Turnover at a major D.C. government department is raising questions about local businesses, political contributions and influence in city politics.
Metro is $72 million in the hole, cuts in service are on the table, and the nation’s second largest transit system continues to face questions about safety and reliability. General Manager Richard Sarles, who was recently named the permanent head of the agency, discusses all things Metro.
- Richard Sarles General Manager and Chief Executive Office, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)
The Kojo Nnamdi Show (http://88-5.us/gWpAhD): Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager Richard Sarles talks about possible cuts to late-night weekend Metro service as one of the options available to the organization to try to address its budget shortfall. Responding to Kojo’s question about concerns over intoxicated people having to find alternative means of transportation, Sarles said he hoped that intoxicated people would chose not to ride Metro trains, either:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. The new general manager of Metro is actually the old interim manager. Richard Sarles has now taken the job permanently, and he's got his hands full running the country's second largest transit system. There are a whole host of issues. Safety is still a problem with some violent incidents between riders on Metro trains and platforms, not to mention runaway escalators and, well, stationary escalators. And despite two fare hikes last year, there's a budget shortfall of some $72 million, and to add insult to injury, Congress may pull hard won funding promised to Metro. Meanwhile, frustrations for riders like single tracking and bag inspections continue. We'll find out what's being done to address these issues and find out what's in store for Metro's future with Richard Sarles. He joins us in studio. Richard Sarles is the general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority or Metro. Good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.
MR. RICHARD SARLESWell, thank you so much for inviting me back. I look forward to talking about the progress we made over the last 10 months in rebuilding Washington Metro.
NNAMDIYou had a reputation as interim general manager for putting information out there. You pulled the curtain back for many of us, even when it was unflattering to Metro with monthly reports on things like crime and injuries on Metro. Will you continue to do that?
SARLESCertainly. I believe that you have to face up to your problems in order to solve those problems, and making it public is just part of that.
NNAMDIYou've often spoken of your goal of getting Metro into a state of good repair. What does that mean?
SARLESIt means that when you get on Metro, you'll be riding on trains that, nearly all the time arrive on time. It will be a comfortable ride. The cars and the buses will be fairly new. They'll be clean, and you can expect good service every day.
NNAMDIAs interim manager, your first priority was to stabilize a system that was reeling from safety problems after the 2009 crash. But now that you've officially taken the job, what are some of the longer-term issues you plan and need to address?
SARLESWell, frankly, some of the longer-term issues are the issues we were dealing with in the past year, and it is safety and reliability and state of good repair because this is something that you don't accomplish overnight. We're in a marathon here, not a sprint. So that over the next several years, you will see Washington Metro, as long as we have the funding in place, continue to make repairs, take advantage of every possible advantage we can to get in and improve the system.
NNAMDIYou can join this conversation with Richard Sarles, Metro's Gretchen Morgenson, by calling 800-433-8850. What is your biggest gripe about Metro? On the other hand, what might be your biggest compliment about Metro? Call us at 800-433-8850, or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Mention your gripe or your praise there. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You said once the funding is there, Metro is facing a $72 million budget gap, what -- with that kind of hole in your operating budget, can you even keep up basic maintenance?
SARLESWell, we have a one and a half billion dollar proposed operating budget, so we are looking for $72 million additional contribution from the jurisdictions in order to continue to provide the maintenance of the system and to operate the system. One way or the other, you know, we have to have enough money to operate a good system.
NNAMDIWell, the Republicans in the House of Representatives have made a proposal to pull $150 million in annual funding promised to Metro. What would losing those funds mean?
SARLESWell, there's only two things really in the capital budget, projects that address safety and those that address state of good repair. We will -- as long as I'm in charge, we're gonna fund those safety projects, and we're gonna proceed with the safety improvements. So that means that a portion of the state of good repair projects may not go forward, and that will negatively impact our ability to provide reliable customer service.
NNAMDIFor our listeners...
SARLESIt could be devastating.
NNAMDIFor our listeners who do not know about this, that money was approved back in 2008. It only started flowing last year, but it has to be reappropriated each year leaving it open to the political winds. Democrats would like to restore the funding. But in this economic climate, what do you think are the chances of it being restored?
SARLESWell, I think -- I was very encouraged by the fact that the administration in their budget has proposed strengthening funding for public transportation. It's all a matter of priorities, and I would hope that as this discussion and debate progresses through Congress that the $150 million will be restored. But again, it's gonna be a tough fight, I believe.
NNAMDIYou have been quoted as saying in today's piece or yesterday's piece by Robert McCartney in The Washington Post that you will not sacrifice safety if that money disappears, but that service and reliability would suffer for sure.
SARLESAbsolutely. You don't have so much money, and you have to spend where it's most important, and the most important is safety. But we will not be able to buy as many buses we'd like to buy, as many access vehicles for the paratransit, as much equipment that we use to repair rolling stock or even replace things like hundred-year old bus garages that were designed originally for trolleys and are inefficient and not as effective and maintain the fleet.
NNAMDIJoining us now from the Greater Washington Board of Trade is Jim Dinegar. Jim Dinegar, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. JIM DINEGARIt's a pleasure. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIJim Dinegar, I know that you have met with Richard Sarles on the Greater Washington Board of Trade. What is your take on this $150 million? If it does not come from the Congress of the United States, where will it come from?
DINEGARIt is a major concern, Kojo, and I will say that in the Washington math, $150 million equals $300 million. It’s matched by Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, all of that is at risk, and so we are very supportive of Rich and Metro's efforts to focus on safety. However, any delay in getting this funding puts safety at real risk. It really does threaten the entire system because it already runs on a very thin margin. You heard about the shortfall. Three hundred million dollars and nonsupport from Capitol Hill really puts the system in peril, and therefore, the riders in a very uncomfortable spot. This is all the sudden an enormous concern facing Metro, and we've been encouraged by the progress on governance. We are thrilled that Rich has been retained full time. They've got the right management team in place. They've got the right governance team in place. And now is the exact wrong time to cut the funding. Government, local, state and federal should be investing to preserve the safety of Metro.
NNAMDIAs you pointed out, $150 million comes from the feds and each of the three jurisdictions, the District, Maryland and Virginia, put in $50 million each, so in total that would be $300 million that Metro would be losing. What's the Board of Trade doing to help Metro's bid to restore the money?
DINEGARWell, the Board of Trade is best known and I think most effective as an advocacy organization and so we're lining up the meetings on Capitol Hill. We've already assembled a very key committee of top government affairs professionals working on this issue. We are reaching out then to the decision-makers on Capitol Hill and not with a broad-brush approach but a very specific targeted approach to talk about the importance of safety to this 40-year-old metro rail system where Rich talks about replacing the 1000-series cars. These are the ones that NTSB has determined were not safe to implement the NTSB regulations and requirements is where this money is going to be applied first. This is exactly what the federal government should be stepping in to fund and make the additional funds of $150 million matched by Maryland, Virginia and the District all come to fruition over the next 10 years. So it is an all-out lobbying effort right now by the Greater Washington Board of Trade in support of the funding for Metro.
NNAMDIAnd it was reported by McCartney that Metro is also hoping that Kawasaki will, which supplies railcars to Metro, will lobby congressional representatives from districts where it has facilities, in Nebraska and in New York. It's also asked New Flyer, our bus supplier to do the same in Minnesota. Richard Sarles, how effective do you think that's likely to be?
SARLESOh, I think that's very important. After all, this means jobs back in the other districts in this country. This is not just an issue for Washington D.C. and this region, so issue for this country because there's suppliers throughout this country that help us to rebuild this system.
NNAMDIAnd, Jim Dinegar, former Republican Congressman Tom Davis says, look, this is just the first volley. This is not the endgame. You are hoping, presumably that by the time it is the endgame, these funds will be intact.
DINEGARWell, with the Tea Party and the push that they're making, reading the tea leaves takes on a whole new meaning, and we are very concerned. We're not going to take this for granted, that it is going to blow by. As Congressman Davis and others have pointed out, this is a very serious concern, a serious threat. There is a very strong amount of support for deficit reduction and to be appropriate on the spending. But when you look at the emergency requirements associated with emergency evacuation in this region, when you look at the fact that Metro rail outperformed everybody else during the ice storm of about two weeks ago, these are the types of issues that are important to the federal workforce, to the congressional workforce, to the economy of greater Washington. And so right now, there was a very sound plan over 10 years to generate $3 billion, and currently, that's all at risk. We are very concerned. The metro rail system is getting back on the right track thanks to Rich, thanks to the governance structure that's being revived. And now is the time to reinvest in Metro to ensure the safety that has been deferred for too long.
NNAMDIJim Dinegar, thank you so much for joining us.
DINEGARThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIJim Dinegar is with the Greater Washington Board of Trade. Our guest is Richard Sarles. He is the general manager of Metro. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Richard Sarles, in a best-case scenario, those funds will remain intact. Worst-case scenario, $300 million is gone. Do you have a plan B?
SARLESThere is no real plan B when they take $300 million out of your budget. As I said before, it's going to impact our customer service, and that impacts the business in this region. And I want to thank the Board of Trade for their overwhelming support and trying to restore this funding because they realize how important this is to business in this region. It's important to the nation's government. It's important to making this country work. After all, 40 percent of the folks who come in every morning to work are federal employees who make the government work.
NNAMDIWell, let's talk about aspects of a plan B, so to speak, because beyond the congressional funding, there's the gap in the operating budget. We mentioned earlier that needs to be addressed. One proposal is to cut service after midnight on weekends. How much would that save, and how will you deal with the pushback that you'll get?
SARLESWell, that was a proposal that was -- actually, it's just an item that was discussed by the board of directors. It's not in the proposed budget. It would save several million dollars. I believe the order of magnitude was five or $6 million dollars a year. It's just one aspect of what's being explored. And the board asked for a number of different options, including, you know, just remaining as is. So it's just one among many topics to be discussed.
NNAMDIHere is Dick in Washington, D.C. Dick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DICKYes, sir. Good afternoon, gentlemen. Our family loves and uses Metrorail and bus daily. However, Metro absolutely must have a 911 telephone system equivalent, operating at least 18 hours per day. The broadcast on Metrorail, if you see something suspicious, contact the proper authorities, is absurd. It is your job to connect me to the proper authorities, not my job to figure out who they are across three jurisdictions and dozens of police agencies. As of this morning, neither 800-MYMETRO nor 888-MYMETRO were in use. If your office is listening, hopefully someone will researched the cost to reserve one of those numbers before you get back. Thank you, gentlemen.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Dick. I can assure you that Richard Sarles was listening and may have a response for you.
SARLESWell, first of all, I want to say that if you call 911 today, you will get through to Washington Metro. It may end up -- they will direct the call to us or provide us the information. So feel free to call 911 if there's an emergency or if there is suspicious activities going on. Or you can call Washington Metro Police at 202-962-2121, which is also broadcast in our public address system and you'll see mounted on our signs and our cars.
NNAMDIDick, thank you very much for your call. We’ve got a Facebook post that says, "When will Metro complete the rollout of GSM wireless service for AT&T and T-Mobile users in underground rail stations? It was supposed to have occurred last October."
SARLESActually, the 20 top stations were wired up by last October, and in our operation, I use some of those everyday. The remainder of the system is to be wired up over the next couple of years. We are working very closely with the consortium of telephone companies to put that cellular phone service in place. In fact, every time we have an outage, where, for instance, the one that we had just at Martin Luther King weekend, the consortium was in there laying cable for -- and antennas for the -- to the Rosslyn tunnel. So they are out there working with us to get that installation done.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you would like to talk with Richard Sarles. He is the general manager of Metro. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there about the proposal to possibly end service at midnight on weekends. A lot of people say that the country's second largest transit system should be extending service, not cutting it. What do you say to those people?
SARLESWell, there's a balance. Remember also, that the second largest system only has two tracks. Unlike other major systems, which have three and four tracks and, therefore, you can close one or two tracks down at night and still operate service, we don't have that ability. We have to take timeout to do maintenance on the system, do the state of good repair that I was talking about before. So there is a balance. I recognize, and I think the board recognizes, the desire and desirability of running later night service because it does serve a portion of the population.
NNAMDINot only does it serve a portion of the population, but allow me to make the social good argument. If people cannot take Metro home after a late night out, won't that contribute to more dangerous drunk driving?
SARLESI would hope that anyone that even getting on our train should not be drunk.
NNAMDIWell, I thought you would say that's not my problem. That's somebody else's problem. How about people who work late nights and rely on Metro to get to and from work?
SARLESCertainly, that's important to the folks that work, especially in the service industries, and that's one of the issues that the board will be dealing with as they decide what they wanna do in this particular area.
NNAMDIFor late night trips after midnight and beyond, Metrobus is the service that people use, but there seem to be some concern about cuts there too. On the other hand, it's my understanding that it's pretty expensive to operate late-night service given the number of bus riders who actually use it.
SARLESWell, again, just like on the rail service, the cost to operate the service for the amount of service you provide -- there's relatively few customers, but it is important to folks who are going to and from work late at night.
NNAMDIAgain, the number to call is 800-433-8850. Ryan in Rockville says he hopes that whatever you can do to keep carpeted trains and seating versus how filthy and uncomfortable is -- it is in New York, that that something you should do.
SARLESOn that specific topic. With regard to the flooring, it will not be carpeting anymore. It's just too difficult to maintain it, given the much greater traffic we have now on Washington Metro than when it was first put into operation. However, on the seating, we've received customer input and, at least initially, you'll see transverse seating like -- similar to what you see today. All of the cars are structurally designed that, if at some future date, the crowding became so great, they could be realigned.
NNAMDIAnd by realigned, you mean that instead of the seats with some facing forward, some facing back, you would be able to put seats along the sides the way they do…
SARLESYes, that's correct.
SARLESBut that would be in the future.
NNAMDIThat would allow for more standing room and more passengers in each car.
SARLESYou gain a few more people in each car. It also makes it easier, frankly, to move in and out of the car.
NNAMDIHere is Peter in Washington, D.C. Peter, you are on the air. Go ahead, please. Peter, are you there?
PETERYes. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, we can.
PETERYeah. My biggest beef with Metro is half of the people who work for Metro are just wonderful people. They're great workers and everything.
NNAMDIBut the other half?
PETERThe other half are waste of our taxpayers' money. We keep worrying about getting more money for Metro. Half of the people, and you can see it day after day when you take the Metro. I've been riding the Metro since 1976. Half of the people there don't do their job. I don't know what they're doing, but they just screw off all the time. For example, the train accident up at Takoma Park. There was a warning put up by the National Transportation Safety Board that Metro should have a redundant system, which is what BART has, and we should model after that. If we would've had a redundant safety system, maybe we wouldn't had that accident. But systems are not maintained on the Metro. And I'll give you just something...
NNAMDIWell, wait, allow me to deal with one issue at a time because while you were not specific about which half of the Metro employees should be fired for doing what, you were more specific about the redundant safety system. So allow me to have Richard Sarles respond to that.
SARLESOne of the NTSB recommendations was to introduce a monitoring system, which we've been working at, and we are well along in making progress on that. And I would say fairly shortly that should go into operation.
NNAMDIBag inspections, they have become an issue for a lot of Metro riders. Some called these bag searches annoying safety theater. They don't believe transit police actually expect to find a bomb or any explosive device, especially since you can opt out of the search and simply leave the station. Why bag inspections?
SARLESThis is one piece of the operation in terms of anti-terrorism efforts. If you notice up in the New York area, Boston area, they conduct bag searches. Here, we talk about swiping the outside of the bag, not actually opening the bag unless the equipment detects something that says we should open the bag. And this is a more deterrence effort. When you read about what the counterterrorism experts said that worked with New York City police department, who is renowned in this country for their counterterrorism efforts, this is a deterrence. People like -- that wanna do something bad would like to plan and be successful and have predictability. And when you introduce something that's unpredictable as random bag searches at different locations, at different times, it helps say to the person maybe you should do something else somewhere else and not come on our system.
NNAMDIThere are other people who say that what Metro is really doing is trying to forestall any criticism. In the event that something of that nature does occur and you are not doing bag inspections, you'll be able to say at least we were doing bag inspections.
SARLESWell, I would want to be in a position to be as ahead of the game as much as possible, not be reacting to something after it happened so that I want to see procedures and processes in place that protect people who use our system as in place now, not later on.
NNAMDIOur guest is Richard Sarles, he is general manager of Metro. We're inviting our calls at 800-433-8850. First, we've got to take a short break because this is our winter membership campaign. After we have done that, we'll continue our conversation with Richard Sarles. But in the meantime, you can call. If the lines are busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow or an e-mail to email@example.com with questions or comments for Richard Sarles. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Richard Sarles. He is the general manager of Metro. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or just go to our website, kojoshow.org, and ask a question or make a comment there. WAMU 88.5 transit reporter David Schultz reported last week on problems with Metro being locked into unfavorable long-term contracts, including MetroAccess and escalators with companies that have since gone out of business like the company that makes the SmarTrip cards. How much are those contracts weighing on the system?
SARLESWell, let's take escalators first. As you know I commissioned a report last year to look at the condition of the escalators. And what we've found was that they really hadn't been well-maintained over the years. And as a result, we really have to rebuild the organization that maintains it, as well as rebuilding the escalators. The escalators are maintained by in-house forces. However, the rebuilding and installation of new escalators are by contractor forces. So there's really an effort by both the private and the public sector to get those escalators back in the shape.
NNAMDIHow about SmarTrip cards? It's my understanding that that company, not only has that company gone out of business, but that company was able to get a hold on its system of making those cards because, well, they got proprietary copyright to the technology to make those cards.
SARLESBut technology has advanced. And as a result, we'll be able to obtain new cards, which, with some adjustments to the system, we'll continue to be able to provide smart cards even when the existing cards run out.
NNAMDIHere's this e-mail we got from Donna, "What can we do to make the federal government include Metro in federal funding? One suggestion I have is to tell Congress that all Metro stops around the capital area will be closed." (laugh) Richard Sarles?
SARLESWell, that certainly is a threat. But I think by making your voices heard to the -- you know, after all, the seat of our national government is right here. By making your voices heard, I think that will help get the message across and get that restored.
NNAMDISome things, when we were talking about escalators or when you were talking about escalators, that there is a larger structural problem. What are the major problems that you see that you see that need to be addressed in terms of structure?
SARLESWell, again, it goes back to the fact that over the years, whether it's escalators or other areas, we just simply didn't do the maintenance that had to be done to keep it operating well. That comes from a number of things. It was a young system at one time, and people believe, you know, the house will last forever without having to replace the roof until the roof leaks. Well, that's what was happening with the Washington Metro. And also, as a result, not enough money was being set aside, I think, and not enough attention was being paid to it. So if we get that back in order -- and, you know, the escalator area for instance, we have a new leader in the escalator area, who is very focused on quality engineering and has done that before, and we expect to see changes.
NNAMDIOn to Robert in Washington, D.C. Robert, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROBERTHi, thanks for taking my call. I have a compliment about security. I was at Metro Center and about to sit down, and there was a backpack and nobody belonged to it, and I just didn't know what to do. So I called 411 and they immediately put me on to Metro security. And I told them about the suspicious package. And the train stopped two stops later at Dupont Circle and just stopped. And, of course, they didn't know where I was because they didn't call me back, and they didn't know what car I was in either. So then I walked out, I walked up to the front and saw the two security guys. But I was so impressed that it got stopped in just two stops. And the two security people were standing there, didn't know what to do. And so, I led them back to the suspicious package and they just -- it was just a backpack and they just picked it up and walked away and the train went on. My only suggestion is that you call back the person who calls in the complaint so it would know where to go. But I was impressed otherwise.
SARLESAnd thank you for that suggestion. And thank you for calling us because that's what we really want customers to do. That's the eyes and ears for the system, for the security of the system, for your fellow passengers.
NNAMDIYou get the Metro good citizenship award, Robert. Thank you so much for your call.
ROBERTOh, thanks. Bye.
NNAMDIYou too can call us at 800-433-8850. Here is Danny in Washington, D.C. Danny, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANNYYes. Hi, thanks for taking my call.
DANNYI was a little disappointed at the short shrift given to the question of the public good of late night service. I do hope that people who are drunk will ride Metro instead of driving. I agree that people shouldn't be disruptively drunk, but it's not Metro's place to tell people whether or not they should be drinking. D.C. restaurants and bars rely on people, particularly from out of town, to come into the city and enjoy themselves. And, you know, I hope that Metro will advocate for continued late night service as a responsible alternative to drunk-driving.
NNAMDIAs a public service, if you will, Richard Sarles.
SARLESWell certainly I see the value of that, but I also would urge those folks who feel that they've drunk more than would allow them to drive not to get off a train and then drive from our station home.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to talk with Richard Sarles, he is the general manager of Metro. How well do you think Metro is handling issues like safety and reliability? 800-433-8850. You mentioned single tracking earlier, the red line is under repair. And there's been a lot of single tracking on that line lately, causing delays. And it's my understanding that it's got another two years to go. Why are the timelines for this kind of maintenance so long?
SARLESWell, when you're doing single tracking, you're still operating obviously on the adjacent track. You have to be very careful, and you only have a short time period to be out there. We try to schedule the single tracking during the weekdays, in between peak periods and do it in such a fashion that there's very little delay to the passengers. We have to get the equipment out there. You have to do some work. You have to get it back. That's not the most productive way of doing things, but it's our only choice if we still wanna provide the -- as much customer service as possible.
NNAMDIHere's the dilemma, it's my understanding also that if on weekends trains are not running after midnight, you would be able to do much more maintenance on those lines during that period of time.
SARLESYes. We're still going through the analysis, but it's many days of additional productivity every year if we had more time. So that's the balance I was talking about earlier.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones. Here is David in Silver Spring, Md. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDThank you very much. I've been riding the Metro for about 30 -- close to 30 years. And there's such a discrepancy between some cars and others in terms of being able to hear what the conductor or the train driver is saying. Is there some kind of reason why that so many cars that -- are just garbled? Every time you wanna hear what's the next stop or whatever is necessary, you can't hear it.
SARLESPart of that is due to the age of part of the fleet. The other is the fact that as you introduce a new series of cars, they're all mixed together in the --on a particular train, especially in the current operation. And those connections may not be as good. They may not be as compatible as you'd like it. When we get the 7,000 series cars, which will act all operating trains of 7,000 series cars with the up-to-date technology, you should see a huge improvement, plus the use of automated announcements.
NNAMDIDavid, thank you for your call. There have been a number of violent incidents on Metro stations and trains including attacks on rider and brawls, some of them highlighted on YouTube. What is Metro's police strategy to address safety for riders?
SARLESWell, there's a number of things. As I went -- as I said earlier, and I'll continue to repeat, our customers are our eyes and ears. And the ability to report to our police and to our operations folks an incident ongoing by pressing the intercom button, emergency intercom button on the train or in the station, or going to a station manager, or calling 911, or our police number that we broadcast, all those are part of it. The other part of it is we have the police have a CompStat type operation where they follow crime trends where incidents are happening and they re-deploy their forces as necessary. In addition to that, we -- the police have taken more -- put more folks out on the beat, if you will, and taken them off desk jobs to further increase police presence. And if you notice at the major transfer stations such as Gallery Place, the Metro Center, there is an increased police presence because that sometimes where folks like to congregate.
NNAMDISpeaking of eyes and ears, here is Herb in Washington, D.C. Herb, what have your eyes been telling you about Metro buses?
HERBWell, I have been riding the bus here for about three years. And without exception, I see a lot of people get on, including myself, where the driver waves me in without ever collecting a fare.
NNAMDIDo you calling to complain about this, right, Herb?
HERBYeah. I don't think it's right.
NNAMDIHerb wants to pay his fare and thinks other passengers should be too. Another Metro citizen's award. Here is Richard Sarles.
SARLESI agree with you wholeheartedly. And frankly, I’ll even ask you to go the extra step and if you can report the bus number when you're on, that would help us deal with it because obviously we don’t want that to happen. And it does happen, I'm aware of that. And one of the things that we're going to do in this coming year is introduce a mystery shopper program, if you will, where we will have employees or maybe a contractor observe the service that's being provided, including, you know, whether people are paying their fares so that we can focus on those drivers or bus operators who aren't doing what we want everybody to do.
NNAMDIHerb, with those...
HERBParticularly on the X2 line. It is very prevalent on that.
SARLESThank you for that.
NNAMDIHerb, thank you very much for your call. You too can call us at 800-433-8850. If the numbers are busy, shoot us an e-mail or a tweet @kojoshow, or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. This e-mail we got from Joe in D.C. "After spending time in Munich, a major thing I took home from there was the fact that their escalators only run when someone's on them. Our Metro system has miles of escalators that run non-stop, all day and into the night. It can't be an astronomical undertaking to put sensors in them which make them turn on when someone approaches."
SARLESWell our escalators, in many cases, are so old that we don't really want to turn them on and off because that can do damage to the escalators themselves. So I think it's a good idea, given the condition of our escalators, it's good to usually keep them running in one direction.
NNAMDIMetroAccess fares will be doubled for disabled riders this month. This is part of the fare adjustments approved last June. But some would argue isn't that hitting the riders who can afford it least?
SARLESThat's always a difficult issue. What we are charging is what the law, the ADA Act, you know, allows us to charge. The fare box return or the amount of revenue that actually contributes to the costs of -- covering the costs of that service is only about 4 or 5 percent. So that's that balancing act, again, between $40 -- it costs us, on average, $40 per trip to provide that service, and we're collecting a few dollars from the people that -- who use it.
NNAMDIAdvocates say that those increases could mean some riders will no longer be able to afford to commute to work. Anything Metro can do to assist such riders?
SARLESWell, I hope that's not the case. One of the things that we have been doing is trying to work with riders to see if we can help them ride on the regular route service, and we've been somewhat successful in that to the extent we can help people do that. That's helpful to everyone.
NNAMDIHere is Carol in Fairfax Station, Va. Carol, your turn.
CAROLHi, there. I'm calling in reference to a security issue. My friend was on the Metro late at night after a concert in D.C., and his phone was stolen. His friend called me immediately. I called your Metro Police immediately. And they didn't go to the station to try to apprehend the kid who had stolen his phone. They did agree to go meet him at the end of the line, which was in Springfield. But it would have been a lot more helpful had they been -- had they gone to the station where the altercation occurred. And -- I mean, you got a captive audience there. Kids can't get out of the Metro station except for one of two ways. And it distressed me that they didn't respond in a way that would have been helpful.
SARLESIt would be helpful to me if, offline, if you could give the details of that to one of the staff here so that I can look to it further.
NNAMDIAnd we will put you on hold, Carol, and someone is gonna pick up and take the details of your information from you so that Richard Sarles can get back with you. We got this e-mail from Beth in D.C. "Could Metro do some advertising to explain the benefits of Metro for non-riders? For example, how many cars would be on the road with them if there were no Metro? There are too many drivers in this area who think they should not support Metro. In the late 1970s, the Metro workers went on strike. And even at that time, it turned this area into one big parking lot."
SARLESI think that's -- that point is well taken, and we should do more to provide that information as just the recent study that came out that said that this is the worst or the second worst region in the country for travel time due to congestion. If we took -- if we do not run Washington Metro, this place would come to a halt.
NNAMDIWe're running out of time, and this is a relatively minor annoyance, but the public information displays on Metro, those electronic boards that show the next train, have had issues over the past year or two, mostly getting the time of the next train wrong. Metro said they needed recalibrating. Have they been recalibrated or what?
SARLESYes, they were. The basic problem there, again, old equipment. And what we found was so much data was going through the lines that it was causing delays, and I had this experience myself where you'd be several minutes behind. That was gone through and adjusted, and they're running pretty well now.
NNAMDIRichard Sarles is the general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Metro. Thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
SARLESI look forward to returning again sometime.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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