Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Metro: Love / H8

Hate Mt. Pleasant 2
Seriously Metro, why the Mount Pleasant hate?
"None of the federal, Maryland, Virginia or D.C. laws apply to us," said [WMATA] Vice Chairman Peter Benjamin. "That's the way it is."

WMATA decided, unceremoniously, to shut down Metro at three Northern Virginia stations over Labor Day Weekend. This interesting move was predicated on the need to perform major surgery on the tracks between Crystal City and National Airport. Inconveniently, I was flying to Maine in and out of National Airport during the window in which Metro would not be open.

This was irritating, mostly because the public announcement was made Tuesday of last week. There was, understandably, a significant reaction from the public upon learning with very short notice that it would be inconvenient or impossible to ride Metro to the airport. WMATA held a conference call on Thursday with its top staff to discuss the communication shortcomings in the wake of this blunder. In the ultimate irony, Metro, which is a publically-funded system, decided that the conference call would be secret.

Getting There

Being able to take Metro to National is one of the main benefits of flying from National, and much of the reason why I'm willing to pay extra to use that airport. So suddenly learning that that benefit had evaporated a few days before my travel did not make me happy in the way that a bank error in your favor does.

Metro offered shuttle service to and from the airport from the Pentagon station. Since my flight left at 8:40 AM on Saturday morning, and Metro opens at 7, this seemed like a dicey proposition at best. We would not be taking Metro. Nor was I excited about the idea of finding a cab at 7:30 AM on a Saturday. The last option, driving, seemed equally risky, since who knows how many people would have to drive for the same reason, making parking questionable. Besides which, I didn't really want to drop another 50 bucks or so on airport parking. After many phone calls and emails, I found a friend who was miraculously both in town over the holiday weekend, and could be convinced to get up at 6:30 to bring us to the airport.

DSC_0034At the airport, we were approached by a reporter from WJLA who quizzed us about the metro closures and how it had affected our travel plans. Yes, actually, it did. It wasn't the end of the world, and it worked out. But it would have been a lot less stressful if we had known well in advance about the closure so we didn't have to scramble to figure out a way to get to the airport. Obviously they did not decide to perform this work only four days before the weekend. This sort of maintenance work is probably scheduled months in advance. Yet nobody, not even some top Metro officals, knew until Tuesday. I can think of no excuse for this, whether it was an oversight or a deliberate act. It is unacceptable.

WMATA later updated their web site to include a more detailed explanation of the closures, and an explanation that Labor Day was in fact historically the weekend when the fewest people ride Metro. You know what? I was a lot less confounded and irritated when I actaully was treated like a rational human being and given an explanation for why this had to be done. Why couldn't you just be straight with everyone at up front? And a few months ago?

Returning from National on Monday morning, we decided to save cab fare since we weren't in a hurry and see how things went with Metro. We followed the yellow signs in National to the metro shuttle pickup. At least until we encountered a sign that was pointing in the direction we had just come. Nice. Luckily, the centripital signage all seemed to converge upon the infromation desk at the airport, so when we found ourselves slightly baffled as to where we should be going, we just asked the lady. The instructions were pretty obvious. Go outside and the bus will pick you up at the beginning of the platform.

If I had been a little more coherent at that moment, after getting up at 4 AM to make my 6 AM flight from Portland, I probably wouldn't have even tried to follow the signs in the first place, but I did because they were there. The busses were exactly where you would expect them to be: on the curb outside baggage claim, with all the other busses. So why on earth did they install a baffling, conflicting maze of signs in the airport, when they could have just had far fewer signs that said "Exit Baggage Claim For Metro Shuttle" or something like that? Or just "Go Outside Where The Busses Are?"

Metro: Communicate. Really.

Metro seems to have a problem with basic communication. Here's my report card for how they did in communicating this service interruption.

Timeliness: fail. 4 days ahead of time for a major holiday weekend? No es bueno.

Quality: fail. No explanation given for the closure at fist.

Usefulness: fail. The signs at National were confusing, conflicting, and franky, unnecessary. Rather than install a maze of arrows pointing us (or failing to do so) to the same place we always go, why not just tell us to go outside?

Plays well with others: N/A. Metro doesn't have any friends left.

DSC_0136Once we got to the metro shuttle, the service was remarkably efficient. Metro advised on their web site that the shuttle would add about 15 minutes to the trip. You know what? It did. There were plenty of shuttles waiting, they left often, and we were at Pentagon exactly 15 minutes after boarding the shuttle.

Here's some really simple advice, which I can hardly believe is necessary. Communicate. I love Metro. It's a great system, better than most in this country. I also understand that maintenance is necessary and you will need to interrupt service sometimes.

But if you can't grasp the most basic concepts of telling us what is going on, you come out smelling like garbage. To turn garbage into roses, all you need to do is stop acting like a communist dictator and let us know what's going on.

Oh yeah, Maine

It was awesome! And altogether too short. There was, unfortunately, no stay of execution for those lobsters above.

1 comment:

rachaelgking said...

I was wondering if this would affect anyone I know. Freaking unbelievable. I guess, after everything that's gone down, they just don't care anymore. It's not like they have any face left to lose.