On Thursday evening, it was a tale of two Metros.
As hundreds of Metro administrative workers fanned out to every station in the system during the evening commute to offer free coffee coupons to beleaguered Metro riders, the effort was met with mockery over the Internet.
“I’d have to urge you to try a little harder,” one rider quipped on Twitter.
“I don’t want free coffee,” tweeted another. “I want competent mediocrity from my public transport system.”
The coupons, good for a free coffee from McDonald’s, were intended as a thank-you to riders for enduring 13 months of SafeTrack maintenance work. (Never mind that there is more work planned for next month.) For some, the peace offerings were received as an act of aggression.
“#WMATA trying to bribe me with free coffee just makes me angrier than before,” declared one rider.
But in person, as grim-faced passengers encountered coupon-bearing employees from Metro’s headquarters near the fare gates of each of Metro’s 91 stations, the response was positively . . . civil.
“I’ll take it,” said 33-year-old Juan Gonzalez, smiling as he was handed a coupon at the Rosslyn station. “After a long day at work, this is great.”
Gonzalez, who commutes to Pentagon City, said SafeTrack had been an inconvenience but that Metro had “done a good job of letting us know ahead of time.”
When Chelsea Adams got her coupon outside the Rosslyn station, she headed straight for the McDonald’s across the street. Adams, 21, rides the Metro from Rosslyn to Farragut West.
“It’s a pleasant surprise,” Adams said as she stood in line for her coffee.
At the McPherson Square station, General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld stood at the bottom of the escalator with a stack of coupons in hand. One rider grabbed a coupon from him, but then she stopped, somewhat confused, and frowned a little as she tried to make out what the coupon said. She looked up. Then, an epiphany.
“Are you the general manager?” 40-year-old Rasika Kalamegham asked Wiedefeld incredulously.
“Yes,” he said.
Kalamegham’s face lit up.
“I love you, you’re amazing,” she told Wiedefeld. “I thought you were amazing when you ran BWI. . . . It was my favorite airport.”
After taking a photo with Wiedefeld — “This is going on Instagram,” she declared — Kalamegham, a D.C. resident of 10 years, explained why she continues to carry so much enthusiasm for the challenge-prone transit agency.
“Metro is the lifeblood of D.C., and people under-appreciate this public resource,” she said. The root of the problem, she said, lies with Congress. It is a lack of funding that causes chronic problems, and she wishes people were more “civic-minded” when it came to appreciating the tough job that WMATA faces.
Of course, not every reaction from riders was quite so effusive. A few scoffed as they glanced at the coupon cards. At Rosslyn, wary passengers seemed to miss the fact that Metro staff were there to say “thank you.” They passed by Metro employees holding the coupons as if they were attempting to sell, rather than give away, a product.
One woman, who was handed a coupon from Wiedefeld, took it and glanced at the text. On the back was a note, from the general manager himself, acknowledging that “this has not been an easy journey for our customers and we appreciate your loyalty.”
“Seriously?” she said, glaring, then kept walking toward the platform.
And ATU Local 689, Metro’s largest union, dispatched volunteers to all stations to hand out their own fliers — and a warning: “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.”
The union wanted people to know that it thinks the system still has its problems, said Anthony Garland, international representative for ATU Local 689.
“We need real solutions to bring people back,” Garland said. “We can’t survive business as usual.”
Just before 6 p.m., Valeria Hill, 64, grabbed her second free coffee coupon from a Metro employee at Fort Totten.
She’ll take what she can get, she said.
Holding an empty bag of what used to be free coffee coupons, Richard Mance Jr., a supervisor for the department of elevators and escalators, watched as about a dozen riders swiped out of the Fort Totten station.
“I wish we had more,” said Mance, 53, who volunteered to help out to show his appreciation for riders.
Mance doesn’t drink coffee, but he enjoyed handing out the coupons and telling passersby to have a great day.
“They might’ve wished it was Starbucks, but McDonald’s was pretty good,” Mance said.
But for Abhimanyu Kompella, an 18-year-old college student with a summer internship in the District, the brand of coffee wasn’t the problem. When he moved to the United States from India to attend college, Kompella expected an improvement from New Delhi’s metro system. But his ride from Shady Grove to Rosslyn each day costs him $12 round trip. It would cost him about 25 cents in India.
“The Indian metro system is so much more reliable than the D.C. Metro system,” Kompella said, adding that when SafeTrack closed the Shady Grove and Rockville stations earlier this month, it took him “bloody 2½ hours to go back home.”
As an apology, he said, the coffee coupon wasn’t going to cut it. But outside the Metro system, Haagen-Dazs had set up a stand, handing out complimentary ice cream to passersby on a hot summer evening. He picked up a cup of mint chocolate chip.
Now that, he said, is a quality freebie.
Ellie Silverman and Rachel Siegel contributed to this report.