Posts about Escalators
Organizations of all types are talking about being "greener," partly because it's the right thing to do, but also because it can save money. Amid regular budget shortfalls, WMATA can benefit from every cost savings, and is considering a number of sustainability projects.
Tomorrow, the WMATA Board will hear about the agency's sustainability initiatives. Sustainability could make a big difference in the budget.
According to a November memo to the Board, more efficient lighting in parking garages could save $1.5 million per year. Doing the same for stations and tunnels could save $5-8 million per year. New lights also generate more light and need less maintenance than the old.
Lighting isn't the only way that being green could help get rid of the red ink and improve operations at the same time.
Many escalators around the world stop when they're not being used, and have more efficient motors than Metro's aging escalators. Solar panels or solar laminates could cover the roofs of Metro railyards, maintenance facilities, and garages.
Other transit agencies have trained operators to accelerate and brake more fuel-efficiently. Many have installed tire pressure gauges that actively and constantly communicate tire air pressure data to the maintenance facilities. That lets them keep buses at optimum tire pressure and fuel efficiency, which saves significant fuel. Fuel is a very large cost item in Metro's budget, especially with fuel prices rising.
WMATA already has set a standard to make new facilities LEED Silver, like the Shepherd's Parkway bus garage under construction. Its new buses are cleaner and more efficient than the old, and the 7000 series railcars use LED lights, regenerative braking to get energy back like hybrid cars do, better HVAC systems and a design that reduces the need for some polluting processes to clean them.
Sustainability faces obstacles
It's often difficult for transit agencies to energetically adopt sustainability programs. Some agency staff think of transit as intrinsically pro-sustainable, compared to other modes of travel, so they might not feel that sustainability is the higest priority. There can be resistance from the rank and file to newfangled, ivory tower ideas that don't recognize the rough reality of engineering and operations.
Transit agencies also, perhaps understandably, end up prioritizing the day-to-day crisis management over strategic programs. At the moment, WMATA's the overwhelming emphasis is on system safety and renewal capital projects. That means that "soft," "green" projects can find it hard to compete for the capital funds available, even when there's a powerful economic business case behind them.
Another obstacle is the relationship between labor and management. Many sustainability programs might involve changes to people's job responsibilities, which means that management has to negotiate for a change rather than simply establishing and implementing the program.
For example, if WMATA monitored the fuel efficiency performance of each bus driver to help them save fuel, would the union oppose this as another form of management breathing down workers' necks? Would WMATA be able to reward employees that saved the most fuel and money?
Even for non-union workers, transit agencies lack many of the tools private sector companies have to reward individual initiative. A private sector employee responsible for annual cost savings might get a bonus as a result, in a transit agency that same employee might simply get an employee appreciation mention in a weekly newsletter. Weighed against the possibility that any given sustainability initiative might "rock the boat" for bosses or colleagues, a public pat on the back doesn't offer enough to outweigh the possible headaches.
Sustainability initiatives that come from one department might create savings in another department. But the department that initiated the program might not benefit from the savings, reducing the incentive. Also, divisions within public or private sector organizations often covet the size of their respective budgets and the control that spending authority gives.
A department which saves money might view this as reducing "their budget" instead of looking at the benefit to the agency's bottom line. The affected department could well resent the sustainability initiative and the employees elsewhere in the organization who pushed the idea through.
Making sustainability happen takes leadership from the top
Despite all these barriers, it's more important than ever that WMATA take a strong leadership role in sustainability, backed up by strong management policy and action. In a budget season when the agency is asking for substantial fare and subsidy increases, the public needs to hear that WMATA is taking every possible action to provide transit services more cost-effectively (not to mention more safely and reliably).
WMATA is also entering negotiations with its labor unions for the next round of labor contracts. It's critical that the issues of efficiency and productivity be on the table in a central, pivotal way. It's not unreasonable for labor to ask for wage increases; it's completely unreasonable to ask for such increases without also committing to improving productivity and efficiency in quantifiable ways.
WMATA management could start most sustainability initiatives without any Board action. Richard Sarles and his management team could unilaterally adopt many measures and communicate the values described here. But, perhaps for many of the reasons listed above, Metro's management has not yet made sustainability the visible issue it could and should be. That means they need support, and pressure, from the region and the board.
To date, only 2 WMATA Board members have expressed much interest in sustainability: Tom Downs and Mary Hynes. They should both be commended for trying to make this issue a priority for the agency, and hopefully they will continue to do so. Their colleagues should join them in pressing for more sustainability, productivity, and efficiency.
Scandal rocks Draft Wells campaign: The nascent campaign to draft Tommy Wells for mayor in 2014 has been suspended amid new allegations that under Wells' oversight, DC Public Libraries has been blatantly allowing people to use its books for free. The US Attorney is probing similar conduct at the Department of Parks and Recreation. (City Paper, Todd)
Evans eyes Georgetown for Redskins: A new plan from Councilmembers Jack Evans and Michael Brown would demolish Georgetown's campus and move it to Hill East. The current campus would become a practice facility for the Redskins. Some Georgetown neighbors immediately endorsed the plan, because the new facility will create almost no noise and attract very few people to the area. (Post)
Pedestrian safety solved: A new policy from the Montgomery County DOT will make it illegal to cross any arterial streets in the county, eliminating dangerous crossings. People without cars needing to traverse a roadway can get on a bus and ride it to the end of the line and back again. (Gazette, Ben Ross)
Escalator reliability reaches 100%: Metro has achieved a new milestone for escalator maintenance. They have now reached a reliability rate of 100%; all escalators are currently broken at the same time. (Examiner, Matt Johnson)
Hop on I-395 PE: With Virginia's new program to sell naming rights to roads, Sudafed has proposed sponsoring all of Northern Virginia's congestion. (WBJ, Steve Offutt)
LOV-0 coming to a road near you: Google is reportedly working on a new program to design "passengerless cars," which will transport no people at all. In anticipation of this breakthrough, VDOT announced a plan to implement "Low-Occupancy Vehicle" lanes for their exclusive use. (Wired, Neil Flanagan)
DC4D4Thomas: DC for Democracy has endorsed Harry Thomas, Jr. as a write-in candidate for the Ward 5 special election. Members cited Thomas' consistency in talking about revitalizing the ward's main streets without making anything happen, creatively moving around money dedicated to serve youth, and his plan to solve transportation problems by setting up a series of Audi dealerships. (Geoff Hatchard)
Norton targets Wyoming: After several unsuccessful efforts to lobby state legislatures to support DC statehood, Eleanor Holmes Norton announced a new strategy to try to remove statehood from Wyoming, as it is smaller than DC. (DCist, Nick Clark)
WMATA General Manager Richard Sarles met with bloggers for a roundtable discussion yesterday. The unfortunately brief conversation covered bag searches, escalators, funding and several other topics of interest to riders.
Sarles reiterated what he's been saying since coming on as interim General Manager: that safety is Metro's top priority. Metro has made several changes that Sarles believes will help grow the safety culture at the agency. They have increased the staff serving under Chief Safety Officer Jim Dougherty and increased safety staff's interaction with field operations.
Safety staff are now "embedded out in the field," Sarles says at bus and rail shops. These staff are now interacting regularly with superintendents, mechanics and other employees, and are participating on the local safety committee. This is encouraging, though it highlights how awry Metro's safety procedures had gone, if its safety officers were not previously working at the local facilities on a regular basis.
In accordance with an NTSB recommendation, WMATA has also put in a safety measurement system to collect data which can analyzed to uncover trends and anomalies. These data can be better used to identify hazards over time.
Sarles also emphasized that WMATA's new focus on State of Good Repair investment will help promote the safety culture with employees at all levels. "The employees see [our state of good repair investments] and that helps them realize that we, as an organization, are making heavy investments in safety. That encourages people to think more about it."
"We had to really rebuild the capital program management capability of this organization, because it had been lost. Because of the feeling that construction was done, so we just have little to do. Well, we have a lot to do, $5 billion in 6 years."
On escalators and elevators
Sarles brought up the work WMATA is undertaking to implement the recommendations of a consultant for improving escalator and elevator reliability.
We've criticized that report, however, for not presenting any causal analysis of actual downtime, but rather a list of a couple dozen standards that WMATA falls short of.
When asked whether he knows the actual causes of escalator and elevator downtime, Sarles agreed that the report did not provide such causes. Such analysis is being done by the new head of the Elevator and Escalator Department (ELES) using data that is now being entered into the maintenance management system.
With this analysis, they hope to know the causes of downtime "in the next couple months". He pointed out that ELES had been elevated in the organizational structure to help problems be addressed more seriously.
Sarles added that the major overhaul work at Foggy Bottom, where the 3 street to mezzanine escalators are being completely replaced and a staircase added, is indicative of the steps Metro is willing to take to get the vertical movement problem under control.
"I'm an engineer by background," Sarles said. "I started out in construction, so my thing is delivering results, not talking about them forever."
On bag searches
Having told WTOP on Monday that the bag searches are more about deterrence than detection, we asked Sarles to explain how exactly these searches could deter a terrorist attack. Instead, he turned to the example of New York, essentially saying that because the NYPD and Port Authority Police have this policy, WMATA should as well.
"You don't want the bad guys to think everything is predictable," he said, reminded the group of bloggers several times that this is not his rationale, but that of counterterrorism experts. These experts have advised the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and NYPD policies, where, he says, random searches have been successful, though without offering any clarification of what 'successful' means.
When pressed on how much unpredictability is introduced by forcing a bad guy to go to a station several blocks away, Sarles again relied the authority of counterterrorism experts. These unnamed experts say that terrorists like to plan, and the unpredictability of random searches may force them to go back to the drawing board. Asked what's to keep a terrorist for planning for the event that their first target station has bag checks, he immediately changed the subject.
We asked Sarles whether WMATA had explored any ways to use the TSA grants to implement counterterrorism measures that also increase the presence of officers within the station, on the platforms. He answered quickly, "Well, these searches are just outside the fare control line," before changing the subject.
On a positive note, Sarles emphasized that he would not allow random searches to be something that caused any riders to stand in line to enter a station. "I don't want customers to be inconvenienced."
Sarles voiced far more concern over the future of federal funding, given the new Republican-controlled House, than the future of funding from Virginia or Maryland. He said he would be actively lobbying Congress, as well as working to mobilize other supporters much like was done at the end of 2010 to support extending the $230 transit benefit.
When asked what a drop in federal funding would mean, Sarles was blunt about the impact it would have on bringing WMATA up to a state of good repair. "We will not catch up. It's devastating."
On farecard improvements
WMATA has revealed plans to migrate from SmarTrip cards to an open payment fare technology. Sarles said the agency is just in the beginning phases of exploring these technologies, and will not be rolling out a full scale change until it is sure of the reliability and can mitigate the inconveniences to riders.
When asked about the summer revelation that the agency seemed to be running out of SmarTrip cards, he recognized there were clearly some communication issues that needed to be addressed as the agency moves forward with new fare payment programs.
On improving communication
We asked Sarles how he can help break the barriers between the various divisions of WMATA to improve communication within the agency, and between the operating divisions and the public. He said that he is working to instill the idea of "one message" with his leadership team.
When asked if this unifying approach could result in precluding more communication between the agency's divisions and the public, he said that WMATA is trying to open up communication through data reports and other regular releases.
On customer service
Sarles has been talking with riders at downtown stations over the last couple weeks, asking them what their biggest complaints are.
While the most common complaints he's heard deal with the disrespectful way in which many riders treat the trains and buses, leaving newspapers and trash behind, he acknowledged that the agency needs to make improvements in customer service.
WMATA is having an independent group assess the agency's customer call center, and how quickly and effectively it responds to customer issues. Sarles also plans to reintroduce a "secret shopper" program to get feedback from riders.
On increasing capacity
Major capital investments will be consumed by safety and state of good repair projects. In the near and medium term, Sarles acknowledged that the agency has no plans for major increases in capacity. Instead, WMATA will be concentrating on ways to improve the bus system, working with the jurisdictions to implement priority measures such as traffic signal priority and bus lanes.
On the 7000 series
The new rail cars, expected by 2014, will be 4-car sets, instead of married pairs, eliminating two cabs on each four car set and making more room for riders. The cars will have cameras throughout as well as automated station announcements and electronic information boards very similar to the New York Subway's new FIND systems.
While the "transverse" seating arrangements of the current cars, with forward and back facing seats, will remain, the cars we be built to allow reconfiguring the seating to "longitudinal," where seats face the center, if crowding becomes a problem and the agency decides to make the change.
Sarles said he would be happy to host blogger roundtables in the future, and we also discussed briefly the possibility of having chats with other members of the leadership team who can speak to more specific questions.
Although our time was short, and there were some dodgy answers regarding bag searches, the conversation with Sarles was informative and encouraging. We hope this engagement with the community continues.
Sarles is also appearing on TBD NewsTalk starting at 10 today.
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