Fix What?


WMATA fails to communicate with riders almost constantly. They fail to communicate in real-time when there are problems: tweets are often incomplete or cryptic, train operators don’t tell riders held hostage enough information, and station managers are often just not found. They fail to communicate upcoming service disruptions: signage is often cryptic or just plain incorrect, signage is often left up days after the scheduled interruption leaving riders confused. One of the most frustrating communication failures occurs around service disruptions: what are riders getting for their trouble? WMATA needs to do a better job showing exactly what was accomplished during a scheduled interruption. They need videos posted on Monday morning for the previous weekend. They need a webpage that shows what was accomplished when and what percentage of expected completion was met.

And WMATA has the resources to do all of this. You have to wonder if they either are incompetent at making it happen or just don’t want to make it happen.

Operating Hours/Late Night Service

Washington, DC and the surrounding areas deserve rail and bus service 24/7. Of course when you have a 2 track system (one track for each direction) that becomes difficult. Add to that decades of mismanagement and missed maintenance and the difficult has become impossible. Many people don’t work a 9-5 M-F job in DC and those are usually the same ones that are barely making ends meet while working more than one job that starts or ends outside the operating hours of WMATA rail. These are DC’s janitorial staff, hospital staff, venue staff and even many white collar staff who work overnight hours because their business is a worldwide one.

The most complaints about lack of service come from riders who took WMATA to an event like a baseball game, football game, concert, etc that ended after WMATA shutdown. The come out of their venue and find the gates to their WMATA station closed and they’re stuck with an expensive cab or Uber ride to get home. The lesson learned: next time you go to these types of events you either have to drive or you have to spend your time there looking at your watch and worrying about WMATA. Fun, right?

It has now become accepted fact that WMATA *has* to do maintenance on the rails and railcars. But when will the backlog be caught up? When can we get back to 4 hours a night of closure? When does DC get to try to be a world-class city again. There simply aren’t any answers. WMATA needs to form a plan and communicate it very well. They need to stop living from crisis to crisis and start answering to the riders – including those who don’t work a 9-5 job.


Auto-level keeps the floor of the train’s door level with the platform. This may seem like a small thing but when you’re in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller it becomes a HUGE thing. This problem can be so bad and so random that Metrorail riders in wheelchairs sometimes miss their stop because they can’t physically get off the train. The real kicker of this problem is you still see it happening on platforms that have been recently rebuilt and with NEW rail cars.


People are a mess. This is a given. We track in whatever our shoes have been through, we litter (especially when there are no garbage cans to be found), and there are those among us who simply believe someone else will take care of it (not my problem). While WMATA riders need to do a better job at keeping the system clean so does WMATA. If you ride the rail in Chicago to the end of the line you’ll find each train that empties there has a crew of cleaners waiting to make a run through the train before it lets riders on and turns back. This is something sorely missing with WMATA. Red Line trains, for example, should at minimum have their garbage picked up when they reach the end of the line at Shady Grove or Glenmont. But this is the best case scenario. What we see now are rail cars that seem to NEVER get cleaned. The non-7000 cars that still have carpet have NASTY carpet and vomit stains seem to persist for weeks both on trains and platforms.

Escalators and Elevators

WMATA has 278 elevators and 618 escalators. This number is staggering, especially when you consider the first parts of the system had ZERO elevators because it wasn’t required by any regulation back then. According to WMATA’s website the longest elevator (196 feet) is located at Forest Glen. The longest escalator (230 feet) is at Wheaton. And there are 2 stations, L’Enfant Plaza and Gallery Place, that have over 30 escalators. All of this comes at a cost – the most recent project just to keep all of this running in 2017 was at a cost of $151 million. There are several things we can do to fix this situation – chief among them is having fewer escalators. Of the 618 escalators in the system a good number (I’d love to KNOW the number) are escalators that rise 1 floor in height. If we replaced all of these escalators with stairs we could reduce the overall cost of ongoing maintenance and focus on keeping elevators in good working order for those who can’t traverse stairs. In other words – there are options.