a ”solvable problem.”
“Why no hanging handles on the handrails?” she asked in her post.
But for Metro, the problem is trying to accommodate nearly 600,000 daily riders of all sizes and situations. Metro ditched the poles by the middle door because they got in the way of people in wheelchairs. It also wanted to encourage more people to move toward the center of cars instead of standing by the doors, said Metro spokesman Ian Jannetta. As for straps, he said customers said they preferred vertical poles so that you won’t hit your head on the straps when getting in and out of seats.
Some help could be coming for the more vertically challenged. Metro, in announcing last year that it is seeking bids to manufacture the next-generation 8000-series trains, said the new trains will have more places to hang on.
But until the new trains begin arriving in 2024, you might see a 5-foot-tall woman hanging on to a backpack for dear life.
The grass, though, can seem greener from higher up. One man responded to Hiler’s tweet noting that he had problems of his own.
“Why don’t they have taller trains so tall riders don’t hit their heads,” he tweeted.
His Twitter handle was @Too_Tall_Ted.