Dear Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority [Metrorail Division]:
You do a great job.
You get millions of Washington residents and tourists from Point A to Point B efficiently and safely every day. The video display alerting riders of the schedule, upcoming maintenance and delays is an incredible way to disseminate information. The fact that you haven’t sold that space to advertisers shows restraint and respect to your customers. Stations and trains are clean and crimes are virtually non-existent. Officials are, for the most part, helpful and friendly. There is never a hint of graffiti or loitering along the system. For that and more, we thank you.
But you are NOT perfect.
An old saying says that “the Devil is in the details,” and that, sadly, is where you are falling short right now.
Earlier this year, you increased fares.
Since then, I don’t think I’ve had one day where every escalator I take (Columbia Heights, Gallery Place and Metro Center) have all worked. One broken escalator at Gallery Place now has a sign proudly saying it should be working by January 2011. I guess the sign is an improvement.
The late, great comedian Mitch Hedberg had a joke about escalators never really being broken. He claimed that escalators temporarily become stairs. “Sorry for the convenience.”
During a rush hour commute, a “stairs” escalator actually has two-way traffic creating a major safety hazard. Not very convenient, eh?
Should I even mention the escalator malfunction that sent people to the hospital before the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear?
I know I could use the exercise, so walking up some stairs isn’t the end of the world. But…
It boils down to this: As Metro is an underground service, escalators and elevators are an expected part of the service we riders are paying for. Having them out of service so consistently is a slap in the face of the paying customers.
If you subscribe to a newspaper and that day, they forgot to include the sports section, would you expect them to charge the same price for it?
Or better yet: If you went to a restaurant that had a special 3-course menu that, whoops, only featured two courses that night, would you be happy to pay the full price?
No and no.
On the hottest days of the year, you had major air conditioning issues inside the stations and the cars themselves, to the point that many riders felt like they needed to shower and change before showing their face at their office.
The resulting “there ain’t much we can do” only fanned the heat, literally and figuratively.
On a much lower scale, the drabness of the stations – the dark, dingy nature – is unbecoming of the most powerful city in the world. When I was a kid, I thought it was neat that the subway system felt like the Batcave. As an adult, I find it depressing at both the beginning and end of my workday.
I’m also not a big fan of: mumbly sound system that makes it VERY difficult to hear the conductor, stopping in the middle of a tunnel for long periods of time, 20 minute waits for trains on Friday and Saturday nights.
I don’t mind paying top-dollar for a top-notch system. However, I feel that the service you’ve been providing of late is far from top-notch. And with the recent fare increase, I find myself feeling cheated by the system. I’m paying more and getting less value. And I know I’m not the only one.
None of these issues will keep me from riding the system, at this time, since it is the fastest and safest way for me to get to and from work every day.
However, there are people that have a choice in their commute, especially with a new bike-share program gaining popularity across DC. With HDTV, onDemand, RedBox, Netflix and other services, entertainment options at home are getting better and better, meaning fewer trips to the cinema.
And, truth be told, on nights and weekends, taxis are much faster, a premium I pay for to make a dinner reservation or scheduled appointment with friends.
I urge you to give a bit more to your regular riders in terms of service and communication.
Here are some of my ideas:
- Fix everything. Don’t do anything NEW until the current problems are fixed.
- Get the entire underground system hooked up for cell/wifi reception.
- Mobile App instead of the clunky mobile website.
- Twitter account covering outages and delays.
- Increase advertising inventory (like you recently did at Gallery Place) across the system to place part of the cost burden on advertisers, who would jump to be a part of new advertising opportunities.
- Rider Appreciation Days – coupons from partners for local products. Or how about a “no-charge” day for SmartTrip card holders?
- Brand the Stations – give the highest-traffic stations a unique personality or feature so you KNOW that’s where you are. Maybe Chinatown has Chinese lettering or U Street has creative murals or Navy Yard is all about the Nats. Woodley Park looks like the Zoo and College Park has a collegiate feel.
Those are just a few ideas that can instantly improve the riding experience, top to bottom.
You see, I don’t hate the Metro. I LOVE the Metro. I want it to be a subway system all Washingtonians can be proud of.
And I don’t think I’m alone in this sentiment.
Thank you for your excellent service and I look forward to it’s continuing improvement.
- Mike Schaffer