Friday, March 02, 2007

Does Anyone Care About the Metro Budget?

Last night we held the first installment of our budget workshops. The evening consisted of a Public Comment period, and a Budget 101 presentation.

We received great press announcing the meeting. We were in
Dr. Gridlock, and Sprawl & Crawl, we also had other mentions in the Post, Express and Examiner. We showed up on the back page of the Express in the Metro Buzz, we had a press release go out, and we posted 100’s of posters and flyers. We also showed up in a number of Lists and Blogs.

The net result of this press coverage was three (3) public commenters, 1 observer, 2 press members, 5 RAC members, and 5 Metro Staff.

I believe that the public is not as concerned about the budget as they should be, based on the assurances they have received from the WMATA Board and the GM. We on the RAC have our doubts that there won’t be some form of fare increases and service cuts. Mr. Catoe is going to have a difficult time finding $64M to trim from his budget.

Salaries and benefits for Administrative and Management Staff is $252M. Will he recommend a 25% decrease in Staff?

The Advertising revenue is $35M. Will he recommend a 3-times increase in advertising on Buses, Trains and in Stations?

The operating subsidy from MD, DC, and VA is $500M. Will he insist that the taxpayers foot the bill by increasing the subsidy by 13%?

Metro HQ has 430,000 SF of prime real estate. Will he propose selling the property at $174/SF for $75M? Or will he rent it out at $35/SF for $15M. Where will he put the Administrative and Management Staff?

The RAC believes that our workshops as an independent effort involving public participation can generate alternative recommendations for use in FY08 and in future year budgets. This is your opportunity to generate innovative and creative ideas that will improve the quality of Metro services, expand peak capacity, increase the use of under utilized resources, and rationalize fares.

Three ideas that have already started to take form are:
increased non-fare revenue from sensible advertising and expanded ATMs;
improvements to the SmarTrip program to move away from cash; and
free or significantly reduced parking fees and/or reverse commute fares to encourage re-use of evening off-peak utilization of the rail system.

If Metro chooses to increase Advertising, what level is appropriate? Twice the billboards? Three times? Banners in every station? Increased bus adds? Only Electronic signage? Wait for an integrated communications system? How many Trains should be wrapped? How many Busses should be wrapped?

How many new ATMs should be installed? Should Metro sell naming rights to stations?

Should we open Metro to all cell phone companies? Wait for an integrated communications system, that would upgrade Metro to electric signage (LCD Panels) paid for by the cell phone company(ies)? Should enhanced phone service be free or paid for? Do we want wi-fi, and broadcasts?

Should we recommend a change to the food and drink policy? Should Metro generate revenue from kiosks in the stations selling magazines, souvenirs, food, coffee, donuts? Should we put a hotdog stand in the last car of each 8 car train?

What is a sensible SmarTrip policy? Should cards be free? Should the cost of not using them be increased to $2.00 per bus trip? Should transfers only be allowed using SmarTrip? Should new policies only be put in place once SmarTrip is available at CVS, Giant, Safeway, etc? Should add fares be at stores, Banks, elsewhere? Add fare on the Internet, tied to credit cards (like eazy-pass), on busses?

Should daily fares be capped? If so at $10, $12, $15? Should parking be free on entry after 4:30? 5:30? 2:30? Reduced to $1.00, $2.00?

Should bus fares be held as is? Should train fares be raised? Made more sensible? Include a congestion tax? Reduced fares for reverse commute? Capped daily? Changed to three tiers?

Should Metro go Green on all electrical needs? Invest in solar? Sell rights to install solar? Sell to the power grid? Wait for new technology tied to train inertia?

Should under performing bus routes be eliminated, reduced, and the vehicles re-assigned to support express bus, and over utilized routes? Should riders whose routes are eliminated be compensated? Offered metro access? Offer taxi chits? Should a taxi-like, on-demand service be established to cover late night service? It could be cheaper than running empty busses?

Should we aggressively endorse higher subsidy from jurisdictions? At what cost to tax payers? Schools? Highways? Public Health? Other Services?

What have we forgotten?

All these ideas need to be vetted and prioritized. They all have an impact on the budget and can raise revenue, decrease costs, or impact riders!

We welcome all Metro Customers as participants in the workshops during the next two Saturdays; or you may send your comments to

I. Michael Snyder
Chair, Riders’ Advisory Council

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Make Pedestrian Safety Your #1 Priority

February 16. 2007

The tragic deaths of Martha Schoenborn and Sally McGhee on the evening of Wednesday, February 14, 2007, both who worked in the Chairman’s Office of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should be a wake-up call to Everyone who drives in the Washington Region, not just MetroBus operators and public transit officials. It definitely is a wake-up call to me in my capacity as Chair of the Metro Riders’ Advisory Council.

This could have been me!

As a former FTC employee for over 10 years, I had to cross Pennsylvania Avenue and Seventh Street on a daily basis to get to MetroRail Station, bus stops at the corner, Starbucks, Dutch Mill Deli, other lunch places, or FTC’s Annex Facility across the street. I can’t even count on two hands the number of incidents where I used my briefcase as a shield and slammed it on taxi cabs or personal vehicles as I navigated my way across these two streets. I witnessed just as many incidents involving friends and coworkers.

This is not strictly a Metro problem; it’s a DC problem, a Virginia problem, a Maryland problem, and a culture problem. I lived in California for 9 years, and the approach to pedestrian traffic is 180º from what you see in this region. In California, at least where I lived: Pedestrians Had the Right of Way. No matter what! When they were in cross walks, when they were in grocery store parking lots, and even when they were J-walking (illegally). In all cases, pedestrians had the right of way.

We need a strong and important cultural change by the people of the Washington Metropolitan Area and beyond. The idea of showing respect for pedestrians, to slow down just a little to look for pedestrians who may pop-up anywhere, and the recognition that I am in controlling this 4000 pound machine that is capable of killing an innocent person in the blink of an eye is critical.

This is a responsibility that EVERYONE must take to heart, and it is a responsibility that starts with YOU. When I moved to California, it took a few months to get used too, but eventually it became second nature. You have to drive defensively and you have to check the edge of a crosswalk. Because, it was the law and it was your duty to stop your car the second someone stepped into a crosswalk. It didn’t matter, if you and your vehicle could make it around the pedestrian. If someone is in the crosswalk, you MUST STOP.

I believe that the laws in DC, Maryland, and Virginia give pedestrians the right of way in crosswalks. However, enforcement is not at the same level as found in California. I have a ticket to show that I didn’t follow this law. Even though the pedestrian was two lanes away, I still got ticketed for not yielding to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Maybe some of the responsibility starts with local law enforcement, but it also has to be an excepted norm in shopping malls, on residential streets without crosswalks, and throughout your travels across the region.

Metro has boosted their safety training process to require annual refreshers in transportation safety. However, for every MetroBus accident involving pedestrians, there are thousands of incidents that involve passenger cars. What are YOU going to do the next time you see a MetroBus stopped at a crosswalk? Proceed through! I hope not, because the bus may be stopped for a pedestrian who you couldn’t possibly see because they are blocked by the bus. As a pedestrian in this region, I’ve also seen instances where a very polite driver has stopped to allow me to cross a street, only to see someone in another lane or coming from the other direction, barrel on through. This is not right! This is not the law! This is not how fellow human beings should be treating each other. It’s time to slow down, be more aware of your surroundings, and give the pedestrian a break.

The next tragic death could be your child, parent, spouse, friend, or co-worker.

Of the top 65 initiatives that the RAC has put forth to Metro, 25% of them involve some aspect of safety and/or security. I’ve asked at both the January and February meetings of the WMATA Board, for Safety to be Metro’s #1 Priority. If you look at the list of initiatives developed over the course of last year, Pedestrian Safety is number one on the RAC’s list. I cancelled the RAC Subcommittee Meetings, the night of this tragic incident for the safety of RAC members, for the safety of riders that might want to comment at our meetings, and for the safety of Metro staff that support our efforts. I’ll continue to make Safety my #1 priority. I hope that all members of the driving community in the Washington Region make Pedestrian Safety they’re #1 priority.

As an aside, the tragic incident on Valentines Day is exacerbated by the lack of adequate lighting at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Seventh Street. Most of the lights are situated as up-lights to emphasize the grandeur of Federal Buildings that line Pennsylvania Avenue, however there is limited lighting available to illuminate pedestrians in the streets at night. Safety along Pennsylvania Avenue, the most well known street in America should be someone’s #1 priority.


I. Michael Snyder
Chair, Metro Riders' Advisory Council

What would Metro’s customers on the RAC think of this idea?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Posting Suspended

I've suspended postings to this Blog because of other commitments. I continue to serve as a member of the Metro Riders' Advisory Council. I encourage all to participate in our open meetings on the 2nd and 3rd Wednesday of every month.

I am more than happy to take your concerns and compliments to Metro. You may post comments and other information to this Blog and I will be very happy to respond.

Thank You,
I. Michael Snyder

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Blue-Orange Line Team establishes customer service office

Riders with questions, comments, suggestions or concerns on Metro's Blue and Orange Line service will now have a chance to speak to Charlie Dziduch, Metro's Blue and Orange Line service director, and Paul Bumbry, Customer Service Manager, on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the McPherson Square Metrorail station Vermont Avenue entrance.

Mr. Dziduch, and his colleagues will be available from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, and from 4 to 6 p.m., on Thursdays to address any rider concerns. Patrons wishing to visit the office should see the station manager for office entry.

"The purpose of our customer service office hours is to engage Blue and Orange Line riders on our services, respond to any issues they may have, and to listen to what our riders have to say," said Mr. Dziduch. "This is another opportunity for our riders to share suggestions for our service, and for us to provide them with some answers."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Metro Citizens Corps

Today, February 22nd was the first meeting of the RAC Safety and Security Committee.

I found Captain Jeff Delsinki’s presentation very informative. Especially helpful was the opportunity for a dynamic exchange of ideas and answers to our questions. I look forward to the next two presentations on Metro’s Citizen Corp and Managing Metro Emergencies. I’m also excited about getting a similar presentation from Metro’s Department of System Safety and Risk Protection.

The existence of the Metro Citizen Corp formed after the Madrid incident was a great surprise to me. Metro Transit Police is working with the hundreds of local Community Emergency Response Teams formed through federal initiatives and chosen for their dedication to community service to be initiated in the workings of Metro. As volunteers, these individuals are trained in how to respond in an incident, are shown the inner-workings of the Rail Cars, Stations, and Tunnels. The existence of these volunteers on the trains we ride everyday is bound to be useful when the next emergency happens. If I remember correctly, Cpt Delsinki said 165 people have been trained and they will continue to give courses until the requests stop coming.

My concerns from the presentation are as follows:
1) Metro Transit Police is under staffed based on the size of the system and the area that needs to be patrolled.
2) The low incidence of crime seems to be more a matter of luck then anything they are specifically doing.
3) MTP coverage of buses from inside seems extremely low.
4) Real-time monitoring of Trains, Busses, Stations, and Stops could benefit riders and make police enforcement more effective.
5) Use of technology to help in the detection of potential “terrorist” activity should be considered.
6) More training of administrative and other Metro staff in policing and emergency management would be beneficial.
7) Marketing of Metro’s Citizen Corp and Managing Metro Emergencies would attract more people and build confidence in the system.

Finally, as we discussed, my major concern with Metro, as Our Committee Chair so elegantly put it, continues to be the “culture of secrecy.” WMATA plans, activities, and projects are not presented to the public (in clear terms everyone can understand) because of a desire to keep things “close to the vest.” The feeling is that if Metro let its customers know what they’re doing they may be held accountable for actually making it happen. Yes, you can find some great ideas buried in the budget and other lengthy documents, but communicating ideas and marketing them to the public seems an alien concept.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dear Mr.Tangherlini,

The RAC as representative of Riders is looking for the creation of an environment of common goals.

The primary goal being a culture of “customer service”.

Somewhere along the line, Metro has “lost the vision”, or the understanding that they are a provider of services. Some of us have choices. Unfortunately, the alternative choices are not beneficial to society or the region. Likewise, some of us don’t have choices and are at your mercy. We rely on WMATA to get us to work, leisure, grocery stores, and the doctor.

The greatest problem that we see is that there is a problem with communication. The riding public wants to know what’s happening. We want to know whet the short term, mid term, and long term projects that Metro has planned. We want it in plain language that our riders can understand.

The arguments we here about this openness of plans, is that WMATA is reluctant to publicize plans because we may have to be held to these plans, and unfortunately budgeting, unforeseen problems, and other obstacles get in the way. Our response as riders is we still want to know that you hear our issues and they are in the works. Then we expect some level of effort by Metro to see them through.

When is comes to communications, we also want to know what’s happening in the system. Let us know before we come in, when were waiting at a bus stop, when we’re stuck on a train, when an emergency is underway. Being kept in the dark is very scary, and it creates discomfort and a feeling of being out of control.

When is comes to customer services, “think like a rider”. Look at that sign as a rider would look at it. Look at the placement of fare information from as a rider would look at it. Look at the map, brochure, marketing material, banner as a rider would look at it. Look at he job I did plowing the parking lot as a rider would look at it. Look at the bus before putting it into service as a rider would look at it. … each and every Metro employee, needs to look at the service they provide as a rider would look at it!

Fix these corporate culture things and then we (1,000,000 riders) can help you to create a system that is a model for the nation.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Next Stop Signs in the Trains Aren't Helpful

On today's Metro ride home, I wasn't paying attention to the stops the train was making as I read my paper. As we pulled into a station, the sign read "<<<", the doors open and the sign changed to "RED". I didn't know where I was, I wasn't sure if I was at my stop.

These great new next-stop signs where worthless!

Luckily, I figured out the old fashion way that this wasn't my stop by peering out the door to look for one of the signs that said where I was.

What's the deal with the signs? I watched how the signs operated as we went to the next station. After leaving the station, the sign changed to "Twinbrook". Great, I now knew where the next stop would be. But, just before pulling into the station it changed to "<<<", again. Great, now I know the side of the train the doors would open on, but If I hadn't been paying attention as happened earlier, I'd have missed what station I was at.

I believe it would be better to keep the name of the station on the signs until the doors close. If you must, go ahead and add one or two "<<" or ">>" to the name, but please don't erase the name of the station.


Message from U.S. Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Maria Cino


TO: All U.S. Department of Transportation Employees

RE: Message from Deputy Secretary Maria Cino

Last week, senior executives from DOT gathered together to discuss major issues our Department could address to change the lives of Americans. We spent two days discussing policy issues that included safety, security, the environment, and how the Nation’s different modes of transportations were working. Both career and political staff reviewed data, listened to experts, and met with members of other agencies.

Our goal was to review how DOT was fulfilling its mission and to identify one or two agenda items that we could focus our energy on to show real results to the American people.

I wanted to report back to you that there was a unanimous consensus, led by Secretary Mineta, that the people working for the Department of Transportation are doing an extraordinary job. The Secretary said he believed our current organization is the best-performing Department of Transportation since the agency was created in 1967.

It was clear that this is the perfect group to tackle one of the Nation’s most daunting transportation challenges – congestion. Traffic jams, freight tie ups, and airport delays waste energy, reduce air quality, and cause Americans to be less productive and spend less time with their families.

We can identify and help build projects that reduce congestion, and we have the ability to design a public policy that makes congestion-reducing infrastructure easier to build. So in addition to continuing our hard work on the strategic objectives announced in 2003 and other important transportation measures, we have determined that reducing major congestion chokepoints throughout America should be a major DOT priority moving forward.

Secretary Mineta then asked me to prepare a report in 45 days to outline how the Department could accomplish this goal. We have begun that effort. In the coming months all of us in the Department are going to be asked to contribute to this effort.

Over the days and weeks ahead, more information and modal involvement will be forthcoming. Please know all modes will have a role in this project. As always, I look forward to working with all of you as we accomplish what will be one of the Department’s greatest achievements.