Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pitch In

Just yesterday, I caught another Metro-produced ad encouraging riders to do something-or-other. In this case, it was a corny imitation of a Kung Fu movie telling riders that they shouldn't leave their newspapers on the seats.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, this morning when on my way to the doctor's office, a Metro employee wearing the customary blue metro shirt, blue metro hat, and neon orange and green WMATA safety vest, finished reading the Express and threw it on his seat as he exited at Addison Road. The offending paper is top left.

Metro is concerned about litter (and it is littering, not "recycling") because it just looks, well, trashy. It is also a danger to customers and employees. Earlier this year WMATA reported that newspapers blowing into tunnels were a cause of the track fires which occur all too frequently.

What these ads (and yes, WMATA has a series of them) are attempting to do is get riders to take ownership of the system. This is an important element of keeping the system clean and safe. Just like the almost-constant reminders to "say something" whenever you see something suspicious, WMATA is enlisting patrons to treat the Metro like their own personal property, which, in a way, it is. If you pay taxes in the United States, you own a share of Metro. In Atlanta, MARTA launched a similar campaign, saying "not on MY MARTA."

And that brings me to a question I have for you, dear readers:

How do you handle your subway when you see people treating it with disrespect?

Saturday evening, I got on the train at Dupont Circle. As soon as I entered the mezzanine, I heard a loud banging, which as it turned out, was being generated by some teenager. He was beating on one of the brown columns, in this case, the one holding the Passenger Information Screen. Not only was it irritating, it was potentially damaging to the hardware. He could easily have shaken lose a wire feeding the wait times to the sign.

The day before, I encountered a group of teens who were making a ruckus on the Green Line. One of them was even smoking in the train car. At Fort Totten, they held open the doors on a Silver Spring-bound Red Line train for at least a minute while they waited on some acquaintance to come up from the mezzanine.

In the first case, my instinct was to say something to the juvenile, but I chickened out. Even though the platform was crowded, mostly with people coming from the Pride Parade, I wasn't certain anyone else would back me up. The second case tempted me to call the transit police (at 202-962-2121, in case you ever need to know), but I didn't do that either.

At some level I feel like it's none of my business to get involved, while another part of me is outraged that some delinquent can delay a few hundred people for no reason at all. Why should we, the masses, let a few rabble rousers destroy the security (or at least appearance of security) and serenity of our transit system?

In his book chronicling the history of the Washington Metro, The Great Society Subway, Dr. Zachary Schrag recounts a story of Metro riders taking ownership of the system (from page 268):
"only Washington Subway People on a 10:00 o'clock morning gather in a group to silently watch a girl deface the printing on a column with a penny. In less than five minutes, they were in a half-circle around her and the post. Without expression, a leader or a spoken word, they inched closer moving forward by half-steps. Others joined as they came downstairs. Suddenly the girl looked up, threw her penny on the tracks, broke through the half-circle and ran up the still escalator. The people had spoken about their subway"
(Joan Sugarman, "I Saw It on the Subway"
Subway Magazine
, Fall 1978)
Their Subway. This is an excellent example of the concept of public ownership. Yet in the instances I have seen, riders don't step up to the plate (myself included). Why not? Shouldn't we find a way to stand up for our subway?

What are your thoughts? Do you feel like it's your Metro? Would you take a stand?


Michael said...

I'd be worried about the group of teenagers lashing back and kicking my ass. I mean, wasn't it just recently that a group of teenage girls beat up a fellow bus rider?

kenf said...

I have found Metro employees not very responsive. I've complained about smokers in the system, and I have had station managers threaten me for doing so.

Michael said...

Wow. Station/time/date? File a complaint to the CEO or board. Go to

SFMuni Lady02 said...

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Metro Man said...

I agree with pitching in. One time I picked up a soda can that was rolling about the train car. I went to discard it as I exited the metro, only to be faced with a menacing glare by metro transit police....