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Metrorail elevators may be notoriously unreliable, but the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) certainly doesn’t try to hide the problem. When it comes to documenting its brokenness, WMATA unleashes an exhaustive technological array: Besides the signs and public-address systems inside each Metro station, commuters can get outage information on the agency’s Web site, through a telephone hot line, via a custom e-mail service, as a message on a pager or PDA, or as a text message on a cell phone.
And unlike the system’s people-moving devices, the elevator-advisory matrix never takes the day off. On Friday, Sept. 12, elevator service at all 83 Metro stations was running full steam ahead. So was the warning system. Commuters who typically listen to a minute or two of elevator-outage listings instead heard the crackling in-station PA announce the following elevators were out of service: “none.”
The bulletin also received major screen time on the Metro’s slow-scrolling passenger-information signs. Under the red, all-caps banner “ELEVATOR OUTAGES,” the message “none” continually floated by in soothing yellow.
“It seems every day there’s something out,” said 25-year-old Shaw resident Adam McGinnis as he exited the Shaw/Howard University station on R Street NW. “It’s good PR for themselves to promote that they’re not incompetent.”
Spokesperson Steven Taubenkibel says WMATA’s continued broadcasts of no distress weren’t simply boasting. “It’s a responsibility to tell customers if something’s not working, and even if everything’s working in the system, we’ll still tell customers,” he says.
The announcement didn’t necessarily mean that all 197 elevators in the Metro system were moving, Taubenkibel says. Stations get credit for being in service as long as they have one working elevator entrance, he explains. “There’s a possibility that an elevator could have been out of service at that time for routine maintenance,” he says.
Taubenkibel says he’s not sure when the last time was that all systems were go, but by Monday, Sept. 15, everything was back to normal: The Wheaton and Anacostia stations were elevator-inaccessible. Shuttle service was provided upon request. Josh Levin