MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We turn now to a problem that's been haunting Metro for quite a while now, broken escalators. And while out of commission escalators might not be spooky or eerie, depending on which Metro station you're trying to exit, it certainly can be a hellish sight. And they are the topic of our weekly transportation segment "From A to B."
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
A couple of recent outages at the Bethesda Metro station even prompted an emergency meeting this week that involved the residents, county leaders and Metro officials. Jonathan Wilson has more on the infernal inconvenience of the out-of-service escalator and why the system wide problem could get worse before it gets better.
MR. JONATHAN WILSON
This week's emergency meeting of Montgomery County council's transportation committee started with some wry humor from council member Roger Berliner who chairs the committee.
MR. ROGER BERLINER
When we sent out the notice with respect to tonight's meeting, my staff had prepared it and it said, and if you take the Metro, then take the escalator up. And I turned to my staff and I jokingly said, let's put in the phrase cross your fingers.
Either not enough people heeded the council's tongue and cheek advice or the finger crossing just didn't work because sure enough, there was another escalator outage on the day of the meeting, prompting fresh outrage directed at Metro's superintendent of escalators and elevators, Rodrigo Bitar. Berliner set the tone.
None of us want to be talking about three escalators being out at one time, 175 stairs to climb. It is not acceptable.
Bitar gave the crowd a detailed presentation complete with timelines and graphs and it explaining why Metro's 588 escalators, the largest number of any transit system in the country and the third largest of any system in the world, are deteriorating.
MR. RODRIGO BITAR
Seventy-five percent of our units are 25 years old or older. We have multiple manufacturers, many of them no longer in service so getting parts to maintain this equipment becomes more difficult every day.
Bitar also told the crowd that Bethesda's escalators, some of the longest at any station, were last refurbished in 2001 and 2002. He says the life cycle for a rehabilitated escalator is about a decade. So Bethesda's escalators are at the limit of their reliable lives. So we're here at the Bethesda station where all three long escalators, escalators two, three and four are working right now. Metro actually says that escalator four, that's the one I'm on, has a service record above the system wide average. Escalators two and three have had more problems and if two escalators break down, it usually means all three will be stopped. There isn't a staircase here.
So Metro shuts the third down for people to use as a staircase while it repairs the other two. Of course, for commuters, it doesn't really matter if an escalator is shut down on purpose or not. If all three at Bethesda are stopped, it means a lot of walking. Regular rider, Raymond Nelson has bad knees and says climbing a stopped escalator at Bethesda just wouldn't be an option.
MR. RAYMOND NELSON
If that happened to me, they'd have to cart me away in a wheelchair because my knees would never handle this long a run.
During a heat wave in 1998, a man named Richard Hadaway Smith even died from a heart attack he suffered after climbing a stationary escalator at Bethesda on an especially hot day. There are elevators at the Bethesda station, but they're not set up to handle all the people coming through. Commuter Mike Thorp says the escalator issue is starting to cast another dark cloud over Metro's future.
MR. MIKE THORP
It's hurting Metro. It's hurting the confidence in the Metro system. It's fraying our nerves.
Back at the meeting, Jon Weintraub of Bethesda Urban Partnership says, soon Metro's failure to fix or replace aging equipment will start affecting entire communities.
MR. JON WEINTRAUB
Development in the county is targeted at Metro stops. This development strategy will fail unless we can figure out a way to increase the reliability of escalators and our Metro train.
What the crowd didn't hear at the meeting were many solutions. Rodrigo Bitar says Metro has what it calls an aggressive $148 million modernization plan over the next five years. But that plan doesn’t call for Bethesda's escalators to be replaced until the spring of 2015. Ben Ross with the Action Committee for transit is outraged about the escalators, but he still puts his faith in the mass transit system.
MR. BEN ROSS
The roads are worse. I think people still like Metro because the roads are worse.
It's hardly a ringing endorsement, but it's one that Metro has to live with, at least for now. I'm Jonathan Wilson.
What do you think Metro should do about its broken down escalators? You can reach us at email@example.com.
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