14 June 2011

Metro's Rockville Bomb Scare

My Observations

It's been just over a year that I've been riding the Metro, or as I affectionately hashtag it seemingly daily "#WMATA" (Washington Metro Area Transit Authority).  In that year I've been on trains holding in tunnels, hot cars, mildewy cars, and more cars that smell of human waste than I care to recount.  I've skipped stations, missed stops, and had problems with my SmarTrip card.  But I've never had a train reverse direction and go back to the station. Until yesterday.

If you're reading this you know at least that there was a bomb threat at the Rockville station yesterday either via the news or via my live-tweeting my commute. The operator of my train did a good job of explaining to everyone that there was a bomb threat at Rockville and that we were going back to Shady Grove, and that there would be shuttle busses (that may have been announced over the intercom once we were back at the station, though).  The fare gates were all wide open and once the usual bottleneck getting down the stairs was surmounted, we were all able to get to the other side without issue.  But then getting up to the West side bus stops proved to be a problem because people were clustering at the top of the stairs unsure of their next move, and there was no one there to direct them.  I can see where a WMATA employee would have been of great assistance in directing the mass of confused commuters that were anxiously awaiting the shuttle bus.

The busses showed up in what I suppose is about as fast as can be expected, given that this was an unplanned event and a low-probability one at that (I'm guessing).  I'd rather wait 20 minutes for the busses to roll in that pay a bus driver to be on stand-by.  The escalators need that money more. These busses were labeled "OUT OF SERVICE" rather than "SPECIAL SHUTTLE TO GROSVENOR", or some other clear indicator of our rolling salvation.  I didn't even bother trying for the first 2 busses that rolled in.  The third bus opened up his back door and thus I was able to board.

(Side note:  a lesson learned from riding the Metrobus for the first time in 6 years is while it's good to stand and let others sit, make sure you don't stand in an odd fashion to allow someone past for too long, otherwise you're stuck like that for the ride.  Spent most of the ride awkwardly grasping at the bar because others filled in my odd shaped gap in an overlong chivalrous moment on my part.)

I like to think I'm pretty good at Metro-surfing, even with a newer operator who thinks the brakes are a bass drum pedal and she's Lars Ulrich.  But the bus.  Oh the bus.  I'm shocked it was just my calves that were sore when I woke up this morning.  I was certain I'd pulled an arm muscle or 3.  But I'm sure my rush hour driving isn't much smoother when in traffic.

The driver got us to our stop, what I thought was Grosvener (I'm admittedly not  familiar with the area around the stations), but turned out to be White Flint. While the connector bus to get us the last mile was mere minutes way, it would have been nice if the bus driver had clued us all in on what was going on when he dropped us there.  I felt a general air of confusion.  Maybe it was just me?

After the last few miles to Grosvenor, and one of the two WMATA employees who had been chatting with the bus driver for the duration of the trip (everyone likes a nice chat while working, right?) spilled the ice from her drink right in front of the exit, we got into Grosvenor and another employee (just in time)  announced that people in my situation could come through the emergency gate rather than the fare gates, I was on the platform boarding a train that had obviously been in service at prior stations because there were no seats to be had. I wonder if just staying put at Shady Grove would have been as effective?  But then this essay wouldn't exist, would it?

Did I mention it looked like someone was doing bag checks at Grosvenor?  Because it appeared that a uniformed officer was having a lady display the contents of her bag for him, but it was all smiles and I was in something of a hurry, so she could have been rummaging for a tissue for him to blow his nose, for all I know.  While it makes sense to be checking bags then and there, the fact that shuttle busses are dropping off hundreds of extra commuters at your station makes it something of a pyhrric effort.

In the end, Grosvenor to Waterfront went uneventfully, and my trip home was as vanilla as usual, such a disruptive element to my day (and so many others' day) leaving no lasting visible marks, which is for the best.  So, in summary, while the busses seemed to do the job right, and I was glad for all the extra caution employed by WMATA &c, a little extra communication and human traffic shaping from same would have made the experience more efficient and less like a cattle drive.  Stand clear, Doors are closing.

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