- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2004

Metro officials yesterday took another step in repairing the transit agency’s tattered public image, as managers proposed stricter accountability of the rail lines to improve service reliability.

At a board meeting yesterday, Metro’s General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Richard A. White proposed hiring three managers — one for the Red Line, one for the Orange and Blue lines and one for the Green and Yellow lines — who would be responsible for customer and train service.

The names, photographs and contact information for the line managers would be available in stations and on trains. Metro hopes to have the line managers in place by the end of the first quarter of next year, Mr. White said.

“The customers are sending a strong message,” Mr. White said yesterday. “We have to do a better job of explaining why things are the way they are.”

Mr. White, who last month publicly took responsibility for many of the agency’s recent woes, called for behavioral changes in Metro employees, “starting with me, all the way down through the organization.”

More than 300 commuters attended Metro’s first town hall meeting Tuesday night at the agency’s headquarters, where one of the complaints focused on the dearth of information for riders.

To continue the open line of dialogue with passengers, managers promise to hold more meetings and to develop an online chat room. A customer feedback line also would be started so riders can report rude behavior, unsafe operations or failure to assist by station managers and other Metro employees.

On Oct. 4, Metro began a mandatory, one-day class for its 421 station managers to help them brush up on customer-service techniques. The refresher classes are expected to finish by the end of this month. So far, more than 300 managers have taken the class.

Metro police officers also are taking mandatory classes on conflict management.

“When customers see someone in a Metro uniform, they should expect to get help if they don’t know where they’re going or if they need fare card information,” said Metro board member Christopher Zimmerman, who also is a member of the Arlington County Board. “Right now it’s not what our passengers have come to expect, and with good reason.”

Metro has received a string of bad publicity this year, including the Nov. 3 Red Line accident in which one train rolled backward into another, injuring 20 riders at the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan Metro station. Investigation into the accident is pending.

In September, a pregnant woman was forced to the ground, handcuffed and taken to jail for speaking loudly and swearing on a cell phone at the Wheaton Metro station. In August, a pregnant woman and her husband said a broom-wielding Metro station manager berated them and pushed the husband for inquiring about an out-of-service escalator.

In June, the Metro Board approved a fare increase for the second consecutive year, and in July, a passenger was handcuffed and arrested for eating a candy bar as she was entering the Metro Center station.

A contributing factor to the system’s decline in service is its growth in ridership, which is expanding too fast for the nearly 30-year-old rail system, Mr. White said. Ridership is at an all-time high, having increased 33 percent in the past seven years, Mr. White said.

“We’re a victim of our own success,” Mr. White said. “The good news is that the funding is in place through an infusion of $1.5 billion in capital funding agreements through Metro Matters, and relief is on the way. The bad news is that it’ll be two to three years before customers can see the impact.”

To help smooth the frayed relationship with riders, Metro will offer free subway rides from 5 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Dec. 16. ING Direct, an online bank, is picking up the cost.

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