D.C. Escalator Nightmare

How is Washington, D.C. supposed to run the world when it can't even fix its own escalators?

Strap on some steel-toed safety shoes—you're gonna need them—as Reason.tv correspondent Kennedy investigates D.C.'s dismal and dangerous subway system.

Metro, the sprawling 106-mile rapid transit system that serves 3.4 million D.C.-area residents, is notorious for a lot of things, but nothing so much as the squeaky disrepair of its 588 escalators. On any given day, about one out of eight moving stairs are out of service. Yet Metro's escalator and elevator maintenance division has a $22.5 million operating budget and 214 staffers, which works out to about one employee for every four escalators and elevators systemwide.

The grim history of Metro escalators runs like an endlessly circulating chain of horror stories. In 2002, an escalator at Brookland Station set a record by breaking down 147 times over the course of one year. Poorly maintained escalators have led to broken arms, lost digits, massive pileups, and multiple deaths. In 1991, for example, a 25-year-old student from California lost the top of his right foot on an escalator because a drugged-up schizophrenic station manager at Dupont Station refused to walk 10 feet to hit the emergency shut-off switch, though he did give vague instructions to a noncompliant homeless man to do it for him. The same year, a 15-year-old Michigan girl saw her pinkie toe snipped by an escalator at Smithsonian Station.

When heading home from the 2010 "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear," some demonstrators boarded an escalator at L'Enfant Station that suddenly started running as fast as a roller coaster, landing four passengers in the hospital. In 1985, a three-year-old girl was strangled to death by an escalator at the Minnesota Avenue Station and four years later, a 40-year-old woman was killed when her clothing became entangled in an escalator at Rhode Island Avenue. The advent of side brushes and better automatic shut-off sensors have reduced accidents on Metro escalators, but more units today are routinely out of service.

Why are Metro's escalators so bad? The problem stems partly from a decision made 20 years ago. In 1992, Metro got rid of the private contractors that repaired and maintained the system and started hiring and training its own escalator mechanics. The rationale was that government employees would do a better job for less money.

Partway through a planned eight-month-long maintenance project that many riders assume will take far longer, the wisdom of that decision remains an open question. Reason.tv would have loved to talk with WMATA, the government agency that runs the Metro, but it ignored our requests for an interview.

Approximately 3.30 minutes.

Written and produced by Jim Epstein.

Go to Reason.tv for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube Channel to receive automatic updates when new material goes live.

This video premiered on Fox Business' Stossel show on Thursday, April 12. For more information on the show, go here. To read host John Stossel's weekly column, go here.

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  • CockGobbla||

    OT:

    Why is Bill Hicks' so much better than Maher's, or Carlin's for that matter?

    Gotta say I like me some Hicks and Carlin, even if I don't agree with >80% of what they had to say...

    But Bill Maher, man. Probably cut from the same political and philosophical cloth as Hicks and Carlin, but he earn a fucking chuckle to save his life.

  • CockGobbla||

    *material
    *can't

  • AlmightyJB||

    Seems to me like I remember a point long ago when Maher was kinda funny. He's just too full of himself to watch now.

  • SIV||

    Maher's ABC show was very entertaining.

  • Amakudari||

    Eh, they all have their obnoxious moments, but I can enjoy all of them.

    I think part of it is that Carlin and Hicks broke new ground (and at least for Hicks it was unintentional and just a response to the market), whereas Maher was kind of along for the ride. Carlin and Hicks are also dead, and Hicks at an early age. Another part is probably that Maher's political leanings are explicit, while for Carlin and Hicks they're anti-The Man although their targets tend to be no different.

  • Arf?||

    Shorter Amakudari: Maher is pretentious and preachy.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Talent.

  • CockGobbla||

    Hicks' legacy does suffer a lot from the British grabbing onto his Anti-American culture material in order to bolster their smug, ignorant view of the States.

  • Tman||

    It's funny because I (optimistically) think Bill Hicks -unlike Carlin- would have been less reflexively anti-conservative as the years passed. I don't think he would have spared them either, but the left has metastasized in to such a giant bowl of communist/socialist bile that he would've skewered them with equal abandon.

    Which is funny, because George Carlin: Earth Day remains one of the most prophetic deconstructions of leftist environmentalism that was ever recorded, but that was it. After that it was back to the same tired Maher schtick of making fun of Middle America.

    Hicks had this-Bill Hicks - Deficit (Jesse Helms) but we never got a chance to watch him turn the mirror in the other direction.

    I'm curious to how that would've sounded.

  • SusanM||

    I dunno. I really think Carlin got way too whiny in his last years. Not only that but his pathological obsession with euphemisms got really tiring.

    Carlin's best came out when he wasn't being political at all.

  • Formerly Almanian||

    Carlin on football, baseball - the pinnacle

  • AlmightyJB||

    The escalators have become sentient. It has begun.

  • sloopyinca||

    This is apt. Or not.

  • Arf?||

    That word always makes me think of "She of Little Faith" (Simpsons) and Lisa saying, "No, it's not. It's apt. Apt!"

  • ||

    Does anyone else think Kennedy is annoying as hell?

  • Bill||

    That's her trademark. Lovably annoying.

  • Mango Punch||

    That's her trademark Lovably annoying.

    The whole "interview" segment made me want to shoot myself.

  • WarrenT||

    I don't. She's not my favorite but she doesn't bug me.

  • CockGobbla||

    When can we get some fucking Jesus Lizard on Reason.tv?!

  • AlmightyJB||

    I always thought all of the MTV VJays were annoying as hell. I'm giving her a shot at redemption though. We'll see.

  • ||

    She single-handedly destroyed MTV's Alternative Nation.

  • ||

    No, I don't think she's annoying. When she says stuff like "atheism is a religion," I find it annoying because I think she's very wrong. Mostly though, I find her amusing, and I don't hold my disagreements against her.

  • Brandon||

    "When she says stuff like "atheism is a religion," I find it annoying because I think she's very wrong."

    Only zealots take personal offense to a comment about their religion.

  • Leonard Rockstein||

    Ya, too bad Pauly Shore hasn't seen the libertarian light.

  • ||

    There's something I like about her, though.

  • WarrenT||

    It's never about doing things better, it's about having control over resources.

    The more things under control, the bigger the budget and the more patronage can be handed out and the more possibilities for graft.

    The people is charge don't give a shit about how well run something is unless it can b tied directly to them.

    They don't have to worry about making a profit because they are funded through taxation so they do not have to worry about customer satisfaction and in fact it would be irrational of them to worry about it. Why use resources on something that does not matter?

  • squarooticus||

    They don't have to worry about making a profit because they are funded through taxation so they do not have to worry about customer satisfaction and in fact it would be irrational of them to worry about it.
    Bingo. This is the root of the utilitarian argument against government spending: guaranteed revenue not from voluntary trade but from a third party (in this case, from taxation) naturally results in a mediocre level of service because there is zero need to satisfy the customer or to be profitable in order to stay in business.

  • WarrenT||

    People bow in the direction of the money flow.

    So entrepreneurs please customers and bureaucrats please higher bureaucrats and funding committees.

    And politicians please the special interest groups that deliver the most votes and cash.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Furthermore, the argument that the government should run, say healthcare, because only government can take advantage of huge economies of scale is totally bogus.

    You don't automatically get economy of scale just because you have scale. It takes freegin' really hard work.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    And incentive.

  • WarrenT||

    It's never about doing things better, it's about having control over resources.

    The more things under control, the bigger the budget and the more patronage can be handed out and the more possibilities for graft.

    The people is charge don't give a shit about how well run something is unless it can b tied directly to them.

    They don't have to worry about making a profit because they are funded through taxation so they do not have to worry about customer satisfaction and in fact it would be irrational of them to worry about it. Why use resources on something that does not matter?

  • WarrenT||

    Thanks, squirrels!

  • Alan||

    Yep.

    And since this is one of the few posts in this thread that is on topic, I'll just note that the last time I was in DC was about 6 months ago, and at the stations I went through only about half the escalators were working. I thought they must be in the middle of some huge refitting of all the escalators or something, but if that's just normal that is really pathetic.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    It seems that Reason.tv + Kennedy is moving even more toward the libertarian 'Daily Show' format. I approve.

  • WarrenT||

    That would be an awesome show.

  • ||

    If Kennedy was as funny as Stewart.

  • ||

    There's the rub: Neither are funny. And both MTV alum, by the by.

    I see a disturbing pattern here.

    Whom are they going to dig up next, Tabitha Soren and Adam Curry?

  • ||

    Stewart (or at least his writers) can be funny. His correspondent segments, with people like Stephen Colbert, Ed Helms, John Oliver, etc., are frequently funny.

  • ||

    Oh, the writing was OK; I just don't like Stewart. Colbert started out great, but his schtick has worn thin. The correspondent segments were amusing to funny. But then, I don't watch teevee anymore. I just get the gist by osmosis these days.

  • Agammamon||

    I only find Stewart funny when he's attacking the stupid government program du jour - when he's defending the latest idiocy he drives me up the wall.

  • ||

    I think they're both funny.

  • Agammamon||

    Julie Brown - the funny one, not the Brit.

  • yonemoto||

    Kurt Loder, duh.

  • WarrenT||

    Maybe Drew Carey can be convinced to do it.

  • ||

    the fat one or the skinny one?

  • WarrenT||

    If the price is right maybe we can get both!

  • ||

    Oh come on fake dunphy, that's just too obvious. Even if "(the real one)" didn't give you away, capitalizing the name? REAL dunphy never did that? Nice try guy.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    If Kennedy were as funny as Stewart.

    The Subjunctive: It's not just a mood, it's the law!

  • Arf?||

    Good grammar is the law now? Goodbye, Internet.

  • ||

    I see the gout and poultices aren't slowing you down.

  • Barfman||

    *barf*

  • AlmightyJB||

    What happened to "Bread and Pudding"? You can't just go from saying "Bread and Pudding" all the time to "Come and take it". That's like Timmy not saying Timay! anymore and saying something else instead.

  • ||

    Don't mess with Texas

  • 0x90||

    The tenants arrive in the entrance hall here, are carried along the corridor on a conveyor belt, in extreme comfort, and past murals depicting Mediterranean scenes, towards the rotating knives.

  • AlmightyJB||

    The last twenty feet of the corridor are heavily soundproofed. The blood pours down these chutes and the mangled flesh slurps into these large contai--

  • some guy||

    -ners. From there the blood is filtered of particulate matter, sanitized via UV irradiation and pumped back up to lubricate the moving parts. Solid matter is dessicated and incinerated to power the entire apparatus.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Yes, well, that's the sort of blinkered, philistine pig ignorance I've come to expect from you non-creative garbage. You sit there on your loathsome, spotty behinds squeezing blackheads, not caring a tinker's cuss for the struggling artist. You excrement! You whining, hypocritical toadies, with your colour TV sets and your Tony Jacklin golf clubs and your bleeding Masonic secret handshakes! You wouldn't let me join, would you, you blackballing bastards! Well, I wouldn't become a freemason now if you went down on your lousy, stinking knees and begged me!

  • Bucky||

    ...and now for something completely different...

  • SusanM||

    The Larch

  • Graphite||

    Perhaps the escalators' designers hadn't correctly divined DC's attitudes towards it tenants.

  • daveInAustin||

    Now reason is copying from Remy.

  • daveInAustin||

  • Soc Indv Sparky||

    OT: 4 cops shot in drug raid

    http://boston.cbslocal.com/201.....enland-nh/

    Latest news is one of the cops died. Apparently there's nothing else going on in Boston tonight though, the news has completely taken over everything else around.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    More than just a cop...it was the town's Chief of Police.

    Sources tell 7News the officer that was killed was Chief Michael Maloney of the Greenland Police Department. Chief Maloney was only 10 days away from retirement.

    Wow. They always say art imitates life.

    The shooting apparently occurred around 6:30 p.m. at 517 Post Road. The suspect and another woman are reported as barricaded inside the home at 517 Post Road. Sources say the woman that is inside the home with the suspect may be the suspect’s girlfriend.

    Law enforcement agencies from surrounding towns such as Rye, Portsmouth, and Exeter, New Hampshire are responding. There were also reports officials were bringing an armored car to the scene.

    Air space has been shut down and homes in the area have been evacuated.

    Police are patrolling the area armed with machine guns.

    The fuck? All this for two people? Are they Mr. and Mrs. Smith or something?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Also it seems the "dangerous" drugs that justified this raid were anabolic steroids.

  • Alan||

    Roid rage!

  • mad libertarian guy||

    What happens if a homeowner tells the cops to piss up a rope upon an evacuation order for this shit?

    There isn't any fucking way in hell I leave my home while the cops turns my neighborhood in to a war zone.

  • Brian D||

    Disobeying a lawful order. They drag you away in cuffs and find a stray dog to shoot if you don't already own one.

  • ||

    Not only that, the chief was 48 yrs old. And 10 days from retirement.

  • Brandon||

    Was he also too old for this shit?

  • Sevo||

    Hey, the folks in charge of the escalator probably figure the NK missile was a success!

  • ||

    Kennedy = Stupid
    The amount of stupid at Reason.com is inversely proportional to the number of days since the last Kennedy video.

    The moment a new Kennedy video is posted Reason becomes infinitely stupid.

  • Bucky||

    i thought the war on women had that just about wrapped up...

  • John C. Randolph||

    The rationale was that government employees would do a better job for less money.

    Yeah, I've heard that argument made for government health care, too.

    -jcr

  • LarryA||

    I've heard that argument made for government.

  • 0x90||

    Resolve the symbols:

    "The rationale was that a worker whose source of income is ultimately derived from the threat and/or use of force would provide better performance, at a lower cost, than one for whom it is derived from said performance."

    Which is equivalent to supposing that you get the best bang for your buck by hiring a mob-run company pour your concrete, collect your trash, etc. Of course, in cases like that, the mob fixes things so that you have no other choice, while with government...oh, wait.

  • Gerholdt||

    Well, you start out by buying from the lowest bidder. Many of the companies that supplied the original escalators are out of business - no more parts available. And then you defer and defer and defer maintenance because of the political pressure to keep fares low, and of course the multiple jurisdictions Metro runs through each think the others should be paying more for it...
    It ran so much better when the whole system was contracted out. Of course that was 50 years ago, before "home rule" in DC.

  • juris imprudent||

    I'd say thread-jack, but there doesn't seem to be any particularly coherent discussion going on, so...

    Huzzah for Damon Root getting a mention at Volokh on Lochner and the PPACA.

  • Amakudari||

    1 out of 8 escalators out of service?

    And I thought BART was bad (about 1 in 13). Part of it was the stupid design decision to have them exposed to elements, but the biggest part was always that repair workers were absent. Usually because of work rules or incompetent workers.

    And that's why government-run public transport will always fail in places like DC and SF. "Civil servant" or not, that shit doesn't fly in any transit system (Tokyo = a hair below 100% of arrivals, departures, escalators and elevators have no problems, private and public). Only once the shiny-fast-thing sycophants demonstrate they can handle even the most basic service problems should their ideas be granted any weight.

  • yonemoto||

    I left DC almost two years ago, and I'm apalled to find that the L'enfant Plaza station is STILL under construction. Not surprised, mind you.

  • Amakudari||

    I lived in the Bay for three years. For the entire time I was there the West Dublin/Pleasanton Station was under construction. The construction was supposed to finish in early 2009 (i.e. two years) but took until 2011 and -- you won't believe this! -- cost more than the initial estimate.

    It's frankly pitiful to watch rail lovers talk about how great transit is in Tokyo (much of which is private, by the way) or Hong Kong or Europe. They know they have to trot those places out because they don't want to bring up the reality of those grand public transit dreams in the US.

  • Brandybuck||

    The broke ground yesterday on the new Fremont to San Jose extension! Expect the 880 to be a torn up for the next ten years.

  • Sevo||

    BART put in the 'extension' to SFO, what, 5 years ago. The only way they found to build a decent ridership was to offer discounts to SFO workers.
    Who in hell wants to leave their car at a BART station, drag their luggage onto a BART car, drag it off that car and into the terminal, and reverse the process at the end of the trip? Hoping *their* car is still in the parking lot and hasn't collected some ticket.

  • ||

    here's something i can probably agree with you sloopy!!!

    this ruling was wrong, wrong, wrong

    i hope KOMO wins this ruling. allowing the press (and others) access to dashcam tapes is ESSENTIAL in a free, open society.

    this gentleman says it all: If the police can use these videos to hold citizens accountable, then citizens should be able to use the same videos to hold police accountable," said Toby Nixon with the Washington Coalition for Open Government.

    exactly, sir!

    http://www.komonews.com/news/p.....51775.html

  • benji||

    Nude maid service under fire:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tE2VTnBrlTU

    A West Texas entrepreneur has taken maid service to the next level.
    Patrons who are willing to pony up $100 an hour can have their houses cleaned by a scantily clad, topless or totally naked woman. And for an extra $50 per hour, clients of Fantasy Maid Service of Lubbock will have two women clean house.
    Owner Melissa Borrett, 26, said Tuesday night that she started the service in mid-February because she was struggling to make ends meet as a waitress.
    ...
    Not surprisingly, the enterprise has caught the attention of local authorities.
    Lubbock police Sgt. Jonathan Stewart told the Associated Press that Borrett doesn’t have a permit to operate a sexually oriented business. Officers are watching for any violation, which would bring a $2,000 fine.

    http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/he.....exas-city/

    Other local maid services such as Tidy Lady Cleaning owned by Brooke Nevarez said Borrett is shining a negative light on the business. Nevarez says she's totally against it, and thinks these girls are finding an easy way to run a prostitution ring.
  • Sevo||

    "Other local maid services such as Tidy Lady Cleaning owned by Brooke Nevarez said Borrett is shining a negative light on the business. Nevarez says she's totally against it, and thinks these girls are finding an easy way to run a prostitution ring."

    So Nevarez is afraid she can't compete?

  • ||

    Um, have you seen most women who work for cleaning services? *shudders*

  • tulip||

    They've been trying to build stairs at Vienna for about 9 months.

  • liberty_equality_solidarity||

    This:
    The problem stems partly from a decision made 20 years ago. In 1992, Metro got rid of the private contractors

    Is not supported by this:
    In 1991...the same year...In 1985...four years later...

    So all the major accidents happened under the implied better private contractor?

    Yeah, the escaltors break a lot more now then they were in 1992, but they are 20 years older. They've only just now started to replace some of them (painfully slowly).

    The actual sensibale complaint about the metro escilators is that they bought fairly expensive ones that, per the manufacture recommendations, require a large amount of maintance, which they insist on doing during hours of operation (insert complaint about union labor here). I have an aquantance who did escaltor maintance for them for a while, and he told me they are suppose to be serviced every 2 months, requiring about 15hrs of work.
    Reason has gotten lazier and lazier sense the tea-party influx. sigh.

  • Brandon||

    "Is not supported by this:
    In 1991...the same year...In 1985...four years later..."

    It is if you put the actual quoted parts in the same order they were in in the article, dipshit. Then learn how to spell and type coherently, and maybe you'll be worth the same amount of attention paid to our regular trolls. But based on this comment, probably not.

  • Brandybuck||

    The story is true! I played Fallout 3 and every single damned metro escalator was broken! Not only that, most metro stations were infested are ghouls and raiders!

  • Brandybuck||

    I blame my Fallout 3 addiction for my poor grammar skillz.

  • ChrisO||

    I recall reading somewhere that the biggest problem with the Metro escalators was that the original design exposed them to the elements. They've put canopies over most of them, but there are always still a lot of escalators out of service.

    Beyond the escalators, the entire system is grungier and less reliable than it was when I moved to the DC area in 1993.

  • some guy||

    Bottom line. When in D.C., use the stairs.

  • Anomalous||

    "An escalator can never break - it can only become stairs."

    -Mitch Hedberg

  • Sevo||

    Until they rope it off, in which case it ain't stairs.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    What?!v Congress' toy train set isn't all sunshine and sparkles?! Say it isn't so!

    .

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