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July 30, 2010

WMATA cited in deaths of 2 workers in Rockville

Maryland Occupational Safety and Health confirmed yesterday that it has issued citations against the operator of the Washington Metro system for four violations -- three of them classified as serious -- in connection with the deaths of two Metrorail workers.

The charges stem from an investigation of a fatal workplace accident that killed two employees in Rockville in January. MOSH, which conducted an investigation of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority along with the National Transportation Safety Board, found that WMATA had departed from its own workplace rules. The NTSB issued a scathing report earlier this week criticizing Metro for what it called the lack of a safety culture after a probe of last summer’s Red Line crash that killed nine.

In the Rockville incident, two veteran Metro employees who were working on the Red Line were killed when a truck-like vehicle used in track maintenance backed over them. MOSH recommended that WMTA improve its communications system so that uses dedicated frequencies and eliminates dead zones,

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:35 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: WMATA/D.C. Metro
        

MTA explains Metro malfunctions

Earlier this week Getting There published an email from reader Leonard Frankford recounting his problems with the Baltimore Metro. Today brought a reply from the Maryland Transit Administration explaining what went wrong. Herre's what spokesman David Clark  had to say:


Thanks for the opportunity to provide some information about delays on the Metro Subway line described by your reader.

On July 28, 2010 at 7:11 AM, a train at the Owings Mills Station indicated an open door.  Since the problem could not be quickly resolved, passengers were asked to wait for another train at 7:17 AM.  The train was taken out of service and passengers were placed on the next scheduled train when it arrived at the Owings Mills Station.  A replacement train was placed in service eastbound at Reisterstown Plaza.  Around the same time another train became disabled due to air pressure problems at Milford Mill, and customers were asked to wait for the next train.  A replacement train for the second disabled train also entered service eastbound at Reisterstown Plaza.

Given the time needed to troubleshoot and remove disabled trains, passengers were delayed as follows:
 
--Because one track was blocked at Owings Mills we held trains at Old Court Station.  This created a 30-minute delay for Owings Mills riders.
--Because one track was blocked at Milford Mill we had to single track between Reisterstown Plaza and Old Court.  This created a 25-minute delay for Milford Mill riders.

The two “not in service” trains your reader saw were the two disabled trains heading back to the maintenance yard which is located just south of the Reisterstown Plaza Station.  Our records show three trains traveled westbound during that period.

Metro Controllers did make station announcements throughout the delay period.  Every Metro station has a working public address system, but we agree the announcement can sometimes sound garbled.  The new public address system now being installed will not only include clear, computer-generated announcements, but will also include a visual display on signs in the stations.  We believe this will be a major customer information enhancement.

Some thoughts: First, these loudspeaker issues should have never have been allowed to deteriorate to the point where announcements can't be understood. The MTA mindset has been that communications with rail passengers is a convenience but not a safety issue. That needs to change once the new system is installed and begins having its own issues. It is  not difficult to imagine scenarios in which issuing a clear, understandable announcement is a matter of life and death. This applies to the light rail  and MARC as well as the subway.

Second, riders should get over this impulse to see every train that passes them with an "out of service" sign as a personal insult. Folks, it's not about you. The MTA isn't trying to make passengers late. An out-of-service train can be assumed to be out of service for a good reason. Usually, it's limping back to the yard in a condition not suitable for hauling passengers.

Third, the MTA would improve relationships wiith riders if it understood that it's human nature to be suspicious after being kept waiting for a long time. It would make sense, when an out-of-service train goes by waiting passengers, to make a brief announcement of why it's not taking on riders. Knowing why doesn't get one to the destination any faster, but it does give riders the sense they are being  taken seriously.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:03 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore Metro
        

July 29, 2010

Did toll authority mix up lanes?

Jeff Quinton, a regular MARC rider, has something else to gripe about tonight -- the Maryland Transportation Authority. Here's his account:

"Something non-MARC related for a change: This is not the first time this has happened recently but it was the biggest jam because of it.

"Tonight around 7:30 I was approaching the Fort McHenry Tunnel on NB I-95. Signs were up (I guess about a mile out - where they usually are) that said Left Two Lanes Closed Ahead. So everyone on the left (including us) starts getting over to the right two lanes and then as they get closer to the tunnel around the bend the flashing arrow indicates that the right lanes are the one actually closed and everyone starts having to get back over to the left.

"The lane change snafu caused a pretty major backup that started out where the wrong sign was and lasted all the way through the tunnel. As I said, this has happened before but never with the result as bad as it was tonight when we came through. I know this may be a smaller part of it, but it seems like they're closing half the tubes earlier than they used to for cleaning or whatever other maintenance they do at night. I'm wondering if that isn't a factor in the level of traffic problems too."

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:32 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

New Maryland tag: Star-spangled yuck

Maryland recently changed its standard license plates to introduce a design commemorating the War of 1812. Donna Beth Joy Shapiro of Baltimore is among those who are not proudly hailing the new tags.

I've had vanity tags for 20+ years on every daily driver and antique and/or pleasure vehicle. Now that the MVA has dumped Maryland's black-on-white plate - definitely the perfect canvas for a vanity tag - in favor of the Star Spangled Banner plate as the new standard, certainly I am not the only Marylander who will no longer gladly fork over the vanity plate surcharge to adorn our beloved rides. I am curious how many fewer vanity tags on average have been ordered since the switch. Also, who are the public officials (with email addresses, if possible) that might be best contacted?

 

I liked the dilemma of chosing between the old standard and the agricultural license plate designs for my CHEVRE (French for goat or goat cheese) tag (though, as usual, I went with the serene uncluttered look). The Star Spangled Banner plate is wonderful as an option, but it never should have replaced the perfect (sorry to repeat myself, but there's no other way to describe it) license plate design. 

In case you are curious just how bad, cluttered, or possibly inappropriate a vanity statement can look on the Star Spangled Banner, agricultural, and Chesapeake Bay plates, please go to https://secure.marylandmva.com/emvaservices/VRR/Create_Plate.asp
 
Thanks in advance for your help and your reply.

Best,
Donna Beth Joy Shapiro

I  can thing of nobody better to register complaints with than John T. Kuo, head of the Motor Vehicles Administration, at jkuo@marylandmva.com.

UPDATE: According to MVA spokesman Buel Young, the new plates  made thheir debut in mid-June. He said that from June 14 to June 30, the MVA sold 454 vanity plates. Foor May 14-30,  it was 334.  So  it apearrs that vanity is still alive and well in Maryland.

Certainly one month does not a trend make. And even the ugliest plate in the world can probably sell when it's brand new. But so far, no evidence it's a drag on sales.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:28 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: On the roads
        

July 28, 2010

Laborers to bring campaign to Maryland

The Laborers International Union, one of the largest labor organizations iin North America, are bringing their national campaign for more federal investment in infrastructure to Maryland.

The union will launch the drive in Baltimore Tuesdayy with a  rallly near the  site of the Wlkens Avenue Bridge at Hurley Avenue -- one of  those in Maryland classified as "functionally obsolete." The group is planning billboards, radio ads and other efforts to spread its message about a need to spend more on transportation, energy, water and school facilities.

Similar campaigns have also been mounted in Colorado, Connecticut and Indiana. The union estimates that an aggressive pllan to build infrastructure coulld yield 61,000 jobs in Maryland over five years.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:31 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: For policy wonks only
        

City to close part of Sharp Street

Baltimore will close part of Sharp Street downtown Thursday and Friday because of activity at the Convention Center.

The street will be closed between Pratt and Conway streets Thursday from 2 p.m. through 11 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. Detours will be in effect.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:22 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

Mount Vernon couple wants bus stops to stay

A Mount Vernon couple just got back from out of town and saw last Saturday's Sun article about the Maryland Transit Administration delaying action on a proposal to eliminate seven bus stops near their home at the behest of the local neighborhood association.

It turns out the association doesn't speak for Joan and Tom Spence.

We were away when your article appeared  and it was with great dismay that we read about the proposal to close seven bus stops in the Mount Vernon area. We are a retired middle class couple who live in Mount Vernon. We voluntarily gave up our car a year ago to try an experiment of using public transportation.  The experiment has been a success. We have been able to go almost everywhere by taking buses, light rail and/or the Metro. We have shopped, gone to the movies, kept doctor and
dentist appointments etc etc.   Even our small dog has made trips to the
vet and kennel. We have only two complaints: there are too few buses and those there are don't keep to their schedules.  Otherwise, we have found the bus drivers courteous and our fellow passengers kind and helpful.

This brings us to our anger with the Mount Vernon Belvedere Association.
We are Mount Vernon residents and we do use public transportation unlike most of the members of the Association.  If they did, they would realize that a high percentage of the ridership is disabled and/or old. For them as well as for us who are able bodied but may be carrying a grocery bag which can easily weigh ten pounds an extra block is a LONG walk.

But let us put aside considerations of compassion or empathy and look at the availability of public transportation as an economic incentive to move to Mount Vernon. Nationwide cities appeal to empty-nesters who want to enjoy the amenities of city-living. Not having to have a car is an economic plus. We halved our transportation costs for a six month period when we  compared the costs of having a car with those of using public transportation..

We follow your articles regularly on transportation issues and enjoy them. If there is any way we can help to advance the cause of public transportation, please let us know.

Sincerely,

Joan and Tom Spence

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:59 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MTA bus system
        

Citizen's suggestions bring rest stop changes

Several weeks ago, this blog told the story of a woman named Maria Dobbs and the things she noticed about  the rest stops at South Mountain off Interstate 70 after they were reopened in June after an extensive renovation.

She thought the State Highway Administration could have made its "green" project a bit greener, so she sent her suggestions to Getting There. We sent those suggestions  to Dave Buck, spokesman for the State Highway Administration, and he promiised the agency would take a look at them.

It appears that wasn't the old bureaucratic brush-off. Bucj recently wrote  back to  say the SHA concurs in Dobbs' observations and is taking her suggestions about the project on the Frederick-Washington county line. Here's Buck:

SHA agrees with both of Ms. Dobbs suggestions and we have taken steps to make these improvements.  By (close of business Wednesday), eight new recycling bins will be installed; four at each the eastbound and westbound I-70 rest areas at South Mountain.  We are mounting new posts in the ground and attaching a chain from the post to secure the bins.
 
Additionally, the paper towels will be removed today, leaving the hand dryers as the way to dry off hands in the restroom.
 
We appreciate you passing along Ms. Dobbs suggestions and hope these additions make an even better experience for those that use the new rest areas.

It goes to show that one lonely citizen speaking up can make a difference -- if you also have an agency that's open to listening.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:28 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Metro subway rider has service gripe

Baltimore's Metro subway isn't new and isn't beautiful -- except perhaps to Maryland Transit Administration chief Ralign T. Wells -- but it is probably the most efficient segment of the city's transportation mix. Its on-time percentages are routinely in the high 90s and Geeting There seldom fields complaints from its customers.

 But seldom isn't never, as reader Leonard Frankford shows:

I have been thinking of writing you on a number of topics related to local transportation, but an incident this morning on the subway (Metro) prompter me to bring it to your attention.  I have been a regular user of the Metro since the late 1980s.  I use it almost every day to ride to and from my home in Pikesville to my job at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.  For the most part, I find it runs on time and with few breakdowns.  It is very convenient, and I wish more people would use it.  I am still amused when I hear people tell me they didn’t even know Baltimore had a subway.  This morning, however, something happened that really tested my patience and caused much puzzlement as to how Metro handles these situations. 

I got to the Milford Mill station at around 7:30, having just missed an eastbound train.  I could see there was a disabled train on the other track that had discharged its passengers.  There was a barely intelligible overhead announcement that another westbound train would be arriving soon on the eastbound track to pick up passengers for Owings Mills.  Sure enough, a train on the other track pulled in a few minutes later to pick up the westbound passengers.  Soon after the empty, disabled train pulled away (I still don’t understand why they have no trouble moving when they’re empty but are disabled when there are people on them).  Anyway, I figured there would be a train bound for Johns Hopkins within a few minutes.  Instead, a few minutes later a westbound train pulled up on the westbound tracks, heading for Owings Mills.  Then a few minutes later another came by and stopped.  Still no eastbound train for Hopkins.  Then an empty  train arrived saying “Not in Use”.  Then it pulled away.  Meanwhile, it had been at least 15 minutes since the last eastbound train.   A few minutes later, yet another westbound train for Owings Mills stopped and discharged/picked up passengers.  This was getting really weird.  Finally, at around 7:55, an eastbound Hopkins train, packed with passengers, stopped and picked up the commuters who had been waiting since at least 7:30.   During this entire time there hadn’t been a single overhead announcement as to what was going on or when the next Hopkins train might arrive.  To add a final bizarre exclamation point to this occurrence, not long after the train had pulled away from Milford Mill, I could see yet another westbound train heading for the station I had just left.  That would make five westbound trains for Owings Mills within 25 minutes, and one for Johns Hopkins.

Although this is not common, it is not the first time for an occurrence like this.  What I find most upsetting is that there is never any explanation either from the station manager or from the driver as to what was going on.  The communication is non-existent.  I particularly don’t understand the empty “Not in Use” trains roaring by while people are waiting.  If this is something you could look into, I would appreciate it.

My first observation is that if 25 minutes' delay  is cause for complaint, a bad day on Metro would  be a good day on MARC or  light rail.

But Frankford puts his finger on a failing common to all of the MTA's travel modes -- the stubborn refusal of its front-line people to communicate  with customers. We'll be asking the MTA for more on this. One thing that seems clear is that riders who have been waiting for an ovedue ride becomes agitated at being passed by a train marked "out of service." Perhaps it's obvious to rail professionals why that would happen, but riders generally don't know about operational requirements. MTA's default position seems to be that it owes no explanations. But it would be a lot easier if it erred on the side of informing the public what to expect.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:48 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore Metro
        

July 26, 2010

Wiith break from heat, MARC broken again

Consiidering the blazing heat that prevailed last week, MARC didn't do nearly as badly as might have been expected. Today brought a little relief from the heat, so naturally the system  is having all sorts of  problems. Here's the latest:

Last updated: July 26, 5:44 PM
 
Brunswick: Marc 891 now operating 42 minutes late due to switch problem east of Point of Rocks.

Camden: MARC 846 is operating approximately 50 minutes late in the Dorsey (area).

Camden: MARC 848 is operating approximately 25 minutes late in the Savage area.

Penn: MARC 534 (520p WAS Dp) is expected to operate 25-35 minutes late due to mechanical problem in Union Station causing a swap to new equipment.

Penn: MARC 437 operating approximately 15-20 minutes late in the New Carrollton area due to a stopped freight train.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:53 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train
        

Motorist startled by speed camera flash

Steve Huemmer of Hampstead noticed something at the work zone at Liberty Road and the Beltway that grabbed his attention. Here's his account:


This morning about 5 am I was traveling in the “fast lane” of the outer loop, near the Liberty Rd. construction when I was surprised by two bright flashes of light coming from my left (inner loop). My only reason for these bright flashes of light was that the speed cameras were being utilized on the inner loop. But I have no way to confirm they were set up this morning about 5 am.


My safety concern is that not only did these flashes startle me and cause me to close my eyes and take my eyes of the road, but they also created a temporary blind spot in my vision. This area of the beltway is already congested since the lanes do some shifting around to allow for the road construction. And if the flash required for the cameras causes a driver to become startled or in my case a temporary blind spot it may cause an accident that is not speed related.

Huemmer''s concern drew a quick response from Dave Buck, spokesman for the State Highway Administration:

 

Yes, that is a flash from a speed camera on I-695 at Liberty Road.  It is no different than the flash from any other SHA or locally maintained camera site but at 5 a.m. the flash would likely be brighter since it is still dark.  If the motorist was on the outer loop, since there is no area for the speed camera vehicle in the median, the camera would have been flashing for inner loop motorists traveling at least 62 mph in the 50 mph work zone.
 
I did find a story at this link with the same question about a camera location in Lone Tree, Colorado.   Hi Mike - yes, that is a flash from a speed camera on I-695 at Liberty Road.  It is no different than the flash from any other SHA or locally maintained camera site but at 5 a.m. the flash would likely be brighter since it is still dark.  If the motorist was on the outer loop, since there is no area for the speed camera vehicle in the median, the camera would have been flashing for inner loop motorists traveling at least 62 mph in the 50 mph work zone.
 
I did find a story at this link with the same question about a camera location in Lone Tree, Colorado.   http://blog.photoenforced.com/2010/02/blinding-flashes-nuisance-for-motorists.html
 
To date, we have not received any other similar inquiries.
 
Additionally, I spoke with the speed camera coordinator at our Office of Traffic and Safety under Tom Hicks.  They are going to take a look at a few things:
 
- Is there any way we can change the angle of the camera during the overnight dark hours to reduce the brightness of the flash?
-  Is it possible to place some type of shield in the median if we have a long-term (i.e. several months) configuration on I-695 at Liberty Road and we know the speed camera vehicle is going to be positioned in a relatively stationary spot.
-  In order for the speed camera vehicle to be able to "see" all four lanes on I-695 at Liberty Road (and similarly on I-95 at the ICC work zone, on I-95 at the MDTA ETL project and on I-695 at Charles Street), it may be that the vehicle must be positioned in such a way that the traffic in the opposite direction will see a flash.
 
We certainly agree that we do not want to cause a safety issue and the goal continues to be to modify driver behavior to slow traffic and save lives on the road. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:38 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: On the roads
        

Leadfoot lobbyist Bereano collects more tickets

In June of last year, the Getting There column chronicled the amazing driving career of Bruce C. Bereano, the jolly good felon and back-slapping State House lobbyist turned anti-speed camera crusader.

Bereano (right)  had ample motivation for his advocacy because he had amassed a hoard of at least 22 traffic tickets since 1996 -- most of them for speeding. Last year's column gave due credit to Bereano for beating the rap on many of those tickets. And even when he did pay a fine, he often caught breaks from judges.

A little more than a year later, neither sanctions nor leniency appear to have influenced Bereano's driving habits. So far this year, he's collected two speeding tickets and one for driving without a seatbelt.

Court records show Bereano pleaded guilty June 11 to an April 3 speeding violation in which he was clocked at 70 in a 50-mph zone in Queen Anne's County. For some reason, the judge cut him a break  and convicted him of going only 59 mph -- reducing his fine to a laughable $60.

Bereano was so chastened by that punishment that he went almost a weekk without being cited for speeding again. This time he was charged with going 88 mph in a 65-mph zone of Interstate 97 in Anne Arundel County. At least he picked the right county. Anne Arundel District Couty judges are notorious cream puffs when it comes to Bereano -- having twice before overlooked his driving record and given him probation before judgment on speeding violations. Trial is set for Sept. 1.

Sun photo

Bereano recently added to his ticket trove by collecting one for driving without a seat belt on Somerset County. Funny thing, that was the day of the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfied. It was the second year in a row Bereano has received a ticket after that annual event.

Here, for those who are interested, is last  year's column about Bereano's daredevil driving. It will remain a subject of humor until someone gets killed:

 

In the lost cause of reversing Maryland's recently adopted speed camera law, few soldiers stormed the barricades with more gusto than Annapolis super-lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano.

    The Baltimore Sun reported that Bereano claimed to have collected more than 1,500 signatures in the failed effort by hauling petitions to political fundraisers and other events."I just feel personally very strongly about this," Bereano told The Sun. "The state presumes guilt, which is contrary to American tenets of law; ... it's making a mockery of justice."

    There may be another explanation for Bereano's vehemence than a passion for justice. The felonious lobbyist - he was convicted on federal mail fraud charges in 1994 - is a chronic speeder who has collected traffic tickets at the rate of almost two a year since 1996.

    Since 1996, the earliest year for which the District Court of Maryland keeps electronic records, Bereano has been ticketed 22 times in the state. Eighteen of those citations have been for speeding. In nine of those cases, court records show, the officer who issued the ticket clocked Bereano at speeds of 80 mph and above - the highest a whopping 90 mph in Caroline County in 2007.

    Though he was disbarred after his conviction, Bereano has a pretty good record as an advocate for himself. On his 22 moving violation citations in Maryland, he's been found not guilty seven times - three times in speeding cases, including that one in Caroline.

    Bereano was also the beneficiary of multiple acts of mercy by tender-hearted Maryland judges - many of whom have an abiding faith in the power of the break known as probation before judgment to nudge a sinner toward redemption. The lobbyist received two PBJs in his home county of Anne Arundel - in 1997 and 1999 - even though he had several speeding convictions over the previous years.

    Most of Bereano's citations and convictions took place on the Eastern Shore, the personal NASCAR track where he's racked up 14 tickets over the past 13 years - including nine for which he has had to pay fines. Just last week in Dorchester County, he was found guilty of going 73 in a 55-mph zone in January. He received that speeding ticket six days after getting another one in Queen Anne's County, for which he got a PBJ. Isn't it about time the Eastern Shore delegation to the General Assembly staged an intervention? It's their constituents whose lives he's putting at risk.

    Bereano is due back in court this week to face a charge of going 85 mph in a 55-mph-zone - worth $290 and 5 points - in Montgomery County. That doesn't mean he'll show up. He failed to appear for trial on that charge on Jan. 22 - the seventh time he's been a no-show since 1997.

    If past is prologue, he'll probably get a break. After his previous convictions, he has seldom been hit with a maximum fine.

    Given this history, it seems pretty clear by now why Bereano is such a dedicated opponent of speed cameras.

    (Disclosure: Bereano stopped talking to me long ago. Our history goes back to my days covering Annapolis, when he was unhappy with my reporting on his lobbying activities. He did not change his policy for this column: "I have no comment for you whatsoever.")

    The real point here is not Bereano and the way he tools around the state in his Mercedes-Benz. He's just one scofflaw among many on our roads.

    What's more worrisome is his legion of enablers: the judges who have given him break after unwarranted break, the lawmakers who have given him the time of day when he blathered to them on issues of highway safety, and the General Assembly that has long tolerated a body of law too weak to get chronic speeders off the road.

    But public opinion may be getting ahead of them.

    When the opponents of speed cameras failed in their petition drive, they were quick to whine about how Maryland's referendum laws were stacked against them. But here's another theory:

    The reason the petition effort failed was that a sufficient number of Marylanders, when asked to sign, said "hell, no" because they realized that speeding is a menace and that their families need to be protected near schools and in work zones from drivers like Bruce C. Bereano.

    The upshot? Smile, Bruce, you're on candid camera.
, bereano's driving record

    According to the District Court of Maryland, lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano has received 18 speeding citations in the state since 1996, the earliest year for which computerized records are available. Four citations for other traffic violations are not listed. Bereano also has a 2008 speeding conviction in New Jersey. PBJ = Probation before judgment; NG = Not guilty.

    Date of ticket County Speed/limit Plea Verdict Fine & Costs
6.2.1996 Somerset 78/55 Dropped
7.10.1996 Queen Anne 80/55 Guilty Guilty 73
2.16.1997 Kent 89/55 Guilty Guilty* $143
3.21.1997 Queen Anne 80/55 Guilty Guilty $73
6.4.1997 Anne Arundel 81/65 N/A PBJ**
12.11.1997 Queen Anne 84/50 Not guilty Not guilty
6.30.1999 Anne Arundel 67/40 Guilty PBJ $33
12.24.1999 Talbot 75/55 Not guilty Guilty $50
5.19.2000 Worcester 78/55 Not guilty Not guilty
5.30.2000 Queen Anne 83/55 Not guilty Guilty $73
7.17.2003 Queen Anne Excessive Not guilty Guilty $63
10.3.2005 Anne Arundel 84/55 Not guilty Not guilty
11.01.2005 Garrett 74/65 Guilty PBJ $75
5.22.2007 Caroline 90/55 Not guilty Not guilty
5.14.2008 Dorchester 74/55 Dropped 10.8.2008 Montgomery 85/55 Pending Pending 1.4.2009 Queen Anne 74/55 Not guilty PBJ $75
1.10.2009 Dorchester 73/55 Not guilty Guilty $90

*Judge reduced speed of conviction to 84 mph.

    **Circuit Court struck District Court guilty verdict, ordered probation.

    Sources: District Court of Maryland, Motor Vehicle Administration

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:30 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: On the roads
        

July 23, 2010

MTA proposing ICC bus routes; meetings set

The Maryland Transit Administration is proposing several bus routes that would operate along the Inter-county Connector and has scheduled three meetings to brief the public on its plans.

When the first segment of the ICC from Interstate 270 to Georgia Avenue opens, late this year or early next year, the MTA plans to launch two express routes connecting park-and-ride lots in Montgomery County to BWI, the MARC Penn Line and Fort Meade. The BWI service is expected to run seven days a week between 4 a.m. and 11 p.m. The Fort Meade service would operate during rush hours Monday through Friday.

The MTA said future ICC routes would connect  Columbia and Bethesda, Urbana and College Park and Greenbelt and Germantown. The stretch of the ICC between Georgia Avenue and Interstate 95 is expected to open in early 2012.

 

The informational meetings will be held:

--Monday, Aug. 2, from  7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in Laurel at the Municipal Center, 8103 Sandy Spring Road.

--Tuesday, Aug. 3, from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. in Gaithersburg at the AActivity Center at Bohrer Park, Summit Hall Farm, Room A, 506 S. Frederick Ave.

--Wednesday, Aug. 4, from noon untiil 2 p.m. in Hanover at the Spring Hill Suites by Marriott Arundel Mills, 7544 Teague Road.

One can only hope that some of the transit advocates that opposed the ICC in the first place get over their funk and participate fully in  the process of developing these routes. Even those who think the ICC is a lemon can help make lemonade.

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:38 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MTA
        

July 22, 2010

TRAC opposes proposed MTA changes to No. 15

The Transit Riders Action Council has come out in opposition to proposed changes to the No. 15 bus route in order to create a new QuickBus line along its path. 

TRAC  contends  that shifting runs of the No. 15  to a proposed  new. No. 47 would extend waiting and  increase crowding for riders  of the  existing route. According to TRAC, the No. 15 is already one of the most troubled MTA routes but says the MTA's  prescription will only make mattters worse.

The group is recommending in its place a restructuring of the current No. 15 route,  breaking it into multiple lines to eliminate the multiple branches that complicate the line. The MTA would be wise to consider carefully TRAC's objections because these folks do know the dirty details of Baltimore' bus routes.

TRAC notes that the MTA’s detailed list of changes are posted at http://mta.maryland.gov/June_2010_Hearings.cfm. Comments are due by 5 p.m. Friday at MTAHearingRecord@mta.maryland.gov .
 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Local bus lines, MTA, MTA bus system
        

Mobility customer wants someone at MTA to listen

Leslie Kassal of Baltimore is a user of the Maryland Transit Administration's Mobility service for the disabled, and an unusually grateful one at that. But like so many others, she's having a hard time penetrating the bureaucratic thicket that is the MTA. Would somebody there please take her off permanent hold and help her?

Here's her story:

Below you will find a copy of an email that I sent to MTA today, about two incidents that were highly disturbing to me:

 

I am a Mobility customer, and as such, I feel terrifically blessed.  Mobility enables me to go to doctor appointments, to my volunteer job, and to a day program that I attend.

 

Today, I was charged as No-Show for a ride that I DID (God knows!) take to my doctor's office; and then, I was called about being a No-Show for a ride that I did NOT even schedule!

In light of these two incidents, I write to you, hoping that we can bring some light into the Mobility service in Maryland.  Sadly, this is the third time I have been noted to have 'not shown up' for my scheduled rides.  In reality, I have NEVER not shown up for my rides.

I now have to jump through some uncomfortable hoops to prove my "innocence".  Too many No-Shows can mean you are suspended, (at least for some time period), from the Mobility program.  They are spots on my record, that never, ever happened!

Also, I called Mobility to report these circumstances this afternoon, and after holding on the line for a few minutes, I was hung up on before I could even talk to anyone.

Then, when I got a kind, helpful agent, I was connected to the Customer Service department, which, after holding the line again, I was told, via message, that the office was closed (it was 3:10 PM).

So, how do I make sense of all this?  Some very positive aspects of Mobility (the privilege in and of itself is a blessing), but then some real and disturbing problems within the system, that make for worrisome and unnerving interchanges.
 
And, God forbid, what about those Mobility Customers, who, for whatever reason, are not able to speak for themselves?

I'm afraid  those customers are out of luck, but let's hope Leslie  isn't. The problem of no-shows is a serious one, but the MTA needs an effective appeal process or its contractors will ride roughshod over customers. That means solving problems on one call rather than transferring them into the Void.

 


 
Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:00 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: MTA
        

MARC reports 'major disruptions' on Brunswick Line

MARC is reporting "major disruptions," but few Baltimore-area riders should be affected because almost all the problems the MTA is reporting are on the Brunswick Line. The worst problem being reported on Baltimore-bound trains is a one-car deficit on one of the  trains going to Perryville on the Penn Line. The Brunswick Line problems are being attributed largely to unspecified "police activity."

Here's the latest:

 

MARC Commuters: Due to the Washington Union Station delays, the Washington Metro will be honoring MARC tickets to all MARC lines.

    * PENN LINE COMMUTERS:
          o MARC 534 (520pm WAS Dp) to Perryville will be operating one car short this evening.

    * BRUNSWK COMMUTERS:
          o ATTENTION:[UPDATE3] MARC 891 has been cancelled due to Police Activity in Washington. MARC 875 will be carrying MARC 891 passengers and will be operating approximately 25 minutes late.
          o ATTENTION:[UPDATE2] MARC 873 is operating 30-40 minutes late approaching Silver Spring Station. Expect significant overcrowding conditions.
          o ATTENTION:[UPDATE1] MARC 873 just departed Washington/Union Station and operating approximately 30-40 minutes late. update to follow.
          o ATTENTION: MARC 873 (335p WAS Dp) and 891 (350p WAS Dp) are holding in Union Station due to police activity. Updates to follow.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:39 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

Bus rider urges: Give MTA a chance

Ada Orie of Towson recently contacted this after having difficulty getting her complaints dealt with. Our public airing of her problems helped bring out action from the MTA, including a  call from Administrator Ralign T. Wells, who apparently did a good enough job of responding to her concerns that she sent this email:

I was born, raised and have lived in Maryland all my life. I have been a MTA customer for about 15 years. I want to talk to you about MTA service and second chances. I have traveled on the MTA bus, light rail, MARC train and metro subway. I will say although the service has not been perfect in the last 15 years, I will say I always got to my destination safely and I am appreciative the fares have stayed the same for the last few years despite the economic downturn. As we are ten years into a new millennium, we have a responsibility to usher in positive change. Let us do it by opening up the lines of communication between the MTA and its customers.

 

I recently had a problem with bus service. I went through the proper chain of command and expressed my disappointment and frustration. I was contacted by different people in the MTA and told that my comments would be investigated. They were investigated and my bus line is being monitored closely.
It is easy to complain when something is wrong and we all have that right. We also have the right to say thank you for a well done job. I plan on giving the MTA second chance to workout any glitches and problems that are currently wrong. I will also hold them accountable. No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. We should try to extend the same mercy that we want extended to us when we make a mistake to the MTA. If you have any thing to say to the MTA, please email them by using the following link http://mta.maryland.gov/resources/contactmta/ Thank you for reading.

Sincerely,

A Fellow Commuter
 

 MY TAKE: There is  much to what  Orie said, and many rides under-estimate how much help they can get if they contact the agency. However, Orie had to enlist the help of this blog, and MTA customers should be able to get a satisfactory response without third-party intervention or a call from the administrator. There's only one of him -- or me.

As for  the "holding acountable," that's  what we're here  for.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:40 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Where the light rail speakers are (and aren't)

MTA spokesman Terry Owens says the  agency plans to improve the way it communicates with its light rail customers by installing a new public  address and electronic signs system at its stations. He added that the contract has been put out for  bid and  that five companies are competing. He said replacement of that system  is expected  to take as long as two years.

That raised the question of where the MTA has working speakers and where it does not. After a request from The Sun, Owens provided a list:I checked into the stations with PA’s. Here is the list.


Stations  with working P.A. systems:

Cromwell, North Linthicum, Patapsco, Camden, Woodberry, Ferndale, Nursery Road, Cherry Hill, Coldspring, Lutherville, Timonium, Linthicum, Baltimore Highlands, Westport, Center Street, North Avenue, Mt. Washington, Timonium.

Stations with P.A.s that were not working as of July 1 (MTA does monthly service checks.)



Lexington(S)
Cultural Center
Falls Road,
Pratt Street
Lexington (N)
Mt. Royal
Baltimore Street

Stations without PA’s:

1. Hunt Valley
2. Pepper Rd
3. McCormick
4.Warren Rd
5. Gilroy
6. BWI Business District
7. BWI Airport
8. Penn Station

Some aspects of these lists boggle the mind.  I put the following questions to Owens and in some cases got answers:

1.    The most crucial stations for Artscape, an event that draws  some 350,000 people over a three-day weekend, are Cultural Center and Mount Royal. The MTA knew they weren't working well before the festival. Why didn't it take steps to fix them?
ANSWER: "We were working with finite resources," Owens said. He addded that the MTA made safety its "first priority" and concentrated its maintenance resources on locomotives, cars, trains and the like.

2.    Lexington Market is one of the busiest -- if not the busiest -- light rail stop. How can the MTA go without fixing these crucial P.A. speakers?
ANSWER: Essentially the same answer as 1. "In the list of priorities, they are not at the top of the list," he said.

3.    Among the stops without speakers are BWI and Hunt Valley -- the northern and one of two southern ends of the system. How could it  have designed a system without coverage as those key hubs? And why isn't  there a speaker  at Penn Station?


ANSWER: The light rail system was built in stages and during those stages "money was just an issue."

4.    Finally, the stations at which the MTA reports there are working speakers include Mount Washington, Woodberry and North Linthicum,  where readers report having waited 45 minutes to  more than an hour Saturday without hearing any announcements. Getting There went back to those readers and reconfirmed their accounts. Is the MTA contending that these readers are misrepresenting the facts?
ANSWER: In a clarification of a previous answer, Owens said that while the MTA knows announcements were made Saturday, it does not know specifically what was said and when because the MTA does not keep logs of such announcements.

5.    What, specifically, did the MTA announce over its P.A. system Saturday and when? In particular, what was said to riders at North Linthicum between 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.


ANSWER: Owens said the agency can't say with certainty that any announcements were made during that hour.

6.    What were the times that northbound trains arrived at North Linthicum Saturday evening between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. and why were the earlier problems not resolved by then.
ANSWER: Owens, who was at a MARC station and talking on his cell phone, said he did not have that information available.

7.    Where was the bus bridge set up Saturday and when and how many people did it serve?

ANSWER: Though he had earlier mentioned the bus bridge as an example of the MTA's responsiveness, Owens said he did not  know.

Some comments: The MTA needs to wake up and realize that communications with people on the platforms -- especially in very hot or very cold weather or late at night -- is a safety issue. Failure to grasp that was part of  the reason for the severity of Amtrak's lapses during the "hell train" incident of June 21. It's good that the MTA is moving to  install a working P.A. system. It's a shame it will take two years. In the meantime, the MTA needs an interim plan. The goal should be to reach every station with news of  a disruption on the line within 20 minutes.

The failure to keep a log of communications is disgraceful. Its absence means top managers of the MTA  would be left in the dark if they inquire about service  (and it suggests they aren't holding operating personnel accountable). And if there is ever a need to reconstruct what happened around the time of a crash or other serious incident, the absence of  such records could hinder the investigation.

Finally, one would hope the lessons from the  penny-wise, pound-foolish  record of the Central Light Rail Line are fully absorbed in the development of the Red Line, Purple Line and any other transit projects in Maryland.

 

 


 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:33 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Light rail
        

Light rail riders: Satisfied with MTA answers?

Last Saturday, on the busy day in the middle of Artscape weekend, several light rail riders reported that they stood at various station for periods of 45 minutes to an hour without seeing a train headed downtown and without being informed by the Maryland Transit Administration of problems on the line.

To which Maryland  Transit Administration spokesman Terry Owens insisted the agency did use its P.A. system, such as it is, to inform light rail riders of those problems. Today, after receiving requests for details of how the MTA attempted to communicate Saturday,  Owens sent this statement:

As for last Saturday, I can tell you that we moved over 14,000 people on light rail and another 8,000 people Sunday.  On a daily basis more than 28,000 people use the service. We move 350,000 people every weekday on all our modes. We’re one of the largest transit agencies in the country. Are we perfect? No we are not. Do we strive daily to improve the service? Yes we do. We had some service disruptions Saturday and we responded. How do we plan to do a better job of informing customers when there is a problem on Light Rail?  We are investing in a new PA system for Light Rail and our Metro Subway operation. In the meantime we are continuing to make improvements internally that will result in improved service on the street. 


Light rail users, are you satisfied with that answer? Or should I keep pressing the MTA for details of what went wrong?

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:07 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Light rail
        

July 21, 2010

Farewell, Melissa. MARC will miss you

Melissa Schober, a friend of Getting There who helped point out the lapses in the MTA's handing of MARC riders' complaints, write to say she's getting off the Penn Line train she's been riiding since 2007.

Got a new gig, closer to my home in Baltimore. I have a two-year-old and I just can't take any more delays and excuses and hand-waving. I have missed too many evenings with her. Last day on the Penn Line will be 7/29.

I'll have to drive -- buying a used Prius -- which really stinks. I am a HUGE believer in transit; I'm 31 and my husband is 33 and this will be our first car. What does it say about MARC service that it is driving me to, well, drive?

It says the MTA has a huge problem with riders who aren't captive customers because of their economic straits.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:04 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

Group to press for Red Line jobs, development

A church-affiliated community action organization is planning a campaign to ensure that Baltimore communities share in the jobs and economic development opportunities that would come with the proposed Red Line east-west light rail project.

The group, Baltimore Regional Initiative Developing Genuine Equality (BRIDGE),  is working with U.S. Rep.   Elijah Cummings to work to ensure that the federal money for the Red Line is shared by the neighborhoods along the planned  route from Woodlawn to Bayview.

BRIDGE is planning to kick off its economic opportunity campaign  Wednesday, Aug. 4, from 11a.m. to noon on Pulaski Street between Mulberry and Franklin streets -- the site where the Red Line is supposed to meet up with the MARC commuter line at the West Baltimore station. Cummings, a Democrat who represents the Sevent District, is slated to speak.

Maureen Daly, a consultant and volunteer with bridge, said the event is not a protest but an effort to keep up the pressure to provide meaningful, career-building employment and useful community development. "We've learned from experience you have to build it in very early into the proposal," she said.

The state has submitted a $1.6 billion Red Line proposal  to the federal government and is awaiting a decision on funding.

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:24 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Red Line
        

Another MARC complaint goes unanswered

Did the Maryland Transit Administration blow  off a letter passed on the the Governor's Office? Or did the governor's people fumble what should have been an east handoff? (UPDATE: Answer at end of posting)

Either way, MARC rider Scott Klinger of Baltimore says he has yet to receive a reply to his May 21 letter to Gov. Martin O'Malley except for a form letter saying the MTA would give him a full response. Since then, Klinger said, he's heard nothing about the complaints he lodged about shoddy MARC service that caused him to miss a social event in Baltimore.

Here's what Klingers has  to say now:

 

 

Prior to moving to Baltimore four years ago, I spent 25 years living in Boston and happily riding the MBTA. Over that time, I contacted the MBTA on many occassions to either compliment exceptional service, or to report problems that needed addressing. There was not a time when I did not receive a personalized tailored response directly to my letter or phone call. A few times I received phone calls within hours of sharing a concern, and a thoughtful reply never took more than a couple of weeks to arrive. My point is that models of terrific public transit customer service do exist, the question for the folks at MARC is are they willing to aspire to be the best, or to settle for aspirations of  comfortable mediocrity.

 

Attached are my letter to the Governor and a second file (labelled MARC tracker) that is a screen shot of the postings on MARC tracker as our train sat dead in the tracks. I sent the screen shots to the Governor as well. I have added the annotations to the MARC Tracker file to explain to you what was going on at the time. The annotations, other than my circling the 6:60 PM time, did not appear in what I sent to the Governor.


Grateful for your work, and still waiting for my reply from the MTA,

Scott Klinger
Baltimore City

 And this is Klingers's original letter to O'Malley:

Dear Governor O’Malley,

My wife and I had hoped to attend tonight’s closing Cezanne party at the Baltimore Museum of Art. We both left our jobs in Washington DC early to catch the 5:20 MARC train home to Baltimore. After sitting dead in the tracks for nearly an hour, without air conditioning, and with inoperable toilets, they are finally towing us back to Union Station. The MTA website notes the train’s mechanical problem and notes it is running 15 minutes late (6:23 pm posting, when train was in fact almost an hour late.) Before the rescue train arrived, people started jumping out of the doors and running up to a nearby road (Route 50) and flagged down a cab. Neither of us endorse people running down busy train tracks, but I hope both of us can feel these passengers frustrations as well as the rest of us who remain hostages with no information.

I called the MTA information line at 6:20 and spoke to a woman who tried to be helpful, but explained that there hadn’t been an update in more than half an hour. She said “what do you want me to do?” I asked if she could please call the dispatcher so we could tell our fellow passengers what was going on. It took her 10 minutes to reach a dispatcher, only to learn they didn’t know anything either. What kind of operation is MTA running where people staffing customer information lines, don’t have information and when they finally get through to the dispatch office they don’t know anything either? I question whether the MTA should even have a federal operating license, with such a lack of information flow. This is more than a matter of convenience; it is a matter of safety.

If this were a one-off stroke of bad luck, it could easily be forgiven. The problem is these sort of lapses happen all of the time. The culture of the MTA is one of complete non-accountability. When we have complained the MTA folks blame Amtrak, and Amtrak in turn blames MARC.

Some examples, in early-April I rode the MARC train from Washington to Baltimore. It was a local train making all nine stops. The conductor never once came through the coach to collect the tickets. He had nine chances to do his job and collect the revenue, but he declined to do so. This was far from the first time this has happened. When I arrived at Baltimore Penn Station I went to the customer service desk and asked to speak to the station manager. I was told there was none. They gave me MARC’s complaint number to call. I called the complaint number when I got home. The gentleman who answered was quite nice, but he had no complaint forms. He told me no one ever complains about MARC! I told him I was upset that the conductor had not picked up tickets. He had deprived MARC of several thousand dollars of revenue. The complaint operator said, “why are you upset, you got a free ride?” I responded “I am a taxpayer as well as a customer, and I depend on MARC more than any other state service. When there are on-going service problems that are never addressed due to lack of funds, and part of the reason there’s no funds is because conductors fail to collect tickets 10% of the time, I get upset.” He took down my complaint and asked whether I wanted a response. I said I did. Three weeks later I got an email from the head of MARC customer service, saying my complaint had been sent to Amtrak for investigation. Three weeks later! Do you think the conductor even faintly remembers that train ride? And still I have received nothing from Amtrak more than six weeks later.

My wife has called and talked to the head of MARC directly. He poured out a long explanation that said he is frustrated with Amtrak as the riders are. If this is so, why doesn’t the state of Maryland replace Amtrak? The MBTA in Boston was in the same position operating trains on track owned by Amtrak but they fired Amtrak as both train operator and maintenance provider and service improved dramatically. As you know, Virginia is now in the process of replacing Amtrak to operate VRE trains. I am sure that the State has a contract with Amtrak, but if Amtrak is failing to operate and maintain equipment and even collect fares, then aren’t they in violation of the contract, and can’t the Attorney General seek redress in court? And can’t we call upon our State Congressional delegation to raise cain with Amtrak next time their funding request comes up – maybe the federal taxpayers should insist on management changes within Amtrak as a condition for continued funding.

Regardless of the problems caused by Amtrak, there’s a lack of rigorous accountability within the MTA and MARC. The MTA bought the new celebrated locomotives that weren’t properly qualified to be put in service. I presume that MARC also selected the provider of the MARC Tracker software, which is so unreliable as to be useless. Trains not tracked are the norm, as is false information. Our train which never made it to New Carrolton is listed as three minutes late arriving at Bowie State in the attached screen shot. Since this is a serious letter, it is worth a quick laugh noting the trains that will arrive at 6:60 and 6:61, a problem with MARC Tracker since it was launched more than a year ago. It has been repeatedly called to the attention of MARC but never fixed. Similarly the links to train schedules from the MARC Tracker website have been broken for more than six months. I wrote to MARC they thanked me, and said they’d be fixed, six months later they are broken.

I know the MTA has more responsibilities than mass transit, but they are treating mass transit as the orphan child in their family. Roads are being widened and new roads built throughout the region, and I don’t resent that, but how about some attention being paid to those of us who try to live a little more gently and take the train.

I know you care deeply about the environment and about the State, and especially about those of us who live in Baltimore. We know you stand for excellence in government. We know MARC is not coming close to meeting that standard.

Our friends and I talk regularly about how one of the things that could move Baltimore back to a position of strength and vibrancy is reliable mass transit. We have a great city, and lots of vacant homes. We are a lot more affordable than DC and have a lovely, livable culture. But if you live here and can’t get to work in DC with any sense of comfort or reliably of mass transit, most people aren’t going to endure as we have. They’ll live in Virginia or someplace accessible to Metro. We’ve been patiently waiting as MARC service improvements have been promised, but most of those promises have been broken, time and again.

We beg you to take up these issues with Secretary Swaim-Staley. Please let her know that tens of thousands of Marylanders count on MARC to be safe AND reliable. Please tell her that passengers are so frustrated with the service that they are jumping off trains endangering themselves and others. Tell her this is not the way Maryland is to be run and that the buck-passing needs to stop and the state needs to deal with the lack of accountability within MARC’s culture.

It’s now 7:20 and we are once again in Union Station where we left two hours ago. We will miss the Cezanne party at the BMA, something we have looked forward to. Others are in worse shape having missed their flights at BWI. I am sure that our thousand fellow travelers have their own disappointments at the loss of time with their families and friends. I hope we can count on you to make sure today’s experience is the rare exception, rather than the acceptable norm that it seems to be.

We look forward with anticipation to a reply from you, or from one of your staff.

Sincerely,


Scott Klinger and Kathy Brown

 

This is not the first example of mishandled correspondence about MARC too appear on this  blog. This  is the first involving the governor's office. Perhaps somebody at the State House might want to give the MTA a little nudge -- unless they're the ones who dropped the ball.

UPDATE: MTA spokesman Terry Owens provided the following answer:

Our records show MTA received the letter from the Governor's office June 6th. A draft was prepared June 10th. Some additional research was required because of the complexity of the issues raised. It was then unfortunately lost in the correspondence system. We have found the letter and will respond appropriately.


 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:02 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MARC train
        

MTA backs off plan to close bus stops

The Maryland Transit Administration has backed off a plan to close about eight bus stops in the city after a protest from transit advocates.

The decision announced this morning came after the Transit Riders Action Council objected late Tuesday, saying the decision to close stops in Mount Vernon came without seeking the opinions of transit riders.

"To ensure that we hear from all voices on decisions that impact the communities (served),  MTA is reviewing its process for bus stop eliminations. Our drivers have been told to continue service at the stops in question until further notice," MTA spokesman Terry Owens said in an email.

While this defuses the immediate controversy, TRAC insists the proposed closings were  part of a broader trend toward eliminating stops -- often with little notice or discussion. According, the MTA has eliminated many bus stops in Baltimore in recent years -- making it more difficult for elderly and disabled riders to use the system.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:30 PM | | Comments (9)
        

Lindsay Lohan and the Evil Media Plot

With Lindsay Lohan's trip to jail in the news, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is calling attention to a 2009 study in which its researchers has uncovered a shocking plot by major media outlets: Covering up the dangers of drunk driving by celebrities.

That's right, the Hopkins researchers did a content study of the news coverage of the legal troubles of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie and other guzzling glamoristas and has determined that media outlets seldom included warnings that people can get hurt as a result of drunk driving. Consequently, one presumes, nobody knows that.

Drunk driving is of course a serious health and criminal justice issue. It's the  cause of about one-third of the fatalities on U.S. roads. It's something nobody should do. And of course the media shouldn't be promoting such activity.

But such media studies are such a waste of time. The one thing academic researchers in public health seem to have in common is the notion that news coverage is supposed to be an excuse for a public service announcement. It's not. When Lindsay Lohan goes to the slammer, the  public wants to read about whether her makeup was streaked with tears and what kind of food she'll  be served. They're not clamoring to have it pointed out that driving while drunk is bad. Earth to academics: They know that already.

Still we have  the Hopkins study -- "Media coverage of celebrity DUIs teachable moments or problematic social modeling" --  giving us the shocking news that only 4 percent of the reports about Lohan and other celebrity drunks "made any mention of injury or possible injury from the DUI events."

Another thing the researchers criticize is the use of glamorous red-carpet photo of celebrities alongside reports on their legal problems. Such pictures, they say, "do a disservice to young people," who are presumably too stupid to know the celebrity was looking a lot less glamorous when she was failing her field sobriety test.

If these researchers had ever met an editor from outside the academic sphere, they would know they are werewolves (and I say that affectionately) who would love to run a non-glamorous criminal justice photo of a busted celebrity. Give an editor such a picture, and 10 times out of 10 they will prefer it to the glam shot. So why don't we media jackals always use them? Because we don't always have them. A good Mel Gibson falling-apart-drunk shot doesn't come along every day.

Another example, in which the researchers criticize coverage of Nicole Richie's troubles: "Accounts of Richie's DUI arrest include discussion of alcohol, marijuana and Vicodin without reporting her (blood-alcohol content)." From which we're supposed to conclude what? That the media suppressed her BAC? Did the authors consider that the police might not have provided Richie's BAC or that she refused to take a breath test?

Then there's the complaint about the "paltriness of the legal consequences" for celebrities.  Hey, if the consequences of a DUI are paltry, isn't that a function of the legal system? Isn't it the media's job to report that paltriness? And when the media pile on to give maximum exposure to a celebrity's most humiliating moments, doesn't that reduce the paltriness of the consequences?

The researchers also criticize the media for using "a sarcastic tone or informal language" -- possibly such terms as "guzzling glamoristas" and "slammer" -- in coverage of celebrity DUIs. They say it can "undermine any prevention communication."

Prove it. What evidence is there that using the word slammer undermines the message any more than the word jail?  There's no doubt the news media like colorful language (and cheap alliteration), but one can't read the Hopkins report without suspecting the authors of a bias in favor of dry, humorless, boring prose.

Perhaps the effectiveness of public health messages is being undermined by the dullness of academic research. The celebrity web site TMZ may be doing a better job exposing the perils of drunk driving than all the public health schools in the United States.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 8:04 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: On the roads
        

July 20, 2010

Amtrak adds Virginia service

Amtrak has added daily round-trip service between Richmond and Boston, giving Baltimore riders expanded options for travel to several stations between Virginia's capital and Washington.

Among the Virginia stations served by  the new trains, which began service today, are Alexandria, Woodbridge, Fredericksburg, Quantico, Ashland and  Richmond's Staples  Mills. The service is the second launched by an Amtrak-Virginia partnership that introduced service too Lynchburg last fall.

The line will operate on tracks owned by CSX Transportation but to which the partnership contributed the infrastructure needed to launch the service.  A schedule  is available here.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:30 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads
        

TRAC protests bus stop eliminations

The Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore is protesting a decision by the Maryland Transit Administration to eliminate at least several bus stops in the Mount Vernon area as early as Wednesday with what TRAC contends was inadequate notification.

Accoording to TRAC, signs have gone up notifying riders of closings at such corners as Charlles and Read streets, Charles  and Chase streets and St. Paul St. at Read. Affected lines include Nos. 3, 11, 61 and  64, according to TRAC.

The organization contends the closings are part of a broader pattern of bus  stop eliminations for reasons TRAC finds questionable. The group contends the elimination of stops poses  a hardship for elderly and disabled riders who have difficulty walking as far as other riders.

The MTA's public affairs was closed by the time the matter came to our attention, but we'll be seeking an explanation of the agency's bus stop closing policies.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:14 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: City bus service, MTA, MTA bus system
        

MTA insists it made P.A. announcements

The Maryland Transit Administration is insisting it used its public announcement systems at most of its light rail stations to let riders know of serious disruptions along the line Saturday while Artscape and other well-attended events were taking place downtown.

Terry Owens, an MTA spokesman, said the MTA has a P.S. system that covers 25 of its 33 light rail stations, including North Linthicum. He said the system was used to spread the word of the serious disruptions Saturday, which he said were caused by an unverified report of a body on the tracks, followed by a train's collision with a tree branch that became wedged in the undercarriage.

Owens' account appear to contradict those of a rider  who reported waiting at the North Linthicum for more than an hour Saturday evening without seeing a northbound train. Other riders reported long waits at Linthicum, Mount Washington and Woodberry without hearing from the MTA. Getting There is checking with these riders to see whether they heard anything from the P.A. systems.

The MTA spokesman continues to insist  that the MTA did  a commendable job Saturday in coping with multiple disruptions and getting the word out to riders. "We did an awful lot right on Saturday,"" he said.

In the end it doesn't matter how I see it or Owens sees it. It's how  the customers see it.  And the feedback I've received has not been positiive.

Owens said the MTA is planning to upgrade its P.A. system and to extend it to all of its light rail stations.  He said the contract is in the bidding process. That would be a big improvement to the system --  if it's used.

Meanwhile, if you were at a light rail station Saturday and did hear a P.A. announcement about the troubles, please drop us  an email.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:25 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Light rail
        

Would someone at MTA please call this rider?

Ada Orie, of Towson, who I've blogged about before, is still having trouble with the Route 120 bus. It sounds to m,e as if the MTA needs to have a supervisor out at White Marsh in the mornings until the route gets straightened out.

 

And would someone these please give her a call  or otherwise contact her?

This is my fourth complaint about the 120 Express bus. I have not received a response. When I wrote the Baltimore Sun, the MTA spokesman said I would get a response but I have not gotten one yet. I would like to hear from someone one soon.

Today July 20th, I was at the White Marsh Park and Ride. I parked my car and noticed there was no bus (and)  a line of riders waiting in the hot sun. I called the MTA at 8:10 and my call was answered my Roberta Crockett who was very nice and patient with me. She did her best to track down my bus which never showed up. I am now on a crowded 8:30 bus and risk the chance of being late to my job. My job does not tolerate lateness and I have exceptional attendance.

This bus not showing up is unacceptable. I hope the MTA realizes that it is not customer service to have a bus not to show up when people are waiting to go to work. We have all paid $80 a month for this now very poor service. I would like to be contacted. This is my fourth attempt to ask for a solution to this. I am in the process of driving to my job. Thank you for your time.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:07 AM | | Comments (1)
        

Crash victim's widow to discuss distracted driving

Weida Stoecker, whose husband of 33 years was killed in a northern Baltimore County car crash in 2007 by a teenager who later pleaded guilty to negligent driving, is scheduled to appear on WBAL-TV, Channel 11,Thursday at 5 p.m.

Stoecker will be interviewed by Sarah Caldwell on the issue of distracted driving, a cause she has devoted her energies to since Charles Stocker's death.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:50 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

July 19, 2010

Here's what went wrong on light rail

If you were one of the hundreds of light rail riders left waiting at stations this weekend, there's a good chance you still don't know the reasons because the Maryland Transit Administration just doesn't know how to communicate with its customers.

Don't feel too bad. The MTA doesn't even communicate internally. It took MTA spokesman Terry Owens most of the  day to ferret out basic information such as where a train broke down. Until the operations people start informing the public affairs people about problems before the media inquiries come in, the MTA is going to continue to be a dysfuctional organization.

Anyway, here's what went down Saturday, according to Owens:

First, MTA police received a report about 2:30 p.m. of a body lying across the  tracks near Lutherville. The report ultimately could not be verified, but it prompted a slowdown of the trains to 20 mph, Owens said, as officers walked the track to check out the report. In view of the fatal accident that occurred on the light rail tracks last year, the sensitivity is understandable.

Then, just before 5 p.m., a train hit a branch that was lying across the tracks north of the Falls Road  station. The branch became jammed in the  train's undercarriage and had to be extracted. Meanwhile another train had to be diverted to pick up the passengers --  a maneuver that took 45 minutes or so. Meanwhile, the system had to go to single-tracking around the stalled train. Then the MTA had to inspect the track and make sure it was safe.  That takes time.

When something like that goes wrong, it can have a cascading effect on  the entire system. That's understood.

What isn't clear is why it would still be affecting traffic in Linthicum and North Linthicum between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., where rides reported that no northbound trains came by between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. According to Owens, the MTA sent out email alerts, which is a great way to reach its regular commuters but a lousy way to contact the occasional riders who use the system on weekends. At least some of the riders missed a Government Mule concert as a result.

 

 

Those are riders who  are unlikely to use the light rail system again.

"We certainly wouldn't want anyone to give up on the system based on one bad experience," Owens said.

Hey,dude, get real! They missed Government Mule. Would you go back to a system that made you miss Government Mule?

Owens said the  MTA did many things right over Artscape weekend. He said extra people were called in and extra cars added  to trains. There was a bus bridge in reserve Sunday, when service apparently went smoothly. But on Saturday, the MTA couldn't do something as basic as spreading the word to its stations that there was a problem on the line.

Apparently the MTA was still undecided today whether its performance Saturday merited an apology to light rail riders.  Owens said such a gesture "might be forthcoming."

Poor MTA. So slow in so many ways.

What should have happened is this: The person in charge of light rail should have had a memo on MTA Administrator Ralign Wells' desk Monday morning telling him just how badly the system performed Saturday, with a draft of an apology letter ready for his signature.  If that memo wasn't there, it says something about the culture at the MTA that needs changing.

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:36 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Light rail
        

A modest idea for MTA on light rail

According to the MTA, a light rail train struck a branch that had fallen on the tracks near the Falls Road station Saturday about 5 p.m. The branch got stuck in the undercarriage of the train. It was terrible timing, coming on Artscape weekend with the Orioles in town, but it was one of those things that just happens now and then with a public transit system.

But why would such a problem still  be rippling through the system two hours later, when two readers who were at the Linthicum and North Linthicum stations reported going an hour without seeing a northbound train -- hearing nothing from the MTA as they were trying to get to a concert downtown?

One of the most serious deficiencies of the light rail system is that it doesn't have a working P.A. system to inform riders at all stations of problems on the line. Terry Owens, and MTA spokesman, said plans to install such a system are in the  works. He said the contract for  the work -- which would also include LED signs -- has been put out for bid and that the system should be up and running within two years.

Big whoop.

A lot of good that did the riders who waited in vain for a train in 95 degree heat on Saturday. A lot of good that will do before the system is installed. A lot of good that will do after the system is installed and it breaks down.

My question is why the MTA didn't dispatch actual people to its stations to tell the people waiting on its platforms about problems on the tracks. The agency has its own police force. Last I heard, its officers had cars. There are supposedly service quality supervisors on duty. Couldn't one of them take a  few stations and spread the word?

Yes,  some of the stations are a bit out of the way, but the MTA has resources it isn't even using. When the light rail has a problem, why don't the MTA police call their good friends at the Maryland Transportation Authority Police -- part of the same Transportation Department -- and ask them to spread the word at the stations at or near BWI? They patrol the airport, which is close to Cromwell, Ferndale and the Linthicums. Maybe the Baltimore County police could help with the northern stations. Just let people know so they can drive or take a bus or go home or continue to wait or whatever.

It sound to me as if the MTA got into the same mode of thinking that Amtrak did on the MARC "hell train" -- a heroic effort to fix the system while forgetting about the people. Administrator Ralign Wells has his work cut out for him trying to change that mindset.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:50 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Light rail
        

Light rail flunks on Artscape weekend

Artscape should be a showcase for the Maryland Transit Administration. It's an event that draws 350,000 people to a site that is served by the Metro, light rail and several bus lines. Government officials routinely urge people to use public transit to get there. It's an opportunity to expose people who don't usually use transit to the benefits.

So why did MTA light rail service bomb so badly during a weekend when it should have been at its best? According to spokesman Terry Owens, some events occurred that were outside the MTA's control. There was a report of an intruder on the tracks and a tree branch down on the line. But hundreds of people were left cooling their heels at stations without explanation. Here's some of their stories. The first comes from a gentleman whose name I will add if and when I get permission:

 

I've seen your recent articles about the troubles of the MARC train and the folly of trying to catch the new bus outside Penn station on Friday before Artscape started. The consistent inability of these government agencies to anticipate and put 2 and 2 together is a source of ongoing frustration. 

Add my experience with Light rail Saturday evening around 6 pm to your list. I got to the Woodberry stop just as a train pulled away.  No big deal I thought it happens.  My wife, young daughter, and I were headed southbound for the UB stop to enjoy Artscape for a while before walking to a friends' birthday party.  First the ticket machine wouldn't make change for my $20 on a $9.60 fare.  Luckily I had a credit card and charged it.  The next train arrived about 20 minutes later but was so packed no one on the platform could get on.  Off it went. 4 trains go by northbound over the next 45 minutes before another train southbound arrived driving about 2 miles and hour.  It said "finished service" and never stopped.  A few minutes later now after 7 o'clock another train also going about 2 miles an hour pulls up equally crowded and again no one can get on.  The platform probably had 100 people waiting.  It had been over an hour now and there was no information given to us.  It was hot, and several parents had young children with them.  At this point, my daughter had had it and we left.  We could leave unlike some others.  Just thinking about driving down was too much after the long wait.  We went out to dinner in the county.
 
Several points here:
 
Why can't the MTA anticipate the huge demand with Artscape and Orioles game. It's not like this is the first time. They encourage you to ride and then can't handle the obligation.
 
Was the heat causing the trains to go so slowly?  The northbound trains seemed to be moving at a regular speed.
 
Is there the ability to make an announcement to the platform?  How about informing the growing crowd if there is a problem or if a train is running particularly late.
 
Was anyone with the MTA monitoring the situation?  The northbound drivers certainly saw it.  Couldn't they call and tell someone?
 
How about a sign that uses GPS and wireless technology to show how long  before the next train.  A system that actually uses the trains' location and isn't just spitting back the schedule.
 
Let's go one further and have the MTA use the GPS to compare performance versus the schedule and post the results. Oh, and maybe use real time data from the ticket machines to indicate if there is a problem and to help schedule efficiently.
 
Supposedly knowing there is going to be huge ridership, the ticket machines need to be serviced throughout the day.   Don't say you can accept $20 bills if you really can't.  I have found on many occasions while taking light rail to Raven's games that the machines are out of order.  I've read that they can arrest you for not having a ticket.  What obligation does the MTA to see that you can actually buy one?  These are the days to impress the many first time riders and the MTA can't seem to make sure the machines work on Saturday night.
 
I've been surprised at the Raven's games how long it takes to get a train home.  The game is usually over within a half hour window and extra trains could be readied just north and south of the stadium and put in service as the game ends.  It seems they just stick with the regular schedule and don't add service and don't care.  I can't speak for O's games as I've only been to 2 in the last 10 years. Maybe ridership for the games at this point is so low it doesn't warrant extra attention.
 
The shame here is this was a chance for the MTA to show many first time and infrequent riders that Light Rail is a viable option and possibly gain more consistent ridership and they failed miserably.
 
MTA wants me to take this to the Airport? Maybe they will call the airline and have the plane held for me.  Next time the new head of the MTA flies someplace he can start at the Hunt Valley stop.  I bet he hasn't ever taken it to BWI.
 
The cynic in me wonders why politicians get upset when our government intelligence agencies can't connect the dots of terrorism by people who don't want to be detected, when other government agencies can't move the people they knew were going to be there and are right in front of their eyes.
 
I could go on with other Light Rail problems but I have to go to bed now.

Andrew Freeman sent this email Saturday:

 

Despite encouraging people attending Artscape to take the light rail, the MTA is again letting passengers down.  Its on-line schedule says there will be trains every 15 minutes, or even more frequently.  My daughter and a friend waited 50 minutes this afternoon at the Mt. Washington station for a southbound train.  They’ve now been waiting over half an hour at the Mt. Royal station for a northbound train – after getting to spend far less time at Artscape than they’d planned.

Despite advertising extended hours after the “hell train,” the MTA information line is staffed only on weekdays, so there’s not anyone to call and get information from or complain to. That doesn't excuse the absence of a  system to notify people of problems on the line.

The MTA's Terry Owens had an explanation for the problems that occurred at that time. It seems there was a report of an intruder on the tracks around Lutherville. As a result, the MTA slowed its trains down to 20 mph and  conducted a search. 


At 4:58 p.m. one of the trains struck a branch on the tracks, which became lodged under the train. The passengers had  to be off-loaded to a following train. Once the delays started, they cascaded.  Here's another email, this from Stan Zerkin of Pikesville.

We traveled from the Mt. Washington Station down to the festival on Saturday afternoon and returned that evening. Our experience was frustrating and actually embarrassing for us with out of town guests.
 
On the ride downtown at 5pm, we had about a 20 minute wait, while the crowd grew. A northbound train finally gave a message that something had been thrown on the tracks north of the station and that trains would commence after it was cleared. At least we were given some explanation. No explanation though why the ticket machines did not accept bills, which basically forced you to use a credit card.
 
The ride back was truly terrible. We knew that Artscape crowds would be bad, and with an Orioles game finishing around the same time, that things would be unusually crowded. We just thought that the MTA would know that as well, and would compensate by providing more trains. Apparently they did not get the memo. We waited 40 minutes with a crowd that swelled to hundreds of hot & tired festival goers. No word from MTA on why trains were running so infrequently. When the first train pulled into the station, it was impossible to board, as the cars were already jam packed with Orioles fans also returning home. After another 10 minute wait, another train came and there was a mad dash as everyone tried to fit in.
 
As an infrequent rider of the light rail, I would have expected the MTA to use this weekend as an opportunity to shine, and show people how well they can make a downtown commute. I'm sure that after our experience, only the most dedicated or desperate commuter will use their service. Infrequent trains, poor communication, faulty ticket equipment all add up to a poor ride and a bad reflection of Baltimore.
 
Steve Bove of Crownsville reports that he and his friends missed a concert because the light rail train they expected to take into Baltimore didn't arrive after an hour's wait.
Three of us got to the light rail in Linthicum about 7pm.  One train that arrived early left as we got to the platform.  We waited until after 8pm, and no Northbound trains came at all, though 3 southbound trains came dropping off artscape and oriole visitors.  One of us travels light rail every day, and was appalled that the service was so poor, in fact, nonexistent.

We missed Govt Mule because of this, and  we lost our $3.50 cents for the pass because no train came and the pass is only good for that day.
Steve wasn't the only one deprived of Government Mule. Mike Paone had a similar experience.
Being a good State Planner, Yes I tried to use light rail. Talked my two friends into using it with me to see the Gov't Mule concert. Embarrassed the hell out of me. Stood at North Linthicum from 7:28 PM to 8:35 PM. No train, no announcement, nothing! Just an ignorant comment from the conductor traveling southbound. "U be wasting your time waiting there" was the comment.

You get the picture -- but I'm not sure the MTA does.  The agency didn't even have a full report on what went wrong on Owens' desk this morning so he could inform the public of what happened.

The public understands that sometimes breakdowns happen on transit systems. What the public doesn't understand -- and shouldn't have to understand -- is why there isn't a system in place to inform people waiting at stations  that a train is not coming. At least then people would have the choice of making other arrangements.

MTA administrators have become quite expert at crafting apology letters to MARC riders. It seems to me that the  users of the light rail system Saturday deserve the same  consideration.

Here's another modest suggestion: Each morning a complete report should be placed on senior MTA officials' desk on everything that went seriously wrong overnight or over the weekend. A copy of that report should be posted on the MTA's web site that same morning. Now that's accountability.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:17 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Light rail
        

MARC service gets 'thumbs up'

Just for a change of pace, Getting There presents an email from Joyce Tarrant of Woodlawn, who actually had something good to say about MARC service:

I just wanted to let you know of my experience on the MARC train recently. In light of all of their bad publicity, I have to give them a real "thumbs up" for their communication updates during a recent trip.

There was an announcement that the train had hit something and would be stopping. Of course, speculation among the riders ranged from a deer to a small child. The MARC crew de-boarded the train and walked around, inspected the exterior, and then got back on and announced exactly what they found: a garden hose that was the actual object hit.

Throughout the time they were stopped, the air conditioning remained on (thank goodness). When the conductor walked through, I immediately commended him on the timely update. The update quickly calmed the fears and rumors that were circulating throughout the train.

I know you receive many emails regarding the poor service, but I just wanted to weigh in with something positive. I commend you for your continued interest in the matter.

There are, in fact, such a thing as good experiences on MARC. Last Thursday I took three rides on the Penn Line, and all of them were on time and uneventful -- even the evening departure from Union Station. The worst I observed was two of the three parking payment machines at BWI were out of order.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:46 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

Did light rail take a dive during Artscape?

Some readers have written me to complain about long waits for light rail trains during Artscape, along with poor conditions and communications. If you used the light rail to get to and from the festival and had an experience you want to share, please drop me a line -- either by posting here or writing me at michael.dresser@baltsun.com.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:57 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Light rail
        

July 16, 2010

SHA closeth, the SHA openeth

Those busy beavers at the State Highway Administration just keep coming at us with those pesky projects. Don't they know that if the stopped closing roads for repairs, they'd heal on their own? Anyway, here's some of the stuff they're up to:

--A temporary closing of the ramps from  northbound and southbound Interstate 95 to the westbound Beltway. The closings will take place on  consecutive nights from Monday to Thursday from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. It's all part of a plan to widen and reconfigure the ramps, whih now have a bad habit of backing up onto I-95.

 

--Closing lanes and shoulders of U.S. 50 starting Sunday night for a $1.3 million resurfacing project between St. Margaret's Road annd Whitehall Road near the western end of the Bay Bridge. The work is scheduled to take place Sunday through Thursday nights for however long it takes to finish the 2 miles of pavement. The work is part of a larger, $7.6 million project paid for with federal stimulus dollars.

 --Closing the York Road Bridge over Western Run Sunday night until Monday morning from 10 p.m. to  5 a.m. to remove construction equipment. The SHA said it has reopened the southbound bridge for daytime travelers a month ahead of schedule. The $275,000 bridge project expected to be finished late this month.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:49 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

Freeland leaving transportation authority

Ronald L. Freeland is retiring as executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority after about 3 1/2 years in the job, Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley has announced.

Freeland, a veteran transportation professional, was named to the top executive post at the toll authority shortly after Martin O'Malley became  governor in 2007. He will be succeeded on an interim basis by DDeputy Transportation Secretary Harold Bartlett.

 According to the Transportation Department, Freeland will retire after 24 years in public service in late August and join T. Y. Lin International as Mid-Atlantic director of the engineering and consulting firm.

 

As executive secretary, Freeland presided over several controversial policy decisions, including the imposition of a service fee for maintaining an E-ZPass account and the adoption of a toll schedule for the Inter-county Connector, the first segment of which is expected to  open  in early 2011.

The transportation authority's board  is expected  to conduct a  search for a replacement headed by Human Resources Committee Chairman Rev. William C. Calhoun Sr. Recruitment of a new top executive could be complicated by the election the gubernatorial election in November. Department spokeswoman Erin Henson said the board will decide whether to wait until after the election.

While the board officially decides who is chosen as executive secretary,  it customarily considers the wishes of the governor and transportation secretary, the political appointee who chairs the authority.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:34 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

How do you say 'hell train' in German?

Riders of the MARC train frequently express frustration that Maryland's commuter line doesn't perform as well as rail lines in Europe and other places. But breakdowns are a fact of life on any train system, as this report from supposedly hyper-efficient Germany shows.-- brought to us courtesy of Greater Greater Washington.

It seems the air conditioning on a paradoxically named ICE train between Berlin and Cologne failed during a heat wave in Germany, sending temperatures in the rail cars to about 122 degrees.  Apparently the reaction of the German crew showed they might as well have been trained by Amtrak. Nine people were hospitalized, compared with two on MARC's infamous June 21 "hell train."

This certainly neither excuses MARC or Amtrak but it points out the extreme heat can hurt performance  on any train system. The test is how rail officials react, and suspicions that MARC and its contractors have a monopoly on ineptness ought to be kaput.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:30 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: MARC train
        

Montgomery councilman sees the light on light rail

Montgomery County Councilman Roget Berliner, who briefly flirted with the really bad idea of single-tracking light rail on part of the proposed New Carrollton-Bethesda Purple Line, has seen the light.

The Washington Examiner reports  that Berliner abandoned yesterday his suggestion that the Maryland Transit Administration consider using just one track through the right of way bisecting the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase to save a few  hundred trees, concluding that such a plan would slow trains and discourage ridership.

Getting There pointed out last week the anyone with knowledge of how single-tracking worked out on Baltimore's light rail line would run for the hills at the merest suggestion of such a scheme. At the time, Berliner defended his suggestion, saying he was responding to constituents' concerns about the Capital Crescent Trail, but he has apparently gathered enough information in the past week to help him understand how single-tracking hampers a rail line's operations. After all, there's a reason Baltimore had to shut down and rebuild its light rail line at great expense.

This blog doesn't take credit for Berliner's conversion but does congratulate him for reaching a wise conclusion.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:59 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MTA
        

July 15, 2010

City apologizes for Circulator follies

I reached a spokesman for the city, Barry Robinson, chief of transit/marine services. He acknowledged the city screwed up by changing the Purple Route before putting up signage. He said the route should have gone to a detour that still served Penn Station but instead went to Artscape route too soon.

He apologized for the problems, which he blamed on dispatch errors. He said signs notifying riders of closed stops were going up today.

Good apology but still shoddy performance. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:01 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Bus rider weighs in on MTA

This blog gets a lot of email from MARC riders and relatively little from the long-suffering riders of MTA buses. But Ada Orie of Towson wanted to weigh in on the problems of the Route 120 bus. Here's what she had to say:

I would like to first thank you for your honest articles on public transportation. Thank you for not sugar coating anything and being honest. As a commuter is refreshing to read your articles. When I used to ride the light rail, I used to write you every now and again. I have been a daily rider for over a year of the 120 White Marsh Express bus. The concept is a good one. I can park my car and take a bus down 95.

There has been numerous problems with the morning service. Two weeks ago I wrote a complaint about a bus that never showed. The bus broke down and the replacement was on the way. The bus was due in White Marsh at 8:25 and I did not find out this information until 8:45. At 9:00am I got ride with someone downtown. I read about someone's generic response they got from the MTA about the MARC train. At least they got a response.

Today I waited for the 8:30 bus. I called and I was told a bus was pulled off the line. This in turn causes a delay. I was also told a bus was on the way and if it did not come by 8:40, to call back because then it was seriously late. I wrote another letter to the MTA which I am including below for you to read. I hope I get a response. I am on my late bus now as I write you  and my driver came at 8:42 and I am already downtown. Have a great day and keep writing the truth.

She added this update today:

 

I wanted to update you on my bus mess. The 8:10 did not pull off until 8:21. I called and no reason was given for the lateness but the customer service representative was nice. Below is my latest letter to MTA and I have not heard from my previous two letter. I did keep my promise in the letter and wrote our Governor. I asked him or someone in his office to ride my bus and see what I was talking about. Thank you for allowing to vent. I am finally downtown after an unexpected and unexplained delay.
 
Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:24 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: City bus service, MTA, MTA bus system
        

Charm City Circulator: MARC on rubber wheels?

Has the Charm City Circulator morphed into a MARC train on wheels. Does Baltimore really need a second MTA? Has the Purple Route developed a circulatory disease?

All these snarky thoughts and more occurred to me today as I waited more than 40 minutes in 90-degree heat on St. Paul Street outside Penn Station for a Charm City Circulator Purple Route  bus that never did arrive.

To be sure, I could have cut the ordeal short by acting on my suspicion that the Circulator was messed up by the Artscape festival taking shape around the train station. But to the extent possible, I tried to replicate the experience of a visitor who had knew nothing about Artscape.

Let's just say that visitor wouldn't want to return to Baltimore -- or at least use its free shuttle service -- again any time soon.

It was 10:34 when I arrived at the Purple Route Penn Station stop. There was conspicuous signage for the Purple Route, along with  an electronic sign giving the time and the wait expected  for the next bus. It was noticeable that there was no signage up yet informing riders that the Penn Station stop would be closed during Artscape, but traffic along St. Paul was still running and the electronic sign kept promising an arriving bus. With advertised headways of 10 minutes, there was every reason to expect a bus by 10:44.

At 10:47 a.m. the electronic sign said a bus would come in 1 minute. A minute later, no bus. Then the sign rolled over to say the next bus would arrive in 18 minutes, leaving me and several other waiting riders puzzled. 

At 10:59 a.m., with no bus having yet arrived, one of my younger fellow riders used his Blackberry to contact the Circulator web site and was iinformed that the Purple Route had been forced to pull buses because of mechanical  issues caused  by the excessive heat. Jesse Kriss, having already waited almost a half hour jumped on the third MTA No. 3 bus to pass us during that stretch, choosing to pay the $1.60 rather than wait any longer.

At 11:02 a.m. the electronic sign  promised a bus in 6 minutes. At 11:08 there is still no bus, and Mike Thomas grabs a ride with his girlfriend after about a half-hout wait. At 11:09, the sign says a bus will come in 3 minutes. Meanwhile MTA No. 3 and No. 64 buses, along with Hopkins Shuttles, are passing with regularity.

Daymon Bittings, a New York transplant who has lived in Baltimore two years, said it's not the first time he has waited an extended time for the Circulator, a city-sponsored service that made its debut in January. About a week aggo,  he said, he waited 30 minutes for a Circulator bus.

"If you're in a hurry, I wouldn't rely on it, but if you're out just sight-seeing, it's a cool bus," Bittings said. "Maryland's bus system is kind of the worst for punctuality."

Since one of the premises of the Circulator is that downtown workers would be able to use it to get across town at lunch hour, Bittings' comments are hardly a ringing endorsement.

About 11;20, with the electronic clock promising a bus in 6 minutes, a fellow rider called the Circulator system by phone and was told he would have to go to Biddle Street because the Purple bus was on a modified  route for Artscape. That seemed funny because a fellow rider who  checked the web site earlier saw that the Artscape bus schedule wouldn't start until  6:30pm. (Later confirmed by my own visit  to the web site.)

So several of us began to walk down toward Biddle Street. Along the way we passed Celine Prebet of Baltimore, who had been waiting with her two young daughters  at the Preston Street stop -- also without signage to notify riders it was closed --- for about 15 minutes. 

After pausiing to inform her, she and her girls would have to walk to the next stop to the south, we resumed walking -- only to spy a Purple Route bus turning off Biddle onto St. Paul ahead of us -- just too far for us to catch up to.

When we reached the stop -- closer to Eager Street than to Biddle -- we met Carolyn Williams, who had walked up to Penn Station to catch the bus because she was relying on information from the web site. Spotting the closing of Charles Street, she correctly guessed she would have to go down to St. Paul to catch a bus -- a process that took her 25 minutes because she had been steered wrong.

A Circulator bus finally arrived about 11:35, and I hopped off at Centre St. about 11:40 -- more than an hour after arriving at the Penn Station stop.

Hey, stuff happens, and it's no more serious because it happens to a transportation writer than anyone else. And maybe we should expect some rookie mistakes in the Circulator's first year of operation. But if anyone from the city is reading this, would you please dispatch someone to all the closed bus stops on the Purple Route -- pronto -- and put up signs telling people they are closed  and where they can go to catch a bus this weekend? That's what professional transit people do.

And in case anyone is confused, don't blame the MTA for this fiasco. The Circulator is run by the city of Baltimore, and the name on the signs is Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:52 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: City bus service, MARC train, MTA bus system
        

July 14, 2010

Camden Line having switch problems

It looks like there are switch problems on the Camden Line tonight. That's one thing MARC has no control over because the switches are owned and operated by CSX.

Most of these issues concern the Brunswick Line, but rider Jeff Quinton reports a delay on the Penn Line Train No. 440 as well:

# MARC Train 852 (5:51p WAS Dp) enroute to Baltimore/Camden is operating approximately 15 minutes late due to switch problems.
# MARC Train 893 (5:15p WAS Dp) enroute to Frederick is operating approximately 20 minutes late. Update to follow
# MARC Train 877 (4:55p WAS Dp) to Martinsburg is operating 10-15 minutes late approching Silver Spring station.
# MARC Train 875 (4:25p WAS Dp) to Brunswick is operating 20 minutes late.
#
MARC Train 879 to Martinsburg (5:40 pm Dp) will operate one car short this evening.
# UPDATE: MARC Train 853 is operating approximately 45 minute late approaching Dorsey station due to switch problems. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:39 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

MARC issues persist, readers report

A new day brings a new influx of complaints about the MARC system some well-justified, others more questionable. Here's one from Jim Moloney of Baltimore that represents a little bit of both:

I have been reading the Sun’s continued coverage of the latest problems concerning MARC and wanted to let you know they are still continuing.

Last night we attempted to take the 5:15 train from Washington to Baltimore. At 5:10 we were told that the engine was disabled and were told to “run” to catch the 5:20 train leaving from another track. Those of us who could “run” did.

When we got to the track where the 5:20 was leaving from, we were met by a barricade, a police officer and an angry MARC employee yelling that the 5:20 was “closed” to further passengers. Passengers understandably became irate. We were threatened with arrest if we “hindered” the operation of MARC. We were told to head to the 5:30 which was leaving from another track.

When we got to the 5:30 train we asked a conductor if it was headed to Baltimore. He smirked and said “who wants to know”. I got disgusted and left (a fellow passenger advised me it was going to Baltimore).



That was the last time we saw a conductor on the train. No tickets were collected at all. A fellow passenger said he rarely ever saw a conductor collect tickets on the 5:30 train.

When we reached Baltimore we were stuck in the tunnel outside Penn Station for 7 minutes. Contrary to recent MARC public relations, no announcements were made.

I’m telling you this because there is no improvement in MARC. The lack of professionalism and competence is appalling. I am a past rider on the Long Island Railroad and Metro North systems in New York. It’s shocking to me how bad the MARC system really is.

It is also a tragedy waiting to happen. The MARC staff seems totally unprepared and ill-trained for emergencies. It is only a matter of time before a real tragedy happens that could have been prevented had something been done to correct these issues.

And here is an account by Bill Robertson of Baltimore:

Tuesday, July 13, I along with hundreds of MARC passengers boarded the Penn Line departing Union Station at 5:15 p.m., At 5:10 an annoucement was made that the train engine was not working and a replacement was being brought in which would take 15 minutes to hook up. The conductors instructed passengers who wanted to catch the 5:20 Penn Line to go over to track 9. With 5 minutes to spare, a large number of us ran over only to be met by a discourteous Amtrak/MARC employee who told us we could not board the train because it was full. However if anyone was going to stops beyond Baltimore you could board the train. Now how does this make any sense? Why would we be directed to track 9 only to be told we can't board when that train stops in Baltimore? Then he put up a gate to keep us off the platform and customer service went right out the window. A number of us became irate as we were herded off to track 16. It took 3 trains and 45 minutes to leave the station. What poor service again.

Here's what MTA spokesman Terry Owens had to say about the incident:

We understand your frustration. Senior officials from the Maryland Department of Transportation were at Union Station last night and witnessed the problem first hand.
 As you pointed out 450 was cancelled due to a last minute defect found on the locomotive. We are examining how our passengers could have been directed to other trains more efficiently. Despite the confusion 530 was 9 minutes late leaving the Union Station. We apologize for the delay, and are looking for ways to better communicate when a change in trains is necessary.

 

Owens, of course, needs to be a diplomat. I'm under no such pressure, so here's how I see it:
I understand that nerves are frayed over MARC service,  but it's time for some riders  to take a chill pill. The decision to cancel a train -- in this case made by Amtrak -- is a fact of life. Equipment breaks down, you can't run the train. Does it happen far too often? Yes. But on the day-to-day decision to cancel, that's clearly a matter for professional train operators. (What I  and many MARC rider object to is the description of a canceled train as a "minor" disruption. It has serious cascading effect that is anything but.)

So the decision is made to cancel but there's another train leaving in 10 minutes. What's the train crew to  do? Tell people and send them on the run? Not tell them, and give the faster riders  no  chance to catch it? Then the people who operate see 500 people (number picked out of thin air) for a train that can accommodate maybe 250 extra with people standing in the aisles. Clearly they have to stop at least part of the horde coming their way, and it's likely they have to be firm and loud to have any effect. That can sometimes be misinterpreted as anger or discourtesy, but you can't have shrinking violets delivering a  message that a train is full.

I would say passengers under  such circumstances has the right to be disappointed, dismayed and even disgusted, but not irate. The Amtrak employees at the platform were clearly working to maintain order and safety. Venting one's frustrations at them -- if that is in fact what happened -- would have been bad form and a safety hazard.

Not having been there, I can't say whether the threat of arrest was justified. From the mail I've received about this and other incidents, the Amtrak police are a bit quick to resort to arrest threats but there are no doubt times when they have to remind an "irate" passenger of the need to obey proper safety orders. Yes, a passenger who tries to board a closed train would have to be arrested -- and would be in the wrong no matter how badly MARC is performing.

If Amtrak employees were giving seating preference to those going beyond Baltimore, they probably had a good reason. Only a few Penn Line trains go all  the way to Perryville, and missing one involves a longer delay for long-distance riders than those getting off at Baltimore or nearer.  I vote with the Martin Airport -Edgewood-Aberdeen-Perryville riders on this one.

The conductor who gave the smart answer to a legitimate inquiry was clearly out of bounds. A customer would have been fully justified in taking down any identifying information on the uniform and lodging a complaint. Amtrak has been getting a lot of heat about the conduct of its employees on MARC trains -- and deservedly so. The MTA needs to hound Amtrak about this as long as it takes. Amtrak employees need to be given the message in clear terms that MARC riders are to be extended all the courtesies given to Amtrak customers.

Not seeing a conductor on a train strikes me as no big deal as long as the train is operating well. On a crowded train, it might be better for all if the conductor doesn't take tickets. Whether tickets are collected or not is more a revenue question and a service question.

If there were serious service issues, I would expect a conductor to move through the train -- checking on passengers' well-being and providing whatever information is available (which didn't happen on the hell train). I wouldn't necessarily expect that for a seven-minute delay, however. Information just doesn't  get passed along that quickly in even the most efficient organization. In view of the fact the tunnel south of Penn Station is more than 100 years old and a notorious bottleneck, operational delays there can be expected. And when trains stop there, the call is made by Amtrak operations. Were it not for earlier frustrations, a seven-minute delay is something most MARC riders wouldn't sweat.

Comparisons between MARC and other commuter railroads are inevitable but flawed. MARC owns none of its right-or-way and is entirely dependent on contractors -- Amtrak and CSX, both of which operate antiquated systems.

If you're going to ride MARC, it's better to understand the nature of the beast you're dealing with. It might not get you home sooner,  but it's better for one's inner peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:52 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: MARC train
        

July 13, 2010

MARC riders: Is a canceled train 'minor?'

One of the most persistent irritants in the relationship between the MTA and its riders is its insistence on classifying even very inconvenient disruptions of its service as "minor" on its web site. But the agency seems to be in love with the practice of downplaying its customers' inconvenience.

Let's at least agree to this protocol for the MARC system: If a train has to be canceled, that automatically lifts the disruptions of of the "minor" category. The MTA doesn't even have to use the word "major" -- which it doesn't like to do short of  an apocalyptic breakdown. Just call them disruptions.

Or are there any MARC riders out there who think it's a minor matter when their train is canceled and they have to squeeze onto the next one out of the station?

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:49 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train
        

MARC off to rocky start tonight

Here's the litany of MARC train problems tonight, provide by the MTA at 5:33 p.m. The MTA is still calling these "minor disruptions," though that description is looking a bit questionable.I keep telling the MTA to banish the word "minor" from their web site, but it seems to be their favorite  word.

Penn Line: UPDATE: MARC Train 450 (515p WAS Dp) to Baltimore/Penn is cancelled. Next available MARC Train will be Train 534 departing 520p WAS.

(Rider Jeff Quinton reports that 534 is running a car short, leading to crowded conditions.)

MARC 530 is operating approximately 15 minutes late in the baltimore area.

Camden:

MARC 846 (413p WAS Dp) is operating approximately 25 minutes late due to freight train traffic.

 

Brunswick:

MARC 873 is approaching Point of Rocks operating approximately 12 minutes late.

MARC 875 (425p WAS Dp) is operating approximately 10 minutes late due to correcting a mechanical problem at Union Station

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:36 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

MTA offers free passes to 'hell train' riders

e Maryland Transit Administration is offering passengers on its infamous “hell train” -- the Penn Line No. 538 from June 21 -- five free day passes as compensation for their two-hour ordeal aboard a stranded train in sweltering heat without air-conditioning.

The problem for many riders will be that they travel on monthly passes and may not be able to take full advantage of the offer. The MTA said it is offering the VIP day passes – worth the equivalent of $70 in rides from Penn Station to Union Station – as an “expression of our appreciation for your continued patronage following delays to your train on June 21.”

The offer is restricted to passengers on the affected train. Since that incident, which sent two riders to the hospital, officials from Gov. Martin O’Malley on down have tried to make amends with a series of apologies and listening tours. Amtrak, which operated the train and took responsibility for the failure to attend to passengers’ comfort more quickly, instituted several procedural changes as a result.


The breakdown put the issue of MARC operations squarely in the middle of the governor’s race as former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. criticized O’Malley’s appointees’ handling of the commuter rail service. In an email Tuesday, the MTA sent riders a form they could download to apply for the passes.

The agency said the passes could be shared with friends or family but the form stated that the passes are not to be sold.

Dave Clark, an MTA spokesman, said riders who normally use monthly passes have the option of buying three weekly passes for one month and using the VIP passes for the fourth week of the month. Because unlimited monthly passes cost $175 and weekly passes cost $52.50, that would result in a savings of $17.50 for monthly pass users. The savings could be less for the many riders who receive subsidies from their employers.

Clark said the pass offer was a "goodwilll gesture" toward riders on that train.  He said there are no verification procedures for whether a rider was actually on that train, adding that the MTA is relying on the honesty of its customers.

The spokesman said that giving a credit toward the purchase of weekly or monthly passes turned  out to  be too "logistically complex" for the MARC and Amtrak computerized ticketing systems.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:06 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

Commuters already feeling Artscape's bite

For thousands of Baltimoreans, Artscape is a glorious annual civic celebration and an opportunity to come together as a community to celebrate the arts. For Jack Purdy, it's a pain in the neck.

Purdy lives in Hampden and commutes via MARC to Washington from Penn Station. Let's let him tell his story:

Driving home last night, I noticed the city has banned parking on Lafayette Avenue between Charles and Maryland from this morning (7/12) through Tuesday morning 7/20. This is for Artscape staging, according to the festival's blog. They need a total of eight days to do this? I also noticed that all the meters on Mt. Royal Avenue had been bagged as of yesterday--with the festival not starting until Friday. And, of course, Charles Street above Mt. Royal will be closed for the third straight year for Artscape exhibits.
 

As someone who lives in the city, paying onerous property taxes and now a higher income tax, I am mortified that the police and the Department of Public Works revel in making it more and more difficult every year to get in and out of the city's train station. As I said in a letter to one of my Council representatives, this all seems to be done so that suburbanites can come into town when it's hot as blazes, eat bad funnel cake, and gawk at worse art. Meanwhile, those of us trying to get to our jobs to pay our taxes are told, gee too bad.

Part of me wants to remind Purdy that that's life in the big city. Cities have festivals, marathons, bike races and other events that alter routines. You can't live in or near a big city and expect to be immune from life's inconveniences. The light rail and No. 27 bus both connect Hampden with Penn Station, so it's not as if there aren't options. And we suburbanites bring a lot of economic activity into Baltimore on Artscape weekend. A city without festivals would be a pitiful place.

But really, disrupting parking for four days before  the fair even gets started seems a bit excessive. Couldn't the city have negotiated a little harder with organizers to minimize the disruption?


At least there's this we can learn from the experience: If you are a Penn Line rider who boards at Penn Station, the week before Artscape is a very good time to schedule next year's summer vacation.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:50 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: On the roads
        

MTA chief answers MARC rider's questions

Sun photo/Barbara Haddock Taylor

A few weeks ago this blog reported how MARC rider Melissa Schober wrote to Maryland Transit Administration chief Ralign T. Wells (above) about her experiences on one terrible night on the Penn Line, only to receive in return a form letter addressing the horrors of another night on the MARC. Meanwhile,  the reply sent under Wells' name blew off the pertinent questions she had about the MTA's contract with Amtrak to operate the Penn Line.

After the mistake was  called to Wells' attention, he  called Schober to apologize and later followed up with a written reply. To me, it looks like a good recovery and a candid assessment of the pros and cons of seeking another operator. What do MARC riders think?

 

Dear Ms. Schober:
 
Again, please accept my sincere apologies for my earlier reply to you which was entirely inappropriate and which did not respond in any way to the complaints you set forth in your June 25, 2010 email to me.  You had taken the time to contact me with your concerns and your message deserved my full attention and consideration.  I take full responsibility for this error. 
 

With regard to the series of delays which occurred on June 22, I deeply regret the inconvenience that you experienced.  MARC Train 428 sustained a loss of power and Amtrak’s decision was to return to the station and transfer all passengers to Train 534.  Amtrak tried to take as many passengers as possible although, as you have noted, this train was severely overcrowded.  Unfortunately, we do not have spare equipment that can be used to provide service when a train is delayed or canceled due to a mechanical problem.  The MTA’s entire available fleet consists of 124 cars with 108 cars, or 87 percent of the fleet, needed for daily operation.  The balance of the fleet is unavailable on any given day because those cars are undergoing mandatory inspections or repairs.
 
Our operating contract with Amtrak expires on June 30, 2013.  One of the options available to the MTA is to bid out operation of the service on the Penn Line to a third party.  This option may allow us to impose stronger performance criteria that are not currently part of our current contract.  However, it is important to note that Amtrak owns and operates the tracks upon which the Penn Line operates and Amtrak would still perform the vehicle maintenance at its facilities.  Consequently, we would still face many of the same challenges and risks that we face today.  I can assure you we will consider very carefully both the opportunities and risks of a third party contract.  I can appreciate your interest in commenting on contract negotiations should we decide to seek bids.  I am supportive of providing this opportunity for riders to comment but it would need to take place in the context of a procurement process that is precisely prescribed by law and regulation.
 
The ancillary repairs contract to which you referred provides only for the maintenance of facilities, including stations, platforms and parking lots.  The contractor will not be involved in the maintenance of MARC equipment such as cars and locomotives.  Most maintenance of cars and locomotives is performed by Amtrak or CSX Transportation because MTA does not have its own shop where this work could take place.
 
Finally, the Joint Chairmen’s Report, adopted by the General Assembly as part of the Fiscal Year 2011 operating budget, requests a report from MTA by December 15, 2010 which details options as to how MTA could increase farebox recovery.  Raising fares is, as you suggest, one option.  Others could include measures to increase the efficiency of service.  At this point we have just begun the process to draft a response, and we have not formulated any recommendations. 
 
Again, I ask you to please accept my apology for my lack of attention to your June 25 message.  If you have any further comments or questions, please contact me at 410-767-3945 or by email at rwells@mta.maryland.gov.
 
Sincerely,
Ralign T. Wells
Administrator
 
cc:        Mr. John Hovatter, Director, MARC Train and Commuter Bus Services, MTA
Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

July 9, 2010

Fleetwood Avenue closed

The Baltimore Department of Transportation closed part of Fleetwood Avenue in Northeast Baltimore for a more than a week of construction. Fleetwood will be closed to through traffic until 4 p..m. Sunday, July 18, between Walther Boulevard and Belair Road. Parking will be restricted on several adjoining streets. A detour will be in place.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

MARC-watch calling it a week

It looks like a pretty good night on MARC, at least judging by the MTA's web site and the lack of plaintive emails. So Getting There is calling it a week and will be taking off Monday.

With the heat in the 100s, it was rough Tuesday and Wednesday. The delays were many, and the cancellations had to be frustrating.But Thursday was better and Friday much better.

But who out there wouldn't  agree it could have been a whole lot worse?  No hour-long strandings between stations. No near-riots on board. Some attempts by Amtrak crews to communicate when there were problems.

Maybe there are glimmers of progress here. We'll see. There's a lott of summer yet ahead.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:49 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

With mercury down, MARC looks much better

With high temperatures down to a relatively comfortable 91 degrees, the MARC train is operating almost smoothly this afternoon. Thhis is the worst the MTA had to report at 5 p.m., and there hasn't been anything since:

  *  Attention Penn Line Commuters:
          o MARC Train 535 from Perryville (250 pm Departure) to Union Station is operating 10 minutes late due to Amtrak traffic.


 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

Foxx transfers out of top city transportation job

Alfred H. Foxx Jr., Baltimore's longtime transportation director, is transferring out of that job to serve as head of the city's Department of Public Works. He will be replaced by Khalil A. Zaied, who now heads the Department of General Services.

The move by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake comes after public works director David Scott "resigned to pursue other opportunities," the mayor said in an apparently euphemistic press release.

The changes take effect immediately.

Foxx, originally appointed transportation director by former Mayor and now Gov. Martin O'Malley, had been in the post for nearly a decade. Zaied is a former chief of the Department of Transportation's highway design offcie.

 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:02 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: For policy wonks only
        

Two-way traffic on Bay Bridge halted; expect delay

The Maryland Transportation Authority has halted two-way operations on the westbound span of the Bay Bridge because of bad weather, reducing the eastbound traffic flow to two lanes at a peak travel time.

With the combination of Friday afternoon commuters heading home to the Eastern Shore and beach-goers  heading for the sand, the constriction of eastbound travel comes at a very bad time. The authority is warning there could be delays. The authority said that if conditions improve, it could go back to two-way operattions.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:52 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Citizen wants greener South Mountain rest stops

Maria Dobbs, a resident of Washington County who is concerned about the environment, had some thoughts for the State Highway Administration regarding the newly refurbished and reopened South Mountain visitor centers along Interstate 70.

I think the new rest areas on S. Mountain are fabulous. I know that they run off of geothermal energy & there are many other 'green' improvements. I have 2 questions: could you eliminate the paper towels in the rest room? There are already eco-friendly dryers, so why waste the paper towels or more importantly, trees?

I didn't see any recyclable bins outside anywhere. Are you planning on installing them in the near future? I hand-picked 2 recyclable water bottles in the trash can, so I hope & believe if there were recyclable bins, the majority of people would use them.

 

It turned out that Dobbs had written to the SHA as well as Getting There, so folks at  the agency were already in the process of answering her. Spokesman Dave Buck shared this very prompt reply with us:

Comments like those from Ms. Dobbs are extremely helpful to let us know what our motorists and citizens think about the services we do provide and how we can improve.

 
 Firstly, I wanted to let you know our Project Engineer for the Welcome Centers called Ms. Dobbs this afternoon (the customer ticket is below just as an FYI) to let her know the following -
 
- We have ordered several recycling bins.  We will know early next week when they will be in but it should not be too long.
 
-  We are going to re-evaluate the issue about the paper towels.  There are a few schools of thought on this one.  If there was only the air dryer option and the dryer were to break or malfunction, there would be nothing.  Additionally, it is possible some people would feel it to be less sanitary to use the air dryer (germs on the air dryer itself) and would want to have the towel option.  On the flip side, the towel dispensers do have to be stocked and the paper towels themselves increase the amount of trash.  Based on Ms. Dobbs comments, we are going to review this further.

There are some government agencies where a citizen's comments are treated with dread and contempt. My experience is that Maryland's State Highway Administration is not one of them. Readers should not assume that contacting SHA is an exercise in futility, but sending a copy to Getting There is a fine idea too.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:31 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

SHA to hold meeting on Arundel bridge projects

When a bridge needs rehabilitation, it needs rehabilitation, and there isn't much getting around that, but at least north Anne Arundel County residents can learn about the impact of two projects by attending an informational meeting called by the State Highway Administration.

 The meeting concerning the Hammonds Ferry Road and Nursery Road bridges over Maryland 295 will be held July 14 from 5:30 pp.m. to 7:00 p.m at the North County High School, 10 East First Ave. in Glen Burnie.

According to the SHA, the bridges were built in 1948 and are now showing signs of deterioration of the riding surface.  The project, expected to begin next year, would close down the Hammonds Ferry bridge for about three months and alter traffic patterns in the vicinity. The Nursery Road bridge would remain open through the expected eight months of construction. More information can be obtained through the SHA's District 5 office.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:10 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

Single-tracking on Purple Line? Go figure

Where the proposed Purple Line from New Carrollton to Bethesda is concerned, Getting There can be a detached observer. We're all about One Maryland, and we wish the Washington suburbs well iin their transit aspirations, but it's not our backyard.

Nevertheless it caught our eyes when we read on Gazette.net that  a Montgomery County councilman, Roger Berliner, is actually pushing consideration of a single-tracking scheme on the proposed light rail line to save a few trees and appease critics of the project.

One has to wonder whether Berliner has any idea of the operational nightmares single-tracking brings. Certainly Baltimore knows all about the joys of single-tracking, which plagued our existing light rail system for the first 15 years of its existence.  Earth to Berliner: Any single-tracked system will bring delays, shutdowns and inefficiency from the get-go and will eventually require a shutdown of that section of the system to correct the error at a cost of hundreds of millions more than it would to do it right the first time. That's what happened in Baltimore, and that's what would happen in Montgomery County.

Hey, if Berliner wants to oppose the Purple Line outright, that's a defensible choice. But building it with single-tracking where it can be avoided is a waste of money that comes from all Maryland taxpayers. If this goofy idea goes through, the Maryland Transit Administration might as well put the entire project on the back burner and turn its attention to Baltimore's transit needs.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:33 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Light rail, MTA
        

Maryland gets 3 transit grants -- 2 in city

Maryland projects have been awarded three grants awarded by the Federal Transit Administration, including two in Baltimore and one in Prince George's County.

The Prince George's grant  -- for circulator buses in the south county -- is by far the largest at $4.1 million. The two Baltimore projects are going to Westport ($516,000), where a major redevelopment project is taking shape at the water's edge near the light rail station, and Howard Street ($260,000), where the money will be used to replace light rail and bus shelters.

Greater Greater  Washington reports that the District of Columbia's application for funding of an extension of its H Street Streetcar across the Anacostia River was rejected.

Here's the FTA's description of the winning Maryland projects, which were among 53 selected nationwide

MARYLAND

Project: South County Circulator (Bus and Bus Livability)
Sponsor: Maryland Transit Authority(sic) (MTA), on behalf of Prince George's County
Amount: $4,126,227

Funds will be used to purchase additional buses for the Oxon Hill and Branch Avenue circulator routes and demand service to meet the ever-increasing needs of a growing community, and to reduce congestion and over-crowding on the current system.


Project: Westport Transit-Oriented Development (Bus and Bus Livability)
Sponsors: Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) and the City of Baltimore
Amount: $516,000

The City of Baltimore and the MTA will develop the Kent Street Plaza and Pedestrian Corridor to expand bus ridership and access to the existing light rail system, strengthening the economically distressed community and the Westport Waterfront Project.

Project: Howard Street Livable Communities (Bus and Bus Livability)
Sponsor: Maryland Transit Authority(sic) (MTA)
Amount: $260,000

This Livable Communities project involves the demolition of existing worn out shelters and replacement of light rail and bus shelters in the busiest transit corridor in Baltimore City, located along Howard Street. Baltimore’s light rail line, running directly through Howard Street, links suburban communities and business centers to the north of the City to Baltimore-Washington International/ Thurgood Marshall Airport, business parks, and neighborhoods to the south.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:58 AM | | Comments (3)
        

July 8, 2010

Dundalk man gets 18 months for abandoning boat

A Dundalk man was  sentenced to 18 months in jail after he failed to remove his derelict boat from Bear Creek in Baltimore County after a judge gave him the chance to do so.

Michael Anthony Danna, 52, was charged in June 2009 with littering more than 500 pounds in state waters after Natural Resources Police saw him trying to sink his 1967 36-foot Chris Craft cabin cruiser on Bear Creek at the Beltway.  Last  August,  District Judge Norman R. Stone III accepted Danna's guilty plea but delayed sentencing until this week so Danna could remove the vessel.  


This Tuesday, before the sentencing, Natural Resources Police officers found the vessel was still in the creek. Police said they took photographs of the dilapidated boat  along with submerged gas tanks and engines and trash from the cruiser on the shore. The judge then sentenced  Danna to 18 months in the Baltimore County Detention Center for letting the boat  remain in State waters and polluting the Chesapeake Bay.

Police said Baltimore County will remove the vessel at an estimated cost of $13,000.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:22 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Afloat
        

MARC report: Some delays, could be much worse

Here's the report from the MTA as of 6:04 p.m. Despite the heat, this doesn't look a whole lot worse than an average night. But there's still plenty of time to go.

  * Attention Penn Line Commuters:
          o MARC Train 450 enroute to Penn station is operating 10-15 minutes late.
    * Attention Camden Line Commuters:
          o MARC Train 850 to Baltimore/ Camden is operating 10 minutes late due to congestion. Updates to follow

  *  Attention Brunswick Line Commuters:
          o MARC Train 893 from Washington (515 pm Departure) is operating 10 minutes late due to congestion.
          o MARC Train 875 approaching Point of Rocks is operating 20 minutes late due to heat orders.
          o  The elevator at Rockville station is out of service.  It has been reported to the technician.
          o CSX has issued heat orders for this afternoon starting at 1:00pm, until 7:00pm. Trains will operate 20 miles per hour under the normal maximum authorized speed but not less than 40 miles per hour. Delays can range from 10-15 minutes.
 
Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

City replies on Charles Street traffic lights

A few days ago, Getting There ran a letter from reader Jim Pappas about the synchronization of the lights along the Charles Street corridor.Since then, we've received a reply from Adrienne Barnes of the city Department of Transportation indicating -- after some defensiveness -- that Baltimore officials may act on his complaint. Here goes;

Thank you for bringing the timing concerns to our attention. 

First, It should be pointed out that traffic patterns in 2010 is a lot different along the Charles Street corridor then it was in 1953 and in the 70’s:  The number of traffic signals have more than doubled and/or quadrupled, vehicular traffic volumes are significantly higher, and commuting distances are longer. 

 

Secondly, the intersections along Charles Street in this corridor are not presently connected to City’s centralized traffic signal monitoring system (about 55% of 1,300 signals are). 

Thirdly and more important: A preliminary assessment has verified that steps can be taken to improve traffic flow along the Charles Street corridor, while keeping intersecting side street traffic delays and pedestrian delays to a minimum.  These improvements can be largely achieved through the repair and/or and installation of side street and pedestrians detectors that will allow the traffic light for Charles Street to stay green longer. Motorists should expect to see modest operational improvements by this fall.
The city office that handles traffic lights says that it does depend on citizens' complaints to point out problems, which can be called in to the 311 system. If that doesn't bring a quick response, or if you just don't trust the city to respond, feel free to write Getting There.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:57 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads
        

MARC still struggling with heat

For a third day running, the MARC system is trying to cope with temperatures of more than 90 degrees -- though at least it doesn't seem to be crashing the 100-degree mark today. There are a few early problems but nothing too dramatic. We'll be keeping an eye on conditions, however, because MARC is always at risk in extreme heat.

Here's the latest from MTA:

# Brunswick Line Commuters:  Marc Train 873 approaching Rockville is operating 15 minutes late due to heat orders.

# Attention Penn Line Commuters:  MARC Train 534 to Perryville (520 pm Departure) will be operating one car short this evening.
# Attention Brunswick Line Riders:   CSX has issued heat orders for this afternoon starting at 1:00pm, until 7:00pm. Trains will operate 20 miles per hour under the normal maximum authorized speed but not less than 40 miles per hour. Delays can range from 10-15 minutes.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

MTA extends call center hours

Spurred by recent service disruptions on MARC trains, the Maryland Transit Administration has extended the hours of its customer call center to roughly match the hours commuter rail service operates.

Starting immediately, the call center will remain open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday "until further notice." The center had previously closed  at 7 p.m. --- long before the last MARC trains of the day left their stations.

MTA Administrator Ralign Wells said one of the messages hhe had received in talking with customers is  that they want to be able to reach a knowledgeable  agency representative during service hours. The MTA said it has also designated some of its  agents to  deal specifically with MARC-related issues and to stay in touch with the commuter line's operations staff. The number for MARC-related callls is 1-800-325-7245.

The MTA said it has also extended call center hours for its other rail and bus systems to  the same period as for MARC. That number is 410-539-5000.

In addition to the cell center changes, the MTA also said it will also put bus operators on standby when temperatures are expected to exceed 90 degrees to provide shuttle service in the event of long service disruptions or the closing of a rail line The "contingency fleet" buses will be located at MTA garages around Baltimore.

The agency also said it would station one of its own employees at Washington's Union Station each weekday until 11 p.m. to oversee MARC operations and provide information to passengers. The MTA also said it has stepped up its observations of the MARC service provided by Amtrak and CSX by assigning employees to ride the rails daily at peak hours.

The MTA moves follow a series of actions announced by Amtrak in reaction to a June 21 incident in which a train was stranded for two hours outside Washington in sweltering heat and with little explanation to passengers.

Amtrak has said it will now store an emergency water supply on trains, provide better information to riders, retrain crews to better deal with emergencies and send rescue locomotives  when MARC engines break down.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 12:19 PM | | Comments (0)
        

July 7, 2010

Another MARC train canceled, but Amtrak steps up

The problems continue on the MARC Penn Line, but it's good to see Amtrak stepping in to take some canceled passengers. Here's the latest:

 

 Penn Line Commuters: MARC Train 442 from Washington/ Union Station (740 pm departure) is canceled due to no equipment.  Amtrak 198 departing 815 pm from Wash. will accomodate passsengers at Washington to New Carrollton, BWI, and Balt./ Penn station.

MARC Train 538 from Washington/ Union Station (613 pm departure)  to Perryville is expected to operate 15 minutes late due to congestion.

MARC Train 436 from Washington/ Union Station ( 530 pm  departure) is operating 30 minutes late due to single tracking.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:53 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MARC train
        

Good night on MARC? No. But no meltdowns yet

With the temperature hitting 101 degrees, MARC is having its predictable canceled trains and delays this evening, but so far nothing has broken down between stations. If the system can get through the night without a stalled train, you could almost call that a victory -- at least in the expectations game.Here's the latest report from MTA:

Penn Line Commuters: MARC Train 436 from Washington/ Union Station ( 530 pm  departure) is operating 30 minutes late due to single tracking.

Penn Line Commuters: MARC Train 534 departed Washington 20 minutes late due to single tracking

Camden Line Commuters:  MARC Train 852 departing Washington/ Union Station (551 pm departure) is operating 30 minutes late due to disabled train at  Wash. terminal.

MARC Train 850 from Washington/Union Station (516 pm departure) to Camden Station is operating 40 minutes late due to mechanical problem. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:40 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

MARC woes continue to add up

The heat seems to be taking its toll on MARC tonight, with problems cropping up on the Camden and Brunswick lines as well as the Penn Line.

Here's the 5:50 report  from the MTA:

 Penn Line Commuters:MARC Train 436 from Washington Union Station ( 5:30 pm  departure)is expect to operate 30 minutes late due to single tracking

Penn Line Commuters: MARC Train 534 departed Washington 20 minutes late due to single tracking

Camden Line Commuters:  MARC Train 850 from Washington/Union Station (Departure 5:16 PM) to Camden Station is operating 10-15 minutes late due to mechanical problem.

Penn Line Commuters: MARC Train 450 departed Washington 20 minutes late due to single tracking.

UPDATE: MARC Train 432 is canceled MARC Train 534 departing Washington Union Station at 5:15 PM will accomodate passengers from Train 432 and make all stops.  Expect overcrowding condition.

Brunswick Line Commuters: Update:MARC Train 891 approaching Monocacy operating 60 minutes late due to mechanical problems

Brunswick Line Commuters: The elevator at Rockville station is out of service.  It has been reported to the Technician. We apologize for any inconvenience
Brunswick  Line Passengers: CSX has issued heat orders for this afternoon starting at 1pm until 7pm. Trains  will operate 20mph under the maximum authorized speed, but not less than 40 miles per hour. Delays can range from 10-15 minutes.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:53 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

MARC Penn Line train canceled; second crowded

The follies were a little late getting started but the summertime blues are getting into swing on MARC. The latest:

Last updated: July 07, 5:27 PM
 

Penn Line Commuters:  UPDATE MARC Train 432 is canceled MARC Train 534 departing Washington Union Station at 5:15 PM will accomodate passengers from Train 432 and make all stops.  Expect overcrowding condition.
Reports from aboard say the train just left at 5:370 PM, 22 minutes late, and that it is indeed crowded. 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:43 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

MARC delays crop up in 101-degree heat

With temperatures reaching as high as 101 today, it was perhaps inevitable there would be problems on the Penn and Camden MARC lines. The only surprises are that they are relatively few and didn't crop up until after 5 p.m. Here's the latest from the MTA:

Last updated: July 07, 5:12 PM
 

Penn Line Commuters:  UPDATE MARC Train 534 departing Washington Union Station at 5:15 PM will make all stops to Baltimore to accommodate passengers from Train 432.  Expect overcrowding condition.

MARC Train 432 at  Washington Union Station (Depart 4:40 PM) is delayed due to overhead wire problem. Expect 15-20 minutes delay. Update to follow

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

Duck Boat collides with barge in Philadelphia

Philly.com is reporting that a duck boat with 37 passengers aboard collided with a barge today in the Delaware River in Philadelphia. According to the report 35 passengers were plucked from the water, while two are missing.

Ride the Ducks, operator of the amphibious tours, was active in Baltimore -- offering tours of the Inner Harbor and downtown, before  closing up shop in 2009.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:00 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Afloat
        

Motorist questions timing of city stoplights

One of the most common complaints received by Getting There is that the stoplights in Baltimore are poorly synchronized. Reader Jim Pappas makes that case with an impressive degree of specificity:

I recently changed routes to driving south on Charles Street from the Beltway to Johns Hopkins, to take my son to a summer camp for three weeks.

The timing of the lights on Charles Street during the morning rush hour is awful.  Most mornings I have caught every single light on my way south, including the small intersections at St Dunstan’s Road, Friends School, and Blythewood Rd.  The only ones that are coordinated are the two at Wyndhurst Rd / St. Alban’s Way and Homeland Avenue, which change together as a single intersection. 

 

As a matter of fact, my son I laugh as we watch the light at Charles and Cold Spring Lane turn green and the one at Overhill Road, about 200 feet south, turn red in about 5 seconds every single day, despite the fact that there are no cars at the intersection to trip the sensors, if there are any.

When I was growing up and lived off North Charles Street and regularly drove downtown with my father during rush hour, the lights were perfectly timed to let you drive at about 30 – 35 miles per hour and only hit one or two red lights all the way down town.  I am not kidding, one could drive from Northern Parkway and Charles to either Light and Pratt or Liberty and Pratt and hit one or two red lights.

Within about the last two years there were several articles printed in The Sun about the new computerized traffic light system being implemented in Baltimore city.  I don’t know what the status of the system is, but Henry Barnes’ 1953 system was working better in the 60s and 70s (with a much larger population) than the new system works today.

So my question is, what is the status of the computerized system and what is the City’s excuse for its poor performance?
So what do you say, city of Baltimore? Is Pappas dreaming this stuff up or does he have a valid complaint?
 
Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:48 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: On the roads
        

Ehrlich forms commuters' group

In another sign that transportation will be a high-profile issue in this year's governor's race, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has announced formation of a Commuters for Ehrlich group to push the message that he would do a better job of getting people to work and back than Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The Ehrlich campaign said  the group would be chaired by Craig Borne, a sight-impaired Baltimore County resident who depends on the MARC system to get to work. Borne, a 2006 Republican candidate for the Maryland Senate, taped an interview about his reasons for supporting Ehrlich.

The launch of the commuter group is a further attempt to find political traction in the recent problems of the MARC commuter train system.

 

 

 

 

“Marylanders spend a lot of time and resources getting to their jobs and their schools.  They ought to get their money’s worth.  ” Ehrlich said.  “We need our transit system and our roads to be safe, reliable, and efficient for transit riders, drivers and cyclists.  I am honored that Craig has agreed to chair this coalition.  Like thousands of Marylanders, Craig relies on our transportation system during a very difficult economy, yet has experienced far too many disappointments.  This coalition will help raise awareness about the need for real progress in Maryland and offer me a vital source of citizen input on how to fix a broken transportation system.  I am grateful for their support.”  

An obvious question is how would Ehrlich manage the relations with CSX and Amtrak any better than O'Malley has done -- or than Ehrlich did during his first go-round as governor. On the other hand, while O'Malley has shown a willingness to invest money in MARC, he's yet to show a convincing payoff in terms of trouble-free operations.

It's good to see transportation issues getting an airing in the campaign, but the basic question commuters should have for each candidate is: Where do we get the money to replenish the depleted Transportation Trust Fund?

It's hard to envision a real solution to the woes of MARC or any other transportation mode without substantial capital investments.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:53 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Politics & transportation
        

Md. transportation chief asks MARC riders' patience

The following message to MARC riders from Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley was posted on the MTA's web site this morning:

Severe heat, like that forecast throughout this week, can cause problems with equipment operating on all MARC lines.  The performance of locomotives, air conditioning in passenger cars and catenary lines carrying electrical power on the Penn Line are pushed to the limit in excessive heat.  We remind customers that heat related issues have the potential to create delays throughout the system.  We want to assure you that we work with our partners (Amtrak on the Penn Line and CSX on the Brunswick and Camden lines) to aggressively address these issues when they occur and resolve them as quickly as possible.  We appreciate your understanding and your patience. 

A heat order, slowing trains because of rail conditions, has already been issued by CSX for the Brunswick Line, and the Camden Line can't be  far behind. Such orders are routine this time of year.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:11 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

Amtrak breakdowns not limited to MARC

MARC Penn Line riders are not alone in their misery on Amtrak-operated trains.

In an echo of the June 21 "hell train" incident on the Penn Line, an Amtrak train became disabled near Larchmont, N.Y., and passengers were left to bake on the tracks in cars without air-conditioning for an estimated 2 1/2 hours. In a departure from the Maryland incident, water was distributed on the train.

The Larchmont incident is one more illustration of the toll the current Northeast heat wave is taking on Amtrak's aging system. It seems that intercity passengers, as well as commuters, are paying the price for years of neglect of the nation's rail infrastructure.

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads
        

Rider wonders: Is light rail the next MARC?

Elizabeth Muscedere,a 12-year light rail rider from Towson, had an experience this week that reminded her of the Maryland Transit Administration's recent woes on MARC. It seems that every time there's a "bus bridge" in place -- as there is this week between Cultural Center and Camden Yards--  problems ensue. Shouldn't the MTA have its quality assurance supervisors swarming the light rail stops when a bus bridge is in place, monitoring performance and answering questions? Especially on a 100+ day?

Here's Muscedere's story:

Now the Light Rail service is trying to imitate the miserable MARC train experience for its riders.  Yesterday on the hottest day of the year during evening rush hour, riders had to wait more than 40 minutes for a northbound train from the Cultural Center Stop.  Normally, several trains would arrive during this time but for unknown reasons a train did not arrive until almost 5:30 for passengers waiting since at least 4:50.  In the afternoon there is no shade at this stop.
 

When it did arrive the train had no air conditioning.  The sweltering passengers packed this train.  Several families that must have spent a day downtown will surely think twice about ever riding the light rail again.
 
Fortunately, due to the construction interruption on the line between Cultural Center and Camden yards and the end of the holiday weekend, less riders than usual were waiting.  However, on the MTA notices about the construction there was no mention that train service would be cut back.
 
Yours truly,
 
Wilted Daily Light Rail Rider
Beth Muscedere

When Getting There contacted the MTA, the agency provided the following reply:

Light Rail records for Tuesday July 6, 2010 indicate that three northbound light rail trains left the Cultural Center stop during the time in question.

They left at 4:49 pm, 5:04 pm and 5:19 pm.
The MTA response brought this reaction from Muscedere:
Incredible!
 
The only way I can see this being less than completely false is they are lying about the 5:04, the 4:49 was early and the 5:19 was late!
 
This is a difficult discrepancy to resolve. It would seem that either the letter writer's observations are incorrect, the MTA's records are in error, or there's been a misunderstanding. Were any other riders on the line Tuesday who could verify either the passenger's  complaint or the MTA records?

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:43 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Light rail
        

July 6, 2010

MARC woes continue but it could be worse

Here's the 7:11 p.m. advisory from MARC on the many delays this evening. With temperatures reaching as high as 105, it should come as no surprise. It probably comes as a relief to the folks running the system that it wasn't a lot worse. And judging by the lack of irate email, MARC riders are being realists about the challenges the system faces in this heat.

# MARC Train 538 to Perryville is operating 15 minutes late departing Seabrook Station.

 # UPDATE: Train 855 expected to arrive Union Station 15 minunte late due to heat inspection, as a result Train 854 ( 6:43 PM departure from Union Station) is expected to depart approximately 20 minute late.

# MARC Train 439 to Washington Union Station is 30 minute late departing Seabrook station.

# Penn Line UPDATE: Due to damaged wires and single tracking, all trains continue to experience delays approx. 30-40 minutes late. Train 436 ( 5:30 PM departure from Union Station) has just left Union Station 40 minutes late.

# Brunswick Line Passengers: Service delay 15-20 minutes due to signal problems.

# UPDATE: All Camden line trains are experiencing approximately 30 minutes delays due to signal and switch problems.

# Attention Camden and Brunswick Riders: CSX has issued heat orders for this afternoon starting at 1:00pm, until 7:00pm. Trains on both lines will operate 20 miles per hour under the normal maximum authorized speed but not less than 40 miles per hour. Delays can range from 10-15 minutes. We apologize for any inconvenience.

The forecast is for 100-degree temperatures again tomorrow. Wise MARC riders will plan for the worst.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:17 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: MARC train
        

Light rail bus shuttle gets panned

The Maryland Transit Administration's light rail system is operating this week without its central section because of work on the train infrastructure and road surface along Howard Street. That has required the closing of the line between the Camden yards and Cultural Center stations.

The MTA deserves credit for scheduling the work, which is expected to last through this weekend, during a heavy vacation week while the Orioles are on a long road trip.  But a reader named Youssef, who preferred that we  not use his llst name, had trouble with the bus shuttle tthe MTA offered as a substitute.

I had a wonderful experience this morning that I think you, the public, and MTA should know about.  I normally take Metro to Lexington Market and transfer to Light Rail northbound to Hunt Valley.  I arrived at the Light Rail station to find a sign that directed me to the corner of Howard and Saratoga to wait for the northbound shuttle.  Other passengers were waiting there as well.
 

There is a bus stop on each side of Saratoga street at this intersection, and the sign at the Light Rail station didn't specify which one would be handling shuttle traffic.  Nor were there any signs at the bus stops to direct shuttle passengers.  I waited for 20 minutes without any sign of a shuttle.  I asked the driver of a #15 or 23 bus (can't remember which) if she knew where the shuttle was, and she told me that she didn't know but if they were going to be anywhere, they'd be on Eutaw St.  I walked down to Eutaw, and still saw no shuttle or signs.  At this point, I had to choose whether to further pursue a potentially lost cause and be horrifically late for work or cut my losses, ride Metro back to my house, and drive.  I chose the latter option.  (Un)fortunately, the Light Rail is such a slow line that I have to leave my house 50 minutes earlier when I ride the train than when I drive, so I still made it to work on time.
 
I just looked at the MTA website and the route described for the northbound shuttle never touches the intersection of Howard St and Saratoga.  I can't even begin to imagine what series of decisions (or lack of decisions) led to an incorrect sign being placed at the rail station, but I sure can imagine how MTA's spokesmen will react to the situation: an unfortunate and unacceptable miscommunication that they will work very hard in the future to correct.  I think I speak for most riders by saying that this cookie-cutter PR response will not be met with understanding or acceptance.
 
Best,
 
Youssef

Getting There has asked MTA spokespeople to look into the shuttle arrangements and see why they didn't work out for this customer. I haven't inspected this system but know that clear signage has in the past been a challenge for the MTA. One would hope that any time it has to set up a bus shuttle, that a supervisor would go out and verify that all the signs are clear and highly visible.

For the record, here is the information from the MTA web site regarding the shuttle bus route.


Southbound:  Regular route to Preston Street and Howard Street, then straight on Preston Street to Dolphin Street, left on Eutaw Place, straight on Eutaw Street, right on Lombard Street, left on Greene Street, straight on Russell Street, left on Lee Street, then left on driveway to loading area at sidewalk adjacent to the MARC station.

 Northbound:  From The Camden Yards MARC Station, straight on Conway Street, left on Howard Street, left on Fayette Street, right on Eutaw Street, right on Mulberry Street, left on Howard Street, right on North Avenue, right on St. Paul Street to Penn Station Driveway, then straight on St. Paul Street ,right on Preston Street to Howard Street.

UPDATE: Here is a response from the MTA on what may lie behind the shuttle problems.

After the shuttle bus route had been planned and the signs were installed at the affected stations, the city decided to make street repairs at the same time.  Those repairs forced MTA to reroute service around the Lexington Market north and south stations.  New signs were made moving all boarding locations to Eutaw Street.  The new signs are now in place at the stations and MTA employees are providing assistance to customers.

My first reaction is that ""now" is several days too late. The right signs needed to be in the  right place before rail service was  suspended. If they weren't, the responsible party should be called on the carpet. I'm sure the city is a trial to deal with, but that's no excuse for poor service.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:38 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Light rail
        

MARC woes compound in the heat

Here's the 6:24 p.m. update on MARC from the MTA:

# Penn Line UPDATE:  Due to damaged wires and single tracking, all trains continue to experience delays approx.  30-40 minutes late. Train 436 ( 5:30 PM departure from Union Station) has just left Union Station 40 minutes late.
# Brunswick Line Passengers:  Service delay 15-20 minutes due to signal problems.
# MARC Train 534 approaching BWI  (Departing 5:47 PM) is operating 20 minutes late due to single track operation.
# MARC Train 439 approaching Halethorpe operating 15 minutes late due to late equipment turn.
# UPDATE:  All Camden line trains are experiencing approximately 30 minutes delays due to signal and switch problems.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:31 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

MARC reports 'major' disruptions

With the temperature reaching 105 today at BWI, it should come as no surprise that the MARC train system is having what the MTA is calling "major disruptions." Here's the latest:

# UPDATE:  All Camden line trains are experiencing approximately 30 minutes delays due to signal and switch problems.
# UPDATE:  All Penn Line trains are experiencing approximately 30 minute delays due to damaged overhead wires (catenary) just outside of Washington Union Station causing a single track operation.
# MARC Train 848 to Baltimore/Camden is operating 40 minutes late approaching Muirkirk due to signal problem.
# UPDATE: MARC Train 530 approaching Bowie station (depart 4:46 PM) is 50 minutes late.

In heat like this, the only surprise is that conditions aren't worse. At least we can be thankful the MTA isn't dismissing the disrupptions  as "minor."

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:46 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

MTA reports Penn Line delays

From the Maryland Transit Administration:

All North and South bound MARC Trains on the Penn Line will experience 20-30 minutes delays due to single tracking.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:34 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: MARC train
        

Delaware is latest to nix driving with cell phones

Delaware has just joined Maryland in the ranks of states that have adopted laws banning hand-held cell phone use and texting while driving.

Gov. Jack Markell signed legislation Tuesday that bans both driver distractions -- something Maryland accomplished with two separate bills. The law takes effect in six months, but some Delaware communities already ban cell phone use while driving.

Maryland's law on texting while driving is already in effect, while the hand-held cell phone ban becomes official Oct. 1. So you can still chat away on the road to the beach this summer, but your fellow drivers would really prefer you didn't.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

MARC train that was stalled reaches Baltimore

UPDATE: My observer aboard MARC reports that the train that had  been stalled reached Penn  Station about 25-28 minutes late. She said the Amtrak crew was courteous and communicative about what was happening, but the air-conditioning never did work properly.

REPORTED EARLIER: A source aboard MARC says a northbound Penn Line train was stalled about 10 minutes outside Union Station without air-conditioning before power was restored 15 minutes later. The MTA said the problem was with the Amtrak-owned overhead power supply but that the train is moving again -- but slowly.

Amtrak must have learned something from the June 21 fiasco. My source says there is water aboard -- not cold, but at least it's something.

Here's an update from aboard: "After approx. 15 minutes, the lights came on, followed by the A/C. 10 minutes later, we started moving. We traveled maybe 2 miles before the lights and A/C went out again, but we kept moving. As I write this sentence, we are approaching Bowie at speed."

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:36 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: MARC train
        

Someone has something good to say about MARC

If you're a MARC rider, your trains may be late, slow or too hot, but at least you can feel good about what you're doing for the environment.

According to the group Environment Maryland,  the state's  commuters saved 7.1 million gallons of gasoline -- or the amount consumed by12,000 cars a year -- by riding MARC in 2008 alone.The group said in a report that MARC service reduces global warming pollution by 51,000 tons a year.

“Each time someone rides MARC, they are voting with their feet to make Maryland more energy independent,” said Tommy Landers, a policy advocate with the environmental group.  “The best way to avoid future oil spills is to put us on the path to using less oil.”


Of course, that means Amtrak and CSX could do a great thing for the environment if the actually provide a level of service that would keep commuters riding MARC, which received a setback last month when an Penn Line train was left to bake in the hot sun for two hours while Amtrak forgot the comfort and safety of the passengers. It was one of a series of MARC lapses in recent weeks.


 But at a news  conference Tuesday, environmentalists and their supporters emphasized the positive about MARC.

 Environment Maryland noted that passengers took 8.1 million trips on MARC in 2009 and that ridership has grown an average of  6 percent a year over the past decade.

“MARC contributes significantly to relieving highway congestion. For instance, in the corridor traveling south from Baltimore, MARC trains carry up to 20% of the traffic. The challenge is that demand currently matches or exceeds MARC’s capacity. More frequent service, more seats, and greater access to stations will attract more people from the highway to the train. That in turn will further relieve highway congestion, curb fossil fuel use, improve air quality, and reduce commuter stress,” said Christopher Field, President of the Transit Riders Action Council of Metropolitan Baltimore and a member  of the MARC Riders Advisory Council.

The advocates urged Congress to pass two bills that would increase transit spending: the Clean, Low Emissions, Affordable, New Transportation Efficiency Act and the six-year transportation authorization bill.

Rep. Donna Edwards, a Maryland Democrat and a supporter of the group's efforts, said its report is evidence of the need to increase investments in public transportation.


"I support the expansion of commuter rail systems like MARC that benefit our local communities and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in Congress and organizations such as Environment Maryland to achieve that end,” she said.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:50 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: MARC train
        

July 2, 2010

Get rid of those gulls and give us real information

Would somebody please shoot, stuff and mount Spike & Otis and put some useful traffic information where it can be easily found on the Bay Bridge web site?

Useful beats cute every time, Maryland Transportation Authority. (Click "Close  this  Page" and you get to a real home page, but there  should be a  clear link on that gull-infested page because it's so heavily promoted.)

On that note, enjoy your holiday. 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 5:58 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities
        

Bulletin: Bay Bridge congested after crash

UPDATE: 4 1/2 EB backup at Bay Bridge, another 2.6-mile backup at Severn River. Crash + disabled vehicles + commuters competing with beachgoers. Almost a perfect storm.Go north if you can!

This just arrived from the Maryland Transportation Authority:

EXPECT MAJOR EASTBOUND DELAYS THROUGHOUT THE EVENING AT THE BAY BRIDGE
Due to an earlier six-vehicle accident, numerous disabled vehicles and growing afternoon traffic volumes, motorists should expect major eastbound delays throughout the evening at the Bay Bridge.

Currently, Bay Bridge delays stretch 4.5 miles to Ritchie Highway.  Severn River Bridge delays stretch 5.3 miles to I-97.

If at all possible, please attempt to adjust your travel arrangements and leave later this evening.  Prior to traveling, call 1-877-BAYSPAN (1-877-229-7726) for 24/7 bridge traffic conditions or visit www.baybridge.com to view traffic cameras at the bridge.  For traffic information statewide, visit traffic.maryland.gov.

Travelers residing north of Baltimore whose destinations are Maryland and Delaware beach resort areas may wish to take northbound I-95 to DE 1 south. Motorists should be aware of a reconstruction project at the I-95 toll plaza in Newark, De. For information, visit the Delaware Department of Transportation's interactive map at http://www.deldot.gov/public.ejs?command=PublicLocatableMap.

 

You can bypass the Delaware Toll Plaza by getting off I-95 on MD 272 and bearing right to U.S. 40, go east on 40 to Wrangle Hill Road, take a right and it will lead you to DE1.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:07 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Maryland toll facilities, On the roads
        

Could technology let the blind drive?

The following comes courtesy of the Associated Press. The National Federation of the Blind is based in South Baltimore.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Could a blind person drive a car? Researchers are trying to make that far-flung notion a reality.


The National Federation of the Blind and Virginia Tech plan to demonstrate a prototype vehicle next year equipped with technology that helps a blind person drive a car independently.


The technology, called “nonvisual interfaces,” uses sensors to let a blind driver maneuver a car based on information transmitted to him about his surroundings: whether another car or object is nearby, in front of him or in a neighboring lane.



Advocates for the blind consider it a “moon shot,” a goal similar to President John F. Kennedy's pledge to land a man on the moon. For many blind people, driving a car long has been considered impossible. But researchers hope the project could revolutionize mobility and challenge long-held assumptions about limitations.


“We're exploring areas that have previously been regarded as unexplorable,” said Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind. “We're moving away from the theory that blindness ends the capacity of human beings to make contributions to society.”


The organization was announcing its plans for the vehicle demonstration at a news conference Friday in Daytona Beach, Fla.


Maurer first talked about building an automobile that the blind could drive about a decade ago when he launched the organization's research institute.


“Some people thought I was crazy and they thought, ‘Why do you want us to raise money for something that can't be done?' Others thought it was a great idea,” Maurer said. “Some people were incredulous. Others thought the idea was incredible.”


The vehicle has its roots in Virginia Tech's 2007 entry into the DARPA Grand Challenge, a competition for driverless vehicles funded by the Defense Department's research arm. The university's team won third place for a self-driving vehicle that used sensors to perceive traffic, avoid crashing into other cars and objects and run like any other vehicle.


Following their success, Virginia Tech's team responded to a challenge from the National Federation of the Blind to help build a car that could be driven by a blind person. Virginia Tech first created a dune buggy as part of a feasibility study that used sensor lasers and cameras to act as the eyes of the vehicle. A vibrating vest was used to direct the driver to speed up, slow down or make turns.


The blind organization was impressed by the results and urged the researchers to keep pushing. The results will be demonstrated next January on a modified Ford Escape sport utility vehicle at the Daytona International Speedway before the Rolex 24 race.


The latest vehicle will use nonvisual interfaces to help a blind driver operate the car. One interface, called DriveGrip, uses gloves with vibrating motors on areas that cover the knuckles. The vibrations signal to the driver when and where to turn.


Another interface, called AirPix, is a tablet about half the size of a sheet of paper with multiple air holes, almost like those found on an air hockey game. Compressed air coming out of the device helps inform the driver of his or her surroundings, essentially creating a map of the objects around a vehicle. It would show whether there's another vehicle in a nearby lane or an obstruction in the road.


A blind person, who has not yet been chosen, will drive the vehicle on a course near the famed Daytona race track and attempt to simulate a typical driving experience.


Dr. Dennis Hong, a mechanical engineering professor at Virginia Tech who leads the research, said the technology could someday help a blind driver operate a vehicle but could also be used on conventional vehicles to make them safer or on other applications.


Advocates for the blind say it will take time before society accepts the potential of blind drivers and that the safety of the technology will need to be proven through years of testing. But more than anything, they say it's part of a broader mission to change the way people perceive the blind.


Mark Riccobono, executive director of the NFB's Jernigan Institute, said when he walks down the street with his 3-year-old son, many people might think he, as a blind person, is being guided by his son.


“The idea that a 3-year-old takes care of me stems from what they think about blindness,” Riccobono said. “That will change when people see that we can do something that they thought was impossible.”
 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 1:48 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: On the roads
        

July 1, 2010

Ruppersberger introducing MARC-related bill

U.S. Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger will hold a news conference Friday morning at the BWI/MARC station at which he'll announce plans to introduce a bill in the U.S. House requiring transit providers to take precautions to protect riders' safety and comfort.

Called the Commuter's Bill of Rights,  the legislation follows on the heels of the June 21 incident in which more than 900 MARC riders were stranded on the Penn Line in extreme heat for two hours while an Amtrak crew concentrated on making repairs.

The Second District Democrat's bill would require  public transit operators to provide water and other services for passengers stranded on trains or other forms of transit. It would also set a time frame for transit crews to allow passengers to leave a disabled transit vehicle.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:43 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MARC train
        

City to close Howard-Lexington intersection

The Baltimore Department of Transportation will close the downtown intersection of Howard and Lexington streets for a week for work on the roads and light rail line.

The intersection will close from 6 a.m. July 5 (Monday) until 6 a.m. July 12 -- the same period that the light rail will not be running between Camden Yards and  the Cultural Center stops for work on the power lines, an obsolete switch and the Lexington market station.

The closings will also affect Lexington Street between Eutaw Street and Park Avenue and nothbound Howard Street between Fayette and Mulberry streets.

Detours will be in place, but the city is warning motorists to expect delays.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:28 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Light rail, On the roads
        

Hyundai Entourage doors suddenly open

Deon Schaffer of Rockville has been having a world of trouble with his Hyundai Entourage, a minivan whose doors seem to open at all the wrong times.

This blog doesn't usually get into automotive issues (as opposed to the roads they're driven on) but we're curious whether other Maryland owners of this since-discontinued vehicle are having the same problem. I'll let Schaffer describe it:

I purchased a Hyundai Entourage for my wife.  She spends most of the time driving our kids around and since about 3 months after the purchase, we have noticed that the vehicle's sliding doors do not always stay open (after opening them) or alternatively, do not always stay closed (after closing them).  The dealer made a number of attempts to fix this issue but have as yet been unsuccessful.  On one occasion about one year ago, when opening a door, the door subsequently closed on my daughters hand, as a result of it not staying open.  The dealer made additional attempts to remedy the problem but was not successful.



 

In November last year, while traveling on one of the local highways near Richmond, VA, on the way back from Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, VA, one of the sliding doors opened automatically - while the vehicle was in motion, at around 60Mph!  My 5 year old was seated adjacent to that door!

I have attempted to get the problem fixed with the local dealer and have been in contact with Hyundai's consumer affairs department. Hyundai has sent a regional manager to take a look but was unable to reproduce the problem and wrote it off as an anomaly!  
Anyway, if there are others with similar issues who might want to get in contact with Schaffer, drop a comment here. If there are enough of you, that might warrant some inquiries.
 
Posted by Michael Dresser at 6:03 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: On the roads
        

Taxi ride program to run three nights

Free taxi service will be available three nights this Fourth of July weekend for people over 21 who want to celebrate the holiday with drinking at a Baltimore bar or restaurant.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, AAA Mid-Atlantic, the State Highway Administration and Yellow Cab held a news conference Thursday to call attention to the return of the Tipsy? Taxi! program that has been providing such ride on holidays since 2006.

This year, it will give free taxi rides up to a $50 fare to patrons of Baltimore bars and restaurants from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. July 2-4. The idea is to keep folks who have had too much alcohol from getting behind the wheel by offering them a seat in the back of a taxi instead.


According to AAA, the Tipsy? Taxi! program provided 281 free rides in metropolitan Baltimore last July 4 weekend.  The number to call for a ride is 1-877-963-TAXI (8294).

If this weekend is like past weekends,  those who would use the service should put in their calls  before the closing-time rush, when waits for rides can be longer.
Posted by Michael Dresser at 3:35 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: On the roads
        

MTA reaches out through social media

The Maryland Transiit Administration has been taking its licks for its communications lapses since June 21's infamous MARC "hell train" incident, but give it credit for making an effort to harness the emerging social media to get its messages out.

About a month ago, the MTA quietly launched  a beta test of its Facebook and  Twitter accounts. Now it is moving to put the two into wider use use to send out service alerts and deliver other timely information.

Customers can  click to follow the MTA on Twitter or to sign up for a  Facebook account. Twitter, of course, has space limitations, but the MTA plans to use Facebook to post photos, answer questions and receive feedback. It sounds as if it's worth trying for regular riders of MARC and ther transit services.

Tell them the Baltimore Sun's Getting There blog sent you.

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 2:14 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: MTA
        

MTA non-answers a rider's questions

On Wednesday night, both Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley and Maryland Transit Administration chief Ralign T. Wells owned up to the fact the communication with riders is the agency's No. 1 weakness.

It's good that these officials, who seem genuinely concerned about providing good service recognize the problem. But it might be even worse than they think.

Consider the case of Melissa Schober of Baltimore, who wrote a well-reasoned and well-informed email to Wells after a particularly bad commute June 22 -- a night of troubles that was overshadowed by the even worse problems the night before. Schober also had the moxie to share a copy with Getting There, a  practice this blog enthusiastically encourages.

Schober's June 25 email and Wells' reply, attached below, provide a vivid picture of the brain death that affects parts of the MTA. Here they are, you judge:

 

Mr. Wells:


Tuesday evening I was subject to one of the worst commutes I’ve ever experienced. I boarded the 4:15PMWAS departure train to Baltimore Penn Station. A few minutes after pulling away from the platform, the train experienced partial engine failure. We reversed into the station – a process that took more than 30 minutes – and were shuffled onto another train.

 

Shortly after boarding the replacement train, Union Station lost catenary power. Knowing that diesel locomotives suffer from fewer power issues, I left the 4:15PM replacement train and walked over to the 5:20PM train. *The train was dangerously overcrowded with aisles impassable, people sitting on stairs, and riding in the vestibules.* The scheduled departure time came and went with no announcement. Finally, at 545PM, the train departed. However, an announcement informed us that yet another train had failed ahead and we would have to return to the station to be re-routed. Fifteen minutes passed and we began to move forward, with no further explanation.

We moved at reduced speed until just before the BWI Airport station where we were delayed another 20 minutes as an Acela moved past. Finally we approached Penn Station only to learn that we would have to wait for platform to de-train. *I finally de-trained at Penn Station at 7:16PM, more than one hour after my scheduled arrival and more than three hours after boarding, with minimal air conditioning for the duration of the trip.*

Later that evening, I watched you give a statement on WBFF Fox 45 in which you said, “Amtrak operates our service for us, on our MARC line. We’re at the mercy of our contractor to operate the service as we expect them to.”

If service is so unsatisfactory with Amtrak, will you commit to exploring new operators, as the Virginia Railway Express has done (they chose Keolis Rail Services America in 2009)? I know that the Penn Line is under contract through 2013; will you be offers riders a chance to comment on contract negotiations when they open? What sort of contract conditions will you impose with regard to passenger safety and comfort during time of mechanical failure?

As bidding opens on July 12 for MARC Ancillary Repairs, Maintenance and Minor Construction (Contract T-1318), how will riders be assured that the lowest bidder is truly able to maintain the aging fleet of MARC trains? As farebox recovery collection continues to decline – from 55% in FY2008 to 44% in FY2009 – how will MARC maintain service, let alone improve it? When will the MTA respond to the recommendations to consider a fare increase in FY2011, as was reported in the budget (J00H01)?

As a regular Penn Line rider and registered voter, I look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

Melissa Schober

Baltimore

So here's the response Schober received under Wells' signature on Wednesday:

Dear Ms. Schober:
 
Thank you for sharing your frustration with me regarding the MARC Train 538 incident on June 21.  As you know, the train was stopped without air conditioning, and it was more than two hours before all the passengers were transferred to other MARC trains.  The circumstance was unacceptable to Governor Martin O’Malley and me, and I apologize for the inconvenience and discomfort you experienced.
 
Although the reasons for the failure of the locomotive are still under investigation, what concerns us most is the way the subsequent delay was handled.  The service staff did not take adequate measures to improve the comfort and safety of passengers and establish regular communication.
 
Early the next morning, MDOT Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley spoke with Mr. Joseph Boardman, President of Amtrak.  Together they are taking immediate steps to understand the incident circumstances and modify procedures.  The scope of their effort includes consideration of operating a back-up locomotive on Penn Line trains and review of policies that determine when passengers should evacuate a disabled train.  We also plan to deploy MARC managers each evening to more closely monitor the situation at Union Station to ensure Amtrak personnel are acting on behalf of MARC riders and providing the most accurate information possible.
 
As a MARC customer, you deserve safe, reliable service.  Together with Amtrak, we must find ways to eliminate the possibility of such service failures.  Although complex mechanical systems like trains can and do break down, we must assure passengers are treated with consideration and respect.  Again, I apologize for the inconvenience you may have experienced, and commit to do better.  If you have additional comments or suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact Mr. John Hovatter, MTA Director of MARC Train and Commuter Bus Service at 410-454-7265 or by email at  jhovatter1s@mta.maryland.gov.
 
Sincerely,
 
Ralign T. Wells
Administrator
So do you see what's a little bit off with the reply? Wells' reply was certainly timely, but iit had nothing whatever to do  with the problem Schober was reporting. It didn't answer her questions. It diidn't even address the serious issue Schober raised about the Amtrak contract. As Schober put it to Wells in an email today:
The following is essentially a form letter that does NOT address any of the specific concerns I wrote you about.

I described an incident on June 22, not the MARC 538 train incident on June 21. I asked several questions about contracting and the financial implications thereof. I asked about farebox collection.

This is yet another example of MARC not listening to the valid and specific concerns of their riders.

I couldn't agree more. While I don't share Schober's implied optimism that replacing Amtrak as the MARC operator would necessarily produce better  results, she raised an extremely important issue that deserved a thoughtful reply from an official high enough up the food chain to understand the issues. Instead, it appears some low-level functionary who barely bothered to read the letter threw it into a pile with all the complaints about the "hell train."

There is nothing wrong with a well-composed form letter when an organization is dealing with dozens of complaints about the same thing.  But the form letter had better be germane to the original complaint.

Wells has so far shown himself to be an enthusiastic, engaging administrator, but he had yet to show the public that he knows when to kick butt. This time he ought to do just that -- and let the world know butt has been kicked. If MTA apparatchiki know an employee can get away with such cavalier treatment, this will happen again and again. And then it will be the administrator's rear in the kicking line.

Getting There looks forward to reading Wells' response to Schobel.


 
 

 

 
 

 

 

Posted by Michael Dresser at 10:09 AM | | Comments (3)
        
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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.
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