- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

Instead of stopping at the supermarket for a quart of milk on the way home, commuters in the Washington area may soon be able to pick it up right in the subway.Metro is considering a pilot project with McDonald’s to install and operate vending machines at certain rail stations. Metro’s real estate committee is expected to discuss the proposal tomorrow in a closed meeting.While Illinois-based McDonald’s Corp. may be best known for serving up Big Macs under its golden arches, the company also operates two “automated convenience stores” under the name Red Box. One is in the Adams Morgan neighborhood in the District and the other in Bethesda.The refrigerated units are about the size of a minivan and sell food, drinks, laundry soap and other products. They also offer 24-hour DVD rentals for $1.50 plus tax, according to spokesman Mark P. McGuire.”The whole idea is to place these machines in people’s travel paths so they don’t have to make a special trip to a video store or a convenience store,” Mr. McGuire said.For now, McDonald’s is only operating its machines in the Washington area. The company first tested the product in January 2002 at its restaurant next to Howard University. Mr. McGuire said that the project is still in the test phase, and that there are no immediate plans to expand to other parts of the country.He declined to discuss sales figures but said the company is pleased with the reception the machines are getting.”They’re being used at a very, very high volume by the consumers in the area that we have them located in,” he added.Sandwiches are the hottest-selling item in the convenience store part of the machines. However, Metro does not allow eating or drinking in the transit system; transit police once handcuffed a 12-year-old girl for eating french fries in a subway station. Mr. McGuire said people could pick up items on the way home or into the office.Metro Board Chairman and D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, has seen the Red Box in his Adams Morgan neighborhood. Mr. Graham said he would like to see the machine moved elsewhere, but he’s open to the idea of having the machines in rail stations.”I have some significant questions to ask about this,” Mr. Graham said. “But we’ve got to be open to some retail commercialization to stations. I’m not sure this is the best way to start, but I could be convinced.”Mr. Graham said he did not yet know the financial details of the project. Metro faces a $48 million budget deficit.Some Metro riders see a benefit from the machines.”It’d be convenient,” said Quincy Goodman, of Largo. “Certain items I could use would already be there when I got off, and I wouldn’t have to look around when I got out of the station.”But Neil Adams of Severna Park doubted the vending machines would become a reality in subway stations for other reasons.”They seem awfully nervous about stuff down there as it is. They won’t even reopen the newspaper vending machines,” Mr. Adams said.Metro removed newspaper vending machines from inside stations after the September 11 terrorist attacks. A Metro spokeswoman said the move was in response to rider concerns that someone could leave a bomb in the machines after paying for a newspaper.

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