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.