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  • NextBus Has Some Work To Do

    Posted on July 23rd, 2009 Brian No comments

    I’m standing at stop #1001178, at the corner of 14th & I, waiting for a bus going north. I decided to wait and try out NextBus to see how it works. For the past 20 minutes, my bus has been between five and two minutes out.

    Bus 6422 just pulled up, 21 minutes since I’ve been waiting. Looks like NextBus still has some work to do.

  • Robbed on the Metro

    Posted on July 18th, 2009 Brian 15 comments

    I was sitting on the Metro platform at Mt. Vernon Square yesterday evening. It was a quarter to six.  The Cubs were in town playing the Nationals, and I was waiting for the Green Line train down to the ball park for the second game in the series.  I had come down the first set of stairs onto the platform, and saw that the Metro employees had set up one of those huge industrial-strength fans blowing right at the bench that is tucked under the escalator, and a couple of them were sitting there cooling off, so I had joined them.

    A baseball game always means a busy evening for the Green Line, and this evening was no exception.  There were plenty of people milling about on the platform, some in Cubby blue, others in Nats red.  In retrospect, the bench I was sitting on is isolated from the rest of the platform; “sketchy,” Hedda called it.  But I’ve ridden the Metro a thousand times before, and felt uncomfortable only a few of those times; my hackles weren’t raised this evening.  I was playing solitaire on my iPhone.

    And suddenly my phone was snatched out of my hand by someone behind me.  After a half-second of stunned incapacity, I spun around, and saw a body disappearing around the other side of the escalator.  I jumped up and followed and caught up to the person before they got much farther.  Honestly, I was expecting to see a friendly face, perhaps one of my friends from Hedda’s days on the Nader Campaign or from my game group, pulling a prank on an unsuspecting me.  Instead, I was met with a face I’ve never seen before: a large black man, several inches taller and fifty pounds heavier than me.

    At this point, a strange calm came over me.  I knew what was happening, and I knew he had nowhere to go.

    “You took my phone.  Give me my phone back.”

    “What you talking about? I a’int got your phone.”

    “You took my phone.  Give it back.”

    “You’re crazy, man.”

    If my phone had been back in my hand at this point, I probably would have dropped the whole thing.  Instead, I realized this is getting nowhere quickly, and so I started yelling “Police!  Police!”  (I know, so cliché!  But it works.) A pair of faces framed in Cubs royal blue peered around at me from the other side of the escalator; I made eye contact with them and said, “Go get the police.  This guy just stole my phone.”  They nodded, and left, and I turned back towards the thief, and told him again to give me my phone back.

    He did.

    He walked around the platform, and I followed him – back a bit – to make sure I wouldn’t lose track of him.  After a bit, a Yellow Line trained pulled up in the station, and he boarded.  I stood outside the open door and stared at him, memorizing what clothes he was wearing, the color of his shoes, his hair cut, the number of the car he was on.  He taunted me to get on the train with him.  Ten seconds later, the doors closed, and the train started to move.

    It was then I noticed a station manager walking up to me from the tunnel side.  I ran up to him, pointed out the guy in the car as it was passing, gave him the car number, and explained he’d tried to rob me.  He immediately went over to a phone to call in the Transit Police, and then he took me up to the kiosk to wait.  We chatted for a bit, and I learned a great deal about the problems with kids that they have on the Metro, in large part because they have unlimited-ride cards.  They get on the Metro system and then just goof around, and the employees can’t do anything to stop them unless the Transit Police happen to be nearby.  (I can’t seem to find any reference to this program online; I’d love to learn more.)

    After a few minutes the Transit Police arrived.  I filed a report with A. France and M. Bradley, and got myself an incident number.  While we were talking, they got a call that they searched the train he was on, and didn’t find him.  I’m sure he got off before they were able to stop the train.  Hopefully my description will be of some use, though.  All was done, so I left and went to the baseball game.  While I was waiting for the train – again – I played solitaire on my iPhone.

    The Cubs won!

  • Blame for the Metro Crash

    Posted on June 24th, 2009 Brian 1 comment

    The Metrorail system is deeply inculcated into the fabric of transportation in the DC Metro Area.  Everyone uses it, at least once or twice.  It is a testament to the fantastic success a rapid transit rail system can be, especially one spanning several different conflicting jurisdictions and built during an era when the construction of public transportation usually gave way to highways, interchanges, and parking lots.  The tight integration into our everyday lives is what makes Monday’s crash so disturbing for so many.

    And now the blame starts circulating.  The results of the National Transportation Safety Board investigation will not likely be known for more than a year, but the root cause of the problem is obvious to anyone with a sense of the Metrorail’s history: The system has been underfunded for decades, robbing funds from necessary capital improvement and deferring maintenance in order to simply keep operating.  Just this past march, we played the same game again.

    The local jurisdictions have been wringing their hands over dedicated funding.  Metro must beg, borrow, and steal to keep the trains running, and this accident is the direct result.  Mayor Fenty recognizes this fact, and took some of the blame on Good Morning America today.

    The Federal government has also recognized both the lack of funding and that a significant portion of the Federal Government takes the Metro to work.  It has offered up $150 million per year to Metro if DC, Maryland, and Virginia all agreed to pony up $50 million each.  The offer has been on the table for years, and each jurisdiction has had its hand in stalling.  Virginia was the lone hold-out for a couple of years, but DC is currently to blame for the current delay.

    As shameful as the current lack of funding is, such a massive cash infusion should never have been necessary.  Local jurisdictions failed to fund the system correctly in the first place.  This accident rests squarely on the shoulders of every politician elected to the Virginia General Assembly, the Maryland General Assembly, and the DC Council in the past thirty years.  Everyone knew this was coming, and they failed to act; blood is on their hands.  Greater Greater Washington sums it up nicely:

    In the past, WMATA has followed some NTSB recommendations and not followed others. Two recommendations which they did not successfully complete include the installation of data recorders on all railcars and full retirement or reinforcement of the 1000 Series Railcars. They are currently taking a lot of heat for this, but in reality, they have had little choice in the matter.

    The 1000 Series makes up about one-third of the Metro Fleet. Removing them from the tracks would mean major cutbacks in rail service. They’re already scheduled for retirement when replaced by the new 7000 Series in a few years. And while data recorders would have made the NTSB investigation easier, it would probably have not prevented this crash. Perhaps this tragedy will serve as a wakeup call to everyone in the process. Metro is underfunded, and has been for years. Deferred maintenance is taking its toll, and is keeping railcars in service longer than they should be. Everyone, from the local jurisdictions to the federal government should be willing to fund upgrades, especially considering that lives are at stake.

    In the meantime, if you’re suddenly afraid of taking the Metro: Don’t be. Driving a car is still orders-of-magnitude more dangerous than transit. Two fatal crashes in over thirty years is a damn good record, and you’re a fool to fear the Metro more than your car.