WASHINGTON – The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) continues to face scrutiny from customers after another electrical arcing incident occurred last week and an internal performance scorecard revealed customer satisfaction is at its lowest levels.
Last Monday five arcing insulator at the Foggy Bottom Metro station caused smoke and a service shutdown, leading to delays at Rosslyn in northern Virginia. At a committee meeting of the WMATA Board of Directors on Thursday, officials apologized and promised to wash down the stations and clean and replace insulators in order to prevent more arcing incidents to happen.
“We have a responsibility to take care of our customers,” said WMATA Deputy General Manager Rob Troup. “We will do better in the future.”
Troup said the wash downs will occur in June and July, and are supposed to occur every two years.
Amid the chaos on Monday, many customers reported poor communication on the part of WMATA, according to Lynn Bowersox, assistant general manager of customer service. Two-thirds of customers who responded to a survey said they were already on the platform or train when the incident occurred and only 32 percent said they learned of disruptions directly from Metro.
Bowersox said 16 percent of respondents said they understood Metro’s announcements, but she attributed the confusion to people not understanding Metro “jargon.” In addition, 35 percent of respondents said they understood onboard announcements from Metro operators.
“We need to keep refining our ability to communicate with customers,” Bowersox said.
Tom Bulger, a member of the Board of Directors representing the District of Columbia, said he thinks WMATA needs prepositioned teams in place to respond to incidents more quickly. Troup said there are currently two teams—one in downtown D.C. and another in Virginia.
William Eullie, who represents Virginia, said the lack of communication by Metro during the incidents “irks” him.
“Personally, I don’t see any changes,” Eullie said. “…What we can control is improving our communication.”
Dan Stessel, a spokesman for WMATA, told reporters the implementation of new 7000 series rail cars will help improve communication because customers will be able to better hear announcements onboard the trains. The older cars use retrofitting technology and can have static or poor sound quality. The new cars will fix that problem, he said.
“You will notice that (the messages) crystal clear,” Stessel said. “They are computer-generated, automated and standard and digital. Volume of them is clear and audible. I have not heard a single complaint about clarity of those announcements. We’ve also taken advantage of break to add LCD and LED screens.”
Some customers have reported not hearing messages at all aboard Metro cars, leading to questions about train operators and whether or not they are all actually making announcements.
Stessel said he “finds it hard to believe” that operators are failing to make announcement and believes if customers are not hearing announcements, it more than likely is a problem with the car itself.
“Operators are trained to make announcements. They are tested on that,” Stessel said. “We have supervisors that ride trains every day. If you are not hearing announcements we want to know because we will take that rail car out of service.”
Stessel said rail supervisors regularly ride trains and listen for announcements, and WMATA also has a mystery shopper program that grades the rail service on a number of factors including lighting, clarity of announcements and overall quality of the ride.
During the Board of Directors meeting, Metro officials also presented the findings of the latest vital signs report, which showed eight of 10 measures had worsened. The only performance measures to remain the same or improve were elevator and escalator availability. The report reveals that bus on-time performance, rail-on time performance, rail fleet availability, bus fleet availability, injury and crime rates and overall customer satisfaction all worsened.
Andrea Burnside, chief performance officer for WMATA, said the first quarter of 2015 was “fraught with worse than normal cold, ice and multiple snow events,” which led to rail on-time performance that never reached Metro’s target. Burnside also said reliability measures worsened as Metro was challenged by the implementation of the Silver Line. Measures did begin improving in March, Burnside said, and she expects them to continue to improve in the second quarter of the year.
Injury rates also spiked because of the incident earlier this year in January at the L’Enfant Plaza station on the Yellow Line. According to the vital signs report, Metro released two new safety preparedness videos and launched a safety campaign targeted at the rail stations with the most injuries in 2014.