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Richard Sarles is in charge of one of the busiest public transportation systems in the country – the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The logistics and politics of the Metro can be complicated – and for those who depend on it getting around isn’t always simple. Sarles joins Kojo to talk about safety, customer service, fare structures and the long-term future of the system.
- Richard Sarles General Manager and Chief Executive Officer, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Life is always complicated at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Metro operates one of the busiest public transit systems in the entire country, ferrying hundreds of thousands of commuters on a daily basis over a sprawling network of tracks and bus stops.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut these are particularly complicated times at Metro, where disputes over funding are stalling a major project to extend rail service out to Dulles Airport, where gripes about safety and reliability have reached a boiling point with regular riders, and where customers may soon be staring down another set of fare increases. Joining us today is the man in charge of guiding the system through these complicated times. Richard Sarles is the general manager and CEO at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Richard Sarles, good to see you again.
MR. RICHARD SARLESIt's good to be back.
NNAMDIYou can join this conversation by calling us at 800-433-8850. Are you a regular Metro rider? Where do you think Metro should be focusing its efforts to improve the system? 800-433-8850. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org. Ask a question or make a comment there. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Richard Sarles, let's dive right into the prospect that taking the Metro may become a slightly more expensive transaction for riders in only a matter of weeks.
NNAMDIYou have floated a proposal to raise rail and bus fares, the second set of across-the-board fares in the past two years. You've held public hearings on the fare increases during the past several weeks. What can you tell us about how and what riders can reasonably expect?
SARLESWell, the proposal is a relatively modest proposal compared to a couple of years ago. We're talking about a dime increase on bus fares, about a 5 percent increase during the peak period at the rail -- on the rail system. But the difference between now and two years ago is two years ago we were talking about the possibility of cutting service. Now, we're talking about adding service, both on the rail line and improving bus service as well.
NNAMDIYou have proposed eliminating the so-called peak-of-the-peak surcharge for riders in busy hours. Why?
SARLESWhile it did raise revenue, it did not accomplish the policy purpose we had in mind, which was to divert passengers from the peak period to just outside the peak period. We saw no movement...
NNAMDIPeople keep riding during the peak period.
SARLESThey kept riding. So we weren't accomplishing that. And it just led to a more complicated fare system. And what we have heard time and again from our customers is that they wanted a more simpler fare system.
NNAMDIA lot of riders will want to know where am I going to see the extra money that I'm paying for my fare? What I am paying for? Here, saying that you're paying to help balance Metro's budget probably won't matter to many of them.
SARLESWhat you're paying for is more maintenance, better maintenance, preparing for the introduction of the Silver Line. By the end of 2013, the Airport Authority intends to turn the Silver Line extension out to Tysons Corner over to us. We have to start hiring and training people for that. We're adding more bus service on certain lines throughout the year. And we're also adding additional capacity in terms of service during the peak period on the Orange Line in Virginia, as well as creating a few less transfers for folks on the lines.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us this hour, we're talking with Richard Sarles, general manager and CEO of Metro, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, also known as WMATA. If you have questions or comments, 800-433-8850, or you can send email to email@example.com. Allow me to air the grievances of Red Line riders for a minute, many of whom are still scarred by the epic delays from one morning commute this past January that lasted for hours when a rail cracked up in this part of the city.
NNAMDIThere was even a petition circling this winter calling on Metro to offer a free ride as a gesture of goodwill. What do you say to Red Line riders who are frustrated with the level of service right now?
SARLESThe Red Line is the oldest line. It's the busiest line, and it's -- as a result of all the deferred maintenance and not timely reconstruction of the line, it is suffering from that in terms of reliability. And, in addition to that, because that is the oldest and busiest line, we are also doing -- we're focusing our rebuilding efforts first on the Red Line. That's why you see a number of single tracking and outages on the weekend to aggressively pursue rebuilding that line.
NNAMDIWhat are the long-term plans for the Red Line, and what should riders expect in the interim?
SARLESWell, the long-term plan is to get this Red Line, as well as the other lines, back up to where it should be in terms of standards. Of course, we want to get the eight-car trains eventually when there's enough money in the capital -- all eight-car trains when there's enough money in the capital program to do that. And once we get our track circuits back where we want them, we obviously want to return to automatic train operation.
NNAMDILet's move over to the other lines for a minute. A few weeks ago, you put forward a plan for something called Rush Plus to move traffic along faster on certain corridors. How would that work?
SARLESWell, during the rush hours, we'll see more -- about six trains an hour on the Orange Line, three in each direction. Especially in Virginia, you'll see more trains on the Green Line from L'Enfant Plaza. Greenbelt, you'll see more trains. And in addition, trains that -- well, it'll also provide for less transfers as trains are able to go to different destinations. So there will be more capacity during the rush hour, which will work to everyone's benefit.
NNAMDIWhat concerns do you have about whether riders are likely to be confused when this gets rolled out? And what do you plan on doing to inform them of the changes?
SARLESWell, as we've already started talking about it. You recognize Rush Plus as the name. And there will be an intense campaign over the next two months, April, May and into June, to get riders familiar with what's coming so that they'll understand the key thing will be to look for the destination on your train to make sure you're going to the right place.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Richard Sarles, general manager and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Metro, call us at 800-433-8850. Has Metro made any recent improvements that have made your life any easier? And if so, what were they? 800-433-8850 or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. If this is something that's being done on the Red Line to make room for the coming Silver Line, are there any other places in the system where you have room to make changes to get ready?
SARLESWell, it's really on the Orange Line and Blue, Green and Yellow lines that we're making more room, changing the routes so that we can make room -- more room for the Silver Line service. The Red Line is more about in the future. When there's enough money in the (word?), we're adding additional eight-car trains.
NNAMDIAlong with the Rush Plus program, there's some other big changes coming down the pipe with the Metro map itself. What's going to be different?
SARLESWell, as part of getting ready for the Rush Plus service and then eventually the Silver Line service, we took another look at the map. It's an iconic feature of Metro and the Washington area, so wanted to keep the scheme the same. But there were some things that were confusing for riders. Some of the station names are very long. We looked at shortening them up or giving more emphasis to one name or over another, adding in hospital designations so that folks who rely on the rail can find a hospital easily, updating some other symbols.
NNAMDIThere are -- you pointed out that some seem to be too long. New York Avenue, Florida Avenue, Gallaudet U becomes NoMa Gallaudet U with New York Avenue subordinated. A few people know that NoMa is the neighborhood north of Massachusetts Avenue near Union Station. But a lot of people involved in development hope you will learn that. We got this tweet from @sanjotree (sp?) : Why can't Metro prevent buses from bunching up? The 16th Street bus often will come three at a time and then must wait up to 25 minutes for the next one.
SARLESWell, that's one of the things -- we've deployed additional supervisors to the street, got them out of the office so that they can work to prevent that bunching up. Also, as we make changes to various bus routes this summer and fall and winter, we will try to improve on time performance for our buses.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. We start with Pat in Washington, D.C. Pat, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Uh-oh, Pat has dropped off. Pat, you can call us back. 800-433-8850 is the number. People can see the Silver Line going up right before their very eyes, the construction towers over Tysons Corner right now. But the project is still caught up in a lot of politics over the role of unions, labor unions in the construction.
NNAMDIWhat concerns do you have about whether these disputes are going to bog down the project? And what do you do as the general manager to help get through them to prevent being bogged down?
SARLESAs I said before, the Airport Authority is the one really running the project. And I would just encourage all parties to resolve their differences. The key thing is to get that extension built and as soon as possible.
NNAMDISo you're not going to involve yourself directly in the disputes over whether or not the labor involved there should be union labor or not?
SARLESWell, I think there some very competent people who are handling that right now.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. What concerns do you have about Metro in general or about the safety of Metro rail and bus networks? What would make you feel safer on your commute? 800-433-8850. Richard Sarles, you've got some labor issues of your own to deal with. The Washington Times did a series of articles this year about the workforce at Metro, one of which included the headline that there was a culture of incompetence and a lack of diversity at Metro. You wrote in a letter to The Washington Times that you are proud of your workforce. Can you address those issues?
SARLESI am proud of our workforce. And, frankly, the series of articles were based on old data, incomplete data, misquotes. And when you have all that, it leads to a distortion of the truth, so there's really not much more to say.
NNAMDIThe article said that 97 percent of the bus and train operators at the WMATA are black, with only six white women out of more than 3,000 drivers, according to Metro documents. The inference that one draws from that is that there is not only a lack of diversity, but an anti-female or anti-white female culture that exists at Metro. What do you say?
SARLESWhat I say again is that it was based on old facts, incomplete facts. And, frankly, we have a much more diverse workforce. And we're always working to create a workforce that reflects the population that we serve. One of the things that we've seen is a significant increase in the participation of women in the workforce, not only in the executive leadership team but in the frontline ranks. About 25 to 30 percent of our workforce, even in those areas, are women.
NNAMDIYes. You mentioned that we currently have 646 rail operators of which 30 percent are women. And, this year, Metro recognized the first female champion of its rail operations and safety competition in bus service. Out of 2,780 operators, nearly 27 percent are women. Not to beat a dead horse here, but there's one other thing I wanted to ask you about the Washington Times series.
NNAMDIAnd that involves whether Metro is struggling to hire people for crucial positions, even though Metro does offer general salaries. How would you respond to that specific article? And what would you say is your strategy to hire critical employees for the Silver Line expansion?
SARLESWell, certainly, that is one of the areas we have to hire quite a few people for to train them and get them ready for the Silver Line. We also have to do that for increasing the maintenance of the system, as well as the reconstruction that is underway. What we do is we have recruiting -- intense recruiting campaigns. For instance, we had a veteran's event where we hired a number of people from that event. We are going to all the technical schools in the region who train people to have the basic skills that we need.
SARLESSo, by this concerted effort, we intend to hire the people that come to these jobs. And while -- and one of the reasons we hire from the military is these are not nine-to-five jobs. You work potentially long hours. You work midnights. You work during the day. You work weekends, not the thing that's always conducive to the way some people want to live. But we think that, with our focused recruiting campaigns, we'll be able to hire the right people.
NNAMDISpeaking of hiring, Felicia in Gaithersburg, Md. has a question about that. Felicia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
FELICIAHi. I wonder if you still have a very strong hire from within campaign going on. My dad worked for Metro. He worked for Metro for more than 30 years, and if you're familiar with the system, there was only about maybe four blacks that made it to the level that he was at. And I was very pleased 'cause everybody knew me when I walked in the Metro system. And it seems that when I take the Metro now -- I'm an adult now. I don't...
NNAMDINo free rides, huh?
FELICIANo, no, no. I wouldn't get free rides then. But they recognized, oh, this is so and so's daughter.
FELICIAAnd it was -- you know, they would talk and things like that, and I saw your workers riding through the train. So I know what the system is like 'cause I know the study program and the training program that my father was in. And I don't know that that's still going on 'cause when I talk...
NNAMDIWhether they are hiring from within as much as they used to?
FELICIAYeah, when I talk to the workers there, they don't seem to know a lot of the systems that if they had started at the bottom level, they would have some knowledge of what other people did because they did that.
NNAMDIOK. You're talking about whether there's an internal training system that allows people to move up. Richard Sarles?
FELICIACorrect, correct, correct.
SARLESYes, we do a combination of things. We certainly promote from within. We have extensive training program, so that occurs. But it's also good to have folks come from the outside, too, because they bring other perspectives, other experience, and we try to meld the two. And that ultimately makes for a better system.
NNAMDIIs there an internal training program? I guess she was saying that her father seemed to have benefited from one of those.
SARLESYes. There are internal training programs.
NNAMDIAnd, Felicia, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When you come back, if you have called, stay on the line. If you have questions or comments for Metro general manager and CEO Richard Sarles, the number is 800-433-8550. Or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with general manager and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Richard Sarles, taking your emails at -- to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. We got an email from Chris, "Are D.C., Virginia and Maryland contributing a fair share to Metro this year?" And what would you consider a fair share, Richard Sarles?
SARLESWell, right now, the riders contribute about the 55 percent of the revenue. The remaining 45 percent comes from the taxpayers in this region. In a recent public hearings and survey accompanying those public hearings, we saw that folks that responded indicated they'd like to see it closer to a 50/50 split. But I think somewhere in that range is equitable.
NNAMDIIs appropriate? Have you been lobbying for an increase in contributions from local jurisdictions at all?
SARLESActually, what I've looked for is increase in contributions from both the jurisdictions as well as the customers.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones, here is Eddie in Washington, D.C. Eddie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
EDDIEYes. Thank for taking my call this afternoon. You were talking about the Silver Line and the expansion thereof. I'm curious what the updates are on the Purple Line. I've been hearing some rumors, if you will, regarding some disputes in its connections with Bethesda Metro Line -- station. And what is the promise of that line actually being built in a timely fashion, if at all? Thank you very much.
SARLESWell, the Purple Line is really under the auspices of the State of Maryland, so I really can't address the question in detail as you'd like me to. I just know that we're ready to cooperate with them.
NNAMDIWhat have you been hearing? What's going on? What's the scuttlebutt? What's the background story? What's -- what can you tell us?
SARLESI can only tell you what I read in the newspaper or listen to on TV, which is, you know as much as I do.
NNAMDIWe got this tweet -- and thank you very much for you call, Eddie. We got this tweet from @unsuckmetro -- @unsuckdcmetro: "Who has been let go under your expanded at-will employee program? If there is someone, what they did -- what did they do to be let go?" Can you explain the at-will program, please?
SARLESWell, before I got there actually, it was determined that most management employees that were not represented by unions were at-will employees. But I will not go into the specifics of any personnel actions.
NNAMDIOf personnel actions either promotion or termination, any kinds of those, why not?
SARLESBecause personnel actions, I think, are relatively private thing for our employees. And it's a policy at the Washington Metro and as well as other organizations not to get into those kind of details.
NNAMDIThe Washington Times ran an article yesterday about whether there's a policy at Metro that forbids employees from speaking to the media. Could you explain what the policy actually is? And does it forbid employees from speaking to the media?
SARLESWell, we have a policy like most organizations that the -- when questions are directed at Washington Metro, they're respond to by our spokespeople who can bring the entire context of an answer to a relatively rapid response to the question. We have a whistleblower policy at Washington Metro, which encourages employees, if they see something that is wrong, they will -- they can make a complaint anonymously, and their identity will be protected.
NNAMDIBut if somebody shows up with a microphone to a Metro employee who, in the heat or in the moment, simply makes a comment to a reporter, is that punishable?
SARLESWe look at the circumstances involved.
NNAMDIThere is no hard and fast rule...
SARLESNo, what we want..
NNAMDI...as to what happens?
SARLESWhat we want is for our employees to direct folks from the media to talk to our public -- our spokesperson so they can give a complete answer to the questions.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones, here is Jim in Springfield, Va. Jim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JIMHey, Kojo, I've been riding the Metro since 1985, and I think I've been listening to you a few years less than that, fewer than that. How are you today?
NNAMDIYou date back to the Carmen Turner era. Go ahead, please.
JIMMr. Sarles, thank you for your work. This is a positive call, I think, in the main. I've seen...
NNAMDIOK. Then I'm afraid I have to cut you off. I'm sorry.
SARLESKeep going. Keep going.
NNAMDIGo ahead, please.
JIMAnd I'm not paid for this, but I'm a rider currently using the Metro lines. I've seen great improvements on everything, except there are two things that still annoy me. One is if I want to...
NNAMDII thought this was a positive call.
JIMIt is. It is.
NNAMDIOK. Go ahead.
JIMI like it that there's better customer service. There's more attention by the...
NNAMDIOK. Enough with the positive stuff. On to the gripes.
JIMAll right. Here are the two things: I still feel like I'm going in to Carlsbad Cavern when I go into a Metro station, and I don't know why we can't use fluorescent lights to give us a little more light. Maybe I'm just a baby-boomer, and that's the problem. But, anyway, I'd like to see more lights there in all the different stations that I go to. My other comment is those SmarTrip cards just do not have any sort of durability.
JIMI've worn out apparently three in the last four years, and I just have to absorb that $5 because I haven't had an answer on any communication for a replacement card when I've sent them in. Thank you.
SARLESWell, first of all, I want to thank you for using Metro so much that you wear out the SmarTrip cards. That's great. But with regard to durability, if you could leave your name or, I think, staff can copy down. I'll...
NNAMDIYeah. I'll put you on hold when the call is over.
SARLESYeah, I want to address that issue. We'll have our staff address that issue with you. On terms of the lighting levels in the stations, what I found -- and what we're doing -- is simply replacing the lights, cleaning in the reflectors makes a huge difference in lighting at the stations. At the station I go through frequently, Pentagon City, we did just that where before I couldn't read the newspaper while I stand in the platform. Now, I can.
SARLESSo when we have these major shutdowns where we substitute buses for trains on weekends, you'll notice that at the end of those, not -- it's not unusual to see much brighter light in the stations as we go through and re-lamp the entire station. We'll continue to do that. And I think over time, you'll see an improvement.
NNAMDIJim, thank you very much for your call.
JIMYou're welcome. Keep doing the good work, Kojo.
NNAMDIThank you very much. I'll try. On to Marie in Fairfax, Va. Marie, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
MARIEYeah. My question is on the transfer between the Metro bus and the subway system. It's kind of confusing, and it's kind of convoluted. And it's not well-advertised. And when you're new to the system, you just don't really even know that you can catch a bus, you know, at the Pentagon. So that, and then just what is their public advertising campaign? And, you know, why is it so hard to even figure out, like, what bus in the suburbs you can take to get all the way into the city?
SARLESWell, maybe we can do more to address that. But the thing that I find easiest to do is just go to Google.com and look for public transit directions. And it gives you a very good idea of what bus and subway combination you have to use and what the schedule is when you're going at a specific time.
NNAMDIBut you want to do that while you're standing there looking, right, Marie?
MARIEYeah. So, OK, so you're saying Google it and then hit public transit?
SARLESMm hmm. When you're under map and directions -- I use it quite frequently myself. I will go there, and you have the public transit option rather than the car option, and it will give you directions using a combination of buses and subway, whatever's appropriate and scheduled.
MARIEOK. Yeah, they really need to advertise stuff like that. Yeah, because for years, I tried to figure out, like, what bus I would take just -- if I want to take a bus all the way into town, you know, it's this long, convoluted process.
SARLESRight. And I had the same problem when I first came here, and that's the way I solved those, by using that.
NNAMDIMarie, thank you very much for your call. We got an email from Sheila, who says, "Why does Metro, which is proposing fare increases, have so much duplicates of service? For example, near-empty yellow line trains now go to Fort Totten duplicating Green Line service and delaying Green Line riders traveling past Fort Totten because of the time to turn the train around. It's especially frustrating to pay higher rush hour fares as a Green Line rider and then get delayed by Metro's choice, not due to an accident or equipment problem at Fort Totten."
SARLESWell, we try to provide a Yellow Line service in between the Green Line trains -- that happens to be a line I take, the Yellow Line -- by providing that frequent service. And, especially in the interior of the system, it provides better service to our riders. It's a balancing between frequent service and, you know, trying to get things on time.
NNAMDIOn now to Allan in Takoma in D.C. Allan, your turn.
ALLANThanks. You know, I remember going in (word?) Metro, as far back as being involved in the old tan T-shirts that had the old paper fare cards silk-screened on it that we sold to Woodies back when the system was first being started.
ALLANI moved away from D.C. and have just recently moved back here from Atlanta. And I got to tell you that, compared to the Atlanta Metro system, you know, people up here don't really have much to complain about. However, I manage a restaurant that's located one block from the Takoma Metro, great big picture windows. So I look out on the 4th Blair and Sear intersection, you know, well, for extended periods.
ALLANAnd what I see is an appalling degree of aggressive behavior by bus drivers, things like -- seeing that they can't possibly physically make a turn but making two-thirds of a turn anyway in attempting to use the physical size of the bus as an intimidator to get people in the opposing lane of traffic to back up, things like straddling crosswalks, forcing commuters -- pedestrian commuters to walk out into the main flow of traffic, you know, just really not considerate at all. I see it throughout the rest of the Takoma neighborhood as well, same sorts of aggressive behavior.
NNAMDIRichard Sarles, have you heard similar complaints before? And what should somebody like Allan do about that besides calling you to complain?
SARLESIt's certainly not the first time we've heard a complaint like that. We've installed DriveCam on our buses so when there's a sudden deceleration of the buses, we can record what's going on on the bus with the driver as well as in front of it. That has helped us to retrain bus drivers and, frankly, sometimes have to let bus drivers go who, you know, compile a record of bad driving habits.
SARLESBut anytime you see a particular bus operator, if you can get the name -- the number of the bus, the location and the time of day, our bus management folks will work with that bus operator and take the appropriate steps.
NNAMDIAllan, so, instead of simply looking there, sit there with pen and paper.
ALLANI'm actually, you know, better equipped to do that. You know, I'm happy to use my phone and take photographs of these things and email them to you.
SARLESWe'd welcome that.
NNAMDIThat would work, too. Allan, thank you very much for your call. In case you're just joining us, we're talking with Richard Sarles, general manager and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Metro. I'm inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Are you a regular Metro rider? Where do you think Metro should be focusing its efforts to improve the system, of course, whether you're a regular Metro rider or not? 800-433-8850. We move on to Tony in Silver Spring, Md. Tony, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TONYGood afternoon. Couple things, as the Silver Spring Station took longer to build and still not built than we did for doing the interconnecting highways that we have, but they also -- the other thing that we do is you spent -- the Metro Police spend more time harassing and giving more tickets to taxi drivers that are providing a service to the -- to Metro riders. And I find it's a very, very strong influence, and that sometimes they give more tickets than the taxi drivers makes in a day. I need to find (unintelligible).
NNAMDIDo you happen to be a taxi driver yourself, Tony? Has this happened to you?
TONYI used to be a taxi driver. And, first of all, most of this -- most of the places, they do not have enough spots for the taxi drivers, and so, therefore, like I do -- Glenmont Station, there's only five places for taxi drivers. And quite a few times when the Metro comes, especially at rush hour, there's 10 customers coming out, going to take a taxi. But the thing is you only want five taxi drivers there.
TONYIf you don't -- if you're not -- if you're there, you're subject to get a $50 to $150 ticket, which is about -- which is really unfair. I guess, all the crimes being committed after Metro drivers don't -- Metro Police don't care to enforce.
NNAMDIOK. Allow me to have Richard Sarles respond.
SARLESWell, certainly we can take a look at where there's not enough stalls for taxi cab drivers to wait. However, our police are required to enforce the law and if -- especially if it's causing a problem. So -- but we'll take a look at that particular location.
NNAMDITony, thank you very much for registering your complaint. We got an email from Andy. Bear with me 'cause it's fairly long. It says, "I live in Bethesda, and, repeatedly, the escalators are out of service. We all understand the infrastructure is aging and maintenance need to be phased. However, some simple suggestions for service disruptions: One, if two out of three escalators are out of service, the one remaining that is working should be going up, not down."
NNAMDI"Two, if escalators are out at a station, the train conductor should be making announcements prior to the station, one or two stations back minimum. In the example of Bethesda, I am equally distanced to Bethesda and Medical Center. Once I'm out of the gates, it's too late to know to go one more stop. I'm sure this is the case with many people at numerous stations. If they knew beforehand, they could change the station they get off at with a simple effort by Metro to announce outages on the train." Richard Sarles, is that possible?
SARLESOh, I think that's a good suggestion with regard to escalators, especially a place like Bethesda where the escalators are old and bad shape. And as you know, we're going to replace those escalators, but I think you made a good suggestion.
NNAMDIYou recently launched a website to help riders report incidents of sexual harassment on the Metro system. How would you describe how severe that problem is on the Metro network? And what are some of the other steps you're taking to combat it?
SARLESWell, there -- I think the advocates who brought this up at a District council -- committee hearing acknowledged that most of these incidents actually occur off of Metro. But there are some that due occur on Metro, and they should be addressed. And we are addressing them. We...
NNAMDIApparently, you had hearings on them 'cause we got a comment on our website from Matt Rachel, (sp?) who says, "I know that Metro has recently held public meetings regarding sexual harassment of women, homosexuals and trans populations in and around Metro stations. Can you, please, speak to what has come out of those hearings?"
SARLESWell, we had some meetings with the advocates who had appeared at the District's committee hearing. And what we have done is we have worked with the Boston Transit Authority, MBTA, to license the material that they use in a similar campaign to educate our customers on who to call if there's a problem and the fact that it's not tolerable behavior on Washington Metro. We've set up a email address. It is email@example.com.
SARLESOr you can -- and you can visit our website or call the Metro Transit Police at 202-962-2121 to report that. We are tracking those reports of harassment, and we will make arrests where they are criminal in nature.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue our conversation about Metro with the general manager and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Richard Sarles, so far, unflappable. We'll see if we can make him flappable after the break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking with the general manager and CEO of Metro, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. He is Richard Sarles. And inviting your calls -- well, the lines are busy, so you might want to send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Or make your -- ask your question or make your comment at our website, kojoshow.org.
NNAMDIWe got this comment on our website from Andrew: "How often does the management of WMATA use the Metro? Richard, what is your rush-hour commute? How often have you been harassed by gangs of teens? How would you feel about implementing a 100 percent Metro commute for all management personalities at Metro? Looking forward," writes Andrew, "to seeing you during rush hour."
SARLESWell, if you'll look for me on the Yellow Line, you'll see me during rush hour. I take Metro six days a week, so that's -- I'm out there, and, like I say, especially on the Yellow Line.
NNAMDIIs there any policy that requires Metro managers to take Metro, rail or bus, at least periodically?
SARLESThere's no specific policy, but I know that all our senior managers take it. It's really the most convenient way to get to our headquarters.
NNAMDIYou have been at the helm of Metro during a pretty difficult period for the system, and I believe this is the first time that we have talked since you became the permanent general manager at Metro. You were originally brought in on as interim general manager. What would you say are the two or three or the most important lessons you've learned in your time there so far?
SARLESThe first lesson that I learned, and the reason I agreed to stay on as permanent, is that most of the people at Washington Metro want to provide a good ride, a safe ride, a reliable ride to our customers. They just needed some help focusing on getting the right resources to do it and the right direction. We are focused on improving the safety of the system, the reliability of the system and rebuilding it.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones, here is Peter in Pentagon City, Va. Peter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PETERYes, thank you. My question is concerning the Metro's relationship to some of the new streetcars that are being proposed. And why are these coming out now? What is behind these streetcars? In particular, there's one, the Columbia Pike, and then there's another one, Crystal Drive to Potomac Yard. What do you know about these, and have you been coordinated with these developments?
SARLESYes. Our staff at Washington Metro works in coordination with the jurisdiction in Virginia, the District and Maryland as these streetcar services are proposed (unintelligible) public transit as well as, I'm sure, encourage economic development, so we do coordinate with them.
PETERBut do you see this as a positive? Is this something that will augment your efforts?
SARLESYes, I do. Any time we provide more public transit, make it more accessible, more attractive, I think that's a positive for the environment and for the economy and for our -- and for the people that live here.
NNAMDIPeter, I am inferring from your question that you wonder if, on the other hand, it could lead to some confusion, maybe even chaos?
PETERWell, it's that also, but I'm wondering whether it's also a point of whether the Metro lines themselves are not sufficient. Or are they going -- are these lines, these streetcars going to new areas, opening up new districts that Metro doesn't serve? What is the rationale behind these streetcars?
SARLESYeah. I don't see them as competitive with Washington Metro. Rather, they're supplementing, going in different directions, maybe connecting portions of Washington Metro, like the Purple Line in Maryland. So these are really supplementary, complementary to Washington Metro.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Peter. We got this tweet from @FixWMATA: (sp?) "What preparations has Metro made for the upcoming summer months? Have two years of hot-car reporting fixed anything?"
SARLESWell, last year, during the summer, we had less mechanical problems with our HVAC system than we did the year before. We have had a campaign all through the fall and winter to get our cars ready for the summer. That doesn't mean that some won't break down at times, but we should be in better shape than last year.
SARLESWe've also worked on the cooling systems in our underground stations so that they should be a little bit more comfortable than last year. There's supposed to be about a six-degree differential between the outside area and the station temperature during the summer months.
NNAMDIAnd we got this tweet from @BethOpal: (sp?) "Any chance of Metro installing status boards outside the station? That would be terrific."
SARLESWe're working on that, actually.
NNAMDIPutting status boards outside of stations?
SARLESAt the station entrance.
NNAMDIWhen can we expect to see them? We all like specifics.
SARLESI would hope over the next year.
NNAMDIHere is -- your namesake -- Richard in Bethesda, Md. Richard, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RICHARDThank you, Kojo. I attended the Transportation Planning Board's Community Leadership Institute this past weekend with citizens from around the Washington region. And out of the workshops and the breakout groups that occurred from this diverse group, every group came up with recommendations to massively increase funding for the Metro in operations, as well as new construction and not to build or fund the building of any more roads in the Washington area. So I think there's a widespread support for Metro, and, hopefully, that'll be seen in future funding lobbies.
SARLESThat's great to hear.
RICHARDMy concern -- yeah, I thought you'd like that.
RICHARDMy concern as a former firefighter, who was involved with the rescue in 1983 when the crisis occurred at (word?) station and since then, is that the -- actually, emergency escapes from the deep tunnels stations is not adequate, at Bethesda Medical Center and other stations. And we can improve access and passenger convenience as well as safety with the same dollar by installing new entrances.
RICHARDBut the entrances must be built not just to accommodate the access, but to meet the NFPA standard on that. And so I encourage you to make sure that we spend the dollar toward that end. And I'd like your comments on that.
NNAMDITo improving emergency access, that's your concern?
RICHARDAccess and improving the system's efficiency by the same effort.
SARLESYeah. I think a good example of that is what we're doing at Dupont Circle right now. As you know, we have one of the entrances closed because we're replacing all the old, unreliable escalators, you know, one entrance. But in preparing for that, in order to provide for emergency evacuation, we constructed a new stairwell strictly for maintenance access as well as emergency evacuation. And when we're done, we will leave that in place, and that'll supplement what was already there. So we are trying to take that into account.
NNAMDIRichard, I'd like to continue this line of conversation. But we have a lot of callers waiting, so I do have to move on to Howard in Washington, D.C. Howard, your turn.
HOWARDGood afternoon, Kojo, Mr. Sarles. I have a -- an interesting gripe. When I go to a station in which there are three escalators, almost always, if they're not totally out of service, all three are running, even though maybe 11 o'clock at night and no one is using them. I asked station attendants why they do this. My favorite answer was, oh, because if we stop one, we won't be able to start it again. To me, it looks like a method of -- employ more elevator maintenance people, you know? You certainly need those, but you don't need to run elevators -- escalators into the ground.
NNAMDISo you're saying that when there is low traffic flow, that there should be not necessarily three, but maybe just one or two escalators running?
NNAMDIOK. Here's Richard Sarles.
SARLESWell, the station manager, unfortunately, is right, in many instances, where -- especially with the older escalators where we have difficulty getting parts and you stop and start those escalators, it puts more strain on them, which raises the likelihood that something could break, requiring more maintenance people to address it. In the long run, I hope, as we -- we rehabilitate and replace escalators.
SARLESIn fact, in our Capital Program, we're now talking about replacing 90-some escalators, which is a considerable improvement over where we were a year or two ago, that we can do the things that you're talking about. But for right now, it's not the most robust system, if you will.
NNAMDIHoward, thank you for your call. The Washington Post reported in March that Metro is known for a number of years that some of its rail cars have brake parts that fail sooner than expected. It's my understanding that you're moving to replace these parts in the summer. Why are you moving then and not now?
SARLESWell, actually, what we're talking about is the 5000-Series cars. We replaced all the brakes on those cars. The next set to come is the 6000-Series cars. They have enough life on the brakes' brake parts, the specific brake park -- part in question. According to the manufacturer and our own engineers that we will be -- by replacing this summer, we will still be way ahead of schedule.
NNAMDIWhen it comes to the safety of the rail system, in particular, how would you describe your immediate priorities at this point?
SARLESIt is -- well, we have addressed and are addressing some of the biggest priorities, the NTSB recommendations, National Transportation Safety Board. One of the major milestones we should reach at the end of next month is the completion of the improvements to all the switches that the NTSB recommended we upgrade. That is a major milestone after effort over the past year-and-a-half.
SARLESAnother major recommendation from them was to replace the oldest cars in the fleet, the 1000-Series cars. We've ordered those. I've seen the hard mock-up of it. We're doing the final design right now, and those cars will be arriving over the next couple of years. Those are two major accomplishments. But everything we're doing -- and not just -- not buying new equipment -- is also the way we work and how we work. We're doing it more safely, and we're concentrating on that. We'll continue to concentrate on that.
NNAMDIOn to John in Arlington, Va. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNHi. Good afternoon. I've been riding the system since 1976. And I want to back up that one caller who talked about the situation where you have escalators going up. Three are out of order, and the fourth one is going down instead of up, that, I've seen that at Boston a couple of times. What I want to talk about was in the case of visually handicapped people, when you have trains come in to the station, you get kind of -- sort of an inconsistency of the train person announcing the train.
JOHNSometimes they don't do it. I've gotten on trains where the people don't know what train they're on, whether it's blue or orange. The engineer doesn't know how to operate the external speaker system. The speaker is not working in the car. It would seem to be the easiest way to do that was when the train comes to a stop, before the doors open, the guy says, OK, Orange Line (unintelligible) or something, then the door opens. That seems to be the way that could be the less fuss and be consistent. Right now, it's inconsistent in terms of announcement of the train. That's my gripe.
SARLESThat's one of the things we try to address with our train operators. But the best way to address it is to have automatic announcements on the trains, and with the new cars, the 7000 series cars, that's what you're going to see.
NNAMDIWe got this comment posted on our website -- speaking of announcements -- "There's a Blue Line conductor who sounds exactly like Morgan Freeman, and I love his announcing. He always says, good morning, and welcome aboard the Blue Line train. He has a nice long monologue at each station, and I imagine him up front, smiling broadly while he tells everyone on the train and the platform to have a good day."
NNAMDI"His cheerfulness really gets my day started off right. By the way," says this poster, "I don't like paying more. My commute from Springfield to Foggy Bottom is already about $10 a day, but I believe in public transportation. And I'm glad we have a clean, reliable system to utilize." Did you write this yourself, Richard Sarles?
SARLESNo. But I have an operator just like that. Only she's a woman on the Yellow Line, and that's a great example of the best of our employees. And my -- what I say to all our employees is we should use them as an example, and we'll have a much better system as a result.
NNAMDILet's stay with announcements for a second, or notifications, and go to Dale in Rockville, Md. Dale, your turn.
DALEYeah. I gather that perhaps my question was partially answered just a minute ago, but the signs that are on these buses that tell you what's stop you're at. I would love to see them on each car, so that I'm aware of which stop is which. As a person who moved here from Delaware, who didn't have any kind of system like this, it would really be helpful, and I think it would help the deaf. And it just would streamline things for a lot of people.
SARLESWell, the good news is on the new cars that we're buying, not only will it tell you the next stop, but there will be electronic maps on the inside, which will tell you what the next stop is and what the several stops after that are so you can plan when to get off.
NNAMDIThank you very much for you call, Dale. We got this email from Darnel: "I'd like to ask the GM, why are the schoolchildren of D.C. given discount rides on the subway? They are a holy terror within the entire system. I transfer at L'Enfant Plaza each day, and the amount of teens standing around is just ridiculous. Why are these teens not told to move along? They literally loiter inside the station, making incredible noise and even threatening passengers. I tried to ride into the city at 5 a.m. just to avoid these kids."
SARLESWell, the discount is due to the fact that the district subsidizes those particular trips. I ride the Yellow Lines, I said before quite often, as well as the Red. And I do see kids that are boisterous. I have never felt threatened by them, but our police do try to work with the school districts to understand where there may be problem areas to try to address those areas.
NNAMDIRichard Sarles, he is the general manager and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Thank you so much for joining us.
SARLESIt was a pleasure as always.
NNAMDIHe lied cleverly. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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