Tuesday, May 25, 2010

School groups on MARC

Last week I received an email from a MARC commuter concerned about how the system handles school groups aboard the trains. Specifically she was pleased to received advance notice on May 13 that a group would be aboard train #513 the next morning.

She was not pleased that the students were given the first two cars for the following reasons:
- When the group disembarks the students clog the platform awaiting instructions from teachers
- Daily commuters should get priority boarding for the first two cars since they're the closest to the station upon arrival. Why are consistent commuters being penalized for their loyalty over occasional riders?
- If students need to be close to the bathroom (reason given by conductor to commuter for why students had to ride at the front of the train) why not add another bathroom car?

I brought the commuter's above concerns to Rafi Guroian, chair of MRAC (MARC Riders' Advisory Council). Rafi had received similar complaints from other riders and had already brought the issue up with the MTA.

Rafi providing the following explanation for the May 14 incident with the school group (I've edited his full response for brevity).

1. The group boarded at Perryville, whose switch track only allows boarding at the southern end of the train.
2. MTA had attempted to get the train crew to instruct the school supervisors to keep their charges on the train until everyone else disembarked. Alas the ball was dropped somewhere along the way on that one. (I'm sure any teachers/parents in audience are sympathetic here).
3. MTA conceded that they'd overbooked school groups, promising to split groups over multiple trains in the future.

Also, Rafi noted his genuine concerns about reports that both teachers and students were yelled at and cursed at by commuters. "We take trains instead of driving to relax, presumably, and there's no call for vulgarity amongst each other-- adults, most of us-- God forbid children," Rafi wrote.

In closing Rafi noted that the school group incident is emblematic of a larger problem MARC is facing: adequately handling increased ridership. "I believe what happened Friday is a small preview of things to come," Rafi warned.

Rafi detailed the severe capacity constraints that the MARC system and Union Station in particular are facing: no hard, funded plans for new equipment in the near future, no space to put new cars even if we procured them, no money to alleviate space issues at Union Station.

Compared to similar metro areas around the U.S., DC-Baltimore "looks like a skeleton with no meat," says Rafi. He continues that the State of Maryland, specifically the lawmakers that hold the purse and policy strings in Annapolis, need to wake up and "Do something to really plan for the future of our transit systems in MD."

Rafi concluded by conceding that MTA/MARC folks probably could have handled Friday's school group more smoothly, but he argued that the system is operating with very limited equipment, stations and funding. "They're stretching a rubber band just about as far as it'll go," he wrote.

Help Rafi bring more attention to transit needs by contacting your state elected officials. Look them up and find their contact info here.

3 comments:

  1. @Rafi: "They're stretching a rubber band just about as far as it'll go," he wrote.

    No kidding. We're definitely seeing that on the Brunswick line:

    - Friday evening a Brunswick Line train dies in Silver Spring. Passengers offloaded to following train, which in turn delayed the train behind it. The dead train consisted of four or five of the Sumitomo coaches not being pulled by one of the new MP36 diesels.

    - This morning P874 was, in the words of our conductor "a no show". Not sure whether that meant crew failed to report for duty or another equipment breakdown. Passengers doubled up onto following trains.

    - This evening CSX had heat orders in effect on the Camden and Brunswick lines ... and today's high temperature was only 77 degrees. Maybe it was hot in Jacksonville?

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  2. - This evening CSX had heat orders in effect on the Camden and Brunswick lines ... and today's high temperature was only 77 degrees. Maybe it was hot in Jacksonville?

    I believe CSX recently switched back to regional control centers, with one located in the Baltimore region.

    (pun intended)

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