Posted in Transportation, Washington

Metro Blues

When you live in the Washington DC area, the course of your entire day depends on one thing: The metro.

But Kylie, I don’t take the metro, I drive.

Shut up, it still affects you. When the trains are failing at the rate they’ve been this year, many people are turning away from wmata, which means more road traffic, and the area was not built to accommodate as many cars as there are now.

Every day, hundreds of thousands of people ride the metro to and from work, usually going from the residential suburbs to the urban core of DC. Most days, passengers encounter some kind of problem in their commute.

Life is a long wait for the metro passenger information display to give you an accurate prediction.

In the above image, the passenger information display (PID) is blank. Why is it blank? What’s going on? When will my train come to take me to my job in DC?

You can’t rely on the information they give you at the station. It’s bland, it’s incomplete, sometimes its completely wrong, as many Orange and Silver line riders have discovered during the various single tracking fiascoes of the summer of Safe Track. Should I be on this platform, that platform? Oops, station workers told us all to come over here, and the train was on the opposite platform.

What’s a cosmopolitan metro-rider to do?

If you are stuck relying on the metro despite its many flaws, here’s a guide of the things I use to keep informed about how much of a trash fire my commute is going to be on any given day:

For news about the trains, I turn to Twitter.
The metro’s official information handles are often not responsive, but there is hope. Other Twitter users’ assessments of slowdowns or other problems are much better for getting a sense of how much you are going to have to wait this morning/evening. Use the hashtag #wmata to get the broadest coverage of problems, as well as to get informed about the various town hall meetings and other events open to the public.

When I’m checking for a bus, I’ve gotta go with BusETA.
Most bus riders were aware of the Next Bus app, but metro no longer supports that platform. Instead, to get accurate information, use Bus ETA. From my casual eavesdropping on fellow bus passengers, it seems that most DC area workers are still figuring out which apps to use. Currently, I just open the page in my browser, which is as convenient as an app, but it does tend to give me an accurate assessment of my bus’s location, which is crucial for planning a long trek into town, and ensuring I make it to work on time.

Another great discovery of late has been the Metropocalypse podcast. This public radio program provides an excellent commentary on the state of the metro today, especially in light of the Safe Track work which has been affecting us all since the summer began. They bridge the gap between ordinary riders who don’t have a clue why things are so bad but who suffer daily, to the top brass in metro and the decisions being made behind the curtain, with interviews and good old fashioned reporting. It’s a weekly show that makes me feel a little less alone in my commuting struggles.

We’ve all got to find ways to feel more in control of the uncontrollable. Maybe there’s no way to make the metro any faster, the trains any more frequent, or the experience any less exhausting, but having information comforts me.