Low-hanging fruit. Photo by stuartajc.

I’m not a doctor, or a therapist.

I’m just an activist, inspired by what our collective energy can achieve to help us get around the Greater Washington area efficiently and safely.

Today, I introduce The Transit Ombudsman: A series of posts on issues that bother riders, where I will contact Metro to seek solutions. I will focus only on issues that are good bets to produce successful results. I want your suggestions for what to work on.

In November, David wrote about Metro’s underwhelming response to a customer’s complaint over rock-throwing near at a rail station. After the post ran, top Metro staff took action to produce the kind of results that riders have a right to expect every day.

Many of us who strongly support transit genuinely want Metro to be more responsive to riders’ needs and more accountable, too. It would make getting around easier. And by making transit a more attractive option, we will reduce traffic congestion, stress and pollution.

The higher the level of public confidence in Metro, the easier it will be to secure the funds needed to improve transit service. Metro really needs to recognize this dynamic.

There are many improvements needed at Metro. Many are complex or costly, or both. But they’re not what the Transit Ombudsman will primarily focus on. Instead, I will focus on “low-hanging fruit,” which WMATA Board member Chris Zimmerman and his aide Samantha Sissman know something about. They successfully pushed for installing handles below the top horizontal bars in rail cars to give short riders something to grab onto other than another rider’s hair. (Note: I am 5’6½”.)

Our first Transit Ombudsman topic will be Metro’s online trip planner. To give Metro staff credit, it sure has improved a lot. But perfect, it’s not.

Tell me and our readers — including at Metro — what’s bothering you about the trip planner, and what changes you’d like to see. A few years ago, I secured one small improvement: I persuaded Metro to scrap its maximum distance of 0.5 miles to a bus stop or rail station for which the trip planner would provide any results. It now offers options ranging from 0.2 miles to 1 mile.

Do you think adding a special link for riders to report problems with the trip planner would be a good way to improve it?

The goal of The Transit Ombudsman is to identify low-cost issues that are easier for us to get action on so we can strengthen Metro — and our faith in the power of our own voice, too. After you weigh in with your comments, I’ll follow up with Metro toward honoring its commitment to be the best ride in the nation. And I’ll report back to you on Metro’s response.

Adopt-A-Tag

Allison Davis is this month’s sponsor for posts about Transit. Learn more »

Dennis Jaffe has lived in the Washington area since 1999. Elected to two terms on his hometown school board and a former head of NJ Common Cause, he champions opening up government and politics. Dennis led the effort to establish the Metro Riders’ Advisory Council and served as its first chair. Now an Arlington resident, he chairs its Pedestrian Advisory Committee. His views here are his own.