Photo by the author.

As Metro’s infrastructure continues to age, broken elements have become a fact of life for riders. We asked Metro about a few of the issues cropping up from maintenance headaches.

Many riders have noticed that the PIDs (the signs showing train arrivals) are increasingly out of sync with trains, often showing “BRD” for a few minutes after a train leaves, or 3 minutes until the next train as one pulls in.

Last week, I encountered an even bigger problem. The PIDs at Gallery Place showed trains 1, 4, and 6 minutes from now, a rush hour arrangement, even at 9:54 pm, and the numbers never changed. I was able to get correct information on my phone (thanks to wireless working down in the station), at least.

Spokesperson Ron Holzer said,

We are aware of the latency problem with the PIDS and are working to find a solution. It appears the issue is with messages backing up in the PIDS server. The prediction model is still accurate and it seems the API programs are not experiencing the latency that the actual signs are.



Fortunately, this isn’t a safety issue; the signaling system knows where the trains are, it’s just the PIDs system that’s having trouble. Unfortunately, that’s not making things very convenient for riders.

Metro had originally hoped to replace the PIDs with new screens, called “The Metro Channel” that would have shown arrival times and other information including advertising. The ads would have paid for the new system. Unfortunately, the ad market collapsed with the economy, and Metro can no longer fund such a system through ad revenues.

Reader Jamie S. writes:

After reading the post about improving the 90s bus line, I visited the Metrobus Studies sites and read the improvements on some of the lines. It got me thinking about the bus fare machines and what happens when those machines aren’t working, and the driver simply waves the riders on. Does he communicate with supervisors as soon as the problem is identified? Does Metro take the bus out of service? Is it repaired? It seems that in the wake of fare increases and the potential elimination of negative SmarTrip balances, this should be a problem Metro should address to avoid losing fares.


Doug Karas says:

When the bus operator realizes the farebox is broken, they radio to [control] who gives direction on what to do. Typically, the bus is instructed to continue the route where it is then switched out with another bus with a working farebox.

No repairs are made in the field due to safety issues and customer perception that workers are handling cash. Farebox techs do all repairs at the divisions. ... Our goal is that all fare boxes are repaired within 24 hours. Most are repaired in 8-12 hours.


Finally, Jonathan Z. asks:

I was getting on the College Park metro yesterday (Labor Day) with my bike. After getting yelled at immediately upon entry by the station manager because my wheels weren’t on the ground, I was yelled at again (and threatened with a $50 ticket no less) because the station manager thought I was going to use the escalator.  I was planning on using the stairs, since waiting for the elevator seemed pointless when there was no one else around, but of course the station manager was having none of that and demanded that I use the elevator. 

Besides the arbitrary enforcement of the rules (I do concede they are the rules, but completely unnecessary to enforce them with such rigor in a sparsely inhabited station on Labor Day), it got me thinking: what if there was an elevator outage? Hypothetically, are bikers expected to call for the shuttle service?  Are they even equipped with bike racks?  I wonder how many more disgruntled Metro employees I would have had to deal with if that were the case.


Doug replied that the station manager could have let the cyclist use the escalator or stairs if the elevator were out and it were safe. The rules are designed for safety. If its wheels are on the ground and the owner is holding it, it’s not much of a risk to other riders, whereas if it’s on an elevator or escalator, the owner could drop it and it could fall onto others.

Doug added,

If the someone is on a bike, the elevator is out, and the station manager determines they shouldn’t use the escalator or stairs, it would make more sense for them to ride their bike to the next station, than to wait for a shuttle.  If, in fact, a person couldn’t ride to the next station, all of our Metrobuses have bike racks.


It might be nice if Metro gave station managers some more discretion to let people use the escalators if nobody else is on them, for example, though that might also lead to more people trying to argue with the station manager. I’ve brought my bike on short escalators, like mezzanine to platform ones, at low traffic times and never been hassled, maybe just because the station manager didn’t see.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle.