Metro Operators Spill Secrets of D.C.’s Transit System

Commuters make almost one million trips each day on Metrorail and Metrobuses, yet many are unaware of how best to stay safe and comfortable on their rides, according to a group of bus and rail operators who spoke publicly with the News4 I-Team.

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The operators urged passengers to move deeper into rail cars before using cellphones or other electronic devices, because of the risk of theft.<br><br>n“What (thieves) do is wait for the doors to close and snatch your phone and then run out the door,” said train operator Leon Huntley Jr.<br><br> “You can feel relaxed and comfortable, sometimes too comfortable. You have your cellphone out and you’re not watching, but the poacher is,” said bus operator P.L. Dates.
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The rail operators said passengers commonly crowd rail cars that open nearest the platform escalators but lose time in the process. They said savvier passengers know to move further down a platform to a less crowded train to more efficiently get access to escalators and station exits.<br><br>n“You’d be surprised," Huntley said. "If you walk down one more car, it may cost you 20 steps, but more people can get off at the same station.”<br><br>
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The workers said fare evaders are a safety risk about which bus passengers should be more aware. They described a series of assaults triggered by disputes between bus operators and passengers who cheated paying fares. Huntley said he suffered a pepper spray attack from a passenger. Mallard said he’s been the target of verbal threats.<br><br>“I had a gentleman pull out a pistol and put it to my throat,” Dates said.<br><br>n“Some things are out of our hands,” said Mallard.<br><br>The bus operators recommended passengers avoid confronting fare cheats themselves to avoid physical retaliation.
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The bus and rail operators said front line workers see dangerous and unsanitary behavior by passengers, especially during late night travel. Mallard described "subway surfing” incidents during afternoon, after-school hours, along the Orange Line. He said teenage passengers grab hold on to the outside of the railcar doorways as trains depart and ride along the outside of the car for several moments before leaping off.<br><br>n“They jump on the ledge on the doorway and hold the sides," Mallard said. "As the train is moving out of the station, they jump off before the train picks up speed.”<br><br>nHuntley said a rising number of passengers are deliberately walking into rail tunnels, in many cases to exit a delayed train.<br><br>n“Some of the stations are so close, if there’s a delay in the system, they’ll say ‘I’ll just walk,” he said.<br><br:>“If they fall and hit the third rail, that’s it,” Huntley said.<br><br>nDates said operators see people making temporary residence in some rail tunnels during cold winter months before they’re evicted by agency managers.
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Rail supervisors, who were cleared to speak to the I-Team by Washington Metropolitan-Area Transit Authority officials, said an increasing number of passengers are lowering themselves on to the tracks to retrieve dropped electronic devices.<br><br>“I see it happen two or three times a week,” said Alma Rumph, an 18-year rail supervisors who monitors downtown D.C.-area rail stations. “Some people jump on the tracks and they don’t realize how high the platform is. That is not the way to go.”<br><br>nRumph said rail station employees will retrieve items dropped on to the tracks so that passengers don’t risk injury or death doing so. Rumph said employees will contact the system’s rail operations center and attempt to halt nearby trains during the process.n<br><br>nShe said employees will not retrieve lost items during rush hours however, because of the high volume of train traffic. Passengers who drop phones on to the tracks between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. or 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., will have to wait until the completion of rush hour before an employee will enter the tracks for the retrieval.
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Bus operators said they see drunkenness and sexual activity during late night routes.<br><br>n“On a certain line, it can be turned into a motel on wheels," Dates said. "Teenagers are going to see what they can get away with.”<br><br>n“I’ve seen nudity more than once,” Mallard said.<br><br> Bus operators said passengers often seek out back, corner seats to attempt to avoid detection from operators.
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The operators said bus passengers are increasingly cheating paying fares or slow in processing their payments, which risks delaying bus departures.<br><br>n“Passengers are scrounging around at the fare box machine,” said bus operator Derrick Mallard.
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