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Breakfast links: Is it ethical?


Photo by neonbubble on Flickr.
Scandal of the week: Tampa trip: Mayor Gray and 2 councilmembers quietly flew to Tampa to view the Buccaneers' training facility, likely a model for something similar for DC. All 3 say the public did not pay for the trip. (City Paper)

Catania making $240K from electric contractor: David Catania is now earning twice as much as an electrical contractor executive than he gets from taxpayers. He did recuse himself from votes on electrical licensing. He defends the practice of making outside income, saying it expands the pool of people who can run for office. (Post)

Is Metro friendly for kids?: Metro has many kid-friendly features, including elevators and free rides for small children. But some policies are tough for school groups, and many riders don't defer to kids for elevator space. (Post)

Beware confusing SmarTrip balance readouts: SmarTrip changes are confusing some commuters because when you load your SmartBenefits, the faregate only show the balance on 1 of the 3 "purses." You can see all 3 balances online. (Post)

Contractor, MWAA dispute Silver Line delays: MWAA accuses the construction consortium building phase 1 of the Silver Line of hiding construction delays so it can win the contract for phase 2. (Examiner)

Megabus in, tour buses out: Megabus will start using the Union Station bus garage, displacing tour buses which will have to travel to more distant satellite lots and pay more for parking. Or will they just idle in public space? (City Paper)

Residents disagree on Adams Morgan's future: Should Adams Morgan be a neighborhood retail district or a regional nightlife destination? This fundamental disagreement drives many of the neighborhood's acrimonious debates. (City Paper)

DC urges WMATA to hire more residents: Mayor Gray is dissatisfied that only 14% of WMATA employees are DC residents. DOES, the District's employment agency, is now connecting WMATA with pre-screened job candidates. (Washington Times)

Light rail to Charles Co?: Officials in PG and Charles counties are pushing for a light rail line from the Branch Avenue Metro to Charles County. However, competing with the Purple Line and Baltimore's Red Line for state money will be difficult. (Examiner)

And... : The 30-year-old New Urbanism showpiece, Seaside, Florida, shapes many communities today. (The Straight Line) ... Cars are now less likely to get booted in DC. (WTOP) ... New York debates implementing residential parking permits, despite objections from the city DOT. (Streetsblog) ... The feds try to avoid gridlock from sending people home in a snowstorm. (Post)

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Eric Fidler has lived in DC and suburban Maryland his entire life. He likes long walks along the Potomac and considers the L'Enfant Plan an elegant work of art. He also blogs at Left for LeDroit, LeDroit Park's (only) blog of record. 

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Light rail plan is to Charles County, not Calvert. A light rail to Calvert would make no sense. All of Southern Maryland isn't the same...

by Jeremy on Nov 3, 2011 8:36 am • linkreport

Scandal of the week? Really?

3 people take a private trip with personal funds - that is a scandal? Give me a break!

Anyone who has followed the Skins knows that VA and MD would not be happy to know DC is working to bring them or a part of the organization back to the city that shares their name.

What is the scandal? Framed another way: Tommy Wells and Harriet Tragoning visit Portland to check out the street cars. They spend their own money to do so. Then is it the scandal of the week?

Didn't think so.

by Councilmartyr Wells on Nov 3, 2011 8:46 am • linkreport

Jeremy,
Thanks for catching that. It's fixed.

by Eric Fidler on Nov 3, 2011 8:54 am • linkreport

I'm really confused how the purses work. How do you choose from which purse your rail or bus fare will be deducted?

by Matt Glazewski on Nov 3, 2011 9:00 am • linkreport

Elevator space is first come first serve. Children are a choice, parents need to leave their sense of entitlement at the top of the escalator/elevator. It's public transit, not parent transit.

by Redline SOS on Nov 3, 2011 9:18 am • linkreport

@Matt Glazewski

You don't choose, the parking garages deduct from the parking purse and the faregates deduct from the transit purse, until they are depleted then switch to the personal storage.

@Redline SOS:

Glad to hear you were never a child! Perhaps the zillions of able-bodied fellow 20- and 30-somethings I see waiting for elevators every day should ditch their sense of entitlement, realize that the elevators should be priority for people who can't use the escalators, and use their 3 minute escalator ride to think about how they could be better citizens.

by MLD on Nov 3, 2011 9:28 am • linkreport

Mayor Gray and 2 councilmembers quietly flew to Tampa to view the Buccaneers' training facility, likely a model for something similar for DC.

Awesome! What a great fit for an urban environment; a massive training complex and arena for a professional football team! Of course, it'll probably sit empty for 60% of the year, will be closed to public uses, and pay zero taxes for a few decades. The one upside is that, by not pushing for this land's most appropriate use--namely development into residential and commercial real estate--at least the Councilmembers who make it happen will be able to show they're not in the "pockets of The Developers" and "leaving some behind".

Granted, DC will just be gutting its own potential tax base, and crippling the vibrancy of Hill East neighborhood, but, hey, HAIL TO THE REDSKINS!!!

by oboe on Nov 3, 2011 9:30 am • linkreport

"who might otherwise have to forego much higher-paying jobs"

Yeah, because 126K a year for a part time job is going to leaving you starving. If 126K a year isn't enough for you, fine. Don't campaign for the job. It is as simple as that.

This is the problem. I know Evans, Cheh, Catania don't get it. I know they "think" they are above board, but as always it is the APPEARANCE of impropriety.

Take a step back for a minute and look at how poorly the District operates, how budget deficits, non-existant oversight and non-stop controversy has saddled this town, (and I am not even talking about Gray, just about things the Council controls). These self obsessed charlatans actually have the brass to insinuate that the city would be in worse shape if half of them didn't have outside employment that at the very least, takes time away from their city duties, at worst, creates conflict of interest.

Also, I don't care who you are and who you defend on the Council, their constant BS of the job being more than full time just doesn't pass the smell test if half of them are pulling in qrt million a year in full time jobs outside their Council duties.

M.C. Dean isn't paying Catania to be a VP for 4 hours a week of work. Same for Evans and Cheh etc and when it comes down to who gets your attention, I have a hard time believing that they ignore their 250K a year or more outside employment to focus their attentions on their lowly 126K a year "part time" job.

Seriously, I would like an hourly schedule of these guys...what they spend in an average week on outside employment. After months of stalling, hemming and hawing they would have to hand it over and I think you would all be surprised just how many of their weekly hours they spend on issues other than the Districts.

by freely on Nov 3, 2011 9:30 am • linkreport

I don't see how the "purse" concept really meets the purpose of the IRS rule. The idea is you can't use transit subsidy to park. That makes sense. But you also can't use the transit subsidy to take Metro for personal trips (say on the weekend). But for the latter, it will deduct first from the subsidy account.

Now, true, if you are getting the correct subsidy you'll simply have to dip into your personal funds at the end of the month for your (subsidized) commute to cover your earlier use of the subsidy.

However, if you take days off or take alternative transit on some days, technically you're supposed to "forfeit" or give back that subsidy at the end of the month, and in fact the purse is drained when you reload each month, with the balance going back to your employer/agency. So in effect on months where you wouldn't have used the full subsidy you're getting transit benefits for personal use.

by ah on Nov 3, 2011 9:34 am • linkreport

I think the scandal of the week line was meant to be light-hearted. At least thats the way I read it. Though I say keep the Redskins out in Maryland/Ashburn. Bulldoze RFK, put in a smaller area for United and reconnect the street grid and fill it with residential,commercial,and office space with playgrounds spread throughout.

by Canaan on Nov 3, 2011 9:37 am • linkreport

@Redline SOS:

Elevator space is first come first serve. Children are a choice, parents need to leave their sense of entitlement at the top of the escalator/elevator. It's public transit, not parent transit.

Couldn't agree more. But I think we should take this one step further: Create two different classes of handicapped tag. One for folks who were born handicapped, or who became that way through a genetic condition; and another for those who became disabled through a poor decision, lifestyle choices, or other preventable means.

Why should I have to give up my spot in the elevator to some wheelchair bound vet with a massive sense of entitlement just because I'm able to take the escalator? Entering the service is a choice. The rest of us aren't obligated to pay for lifestyle choices of others!

You tell 'em, Redline!

by oboe on Nov 3, 2011 9:40 am • linkreport

Elevator space is first come first serve. Children are a choice, parents need to leave their sense of entitlement at the top of the escalator/elevator. It's public transit, not parent transit.

Do you have the same attitude towards senior citizens? People in wheelchairs? "Hey, I was here first, wait your turn."

Seriously, the irony of someone with this attitude complaining that others have a sense of entitlement is really too much.

(Although I'm a little surprised you didn't argue that government workers deserve top priority, since they're so underpaid and can't afford housing, blah, blah, blah. I suppose you deserve points for departing from your usual talking points.)

by dcd on Nov 3, 2011 9:41 am • linkreport

What Oboe said.

PS - I hate it that when making the same point, Oboe is ALWAYS funnier than I am.

Damn you, Oboe, damn you.

by dcd on Nov 3, 2011 9:44 am • linkreport

@oboe

Practice, man. We're talking about practice! Not a game, not a game - but practice.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGDBR2L5kzI

by Alex B. on Nov 3, 2011 9:45 am • linkreport

Why can't tourbusses use some of the ballpark parking facilities? They're nearly as close.

The City needs to have a systematic plan for tourbus parking. The present hodgepodge all too often results, as noted, in busses idling for hours on city streets, taking up the most valuable curb space and dumping pollutants into the air.

by Crickey7 on Nov 3, 2011 9:48 am • linkreport

@ah

The purse system is really the only solution at this point - how would you go about differentiating "commute" trips from "other" trips? There would be too much complicated programming to make that happen.

I think the real purpose of this is to potentially save the federal gov't money by not allowing people to rack up and store the max benefit if they don't use it. At the end of every month, if you haven't used your commute/parking purse, they just take it back.

by MLD on Nov 3, 2011 9:49 am • linkreport

My ancetodal sense says parking enforcement is down generally since Grey took over. Much less agressive on towing on M st during rush hour. Whether this is a conscious policy, or the aftereffects of more technology and fewer workers is unclear to me.

I'd say since the summer parking enforcement seems to be on the upswing. Again, all anecdote.

I'd love to hear how the camera equipped parking ticket writers are doing on appeal.

by charlie on Nov 3, 2011 9:53 am • linkreport

@MLD

This isn't about federal benefits, it's a broader IRS program that applies to all pre-tax benefits, whether full fare subsidy (like the Feds give their employees) or pre-tax SmartBenefits. These rules apply nationwide, and I know Metro is not the only transit agency to struggle with them.

by Alex B. on Nov 3, 2011 9:53 am • linkreport

"So in effect on months where you wouldn't have used the full subsidy you're getting transit benefits for personal use"

Whatever subsidy is left over at the end of the month is returned. So if you do not use the entire subsidy, you should have a surplus at the end of the month. Of course there are scenarios where you can use the subsidy for personal use, but it is pretty much unenforceable at this time or at least not worth enforcing.

by RJ on Nov 3, 2011 9:54 am • linkreport

@MLD is right on. The whole reason we have elevators in subway stations in the US is to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Look at Boston/NYC which were built mostly before the act, as opposed to after with Metrorail. The cost of the elevators/etc is such that no cash-strapped agency (or private company in the early days of transit) would build them unless they were required by law.

The "entitlement" in elevator usage is by those who are fully able-bodied and not responsible for someone much younger or much older with a different level of mobility or safety awareness.

It is PUBLIC transportation, which means any part of the public. That means the downtrodden who are riding and perhaps haven't showered nevertheless have the right to be there. That means senior citizens who don't powerwalk everywhere have the right to be there. And that means that parents with children, and the challenges that moving about with a toddler or two in tow entails- have a right to be there.

Suggesting that there are a series of lifestyle choices or stages that make you less welcome on the subway is the ideology of the gated suburb, where exclusion is economic or sometimes by age (55+ communities). Both views are antithetical to the idea of the commons, of which Metro is a key facet in DC.

In many transit systems, including Boston and most of Europe, there are signs on windows in buses and trains asking passengers to reserve seats near the door for seniors, disabled citizens, and pregnant women because they are part of the community and have additional needs beyond the average passenger. Metro rider culture should catch up with these practices.

by CityBeautiful21 on Nov 3, 2011 10:09 am • linkreport

Parking enforcement is soo "New DC". "Old DC" is all about stacks of illegal temp tags, parking where you want, and hooking into the PEPCO main to provide power to your drug-money laundering used-car dealership.

by oboe on Nov 3, 2011 10:09 am • linkreport

there is absolutely no reason that CM's should have outside employment. None at all. I agree...If already being upper middle class isn't enough to sustain you, then you don't need to be a public official. There is no need to "supplement" your income in this way.

Alan Suderman (WCP) was on the verge of making the Gray/Tampa story much much much larger than what we now know it is - demonstrating the failings of this new-age media culture. They all paid their own way.

The new federal "weather emergency" policy is as ridiculous as it is completely unenforceable. How in the world are you going to tell grown a** people that "if you don't leave by the time we tell you too, you must stay put."

by HogWash on Nov 3, 2011 10:16 am • linkreport

Practice, man. We're talking about practice! Not a game, not a game - but practice.

Sure, but it hinges on how much of a resource that practice facility is going to be for the community. What do you think the odds of Dan Snyder providing any sort of concessions to city youths, or whatever?

My guess is that site would be locked down tight, and that on a couple of occasions regular folks would get to pay $50 for the privilege of seeing their heroes working out.

So comparatively little revenue, few amenities for the taxpayers, and a "programming" dead-zone for a most of the year. Perhaps the one positive note for immediate neighbors would be that it would displace the various methadone clinics and homeless shelters and VD clinics that are currently there, but one could argue that's a net negative for the city as a whole.

The whole idea is just so backwards-looking, as though it were 1987 and the city staring at a bleak future. "It's better than a lead-smelting plant!"

by oboe on Nov 3, 2011 10:17 am • linkreport

CMs and outside employment: Frankly, I think it's a wash on the quality of the council as to whether they have outside employment or not. What seems odd is that there have been many ethics scandals over the past few years, yet none of them to the best of my recollection had to do with CMs second jobs, yet this is the one people seem to get worked up about.

DC WMATA residents: I think this is a structural issue. Most of the large WMATA facilities (rail yards, bus garages) are outside or on the edge of DC. Someone probably has the numbers, but I'm guessing a large number of WMATA employees start their day outside DC.

by Steven Yates on Nov 3, 2011 10:28 am • linkreport

100% in agreement with oboe. If this was a better owner, maybe he or she could come up with something that could (though with a football facility I think it's probably impossible) integrate well with the city and be an example of a good urban stadium use. There was talk a few weeks/months ago about the need for an urban stadium (for DCUnited) that could double as a smaller (than Fedex) concert venue - maybe this could be it.

But knowing Snyder, he'll probably petition Metro to get rid of the Stadium Armory stop on the blue and orange lines so that there would be next to no way for people to come without driving - and paying a $50 parking fee.

Reservation 13 has the potential to be an awesome urban project. A football practice facility would kill that vision (I think - at least with Snyder at the helm).

by Shipsa01 on Nov 3, 2011 10:32 am • linkreport

sometimes those of us who appear able-bodied aren't 100%. I'm sure there's grumbling about me taking the elevator when the escalators are out because I appear to be a healthy 30-something. But I had to have an ankle fused, which makes climbing more than a handful of stairs a slow, painful chore (believe me, you don't want to be stuck behind me when a Dupont Circle escalator is out!). I can't tell you how many people--seniors, parents, the more visibly disabled--have pushed right by me and thrown me the evil eye to get on an elevator

Sense of entitlement cuts both ways.

by Birdie on Nov 3, 2011 10:33 am • linkreport

Right - if we're going to spend city funds on professional sports teams, I happen to know of a football team (other kind of football) already located in close proximity to Reservation 13 that's in the market for new digs for actual games. Not just practice.

If one were to build more fields and practice facilities in that area, I would think that the obvious place wouldn't be Res 13, but the actual RFK parking lots themselves. But the city doesn't own those.

by Alex B. on Nov 3, 2011 10:41 am • linkreport

@Alex B

I am aware that this policy applies beyond the federal government. It appears though that Metro is allowing companies to choose whether benefits are taken off the card at the end of the month or whether they remain.

At my organization we talked to a few transit agencies when this rule came out in 2008 - many did not seem to be bothered by it as the majority of their transit benefit users buy monthly passes with the benefit, so there wasn't much of an issue with taking back benefits. WMATA was concerned b/c they don't have monthly passes.

by MLD on Nov 3, 2011 10:44 am • linkreport

Here's what $250k buys you: too-expensive-for-the-average-family electricians that endanger your family's lives while you live with beyond-their-rated-life-electrical-house-wiring.

Same thing applies to Mater Plumbers who are now outsourcing the work to undocumented non-residents while they just show up to collect the checks.

by eb on Nov 3, 2011 10:56 am • linkreport

Re: Practice Facility

The facility itself won't produce much revenue for the city but the real question is how many players decide to live in the city to be close to the facility. Right now, most of the players live in VA because most of their commuting is to Ashburn (except for 8 days a year when they go to Fedex Field). Think of the practice facility as an office for workers with a combined salary of $120M; albeit workers who only work about 6 months a year.

The "entitlement" in elevator usage is by those who are fully able-bodied and not responsible for someone much younger or much older with a different level of mobility or safety awareness.

I would include bikers as somewhere in between the disabled and able-bodied since we're not permitted to use escalators to transport bikes. Personally, I'd be delighted to make way for others on elevators if I was allowed to take my bike up the escalator.

by Falls Church on Nov 3, 2011 10:58 am • linkreport

The new OPM rule on snowstorms has got to be one of the silliest things to come out of that office in months. First, it's completely unenforceable. Second, last winter's snowstorm debacle did not negatively impact everybody. I left work in DC at my normal time, hopped on the Orange Line, and got home in the R-B corridor at my regular time. I had a great rest of the night playing in the snow with my wife. If this policy is to prevent chaos on the roads, then handcuff drivers to their desks, not us metro riders.

by OX4 on Nov 3, 2011 11:02 am • linkreport

I disagree Falls Church - I doubt any would move to the District; they would stay in areas where they have more land and pay much lower taxes. Look at when the Post did a story on John Wall living close to the Verizon Center - they made it seem like it was the most shocking story to come out of the sports section in years: "Look at this - a rich professional athlete living in the city - what an anomaly!"

They don't want to have some two bedroom condo and commute to work by Metro - they want to have a 25,000 square foot 12 room house on 6 acres with 14 Escalades, swimming pools, etc (or at least that the impression I get from MTV Cribs....)

by Shipsa01 on Nov 3, 2011 11:06 am • linkreport

@Falls Church

No matter where players may live during the season, few are actually residents of the market of the team they play for. A large number are officially residents of, say, Florida. I do know that most Redskins players rest their heads in VA right now, but I wonder how many are actually legal residents of VA.

Suffice it to say that the income tax revenue implications of a Redskins practice facility are minimal.

by Alex B. on Nov 3, 2011 11:07 am • linkreport

Is being on the DC Council really a part-time job? Can you do it without much intrusion into your other job? Because if you can't, then the policy of outside jobs doesn't "expand the pool of candidates," it only serves to enrich people who can have the type of job where they don't actually have to show up.

I'd be really interested to know how many hours Catania, Evans, Cheh, Brown, etc. spend per week at their second "jobs."

by MLD on Nov 3, 2011 11:16 am • linkreport

@ Alex

Good point. I don't know how much income tax revenue Redskins players and staff generate for VA. Here's the info, though, on what Redsins/Ravens income taxes generate for MD based on an analysis by the comptroller. Of course, Snyder probably accounts for a big chunk of the $20M.

The study, which is the first in the nation looking at the economic impact of a cancelled NFL season, goes through estimates of different revenues the state makes through professional football games....Income taxes for players, coaches, staff and owners makes up the biggest part of potential lost revenues – an estimated $20 million or so to state and local governments. This only accounts for players and staff living in Maryland. Because of reciprocal agreements with Washington, D.C., Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, income taxes for people who live in one state and work in another – like Redskins players who live in Virginia, but play in Maryland — only pay income taxes to the state where they reside.

It's also a good question as to how many players would like in DC if the practice facility was located there. I think DC has a lot to offer the young uber-rich who like to party, which describes most NFL players, so I wouldn't totally discount that effect.

by Falls Church on Nov 3, 2011 11:27 am • linkreport

I'd also include property taxes which are not included in the Comptroller analysis (since that's not affected by a lockout). That's probably significant too.

by Falls Church on Nov 3, 2011 11:28 am • linkreport

The whole reason we have elevators in subway stations in the US is to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Look at Boston/NYC which were built mostly before the act, as opposed to after with Metrorail.

The ADA was passed in 1990. Metrorail has been 100% accessible since it opened in 1976.

by andrew on Nov 3, 2011 11:34 am • linkreport

@andrew:
Yes, Metro has been (largely) accessible from the start. But only thanks to a lawsuit. Jackson Graham, the first GM was adamant that elevators would not be included.

After the lawsuit was won by those seeking elevators, the early stations (many that opened before 1979) had to have elevators shoehorned into designs that did not include them originally.

Take Silver Spring, for instance. The main entrance (south side, Colesville Road) has the elevator. But it's in a location that was supposed to house an escalator. This results in an inefficient 3 escalator set up (one in each direction + one in the peak direction).

At L'Enfant Plaza it means that patrons going from the Orange/Blue to the Greenbelt platform have to use 3 elevators (1 from Blue/Orange to Huntington platform, 1 from Huntington to Maryland Ave mezzanine, 1 from mezzanine to the Greenbelt platform). And the elevators from the upper platforms to the mezzanine are "beyond" the fare-array, so there's a circuitous railing that takes elevator users back into the fare-paid area and around the faregates.

In many stations, it means that the elevator is located in an awkward place. At Takoma, the elevator entrance is about 300 feet north of the main entrance and involves using a narrow, dark hole in the wall to reach.

At Judiciary Square, the elevators go direct from the street to each platform, and have their own faregates.

There are plenty of other examples.

It's a shame that the system couldn't have been designed from the start with elevators, like MARTA was (opened 1979). Another advantage of doing it right to begin with is that MARTA has an elevator at each mezzanine, not just one per station.

For example, the MARTA North Avenue station has a North Avenue mezzanine (elevator to North and West Peachtree, elevator to busway) and a Third Street mezzanine (elevator to BellSouth lobby, street).

Dupont Circle, on the other hand has two mezzanines: one at Q Street and one at 19th Street, but only one elevator entrance (Q Street).

by Matt Johnson on Nov 3, 2011 11:49 am • linkreport

@Steven Yates
"What seems odd is that there have been many ethics scandals over the past few years, yet none of them to the best of my recollection had to do with CMs second jobs"

Recently there has been scandals tied to the second jobs of CMs - Michael Brown's pushing for online gambling while his law firm represented gaming companies, Jack Evans's law firm's representation of financing groups supporting the new Marriott hotel downtown, for which he was an advocate.

The downsides to allowing CM's to take in outside income outweigh whatever benefits (if there are indeed any) that this policy entails.

by DCster on Nov 3, 2011 12:02 pm • linkreport

Regarding tour buses, the danger is not that they will idle in public space. Very few of them do that. Most buses you seeing idling in illegal spots are charter buses, not here with organized tours.

Rather, what my drivers do (I'm a tour guide if that wasn't clear) is drop us off and drive around the Mall and downtown. Parking and idling enforcement is actually quite strict, and DC savvy bus operators know not to do that. So they drive in circles. For hours.

Bus operators have a company credit card for their gas, but have to pay parking fees out of pocket and hope to be reimbursed. Some of these guys make less than $200 a day. Arlington in the morning, and then Union Station mean they have to pay around 1/4 of their pre-tax income for parking and hope the company will reimburse them (often they don't).

Take note of how many empty buses you see driving around now, in the slow fall season and with Union Station still open. Then take a look this spring.

by Tim Krepp on Nov 3, 2011 12:12 pm • linkreport

@Tim

So, what you're saying is the entire way the industry is structured (using motorcoaches as taxis) is the fundamental problem.

by Alex B. on Nov 3, 2011 1:06 pm • linkreport

@Tim

"Parking and idling enforcement is actually quite strict."

Really? Then why do I have to run into the street to catch the X2 on H Street at Lafayette Square because tour buses sit in designated Metrobus zones for hours. Never, ever have I seen one of those buses ticketed in many, many years of riding the X2.

It's a major problem, especially during peak tourist season.

by anon on Nov 3, 2011 1:19 pm • linkreport

I would say yes, with about three hundred caveats.

I give tours in New York, Philly, and Boston, and take groups to Gettysburg, Williamsburg, etc. We can leave off the later category and focus on the urban experience here.

I have gotten by in New York without a bus for three days (use the bus on day 1 and day 5 to get to and from the airport). It's possible, as New York is dense enough, and the subway system expansive enough that a high school group can make it work. I wouldn't try it with a middle school group.

Philly and Boston are also dense enough, in terms of the attractions you see, to go considerable time without a bus. Drop off at National Constitutional Center or Faneuil Hall, and you can hit most of the things on your itinerary with relatively short, and doable walks.

Many things work against this in DC. In fact, it's pretty much impossible. I'm about as urbanist as you can get (especially in the tour guide world), and I couldn't structure a bus free tour of the main sites of DC for eighth graders and see even 2/3rds of what a current group sees.

Security is an issue (no backpacks/water bottles/cameras makes it hard to do a full day tour). The Memorials are not transit accessible, and even if they were, the addition of literally thousands of non-Metro savvy students a day on just a few stations would no doubt enrage my fellow DC residents. Where would they all eat? We don't go to Union Station for the architecture, we do it because it's one of three or four places I can 50-100 kids in, fed, and out in 45 minutes.

So yeah, the structure of the industry is the problem. But really its the layout of the city, and especially the Mall. Stupid City Beautiful Movement.

by Tim Krepp on Nov 3, 2011 1:23 pm • linkreport

@Tim

I think the layout of the city is just fine, it's the tour groups that need to adjust their expectations.

by Alex B. on Nov 3, 2011 1:33 pm • linkreport

@anon. It's a huge problem. That spot is the biggest cluster-f in my world. My bus is almost certainly one of those who do that.

That is, if I can get a driver ballsy enough to do it, because let me assure you, most refuse because of the enfacement is persistent and strict in that area. You don't see the ticket, because the police hand them directly to the drivers. $500 a pop.

Let me tell you why I do it. I have 15 minutes to see the White House. Get off the bus, snap a pic, and go. Most groups don't go to the WH (I recommend they don't). But they can't come to DC and not see it. My itinerary often doesn't have it listed, so I have to squeeze it in.

There's no legal spot to drop off near Lafayette Park. Theoretically, we're supposed to use 15th Street, but vendors take up a good chunk of it. There are 8-10 spots for buses there, but they're almost always taken. And even if I get a spot, it's 15 minutes to walk the group from the spot to Lafeyette Park, a few minutes, and then 15 minutes back. Again, I only have 15 to make it work.

Incidentally, this is why you get stuck behind double parked buses dropping off on 15th all the time. There's no curbside spot for them to go.

So, we drop off on H Street and the bus (again, if he's ballsy enough), stays with the bus, keeps the engine running, and drives off if he sees parking enforcement coming.

You're not seeing a bus sit there for hours. You're seeing dozens of buses doing exactly what I'm doing: dropping for 10-15 min and running. But, and especially in the spring, we're lined up three deep waiting for the next spot to open.

It's exactly the problem when the Federal government doesn't have a bus plan for getting groups to and from the White House. The spillover dumps on DC residents just trying to use the X2. It sucks, and I'm sorry, but I have no choice.

by Tim Krepp on Nov 3, 2011 1:34 pm • linkreport

Soo, wish it away then?

Congress and the Park Service can try to limit buses (and therefore groups), but as soon as they attempt to tell groups that, their will be an outcry to their Congressmen.

Basically, visiting the Mall is a scarce good. We can't use cost to ration it. We can't cap demand. Unless it's better managed, the market forces of the problem are going to continue to spill over onto DC.

by Tim Krepp on Nov 3, 2011 1:38 pm • linkreport

@Tim

Basically, visiting the Mall is a scarce good.

Agreed.

We can't use cost to ration it.

Why not? Complaining to Congress might be true, but that doesn't solve the issue. There are only so many ways to address that scarcity, and my standpoint is the ones that adversely impact residents and the DC transportation network are unacceptable, something which even members of Congress can probably agree to.

The fundamental issue here is that any management strategy is based on addressing the costs that the tour buses impose on DC - it seems that pricing the cost of that negative impact is critical to any solution.

Unless it's better managed...

So, how would you do that if you take out cost? What about proxies for cost, i.e. extremely punitive enforcement? What if you fined drivers for circling as well as idling and illegally parking? What if you required really expensive permits to operate? What if you banned charter and tour buses from some areas all together?

You say enforcement is strict, but it's clearly not strict enough (and certainly not complete enough - i.e. idling inducing cruising, etc).

I don't want to say there are any easy answers here, but what would better management look like to you?

by Alex B. on Nov 3, 2011 4:42 pm • linkreport

@Matt Johnson

Good background on the evolution o of elevators in Metro (I alway assumed they were part of the initial plan). As much as I'd like to see Metro lose some shorter escaltors in favor of wider stairs at the mezzanine (reduce overhead and maintenance cost), I worry it would make the elevator situation untenable, especially for those with a genuine need. Many people use elevators with absolutely no need ( I know need is not always aparent, but sometimes lack of need is).

I persoanlly prefer walking and standing, even when commuting with my small kids, but they have short legs and that gums up the flow more than taking the elevators.

by anon on Nov 3, 2011 4:45 pm • linkreport

@Alex B, hmm, in true Washington fashion, I don't accept the premise of your question.

Who is "we"? DDOT doesn't control the areas we're talking about, or at least not sole jurisdiction. It's a mishmash of NPS, the Architect of the Capitol, Secret Service, GSA, the Department of the Army, and god only knows who else. Without real coordination between them, DC, and Arlington County (at least), we're all wasting our time.

Banning school groups from the Mall will not happen. Banning their buses is only one step below, and would be politically impossible. The Park Service would have to do it, and obviously won't.

How do you get large groups of people moved around the Mall without buses? Metro doesn't go there, it's too far to walk? What's your plan to move school groups, or should they just not come to DC?

How would you enforce a "no cruising" rule? What's to say that empty bus is cruising around vs. driving to make a pick-up.

But a quick and easy fix to much of the problem would be to make Ohio Drive and Hains point tour bus parking. Even better, paid tour bus parking and dedicate the money to fixing the incredible backlog of unfunded maintenance issues on the Mall, but that would probably be impossible in the time frames we're talking about (this will be a problem in about six months for all of DC, not just me).

It's bizarre that we have buses driving around DC, spewing pollution, causing congestion; while we allow free parking for cars in Hains point. Bikeshare, a new Circulator route, and handicapped parking spots can effectively get individuals and families to the Mall. Clearly marked pick up and drop off zones for tour buses with offsite parking on Hains point can get groups there. DC shouldn't have to be scrambling to fix NPS's problem.

Long term, Federal ownership of the issue is the only way we can ever get any traction on it. Short term, just let the buses park along Ohio.

by Tim Krepp on Nov 3, 2011 7:13 pm • linkreport

Tim,

No doubt, there are jurisdictional issues here.

I don't know that the categorical rejection of price-based management will solve anything. And I don't know that banning tour buses from key areas is really that unrealistic. School groups are always welcome here, but their travel itineraries will just have to change a bit. The current practice for tour buses is simply unsustainable.

As for other kinds of regulation, how about strict enforcement of bus routes? If the bus operators cannot be relied upon to operate in a beneficial manner, then regulate what they are allowed to do. How about a reservation system for pickups and dropoffs at various locations? Combine that with aggressive pricing and enforcement, and we might have something.

Yes, there's a need for some more bus parking, but that's not a management strategy. Without some degree of management via price, it won't make a dent in the overall problem.

I'll put it this way: I've heard bus drivers call DC one of the worst environments to operate in, second only to New York. What's the best place to operate? Atlantic City. I'll bet if you made a list of great urban places, and another list of easy places to operate a bus, those lists would line up in almost exact inverse order.

by Alex B. on Nov 3, 2011 7:29 pm • linkreport

Well, I've got to run, so can't get into it (Trusty's if you're around, btw).

Who's doing the regulating? These spots are all owned by NPS. This isn't really that hard, they just have to show some semblance of wanting to take care of the problem. It's theirs to handle, and they've punted.

Not sure where you heard New York is worse than DC to operate in. I've been turning down DC gigs in favor of New York ones because it's a far, far easier than DC. Believe it or not, it's a lot easier to get a bus around NY than DC.

by Tim Krepp on Nov 3, 2011 7:39 pm • linkreport

Ah, missed Trusty's tonight, Tim.

The organizational issues are crucial, I agree - but even if we could magically solve those, what would an efficient regulatory scheme look like?

by Alex B. on Nov 3, 2011 10:49 pm • linkreport

I find it somewhat ironic that the Washington Examiner chose to show a picture of the lifting gantry truss that was employed to build the elevated over the Capitol Beltway. This piece of construction equipment crapped the bed back in June, was repaired, broke down again a month later and was dismantled and remove before elevated spans were competed.

Odd that the Examiner made no mention of this in either the article or the picture caption.

The spans over the Capitol Beltway that were not completed before the broken lifting gantry was removed were are being assembled using crane.

by Sand Box John on Nov 4, 2011 7:49 am • linkreport

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