Regular riders of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s bus and rail networks can expect life to get a little busier in 2013. Metro announced this week that while new fare hikes are off the table, the next several months are going to be dominated with weekend track work that could disrupt service throughout the system. We talk with Metro’s general manager about what’s in store for 2013, and how Metro is preparing for major events like the presidential inauguration.

Guests

  • Richard Sarles General Manager and Chief Executive Officer, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)

Video: Inside The Studio

WMATA General Manager Richard Sarles talked about strategies to ramp up safety within the Metro system in response to an uptick in crime. Sarles said the transit agency is working closely with the Metropolitan Police Department and has hired more officers to police specific D.C. neighborhoods. He said WMATA’s overall crime rate has decreased annually and is much lower than many of the neighborhoods the trains and buses service.

Transcript

  • 12:06:42

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Life on Metro is about to get a lot busier for the region's regular rail and bus riders. In a week, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to gather downtown for the presidential inauguration, a Super Bowl kind of event for the men and women in charge of running the bus and rail networks of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

  • 12:07:18

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut the great Metro crunch of 2013 is likely to last long after the crowds clear from the Mall when the inaugural parade is over. Track work is scheduled to disrupt service every weekend for roughly the next six months, and Metro is working overtime to prepare for the opening of a brand-new rail line extending into Northern Virginia, all the while avoiding a fare increase for riders.

  • 12:07:44

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to explore what's in store for the system this year and to respond to your questions and concerns about daily service is Richard Sarles. He is the general manager of Metro, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, WMATA. Richard Sarles, good to see you again.

  • 12:08:00

    MR. RICHARD SARLESYeah. I'm glad to be here.

  • 12:08:02

    NNAMDIYou, too, can join the conversation. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Are you a regular Metro rail or bus rider? What would help to make your daily experiences on Metro run more smoothly? 800-433-8850. Richard Sarles, the mother of public transportation event is staring at you in the face right now. The city is going to be bursting at the seams next week during the presidential inauguration.

  • 12:08:29

    NNAMDIA lot of roads and some bridges will be closed, and many of the people heading downtown for these festivities will be depending on Metro to get there. It's my understanding Metro is planning to provide 17 hours straight of rush-hour service. What should riders expect if they're looking to take a bus or a train?

  • 12:08:48

    SARLESWell, I think, first of all, from the viewpoint of taking a Metro rail train, the most important thing is to try to have your SmarTrip Card loaded with value ahead of time.

  • 12:09:00

    NNAMDIJust got mine last week.

  • 12:09:01

    SARLESGood. That way you'll avoid stay in those lines at the vending machines. In fact, you have the opportunity right up till tomorrow to go online and buy an Obama inauguration commemorative SmarTrip Card that you could use all day on inauguration day, and it will also allow you to travel on the buses for free.

  • 12:09:22

    NNAMDISpeaking of buses, what was the strategy for rerouting bus routes affected by road closures?

  • 12:09:28

    SARLESBasically, what we're doing is because -- especially because Pennsylvania is closed, you can't cross over it. We're establishing temporary turnarounds, about 13 different areas, so there are a lot of detours for buses. We encourage you to go are WMATA -- that's wmata.com -- to see which bus routes are affected.

  • 12:09:47

    NNAMDIWhat were the biggest lessons that you and the system took out of the 2008 inauguration?

  • 12:09:54

    SARLESI think the biggest lessons were to make sure we got people out of the stations as quickly as possible, move them on their way. Certainly, all the preparation work last time paid off, and we have been preparing since last summer for this inauguration as if it were as big as the last inauguration.

  • 12:10:13

    NNAMDIWhat's the strategy for safety? What are Metro police doing to prepare? This looks like it could be a kind of Super Bowl for pickpockets.

  • 12:10:21

    SARLESWell, certainly, all our full compliment of over 400 police officers will be on duty that weekend. In addition, we have asked for volunteers from other transit agencies across the nation, and there will be about 150 police officers who are experienced in the transit operating environment working at Metro also.

  • 12:10:42

    NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking with Richard Sarles. He is the general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, a conversation you can join online by sending email to kojo@wamu.org, sending us a tweet, @kojoshow, or going to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. Of course, you can also call us at 800-433-8850. Are you planning on taking Metro to the inaugural festivities next Monday?

  • 12:11:08

    NNAMDIHow are you preparing? 800-433-8850. Riders won't have to expect any fare increases this year, but they should expect more service disruptions, particularly on the weekend. You've got weekend track work scheduled for the next six months. What's the nature of the work that you're trying to get done, and what are the possibilities that that work will spill over into weekday service?

  • 12:11:31

    SARLESWell, certainly, that's six-month period will continue for the rest of the year, and it's absolutely necessary to do it on the weekends when we have enough time to do reconstruction of the railroad. As I've mentioned before, we spent years of not doing the proper investment in our railroad, not doing the type of maintenance, and that's what these weekends are available for.

  • 12:11:53

    SARLESThe important thing is last year we completed a major project for the National Transportation Safety Board recommendations. And as a result, what we've been able to do is not have disruptions for planned single tracking during weekdays, so there are no longer, you know, planned midday single tracking. So that's an improvement over the past.

  • 12:12:17

    NNAMDIWhat are some of the more critical things you need to do system-wide right now to prepare for the opening of the Silver Line? The addition of this line, I guess, affects the whole system.

  • 12:12:27

    SARLESYes, it does. We laid out the new schedules, which, you know, normal rush-hour service, normal off-peak service. Importantly for us is hiring the people to run the Silver Line, to maintain the Silver Line. We're in the process of doing that now. We're hiring people and training them so that, when it opens at the end of this year, we will be ready to run.

  • 12:12:49

    NNAMDIWhat are the biggest pieces of the National Transportation Safety Board recommendations that you still have left to tackle?

  • 12:12:57

    SARLESThe -- probably the largest one has to do with replacing the track circuit modules that were implicated in the Fort Totten crash and doing a systems safety analysis so that we -- when we're done with that, we feel comfortable with resuming automatic train operations.

  • 12:13:13

    NNAMDIWill riders be able to see or notice the upgrades and improvements to the system?

  • 12:13:17

    SARLESThey will notice it when we reintroduce automatic train operations because at that point we'll have improved on-time performance of where we are today and a little bit smoother rides so you don't have the occasional new train operator giving you a little more exciting ride in terms of jerkiness than you'd like to see.

  • 12:13:38

    NNAMDIWe've got a tweet from Michael Perkins who says, "Please ask Richard Sarles to let the riders know how many more years to expect an intense track work schedule. Or is this the new normal?" Michael has...

  • 12:13:49

    SARLESWell, we...

  • 12:13:49

    NNAMDI...joined us on the show before.

  • 12:13:50

    SARLESSure. And looking at the forecast of work we have to do to just get us back to where we were 10 years ago, it will take us about another four years of that intense work. It will move around the system depending on where we have to work to do the reconstruction. But after that, there's still preventive maintenance that has to be done, and there are still reconstruction, so it won't be as intense. We think we'll have reached the state of steady maintenance, if you will, in about four years.

  • 12:14:17

    NNAMDIHere is Stacey in Washington, D.C. Stacey, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:14:22

    STACEYHi. Thanks for taking my call. I've been a D.C. resident for 15 years, been with Metro through the highs, which were great, and the lows, which we're obviously in the midst now. You guys are going to do a stellar job with -- you know, I'm really not worried about that, actually. I have two -- a two-part question.

  • 12:14:36

    STACEYSo if you guys have an issue in the system, what -- how many times does it go through the system if somebody is calling in and complaining about the same thing to customer service over and over and over again? Does it get flagged in the system and then sort of moved to another department, given, you know, maybe given special attention?

  • 12:14:53

    NNAMDIAllow me to make sure that I understand you clearly. Richard Sarles already may, but I'm not sure I do. You're saying that if a large number of people are complaining about the same thing over and over again...

  • 12:15:04

    STACEYOr if the same person continuously is calling customer service with the same complaint regarding a specific issue.

  • 12:15:10

    NNAMDIOh, the pest factor, OK.

  • 12:15:12

    NNAMDIOK, here is Richard Sarles on that, and you do have another part to your question, right?

  • 12:15:16

    STACEYI do.

  • 12:15:16

    NNAMDIOK, let me have him answer the first part first.

  • 12:15:19

    STACEYWonderful. Thank you.

  • 12:15:20

    SARLESActually, there's a broader effort in terms of responding to customers' concerns. In addition to getting comments from our customers who call or on online, we also do -- have just started customer surveys so that we regularly, quarterly are measuring what the issues are and what progress we're making as well as our mystery rider program.

  • 12:15:39

    SARLESWe have folks going around to identify issues. Talking about what you said, certainly, if we're getting constant complaints about a particular area that does get heightened attention in terms of priority with regard to what other complaints and issues we have to address.

  • 12:15:56

    NNAMDIThe other part of your question, Stacey?

  • 12:15:59

    STACEYWhat's the longest an issue has been on the books and not been able to be corrected or addressed that you know of?

  • 12:16:07

    SARLESI can't tell you in days or years, but I can say this, that there are some issues that take years to fix. And, you know, we're dealing with some of that on the Red Line. So even though an issue is pointed out promptly, it may take some time depending on the nature of what takes to fix it.

  • 12:16:22

    NNAMDIDepending on whether or not it's not a structural issue or something else.

  • 12:16:24

    SARLESStructural issue, system issue that has to be addressed, or even sometimes a training issue. If there's a complaint about, you know, particular operators, well, we can deal with a particular operator fairly quickly. If there's a systemic in terms of training that has to be done, it takes a while to get that launched and done.

  • 12:16:42

    NNAMDIStacey, does that answer your question?

  • 12:16:44

    STACEYIt does. Thank you guys so much, and congratulations on getting the special media aspect. I think it was a brilliant choice, and I think, as a rider, I appreciate it.

  • 12:16:54

    NNAMDIStacey, thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. We've received a number of emails already today with various complaints about holiday service, some of which noted horrific commutes and holidays this fall, like Veterans Day, Columbus Day. When a lot of people in the region still have to report for work, all of the emailers want to know if Metro has any plans in the immediate future to offer more reliable service to workers who have to commute on those holidays?

  • 12:17:22

    SARLESWe have very few weekends, three-day weekends during the year, three-day holiday weekends and some has noted people have -- a lot of people work on, not everyone -- the federal government doesn't. We also have these major demands for work, especially with track and signals that require a three-day weekend to accomplish certain things.

  • 12:17:43

    SARLESSo each time we have a three-day, it's only after we try to balance the factors of inconvenience against the need to get the work done. Certainly, as we go forward this year, we'll be doing that again with regard to Veterans Day and the like and make some decisions. We try -- really do not want to inconvenience passengers. We try to minimize that as much as possible.

  • 12:18:07

    NNAMDIWhen it comes to infrastructure, one of the things you've learned about quite a bit this past year is your power system. Glitches wreaked havoc on the rail system in September when breakdowns stranded thousands of commuters one morning on the Red Line. What have you learned about the causes of those glitches since, and what have you done to fix them?

  • 12:18:26

    SARLESWell, in that particular case, it's so symptomatic of the issue facing us. In that case, there are a number of eight-car trains in the very same sector, and they're all drawing power. And they tripped a circuit breaker as I recall, and, of course, you can go back and look at resetting that. But what it really drives home is the major issue facing us.

  • 12:18:34

    SARLESWe want to go to more and more eight-car trains because there's crowding on the trains. In order do that, we have to improve and strengthen the power system so that is a multi-year effort that we're getting -- we have gotten underway, and in fact, our capital plan, we'll be spending some money over the next few there's to work in that direction.

  • 12:19:07

    NNAMDIHow much do you depend on the power grids of the region's electric utilities to run properly?

  • 12:19:13

    SARLESWe are totally dependent on the power grid, but I will say also that when we had the derecho storm and everything else even though we had some problems as a result, the utility companies have been very good about giving priority to getting power to us because they recognize the impact in the entire region of not having the Metro system run.

  • 12:19:34

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. Here is Larissa in Washington, D.C. Larissa, you're on the air with Metro general manager Richard Sarles.

  • 12:19:44

    LARISSAHi. Thank you for taking my call. I came to the United States from Russia back in 1978. The Metro was quite new. But I not being an engineer, I was very surprised to see that all the escalators were coming out into the street in the open air, rain and snow and things like that. And we all know that water is the main enemy for almost any construction. I wonder, why did they do it back then.

  • 12:20:24

    LARISSAAnd also, my question is why -- you know, I lived in Germany. I lived in Russia. I lived in other European countries. And nowhere I would wait for more than two minutes for another train. And once, I waited for 26 minutes. Why is that? And why are we screaming to the whole world that we're the greatest country in the world when we cannot fix our Metro in the capital of the United States?

  • 12:20:59

    NNAMDIIn 10 words or less, Richard Sarles.

  • 12:21:01

    SARLESThat's a challenge.

  • 12:21:02

    NNAMDINo.

  • 12:21:03

    SARLESOpen-air escalators. Yes, I ask that same question. I am convinced that the designs of the system must have come from Southern California. However, we are putting canopies over the escalators as we go along to provide some protection. Why do we not run trains every two minutes all the time? It's a matter of economics and what can be afforded. As people know, you don't make a profit running a rapid transit system, so you have to balance the service against the demand.

  • 12:21:34

    NNAMDILarissa, thank you for your call. We got a tweet from Kenneth, who asks, "How come New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Boston, Atlanta and others have unlimited passes that include rail and buses and don't cost $230?" "In New York City," says Kenneth, "it's $104 a month."

  • 12:21:52

    SARLESIn New York City, they have a flat fare. You can get on -- and I think it's -- I've lost track, but about $2.50 or so. You can travel anywhere in the system. In Washington, we have a time and distance-based fare system so that you cannot offer the same type of unlimited package as in New York at the same price. We have to look at what the maximum fare is here. Otherwise, we'd have to have more taxpayer support.

  • 12:22:19

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. If you have not and you'd like to, the number is 800-433-8850. You can send email to us at kojo@wamu.org. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. We're talking Metro. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:24:18

    NNAMDIOur guest is Richard Sarles, general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Of course, it's a conversation you can join. Just call us, 800-433-8850, or send email to kojo@wamu.org. Speaking of emails, we've got a number of emails with various complaints about infrastructure outside of the power grid and the other usual suspect, escalators.

  • 12:24:41

    NNAMDIHere's an email from Oscar, "Mr. Sarles, it's become a regular thing for me to have extreme difficulties with the fare machines. It seems anytime I go into any station, a number of the fare card machines are broken, and I'll have to wait in line to reload my SmarTrip. Oh, and you should also know that turnstiles throughout the system are getting faultier and more annoying. I shouldn't have to struggle this much just to get on and off the subway." How would you respond to Oscar's concerns?

  • 12:25:09

    SARLESWell, like many other parts of the system, the -- especially the fare control gates are very old. They're clunky. We are embarked on a project to replace the fare control system. It'll take a few years. We are receiving -- in the midst of receiving proposals from vendors right now and that should improve. With regard to the vending machines, certainly, you should notify us when you see that, the station manager, send a complaint in so we can address it.

  • 12:25:38

    NNAMDIHere now is Irene in Washington, D.C. Irene, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:25:44

    IRENEThank you, Kojo. Thank you for having this show. Being a frequent Metro rider, I'm very concerned about various problems that arise. I have a question and a comment. One is about the buses. I often take the 30 buses that run along Wisconsin Avenue, and it is a nightmare sometimes because you wait for 10, 20, 15, 30 minutes. And all of a sudden, you get six buses in a row. And speaking to other people who are equally frustrated by this problem, I understand that this is a chronic issue that somehow nobody can resolve. Now, is it a scheduling issue? Is it a traffic issue?

  • 12:26:17

    IRENEIs it a bus driver issue? But it really is extremely, extremely frustrating. And my comment is, I lived in Germany for 10 years in Munich. Munich's Metro system is roughly the same age as our system here in D.C. And it really is a dreamy system. It's much more extensive than the Metro system here in Washington, and it is just an exercise in flawless utilization. And I was wondering, do we try to learn from other more effective ways of mass transit? Thank you.

  • 12:26:49

    NNAMDIFirst, Richard Sarles, the bus pilot.

  • 12:26:51

    SARLESYes. You list a number of possible causes for a bus bunching, and I think all of them apply, traffic congestion, certainly. But what we are doing is part of the -- is more on-street supervision. We do monitor the buses from a control center, and we have radio contact with them. But we also are going back to having on-street supervision to try to reduce that.

  • 12:27:14

    SARLESWe are also, where we can, introducing a better schedule, if we have a bus or two that we can add to the system. Importantly, with regard to our working with the region, we are trying to establish priority card and networks where buses get more priority, and that requires us to work with the regional governments to get that happen, and that will improve the situation also.

  • 12:27:39

    NNAMDIThe bus bunching and the other part of the question had to do with why German systems seem to run so smoothly. Does that have to do with -- could be the way of financing the different systems in different countries?

  • 12:27:54

    SARLESOh, it could be how it's funded in terms of how much the folks -- taxpayers want to put into that particular system to make it work. I will tell you that we do -- we participate -- American Transit Association, as well as the international one. So we do learn from them. And I will tell you that they learn from us also and some of the things that we're doing.

  • 12:28:18

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Irene. The heat kinks that were caused -- caused tracks to buckle last summer, which resulted in one derailment where riders ended up evacuating themselves, what are you doing this year to prepare infrastructure for the heat this year?

  • 12:28:36

    SARLESAs we do the track reconstruction, we are trying to make adjustments to prevent that -- mitigate that. However, as you could see at that time of the year, we were not the only rail system affected by heat kinks. It's a phenomenon that does occur. We try to engineer it out and to the best extent we can, we will. But when you have extreme heat over long periods, the best we can do -- and we will do some more of that this year a little differently -- is monitoring the tracks themselves and slowing down the railroad if necessary to try to avoid that or at least the seriousness of it.

  • 12:29:12

    NNAMDIHere's Mike in Washington, D.C. Mike, your turn.

  • 12:29:16

    MIKEYes, I just want to congratulate Richard on a wonderful and the cleanest and the safest subway system. And we realize that perfection is impossible. So I guess that's all I need to do. I just don't want to complain. I think you guys are doing a wonderful job. It's beautiful. And I've been in many Metro systems, including Germany, and I don't think it will match Washington, D.C. -- nowhere near in safety, in cleanliness and wonderful trains. So congratulations, and we appreciate it. Thank you.

  • 12:29:52

    NNAMDIMike, thank you very much for your call. Speaking of safety, a lot of people are expressing basic concerns about safety at Metro. Assault, burglaries, robberies have all gone up during the past year. What's your strategy for ramping up safety in this regard? Some emailers today have suggested that better lit stations would help guard against crimes and that it would be worth the cost even if it only makes a small difference. Are you planning on improving lighting at rail stations?

  • 12:30:18

    SARLESCouple of things. First, with regard to the statistics, overall crime rate, we show we're coming under, which is good, under our target for -- which is a lowered target year over year. So that's good. We have had -- and our crime rate overall is very low when you compare it to the said -- the neighborhoods we go through. However, we have had an uptick of a few more assaults of that nature on the bus system in particular, in specific areas of the District. The board has authorized the hiring of additional police officers specifically for that. And they have been hired, and they are in training now.

  • 12:31:00

    SARLESWe are also working more closely with the Metropolitan Police Department and also with -- including being in the neighborhoods, handing out information to folks that even rock throwing is a terrible thing to do. It can have terrible consequences when you do it. So we are making an effort to communicate with the folks in the neighborhoods we go through to not do that as well as increasing the policing.

  • 12:31:24

    NNAMDIYou've got some other hiring to do because Michael Taborn, the Metro Police Transit chief, is going to be stepping down soon. Any progress yet in looking for a potential replacement? And what are you looking for in that replacement?

  • 12:31:34

    SARLESWe are looking for -- we are looking both inside the organization and outside the organization for someone to step into his shoes, which are big shoes to fill. Certainly, when you're a transit police officer, there -- it's different -- somewhat different than the other types of policing. There's a high level of customer service involved. It's more like a community-pleasing arrangement than maybe some others.

  • 12:31:59

    NNAMDIOn to Vera in Bethesda, Md. Vera, your turn.

  • 12:32:04

    VERAYes. I have a question about advanced notice about weekend work. For someone who depends on weekend Metro just to plan and to attend cultural events downtown, sometimes I'm lucky if I hear it on the radio. I don't have immediate access to a computer. Last fall, they published a whole list of events planning for -- I don't know -- six weeks or three months or something like that, which was very helpful. And I wonder if Metro could persuade The Post to publish such a list since you do have plans for six months.

  • 12:32:44

    SARLESYes. And we will talk to them, and I'll be seeing them within the next week or two. Also, if you pass at the stations -- well, every week -- I know it's short, but every week, we advertise for the week ahead, as well as now with the new station signs -- digital signs we've put up at the kiosk, we also have that on those signs.

  • 12:33:07

    VERAYeah. Well, that depends on whether you -- if there's something at the Kennedy Center and then I find out the week -- the exact week that all the stations are closed and I have the bus, I'm likely not to buy a ticket for that.

  • 12:33:21

    SARLESSure. I appreciate that. And we will work with The Post, see if we can get more information on them.

  • 12:33:24

    VERAYeah. So advanced notice more than that particular week and it's very helpful.

  • 12:33:30

    SARLESWe'll do that.

  • 12:33:31

    VERAThank you very much.

  • 12:33:32

    NNAMDIVera, thank you very much for you call. Here's an email we got from Julia, "I work late a lot, and I've gotten used to seeing Metro employees dozing off in the station kiosk. I'd feel a heck of a lot safer at night in stations if employees were actually all awake and minding the store. Judging from some of the photos on Unsuck D.C. Metro, others share my concern. What can you do to make these dozing employees more accountable?"

  • 12:33:56

    SARLESWell, most of our employees are awake and working. However, these things do occur, and I would encourage you to send an email directly to me. If you got an iPhone or something, take a picture of it. We'll take care of it.

  • 12:34:09

    NNAMDIHere's Mike in Washington, D.C. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:34:13

    MIKEThank you, Kojo. Richard, I just have two comments. And one pertains back to something you said earlier, and that relates to the flat rate that other places do in jurisdiction. I think if the Metro was more efficient that that should come into play. I mean, right now, by the Metro not being efficient, I think, you know, that gives you room to, you know, to answer what you said earlier which is, well, it would cost the customer more.

  • 12:34:39

    MIKESo again, I think you need to be more customer friendly. In addition with that, my second part is just basically restrooms. I mean, I've traveled all about with my kids, et cetera, and each time I'm on the Metro, I'm very concerned that there's still non-availability of restrooms.

  • 12:34:54

    NNAMDIBut there was a recent article, I think, in The New York Times looking at subway systems around the country and asking why do they, in general, seem to lack restrooms.

  • 12:35:06

    SARLESWell, there are other opportunities to use restrooms outside the system. It's just like being on a bus, you know, there's not a restroom on the bus. And that's the way public transit systems operate.

  • 12:35:17

    NNAMDIAs a general rule, public systems do not accommodate a whole lot of restrooms?

  • 12:35:21

    SARLESThat is generally the correct thing.

  • 12:35:24

    NNAMDIMike, thank you very much for your call. If you can circle back to Oscar's email about fare cards for a minute, we've also heard from a number of emailers this morning who are concerned that Metro is making people who still use paper fare cards second-class citizens of the system. You added $1 surcharge to pay for fare cards last year.

  • 12:35:42

    NNAMDIA number of our emailers include complaints from people who complained that obtaining or maintaining a card is difficult. The Washington Post reporting today that you offered rebates as incentives to get people to switch to the SmarTrip cards. What else are you doing to make this transition easier for people?

  • 12:35:59

    SARLESWell, I think the most important thing we did is unlike the past where we only sold SmarTrip cards, you know, at food stores and truck stores and a couple of Metro sales offices, we have put vending machines in every station so that it's very convenient for a person to buy a SmarTrip card. An earlier caller talked about being more efficient. It cost us $4 million a year to administer the paper card program. If we could move people away from that to the SmarTrip card, we'd save money.

  • 12:36:29

    NNAMDIPutting them in the stations was a good idea because that's how I ran into one, so to speak. Here's Emma on Capitol Hill. Emma, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:36:38

    EMMAYes. This is regarding the Union Station area. A lot of tourists that are coming in asking for directions sometimes with the drivers towards hotels like the Hyatt. And I happen to be on a bus, and they -- first of all, the driver sometimes have trouble with accents of some of these tourists. But one was asking for the Hyatt, and he was almost directing them to downtown Hyatt rather than the Hyatt that's on New Jersey Avenue which is just 2 1/2 blocks away.

  • 12:37:11

    EMMASo sometimes, I think the bus' drivers that are going east of Union Station like the 96th and the D6 should be alerted about those hotels, the Hyatt Hotels. And I think there are two others there.

  • 12:37:30

    NNAMDIYou raised a fascinating issue for me, Emma, and that is, to what extent are bus drivers also supposed to be, I guess, part-time tour guides? To what extent does a driver who has been driving in Anacostia who gets switched to a route in Georgetown, to what extent does that driver have to become acquainted with all of the familiar places in that area so as to be able to tell people who are unfamiliar with that area where to go or what they're looking for?

  • 12:37:56

    EMMAWell, I mean, the city wants tourists, and I just thought that Union Station is bringing in a lot of tourists. And is there going to...

  • 12:38:08

    NNAMDINo, you raised a valid question. I'm just asking Richard Sarles, how do you prepare for that?

  • 12:38:12

    SARLESI think that's difficult. Obviously, bus drivers have been driving that route for a while. They've become more familiar, and they can become more helpful. I will tell you, not as a person that works for a transit agency but as just a person, that if I hear someone asking for directions and they're not getting quite the right information, I'll butt in politely and say, let me help you.

  • 12:38:33

    SARLESAnd that's, just, you know, person to person. It has nothing to do with whether you work for the transit system, and I think that's the way to help people. It happens all the time in New York City. You know, I used to -- I go up there lot, and that certainly happens here. People just try to be helpful to other people is the best way to do it.

  • 12:38:48

    NNAMDIBut, I guess, Emma might also be asking, is there anything including in the training of bus operators that indicate that they should also know some of the major tourist destinations, if you will, in the city?

  • 12:39:00

    SARLESNo. We focus on training on courtesy as well as driving skills and, you know, paying attention to traffic, that's where we have a major focus.

  • 12:39:08

    EMMAWell, what about -- could there be, like, one of those stations, I mean, you know, where people can sit and wait that might have advertisements that will show an ad that directing in two and half blocks away of the Hyatt Hotel? Because, you know, at that point, it's -- there's no shelter, and there's wide expanse there on the south side across from Union Station.

  • 12:39:34

    SARLESI think that's a good idea. We should talk to the District who actually controls the bus shelters, if you will, and as well as improvement districts, business improvement districts that provide a lot of information with regard to maps near Metro stations and possibly do the same thing at bus stops, so that the people have an idea what's in the area. That's a good idea.

  • 12:39:56

    NNAMDIEmma, thank you for your call. Here's Allison in Washington, D.C. Hi, Allison.

  • 12:40:01

    ALLISONHello, Kojo. Thanks again for a great show. I just -- I'm a huge fan of the Metro system. I ride the X2 bus down 8th Street daily. And having grown up in Los Angeles and living in other cities that -- we really don't have an appreciation for what a wonderful system it is and how hard the work -- the bus drivers and the rest of the Metro employees serve us every day and, I'm afraid, take a lot of grief from their patrons. And I think we should be more appreciative of the system and of the people who operate it. So I want to just call and say thank you very much.

  • 12:40:40

    NNAMDIAllison, thank you for your call. It's my understanding, Richard Sarles, that at some point this year, you'll be crafting a long-term strategic plan for the system. What kinds of things are you expecting to lay out in that plan?

  • 12:40:53

    SARLESWell, I'm going to say stay tuned on that one. But very shortly, we intend at the governance committee meeting towards the end of January, a couple of weeks, to discuss with the board a draft strategic plan. You know, as we talked here, there's immediate issues in terms of reconstruction of the system that has to take place. We know that in the next eight to 10 years, we really have to get practically all eight-car trains to maximize the capacity, to relieve some of the crowding.

  • 12:41:24

    SARLESBut even then, when we're done with that, if you will, we have to start now in thinking much more about the future. There are a lot of other public transportation system improvements planned beyond Metro. They feed into Metro. The core of this system is getting to the point where it can't take any more trains.

  • 12:41:41

    SARLESWe saw the first part of that with the Silver Line, where we actually had to move Blue Line trains out of the Rosslyn tunnel to make way for the Silver Line. Any time there's significant improvements in the future, that's -- the same impact is going to happen. So we have to look at the system and what has to be done with it.

  • 12:41:56

    NNAMDIHold that Blue Line thought because that's where we'll be going when we come back from this break. Our guest is Richard Sarles, general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. If you have not yet called and you'd like to, the number is 800-433-8850. If the lines are busy, you can send us a tweet @kojoshow. Has your -- how has your commuting experience changed since Metro put in the so-called Rush+ system last summer? Is it better for you or worse? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:44:05

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Richard Sarles, general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. We're hearing a lot today from regular riders of the Blue Line who are concerned about the potential of them being shortchanged to make way for Silver Line service through Rosslyn into Tysons Corner, complaints that sounds like this tweet we got from @Drew04: "Can you ask Sarles why he hates the Blue Line?"

  • 12:44:30

    NNAMDIComplaints from Blue Line riders have been swirling since the so-called Rush+ system went into effect this past summer. What's the thinking behind the strategic decisions you've made with the Blue Line?

  • 12:44:42

    SARLESThe decisions actually were made a decade ago when the Silver Line was planned. Looking back at the plans then, the -- what is happening now is pretty much what was planned then, and that was to move Blue Line trains out of the Rosslyn tunnel -- not all of them, but most of them -- and send them over the Yellow Line bridge because there was not enough capacity, which is only about 26 trains an hour in the Rosslyn tunnel, to take the Silver Line trains.

  • 12:45:09

    SARLESWe have made an improvement over those plans in the sense that, at that time, they were talking about 14-minute headways on the Blue Line. Now we're down to 12. You know, that gives you another train or so per hour. But under -- this is just the plan. It's coming to fruition. I am the guy who happened to be here when it's come to fruition.

  • 12:45:29

    NNAMDIIn the long run, will there be a need for a serious revamp of the Rosslyn Station to accommodate all the traffic coming through it?

  • 12:45:36

    SARLESI think as we look at the strategic planning for the future, certainly the Rosslyn Station and the connections between the Silver, Orange and the Blue Lines all have to be examined. And ultimately, how do you -- we increase capacity across the Potomac River?

  • 12:45:55

    NNAMDITyler in Washington, D.C. You're on the air, Tyler. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:45:58

    TYLERYes, sir. Thanks for taking my call. I have three suggestions which I think would best improve the Metro system. The first one: maps over every door on all of the trains. The doors should open faster and close faster. After stopping, they should open faster.

  • 12:46:18

    NNAMDIWhy should they close faster?

  • 12:46:20

    TYLERI think it stops irregularly long at stations where there are fewer people getting on and off, and I think...

  • 12:46:28

    NNAMDIOK.

  • 12:46:29

    TYLER...each door could be made faster if it didn't stay open as long where there aren't as many people.

  • 12:46:34

    NNAMDIOK.

  • 12:46:35

    TYLERAnd the third one is the use of recorded messages that say which stop is next, when the doors are closing, which side the door is open on. Oftentimes I can barely understand the operator's message.

  • 12:46:50

    NNAMDIYou're not alone there, Tyler. We got an email from David, who asked, "When will standardized procedures be made to make the train conductors actually speak clearly, audibly, loudly, et cetera, about every Metro stop approaching? As a visually impaired rider, it's extremely annoying and difficult to navigate the Metro systems when the train conductors don't do their job correctly."

  • 12:47:12

    NNAMDIHaving been in the broadcasting business for way too many decades myself, I do understand that people have different ways of enunciating. They have different speech patterns. They have different voice qualities. How do you standardize that?

  • 12:47:25

    SARLESThe way to standardize it, as the gentleman suggests, was pre-recordings, I say, to get the good quality of it. And I will say to you that when the new series of cars come in, which are to help with the Silver Line service as well as to replace the oldest cars in the system -- over 400 cars are coming, they're in manufacture now -- they will have a number of features that will help in this area. All these types of announcements you're talking about will all be pre-recorded.

  • 12:47:54

    SARLESThere will be dynamic system maps on every car so that you can actually look at the progress of the train. Next to the doors, there will be dynamic information messages that will tell you basically what is being said over the PA system as well as telling you what's nearby at the station you're stopping at. So we recognize this. The technology is there to do it, and it will be showing up on the new cars.

  • 12:48:20

    NNAMDIThank you for your call, Tyler. Here's John in Brunswick, Md. John, your turn.

  • 12:48:25

    JOHNWell, I'm afraid the answer just took my question away 'cause I had the same comment. I've ridden Metro now for 11, 12 years, and so I know where I'm going. But if you're new to the system, like I was a number of years ago, you have no idea what the conductor is saying. You can't understand them. And, you know, it'd be nice if you had multiple languages and if the instructions for the system map were located in more convenient locations.

  • 12:48:52

    JOHNThose little pylons that you have at the stops, they're hard to read. They're hard to make sense of. I can see tourists all the time having -- or never got an idea which side to get on to get on the proper train. And I myself have made mistakes multiple times, even though I'm very familiar with the system. So giving directions to people, even long-term riders, it would be very helpful.

  • 12:49:15

    JOHNAnd also maybe do something about -- there's a lot of homeless folks hanging out at Rosslyn. When I took my four kids there over -- around New Year's, I didn't feel very safe there, so -- none of us did. So people camping out in the Metro area, is that...

  • 12:49:32

    NNAMDIHas that been a problem, Richard Sarles?

  • 12:49:34

    SARLESWe don't see a lot of it. We do see some of it, definitely. I mean, I see it from time to time. I'd hope you don't see any of it inside the fare lines. We just have to measure, you know, people's right to be there and depending on what they're doing, whether they can be there or not. So we try to take into account their rights as well as the rights of everybody traveling through there.

  • 12:49:57

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Laura, who says, "I reported being groped at the Capitol Hill -- Capitol Heights Metro station on Dec. 21. I contacted the Metro Police, and they arrived 30 minutes later. I filed a report. About a week later, I received the phone call from an investigating officer who reviewed camera footage at the wrong time of day. The incident occurred at 8:10 p.m., but for some reason, the officer reviewed footage at 8:10 a.m. I told the officer this but have heard nothing since. Here are my concerns.

  • 12:50:26

    NNAMDI"Responding officers were only able to arrive by Metro car, which delayed response. When officers are on the Metro train, they are sometimes completely incommunicado due to lack of radio coverage. That means an officer might be on his own on a car without the ability to call for back up. There appears to be a bureaucratic delay in reviewing camera footage. Signs on Metro cars give a fall sense of security that groping and inappropriate behavior will be dealt with."

  • 12:50:52

    SARLESI'm glad you gave us the specifics of it so I can have the police get back to you on it if they did not. Certainly, we get numerous requests for camera footage. I don't know why anybody would really want to try to commit a crime on Metrorail or Metrobus. All the buses have excellent cameras on them. And the cameras on the Metrorail system are improving all the time. And, in fact, the new cars will have cameras on the cars themselves.

  • 12:51:21

    SARLESSo it's -- there's a darn good chance that you will be there -- the actual act will be seen if, you know, brought to our attention or people going and coming from the station will be identified. So I'd -- I feel much more secure in the Metro system. And, frankly, customer survey show that we -- among the nation's transit systems, people have a better sense of security, customers do, on our system than most any place else.

  • 12:51:47

    NNAMDIWe got a tweet from @samcheska, (sp?) "Why is Metro's K6 bus line not 24 hours even though it serves a huge immigrant population that works late and early in the D.C. service industry?"

  • 12:51:58

    SARLESWe reviewed that with the different jurisdictions in the area, do our studies, and we try to match the demand with our service given how many buses we have in the operation. I think on that particular service, we actually introduced an overlay service, a Metro extra service, to provide some better later night service post-rush hour.

  • 12:52:23

    NNAMDIHere is Tara in Washington, D.C. Tara, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:52:28

    TARAHi, Kojo. Thank you for your show. I'm calling with a compliment and a complaint. First of all, we love the Metro. And as Mr. Sarles here was just saying, we believe it's the safest, the cleanest and the best in the country -- really the world 'cause we traveled all over. So thank you for that. My problem is I live in the 1,300 block of W Street in Northwest. And our block is clearly signed no buses, except for school buses.

  • 12:52:55

    TARAAnd frequently -- let's say several times a week -- we get out-of-service Metro buses coming down our street. A, they're loud, and, B, we have lot of construction on our street. And I often get caught between the construction vehicles unable to move in back up traffic. We've contacted our -- Jim Graham's office. We contacted the neighborhood associations and can't seem to get any resolution. So I wanted your suggestion as to what we should do.

  • 12:53:22

    SARLESI will look into and talk to the head of bus operations, OK?

  • 12:53:25

    TARAGreat. Thank you so much.

  • 12:53:26

    NNAMDITara, thank you very much for your call. On the other hand, we got this tweet @itsterribly, (sp?) "Why only softball questions? Metro is not running a sound transit system. It's overpriced, poor service, plus rude staff. I guess my question would be, are you, in fact, running an unsound transit system that is overpriced with poor service and rude staff, and if so, why?"

  • 12:53:45

    SARLESOur customers don't tell us that. I find it very interesting. I occasionally go out and just stand in a customer service area, you know, about around the kiosk and fare line and just listen to customers. And it's refreshing to me to get comments directly from customers because it gives me a sense of reality. And certainly, there are issues.

  • 12:54:05

    SARLESBut also, there are many, many compliments about people saying, hey, this is a good system. It works. I've been to other places. I know this is a good system. So I like to be still grounded to that reality. But that does not take away from the fact we have a lot of work to do to reconstruct and improve the maintenance on this system and improve customer service.

  • 12:54:22

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Carrie on Rockville, who says, "I'm a regular red line rider who gets on in Rockville. I've always been puzzled about why Metro cordons off so much space for metered parking spaces in their lot. That side of the lot is always empty while the other spots where people pay to park are almost always full. Why doesn't Metro junk the metered spaces altogether?"

  • 12:54:44

    SARLESIt's a good question. I know we try to match demand against the capacity we provide. With regard to that one, I'll look into that.

  • 12:54:52

    NNAMDIBut you don't know at this point, does Metro have any plans for making changes of the parking lot maintained at stops like the Rockville station?

  • 12:54:58

    SARLESNo, I can't say at that particular with regard to meter. What we have done in the garages has altered the way we look at the demand reserve parking versus, you know, all other parking that pays to come in so that we can maximize availability of spots for folks.

  • 12:55:14

    NNAMDIHere is Matthew in Bethesda, Md. Matthew, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:55:19

    MATTHEWYeah. Hi. Thanks for having me on. So I'm a -- I have questions about actually in the biking (unintelligible) policy for the Metro. I know that you guys don't allow conventional bikes to be brought on the Metro during rush hour. And I figured that's just because there'll be too much crowding with big full-size bikes. So the first kind of easier question is, wasn't there -- I actually would be riding out in the morning, which would be absolute against the general tool of traffic.

  • 12:55:47

    MATTHEWSo it just seems to me a like a quick fix to be more friendly to bike riders would be to switch around that policy and allow people to basically ride against the tide with their bike. And the second question, actually, well, are there any long-term plans, you know, in effect, to make the Metro more friendly to bike commuters during rush hour? Maybe adding some biker-only rail cars, something along those lines.

  • 12:56:17

    SARLESWell, given all the demand in the system and the crush already, I can't see that happening. With regard to bikes getting on in the reverse direction, if you will, and peak period, that sounds logical. The only problem is how one really enforces that. You have somebody come to the gates and say, I'm going on, you know, the opposite direction, and they get down, they hop on the trains, go on the -- in the rush hour direction, and then you have real problems. Unfortunately, never -- not everybody is totally forthcoming about their intentions.

  • 12:56:52

    NNAMDIMatthew, thank you very much for your call. Here now is Marilyn in Washington, D.C. Marilyn, your turn.

  • 12:56:58

    MARILYNOK. Well, Kojo, you have asked earlier when you were talking about crime in the system is better lighting in the stations would help with the crime situation. And I'm a member of the Metro Accessibility Advisory Committee. And we have been doing a lot of work and recently testified to the board about the inadequacy of the lighting for people with vision problems and the safety problems created by inadequate lighting. And I'm just wondering if Mr. Sarles has any comments about this subject.

  • 12:57:38

    SARLESWell, yes, certainly I was there when you made the presentation. But I think this calls into question of larger issue of, you know, just how much money is available and how you spend your money. In terms of your budget, we -- I just proposed a new budget for the forthcoming year in WMATA, and no fare increase.

  • 12:57:57

    SARLESBut there's a lot of things we're going to do, including, you know, starting a silver line service, doing more construction, looking at lighting and providing more bus service. So there's a lot of things out there, but we try to, you know, get to where does the best good. And lightning certainly is an area we can work on.

  • 12:58:16

    NNAMDIAnd we are just about out of time. Marilyn, thank you very much for your call. Richard Sarles, thank you for joining. Richard Sarles is the general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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