Sexism alive and well at D.C. Metro
December 6, 2013 1:12 PM   Subscribe

DC Metro launched a new ad to promote their rebuilding effort and were immediately criticized for the sexist message. Parodies have begun.
posted by agatha_magatha (70 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was really shocked to see that the other day. I have seen defenses of it saying it was progress because it was the Asian portrayed as vapid. (!)

(Your first link goes to a homepage that doesn't appear to be a criticism.)
posted by headnsouth at 1:18 PM on December 6, 2013


There have been some smart comments about this over at Greater Greater Washington - a few samples:

. . . what really gets me is the dripping contempt for all riders that is inherent in the ad. No, most riders don't know how far the average Metrobus goes between breakdowns (I'm guessing 99.99% of WMATA employees don't know either). And they don't care. They want their train and bus to run on time, without breakdowns or excessive, unpredictable delays. Implicitly sneering at them for failing to appreciate the finer pleasures of rail tamping is catastrophically stupid.

The ad didn't provide any context about whether breaking down every 8260 miles is a good thing or a bad thing. How often do other transit agencies' buses break down? Is it getting better, or worse?

. . . a round trip on a typical bus route is what, 20 miles? Assume they do ten runs a day per bus (which seems probably low) that's 200 miles a day. Which translates to a bus breaking down every 41 days. I'm way more concerned that they're bragging about each bus breaking down on a monthly basis.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:23 PM on December 6, 2013 [33 favorites]


Campaigns like these, with copy like that, give me great comfort that I'll always have a job.
posted by tallthinone at 1:25 PM on December 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


If the words were left off or replaced with pretty much anything it would still manage to be a laughably bad advertisement. But sadly the words are there so it's not even funny. If this wasn't put together by an employee's kid for 50 bucks, then someone should probably step away from the Adobe Creative Suite.
posted by Hoopo at 1:25 PM on December 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why would they need to advertise at all?
posted by Sys Rq at 1:26 PM on December 6, 2013


Yeah, besides the sexism that seems like not a number you'd want to promote. 8260 miles? My minivan has 50k on it, if it had broken down 6 times already I would be screaming at Honda.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 1:26 PM on December 6, 2013 [11 favorites]


What? I'm shocked! I'd expect much better from an agency that blames pedestrians for being run over by buses and makes up statistics to claim performance improvements (because they actually have no accurate system for measuring performance).
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:28 PM on December 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


I guess "Can't we just talk about how much public transportation infrastructure funding is totally fucked in this country?" didn't fit in the speech bubble.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:29 PM on December 6, 2013 [23 favorites]


If the words were left off or replaced with pretty much anything it would still manage to be a laughably bad advertisement.

It's true, they could just as easily been eating salad.
posted by headnsouth at 1:29 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would probably say the same thing if someone spouted random factoids about transportation and I don't even have feet to begin with.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:30 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


The "can't we just talk about shoes" ad made me laugh, since that's exactly the conversation I have with my (male) morning route driver EVERY DAY. Dude loves shoes and always asks about mine and tells me about his outlandish shoe purchases.
posted by resurrexit at 1:31 PM on December 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


If my car broke down every 8,000 miles I would get rid of it because it was a lemon.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 1:32 PM on December 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


that's exactly the conversation I have with my (male) morning route driver EVERY DAY

Really? I usually have to call a 1-900 number for that conversation every day. Can you tell me more about your shoes?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:33 PM on December 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


How is it that a bus can't even travel 9000 miles with breaking down?
posted by 3.2.3 at 1:34 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


If my car broke down every 8,000 miles I would get rid of it because it was a lemon.

If your car broke down two or three times a week (seriously) would you make up a bullshit advertising campaign to convince your neighbor to keep carpooling with you? That's what metro's doing here!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:35 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have no idea how often most buses break down, but as a good rule of thumb if WMATA is bragging about something, it's almost certainly something they are terrible at. It's why you see so many ads talking about how many of their escalators are working.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:35 PM on December 6, 2013 [18 favorites]


I feel terrible about defending WMATA in any way, but I'd imagine that the fact that the buses are constantly accelerating and braking makes them break down more often than a regular car. I don't know if that makes a breakdown every 8,000 miles okay or not, though (probably not).
posted by troika at 1:39 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Off the sexism topic, but if you give them speech bubbles, you don't need quotation marks.
posted by rmxwl at 1:39 PM on December 6, 2013 [51 favorites]


I'd imagine that the fact that the buses are constantly accelerating and braking makes them break down more often than a regular car.

So, just for comparison, I have a car in DC and drive the same streets as the Metrobuses, but my car hasn't broken down in over 80,000 miles. Same streets, same lights, >10X the reliability. That doesn't seem too good to me.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:44 PM on December 6, 2013


"Hey, vapid idiot customers! YOU'RE WELCOME" isn't a winning brand management strategy? How were they to know, really? Maybe they should run some more ads with copy like "Why are you braindead dunces all 'offended' now? Thank you for choosing WMATA"
posted by clockzero at 1:46 PM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, Metro. The jokes just write themselves.

Remember, this is the same organization whose public spokesman once said, "One person's harassment is another person's flirting."

(He never apologized for that comment, as far as I know.)
posted by QuantumMeruit at 1:47 PM on December 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


So, just for comparison, I have a car in DC

I was thinking at bus stops but yeah, you're right, really isn't much different than normal city driving.
posted by troika at 1:48 PM on December 6, 2013


Remember, this is the same organization whose public spokesman once said, "One person's harassment is another person's flirting."

Yes, during a string of sexual assaults in the system no less.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:48 PM on December 6, 2013


I found this which suggests that New York buses need repairs every 4,700 miles, but that might not be the same as "breaking down." This from the MBTA suggest that they're getting 16,600 miles between breakdowns, but that they had a goal of 6,600 which seems weird. I might be misreading that. I'm now weirdly obsessed with this question.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:49 PM on December 6, 2013


Off the sexism topic, but if you give them speech bubbles, you don't need quotation marks.

Does this mean that the two characters are in fact imitating others in an ironic manner, as if they are ridiculing the stereotype that women aren't interested in technical stuff? Whoa.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:50 PM on December 6, 2013 [13 favorites]


If i had to bet, buses are *serviced* every 8k miles, so throw in some actual breakdowns, the average bus is in the shop (repair, or maintenance) a little over that 8k miles. Add in some really stupid advertising types that didn't follow through to the logical conclusion of that statistic, blend with some misunderstanding (in the shop=breakdown) and viola, there's your terrible-once-you-think-about-it statistic.

The ad is obviously idiotic - so an idiotic misunderstanding of equipment maintenance isn't a stretch.
posted by notsnot at 1:50 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, just for comparison, I have a car in DC and drive the same streets as the Metrobuses, but my car hasn't broken down in over 80,000 miles. Same streets, same lights, >10X the reliability. That doesn't seem too good to me.

God you're right. I didn't even think of it like that. They basically break down every time they need an oil change. With the amount of miles those things drive everyday this muse amount to a break down every couple months. That's horribly unreliable.
posted by whoaali at 1:51 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's kind of surprising "Metro forward" hasn't yet been defined on Urban Dictionary as "to a grinding halt."

I almost lost my balance on the Orange Line this morning when the train went Metro forward three times between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom.
posted by psoas at 1:51 PM on December 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Regarding the actual substance of the bus data, it looks like the Metro Forward ad refers to "bus mean distance between failures". WMATA's November 2011 "Vital Signs Report" cites bus figures which are in-line with what's on the ad.

Googling the same phrase shows MARTA figures that are a lot lower. Similarly, these figures from Connecticut's DOT show a figure of 4,782 miles (with a goal of 5,000 miles) for Q1 2010.

Unclear to me how fleet age or other factors play into these numbers. It may very well be that WMATA actually does have something to brag about here. I'm not a transportation engineer, just wanted to share what I found in some quick googling.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 1:53 PM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


A conversation no two human beings would ever have, two lousily-Photoshopped women who are not looking at each other and don't appear to be inhabiting the same physical space, weirdly combative "dialogue," and of course the sexism. This is so bad it's almost Dada.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:53 PM on December 6, 2013 [11 favorites]


If i had to bet, buses are *serviced* every 8k miles

Since we're airing WMATA pet peeves (or at least I am anyway), it makes me giggle every time a Metro announcer comes over the PA to inform me that a train will "service" my platform in a few minutes.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:55 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Off the sexism topic, but if you give them speech bubbles, you don't need quotation marks.

I would almost bet money the original concept didn't have them, but some exec insisted on putting them in. Either that, or they just made some poor intern slap it together, who just pasted it in from the email and no one noticed.
posted by emjaybee at 1:58 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love it. Love it! Sexism aside, who on earth thought up an ad campaign with the concept:

"Hey Denise, did you know [astonishingly dry fact]???"

"Shut the fuck up, Lydia."

You can try it with other brands too:

"Hey, have you heard that the brand name "tylenol" is derived from the chemical name for the compound N-acetyl-para-aminophenol?"

"Who gives a shit?"

or

"Did you know that over 40 million Furbies were sold during the three years of its original production?"

"Go away and leave me alone."

Now that's what I call a value proposition!
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:00 PM on December 6, 2013 [59 favorites]


WMATA should be, I think, in the running for the worst public service agency in America. Seriously, Richard Sarles (the GM) and Dan Stessel (the PR guy) have been caught in, no shit, dozens of lies about service issues, from little white ones to big ones. They spent millions on three high-speed, high-capacity elevators for Rosslyn station - the second-deepest mass transit station in the world, with the second-longest escalator in the world - and they've been operational maybe 2 out of 3 days since they opened. IN OCTOBER.

The third-most-popular station in the system - Farragut West - has had nonoperational platform escalators for months on the inbound side of the tracks. That means that every morning, eight-car trains deposit hundreds of people on the platform every two minutes, where they subsequently back up because they all have to trundle up two 4-foot wide staircases.

Headways on the weekend are embarassing. Almost every line is at 20 minute headways every weekend, which is, I believe, less frequent than commuter services like LIRR and NJT in the New York area. And that's just the service level they've committed to provide - in actuality, any weekend trip on metro is likely to take you upwards of an hour, regardless of where you're going.

It's completely fucking absurd, and I know most of it has to do with funding and stuff like that, but even a tiny bit of basic managerial give a shit there would make things a whole lot nicer for riders.
posted by downing street memo at 2:03 PM on December 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


There are a few problems here - one of them is the definition of 'breakdown' - which does not equate to 'bus stops running in the middle of the street'. That was not thoughful on Metro's part.

The other thing is that the service pattern is a lot different. Highway/high-speed driving is not bad for your car (which is where most people do most of the miles) - DC buses stop and start frequently and accumulate a lot more wear. They also have often north of 60-70 people on them. And run most of the day continuously. THey often can last at least 12 years or much longer even in those conditions. Why do you think rental cars are retired so early?

Not to say that the ad wasn't in bad taste or that laying out a number like that was smart. But the operational profile of a urban transit bus that spends 12-14 hours a day in operation carrying 50-70 or more people at peak is a lot different than a passenger car used for 30-60 per day.
posted by waylaid at 2:10 PM on December 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


To be honest, I would still trade Septa for Metro in a heartbeat. A nano heartbeat. If you can complain about your escalators that go down, your late night service or your Smart Card, that means you have the mirage of those things to begin with.

This is hilariously bad though, like it was designed by Ferenghi working from only sitcoms as their source of human female conversations.


also I would guess that Metro buses take a much bigger and longer beating every day than a passenger vehicle, unless you transport a football team and a troop of cub scouts around for fun<>
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:13 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


To be honest, I would still trade Septa for Metro in a heartbeat. A nano heartbeat. If you can complain about your escalators that go down, your late night service or your Smart Card, that means you have the mirage of those things to begin with.

Right, but Philly is much more car-amenable, in my opinion, than DC. DC has the worst of all worlds - douchey people, prohibitively expensive real estate, high cost of car ownership, zero parking and awful traffic, and an awful public transit system to boot.

Basically, if you want to travel in the DC area, be prepared for frustration. One notable exception is cycling, which DDOT has done a good job of promoting/protecting in recent years. But we're basically one bad mayor from all of that being reversed.
posted by downing street memo at 2:17 PM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


The other thing is that the service pattern is a lot different. Highway/high-speed driving is not bad for your car (which is where most people do most of the miles) - DC buses stop and start frequently and accumulate a lot more wear. They also have often north of 60-70 people on them. And run most of the day continuously. THey often can last at least 12 years or much longer even in those conditions.

In DC's case they go out for a run and are returned to one of several depot yards. This may be a round trip or in the case of a one-way run, out and then back to the yard. Many buses will return to the yard after their morning rush hour run and sit until the evening rush hour run. Much of their time is in idle. City residents personal cars will endure similar conditions to these, driving in city traffic during the morning and evening commute. Similar large engine vehicles go through many more hours between "failures" (to use WMATA's term) though, as you said those hours would be on highways.

Why do you think rental cars are retired so early?

Dings and smells. If they retired Metrobusses for the smell we'd have a new fleet each week.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 2:25 PM on December 6, 2013


Every day I hope and pray that 60 Minutes suddenly decides to do an expose on WMATA so the rest of the world can know what we deal with daily.
posted by tittergrrl at 2:27 PM on December 6, 2013


I guarantee you the people that made that ad just saw the ~8,000 number, saw that it was "big" in an absolute sense, and ran with it. That's how dumb WMATA is. It's enough to turn someone conservative sometimes.
posted by downing street memo at 2:27 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I spent a year commuting daily on the Metro and for the most part never had much of a problem (blue line and orange line almost exclusively). Though, walking up/past the broken escalators really helped burn some calories....so....

As for the ad, it's just one of those things that make me think, "Dang, someone far more stupid than me is probably making twice what I make to work a job half as hard." Argh.
posted by Atreides at 2:44 PM on December 6, 2013


I dunno, I think their raider and feral ghoul problem needs to be addressed first.
posted by The Whelk at 2:53 PM on December 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Worth noting: Transit agencies all seem to measure Mean Distance Between Failures very differently. Some include preventative maintenance into the figure (because its desirable for vehicles to require less maintenance overall), while others only factor in mechanical delays that lead to substantial delays (because its important to provide a reliable transit service). NYC only factors major delays, and as a result, their numbers are often two orders of magnitude better than anybody else.

Of course, the raw numbers dont tell a lot by themselves, especially without context. The important factor is not necessarily the number, but how the agency reacts to it (and the other metrics that they collect). Its tough to say if WMATA is doing a good job here or not. Bus delays certainly seem pretty uncommon, although its hard to tell because most DC-area bus service is pretty lousy to begin with.

I hate to rag on Metro, because I think that people give them very little credit for the very difficult things that they do manage to accomplish, and don't acknowledge that the agency's current state of affairs was largely created by previous administrations.

That being said, Metro's PR strategy is far too opaque and condescending. Dan Stessel definitely improved things when he was hired, although things seem to have reverted back into the old state of affairs recently. Sarles also deserves some flack for his inability to communicate a concrete timeline for completing the current round of major repairs (or even elaborating on why they're necessary). As things stand, Metro is basically only useful as a commuter railroad for 9-5 workers. Night and weekend service is useless...
posted by schmod at 2:59 PM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


"A Metrobus travels about 8,260 miles between breakdowns. Didn't know that, did you?"
"Can't we just talk about shoes?"
"No. Not ever since my father was killed by shoes. Do you remember that day? Do you know what happened? A hole ripped open in the bulkhead, and the Manolos flooded in. We had seconds to maintain shoe-tight integrity. I had to go below and give the order to dog the hatches. That meant...that men...that were still in the main engine space were trapped. You ever listen to men drowning in shoes? They don't die quietly. The roar of Reeboks against the walls. Lungs filling with Clarks. They try to scream, but only Keds come out. A drowning man does not die silently. You can feel the final warning. And the black money follows, through the veins of the shallow."
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:01 PM on December 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


I, for one, am fascinated by basically irrelevant operational details like how often the buses break down. I'd love to know more! How often are delays caused by traffic? By a collision? By an unruly passenger?
posted by aubilenon at 3:06 PM on December 6, 2013


Some comparison bus stats - although, on preview, schmod raises a good point in that the measurement may vary by operator:
Chicago CTA (2005): 3,995 miles between failure
New York MTA (2011): 3,393 miles between failure
Philadelphia SEPTA (2008): 4,027 miles between failure
Boston MBTA (2011): 8,972 miles between failures (goal is 6,000)

The average WMATA bus drives around 30,283 miles a year of revenue service, plus some modest dead-heading. So four breakdowns a year.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 3:10 PM on December 6, 2013


"can't we just talk about shoes?"

"shoes?"

"well, if you're going to have to walk the last two miles of the bus route, you'd better be wearing something that isn't going to kill your feet"
posted by pyramid termite at 3:39 PM on December 6, 2013 [11 favorites]


I went ahead and fixed the ad.

You're welcome, Washington D.C. Metro System.
posted by i_have_a_computer at 4:01 PM on December 6, 2013 [14 favorites]


So does that 8k figure include PM? Cuz how in the world does that make any sense?
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 4:03 PM on December 6, 2013


If they're serious that it was meant to be lighthearted banter between friends, they'd better come up with a new version of the ad where it's two guys instead, with the first guy saying exactly the same thing and the second guy saying something like "can't we just tell fart jokes instead?" or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:04 PM on December 6, 2013


Buses may have a usage pattern that puts a lot more wear and tear on them than the average passenger car, but you'd think they'd be built to take it. It's not like the manufacturers don't realize that they're building a vehicle that is going to be tasked with transporting roughly a hundred people, day-in-day-out, at low speeds through a dense urban area with lots of stops, possibly for decades. It's possible to engineer for that kind of abuse, and manufacturers have a big incentive to do so. Reliability has to be one of the main factors driving municipal bus-purchasing decisions here since things like maintenance, backup vehicles, and service interruptions are among their biggest financial liabilities. If you have a reputation for building buses that break down a lot, only idiots will buy them.

Given all that, I'd wager that most city buses are designed to be able to handle the abuse. If they're breaking down a lot, it's probably because the city either a) bought shitty buses in a short-sighed cost-saving maneuver (i.e. they are the idiots I mentioned above), b) is running their buses long past their intended service life because their transportation system is underfunded or is squandering its funds, or c) isn't doing proper maintenance on its bus fleet.

Making vehicles that don't break down all the time despite rough and heavy use is pretty much a solved problem; just ask the construction industry, or the military. You have to engineer for it, but it's perfectly doable as long as your customers are willing to pay more up front in exchange for less trouble and expense later. Like I said, you'd have to be an idiot to buy shitty buses that break down all the time. Of course, there are a lot of idiots out there in city governments.
posted by Scientist at 4:30 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, I don't want to talk about shoes, I want to talk about bus reliability statistics in my town, especially relating to the fact that there are three companies travelling on the same stretch of road, and only one continually posts on Facebook about how terrible the traffic is and how all their buses are going to be delayed, which might have something to do with the fact that there are at least 10 buses, of at the most 4 different routes, from the same company, in the same small stretch of road, and that the main reason for congestion upon that stretch of road is poor planning of the second stage of the tram, which is also now owned by the same company.

Why am I suddenly so interested in finding statistics? I wasn't interested before, I just complained about the shitty traffic and the four buses in a row from the same damn company and the same damn route all having to stop at the same time just so the first one can let off one person. But now I desperately want to find the statistics, I want to find proof that adding more buses increases the problem rather than solves the problem, that having leather seats and local celebrities doing the voiceover for the stops doesn't make the journey any faster or better, and that reliability is what wins customers, because the other two companies seem to be doing quite well with that.

Ugh. If I end up in the local paper due to a minor commute-related grudge turning into some serious bus-spotting nerd attack of rage, I am totally creating "the MetaFilter defence" for my court case.

Dammit.
posted by Katemonkey at 4:30 PM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've been living in the DC Metro area for sixish years, and using Metro to commute for about five years. WMATA is a fuckup, but having tried MARTA I thank my lucky stars. I'm not excusing WMATA for their massive corruption and incompetence, but I wonder how much of it is due to having three masters, DC, MD, and VA that it has to beg money for. It's never certain of its funding levels. It's much like DC government and home rule, a lack of full autonomy and the accountability means that it can get away with a lot of shit.

I might have been on that Red Line crash a few years ago if I wasn't seeing a show at Woolly Mammoth. I'd have been in one of the front cars, so it could have been bad for me. I'm currently on the Blue/Yellow, and while it's nice to have access to two lines, the Rush Plus screws the Blue Line and can make what should be a quick commute during rush hour into dark comedy as people trample their way to get onto only Blue train to come for 20+ minutes. While another Blue train is only seconds away.

The Orange line is completely fucked by the tunnel bottleneck, it's already running past capacity, and now WMATA is going to add on Silver Line traffic, for some reason. I know that getting the line built in any other way was probably unfeasible, but I have a dream of a Silver Line that runs through Georgetown (fuckers), and into areas of the city that don't have as much train access. And I touch myself thinking about the Purple Line that could be.

DC doesn't work without the Metro, it would shut down. The traffic is already stupid. But using it on the weekends is a crapshot at the best of times. I have a car, and there are times when it just makes more sense to drive through the city, even when I live two blocks from a station and my destination is just five or six stops up the line. I can wait 20+ minutes either end of my trip (if I'm lucky). And that's if my line, or any line is working. I have incredibly bad luck when it comes to hosting parties on days when WMATA decides to shut down the entire line and most routes of access to wherever I'm living, it shifted from the Red Line to the Blue/Yellow when I moved (sorry guys).

I'm not even sure what I'm saying at this point beyond the usual DC carping. I want Metro to work better, but I don't know what can be done, because there are obvious systemic issues.
posted by X-Himy at 4:31 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, there are some bus routes that run along K St that have a maddening number of stops. Surely switching from a stop at every cross street to at least every other cross street would move things along a little faster? You could probably even run more buses since theoretically their routes would move quicker due to less stopping.
posted by X-Himy at 4:32 PM on December 6, 2013


aubilenon: "I, for one, am fascinated by basically irrelevant operational details like how often the buses break down."

I have bus data! I literally just went to a presentation on this two weeks ago!

So my school district has 154 buses running in four-season weather similar to DC's. Most buses run at least four school routes per day (one elementary, one high school, each going morning and evening). Some then head back to the bus barn between routes; others drive field trips, inter-school transit, etc. Then there are late buses for kids with activities. They run 5,650 miles each day (total for all buses) transporting just under 10,000 students each day, for a yearly total of around 1.5 million miles, or 10,000 miles per bus per year. That averages to 36 miles/bus/day but actually since there are a number of low-use buses the "average" bus running an "average" schedule would probably run closer to 60 miles a day.

We have 11 mechanics, half of whom are an overnight crew, and every single bus is inspected every single day and receives necessary maintenance every night. (We only have 150 buses in use at any one time, so the other four can swap in and out for buses that need bigger repairs.) Ideally we want to be buying 15 new buses a year and turning over the whole fleet every 10 years, but we can't afford that; we bought 8 somewhat-used buses last year and the average fleet age is around 15 years. (We'd rather it be no higher than 8 years.)

Four actual "breakdowns" per year is a LOT (where a breakdown means another bus has to go fetch the students and finish the route). Typically we see 1-2 minor traffic accidents per year and maybe 3 breakdowns. For the whole FLEET. If we were seeing 4 breakdowns per year per bus the state would shut down our transit program (the state has to certify your buses every year and there's a whole bunch of safety metrics you have to meet). If we were seeing ONE breakdown per year per bus (which would put the mileage average on par with WMATA) we'd be getting lots of warnings about unsafe service!

Anyway they can't possibly mean actual breakdowns, because that would be ridiculous. It must be some kind of preventative maintenance done in the bus yard. The WMATA definition is "Bus Fleet Reliability (Bus Mean Distance between Failures) – The number of revenue miles traveled before a mechanical breakdown. A failure is an event that requires the bus to be removed from service or deviate from the schedule. Calculation: Number of failures / miles" (page 18 of pdf) The WMATA report looks like it includes a lot of HVAC system problems in that number (and that does include "road calls" for HVAC failure), and says 10 engines were rebuilt. It seems like those "failures" could include routine repairs that merely keep a bus out of service for a day, with it never leaving the bus yard, as well as actual "breakdowns." That still seems like a lot of breakdowns, though. But school buses do have to meet higher standards than city buses.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:38 PM on December 6, 2013 [19 favorites]


Oh, PS, that bus system costs about $8 million a year, about half of which goes to salaries and benefits (unionized); about a quarter goes to gas, and the remaining quarter goes to buying actual buses and parts and some miscellaneous services.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:44 PM on December 6, 2013


And I just found out the Silver Line station opening near my house was delayed yet again. Curse you, Metro. Open the damn station so I can hate you up close.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:10 PM on December 6, 2013


Wow, great stuff, Eyebrows McGee! Thanks! Oh boy and that PDF has crime rates and injury rates.

A failure is an event that requires the bus to be removed from service or deviate from the schedule.

I wonder the extent to which various types of vandalism contribute to this.
posted by aubilenon at 5:25 PM on December 6, 2013


They want their train and bus to run on time, without breakdowns or excessive, unpredictable delays. Implicitly sneering at them for failing to appreciate the finer pleasures of rail tamping is catastrophically stupid.

Omigod yes. A thousand times this. Different country, different public transportation system – but our corner of France has had 30% more train cancellations this year, as of start October (so there are still another 3 months to account for), than the worst (full) year ever to be recorded before. We don't know why, concretely, other than it probably has to do with rail work, in which case it's in the regional gov't's interests not to say so because then people would (rightly) ask for compensation, because hello. I wrote them after one morning in which there were zero trains for two hours, and naturally, of course, this would be at RUSH HOURS (7-9am). This meant that all of us who take the train to our offices, for instance, had to walk more than a mile, uphill (and this is a 17% grade hill), since there is no free shuttle from the train station to our offices after 9am. Regional railway management wrote back suggesting I sign up for their SMS traffic alerts... which, tangentially, always manage to be wrong.

"Thank you for your suggestion. Unfortunately, SMS alerts are not a means of transportation," I replied. GAH.

Talk about shoes? Yeah, I would like to talk about shoes: are transportation authorities going to provide walking shoes when their services are unpredictably unavailable? Less snarkily, more realistically – give us usage surveys with free space for comments, transportation authorities. You might just be surprised how well we're in the know and how implicated users can really be.
posted by fraula at 5:27 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Can't we just talk about shoes?"

"Sure! They replace the brake shoes on the buses on a regular basis; it's all part of the maintenance program that keeps them running so reliably."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:06 PM on December 6, 2013 [11 favorites]


I sometimes have to go from my home in one Maryland suburb to my workplace, in another suburb of Maryland, on WMATA. It's cheaper -- and sometimes faster -- to take Metrobus from my home in Bowie to New Carrollton (eastern end of the Orange Line) and catch a second bus to Beltsville than it is to take the bus to New Carrollton and Metro rail to Greenbelt. I've experienced all of the glory of Metrobus, including complete mechanical failure that required all passengers to debark on the side of the road. It's slow. Incredibly slow. I don't think that a lot of people understand how much time you spend waiting around if you're using buses for transportation in the suburbs because there aren't many vehicles on each route. But I find that the bus drivers are by far the most helpful people working for WMATA. They recently changed the routes out here around, though, and now it's a much bigger pain to get where I want to go when I have to use teh bus.
posted by wintermind at 6:12 PM on December 6, 2013


Making vehicles that don't break down all the time despite rough and heavy use is pretty much a solved problem; just ask the construction industry, or the military.

So we should have the Department of Defense take over Washington, D.C.'s public transport system. At least the trains would run on time!

/sarcasm
posted by bad grammar at 7:49 PM on December 6, 2013


At least the trains would run on time!

They probably would. The only problem would be that each train car would cost $36 billion to produce, and the station announcements would only be in PowerPoint.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 9:12 PM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Decks, ssb. Those are referred to as "decks."
posted by psoas at 10:27 PM on December 6, 2013


The DC Metro system is part of Senate DC Appropriations..call Harry Reid...the person in charge of that committee can make all kinds of things happen..good or bad. Oh, yea...it's those guys...
posted by OhSusannah at 2:53 PM on December 7, 2013


Um, what? WMATA is a joint operation of the states and municipalities where it operates, with any members of the federal delegation appointed by the GSA (which is part of the executive branch, not Congress). Initial funding must come from those states and municipalities, with matching funding from Congress. Bills assigning funding to WMATA--indeed, any appropriations bill--originate in the House Appropriations Committee, and the Senate Appropriations Committee (headed by Barbara Mikulski, not Harry Reid) can either approve or amend the bill, which must then pass the full Senate and House.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:22 AM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


If they're serious that it was meant to be lighthearted banter between friends, they'd better come up with a new version of the ad where it's two guys instead, with the first guy saying exactly the same thing and the second guy saying something like "can't we just tell fart jokes instead?" or something.

Metro Ads: An Equal Opportunity Offender
posted by naoko at 9:00 AM on December 9, 2013


From your link:

NWLC's Yumhee Park writes that "what shocks and enrages me is that the people responsible for these advertisements seem to be REALLY underestimating their target audience which is presumably D.C. professionals of all genders, races, and income."

I think she left off that the DC population is also loaded with a bunch of pedantic wonks that are apt to fly apart at the seams when presented with something like this. God forbid they'd made a spelling error on top of it all or we'd have had pitforks and torches marching down to Judiciary Square demanding Sarles's head on a pike!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:15 AM on December 9, 2013


O zombieflanders....I do know of what I speak...you have confused all the other part of metro transits with the DC...and being a chief of staff for a Senator gives me that knowledge...
posted by OhSusannah at 8:47 PM on December 10, 2013


Then perhaps you should stop speaking in riddles and state which specific part(s) of DC transit you were talking about, since 99.99% of DC-area people understand "the [DC] Metro" to be WMATA, and more specifically their Metrorail and Metrobus services.

Also, a protip: Telling people from the DC area that you're a chief of staff (or really any staffer) for a Member of Congress is not likely to either impress us or convince us that you have secret knowledge, and depending on the Member can actually have the opposite effect. Most Congressional staffers seem to acknowledge this after a week on the job, about the time they stop gushing over the "secret" subway or franked mail.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:45 AM on December 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


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