- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Disgruntled Metro riders looking to vent their frustrations on Twitter need not look far.

With Twitter accounts devoted to chronicling nearly every potentially precarious part of the Metro — from broken escalators to track fires — critics have long taken to social media to rail against the D.C. region’s ailing public transit system.

But some Metro customers, like the 11-year Northern Virginia resident who created @dcmetrosucks, take a more analytic approach to sharing the delays and drawbacks of commuting on Metro.

“I try to get what I say correct,” he said. “The account was never meant to be cruel or malicious, just a way to say ‘Look, I did some digging, found some reports’ and possibly explain why things are so bad.”

Researching and reporting Metro-related statistics helped the account gain credibility since June 2010 with nearly 7,000 followers, according to @dcmetrosucks, who asked to remain anonymous.

“Back in 2012, no one was talking about Metro and its problems,” he said, referring to financial woes that have plagued the transit agency in recent years. “No one was discussing the troubling things you’d see in the reports every month.”

Last year, Metro responded to its customers’ growing reliance on Twitter for service updates by establishing a team of customer service agents who respond to references to Metro service across multiple social media platforms.

“As Metro’s customers are seeking more information about SafeTrack and how surges will impact their commutes, our social customer representatives give us another way to respond and reach riders in real time,” Metro said in a statement.

Other Twitter users aim to highlight safety issues they encounter on Metrorail, especially instances of smoke and fire in stations and on railcars.

What started as a joke turned into a useful tool for Nick Stocchero, whose account is dedicated to answering one burning question: Is the Metro on fire?

“I thought it’d be a gag with my friends,” said Mr. Stocchero, a Chicago transplant and technology service specialist. “But as it turned out, the Metro actually did catch on fire a lot.”

He created the Twitter feed @IsMetroOnFire and its corresponding website in June 2015 after seeing a fire truck roll up to the Gallery Place-Chinatown Station near his workplace.

The website, IsMetroOnFire.com relies on data from two sources: an official Metro account, @MetroRailInfo, and a web application designed for Metrorail commuters, MetroHero. Every 15 minutes, a program scans the sources for words like “fire” or “smoke” — if an incident is detected, the website and Twitter feed will automatically update.

The feed, which is followed by almost 4,000 people, mixes lighthearted quips such as “Shawty fire burning on Metro” with more straightforward, serious reports of track fires.

But Mr. Stocchero said he occasionally catches heat from other Metro riders when @IsMetroOnFire reports — or doesn’t report — a fire.

“It’s not always right,” he said. “The thing I’ve learned is that no one really agrees on what counts as a fire. People will send me angry messages saying ‘You’re wrong,’ but if I don’t tweet, they’ll say, ‘Hey, you missed this one.’”

In August, Mr. Stocchero launched a line of T-shirts inspired by his Twitter account. He sold more than 100 shirts, which read “Sorry I’m Late … Metro Was On Fire.”

Despite its semi-commercial success, @IsMetroOnFire ultimately exists to shed light on Metro’s shortcomings, according to Mr. Stocchero.

“What I would love is for it to become irrelevant,” he said. “It makes the whole system less credible if there is a popular site that asks ‘is it on fire?’ all the time.”

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