City Paper is not for tourists
Malfunctioning Metrobus doors breed pent-up anger.
“C’mon!” yells the passenger on the No. 90 bus to Anacostia. “Back door, back door!”
It’s a Wednesday afternoon, off peak, and the interior of the bus has been sleepy until now. But the man, eyeing the U Street subway station and standing by the rear exit, is getting agitated.
The green overhead light, which signals that the back doors have been released, remains dark. The man sucks his teeth, throws his hands in the air, and tries to catch the driver’s eye. The driver, fumbling with the controls, refuses to look up.
Finally, after about 10 seconds, the green light comes on. The passenger shoves the doors open, then pauses before stepping out. “About time!” he hollers. “Shit!” The driver shakes his head, and the bus moves on.
Rear-door problems have plagued Metro’s 2000 series Orion buses—2-year-old computerized buses that make up roughly one-sixth of its fleet. Metro spokesperson Lisa Farbstein says the rear doors are being reprogrammed to keep them from staying open too long. “They should close in three or four seconds, and they’re taking as long as nine seconds to close,” Farbstein says. “The idea is that all of the electronic systems talk to each other to make sure that the doors don’t close on patrons.”
But Farbstein says Metro is unaware of the reverse problem—doors that are reluctant to open. “The problems we’re seeing is in close time,” Farbstein says. “I ride the bus every day, and I’ve noticed that it takes the doors longer to close….In my personal observations, I haven’t seen other problems.”
Regular bus riders, though, say the forced wait to disembark is a common feature. “It seems like something that plays out time and time again,” says Mount Pleasant resident John Smith, who rides the S4 and 42 buses. “It’s especially bad when it’s crowded. When a door malfunctions, everyone comes up to the front, and as soon as everyone is out, the green light comes on and it finally works.”
“I’ve seen signs saying ‘Back Door Closed,’ or the driver will tell you not to use the back door,” says Petworth resident Jason Harris Sr., a regular passenger on the 70 bus. “I’m a young man, so I can walk to the front, but people say things like, ‘I paid my money for this bus to work right.’”
Frustrated riders concede that things could be worse: They could be the ones driving the buses, absorbing the dirty looks and profanity when the computers won’t cooperate. “I feel really sorry for the drivers,” Smith says. “They’re always stuck in the middle trying to explain.”
But for most passengers, Harris says, yelling at a driver is akin to lodging a formal complaint. “It’s not the driver’s fault,” he says, “but they’re the closest thing to a customer service representative that we’ve got when we’re riding the bus.” CP