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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No so alert

The Metro Red Line accident yesterday left the city a bit stunned, and there will be plenty of time to figure out how something this gruesome happened during a normal rush hour commute. But meanwhile, I noted an item in the Post today listing all the official alerts Metro sent out during yesterday evening, i.e. email and SMS messages that riders sign up to receive so that they can find out about service problems and adjust plans accordingly.

The alerts following the crash were symptomatic of problems with Metro's approach to communications. A sample alert from last evening:

6:07 p.m.: WMATA Alert: (ID 55699) Disruption at Fort Totten. Trains are turning back at Rhode Island Ave and Silver Spring stations due to a train experiencing mechanical difficulties outside of Fort Totten station. Shuttle Bus service has been established. Customers should add an additional 30 minutes to their travel time.

Never mind that one should add a lot more than 30 minutes of travel time under the circumstances (it took a colleague 2.5 hours to make what is normally a 20-minute commute). An hour after two trains collided, and after having sent out several press releases on the crash to the media, why on earth would Metro continue to call it "a train experiencing technical difficulties"? These alerts are their direct line to customers, and they just pass along useless euphemisms. It fails to communicate the seriousness of the disruption, which riders need to know is substantial enough that they should make alternate plans, and it's patronizing that Metro is simply unwilling to say that there has been an accident, as if riders can't handle the news.

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