City Desk

The Worst Metro Escalators of 2013

Postcards, EscalatorThe Broken Metro Escalator has become a sort of totem in D.C.—a target for the region’s collective rage at the entire transit system, a symbol of dysfunction, and easy fodder for the unimaginative columnist. For University of Maryland Ph.D. student Lee Mendelowitz, broken escalators are also an opportunity for some recreational number crunching.

Mendelowitz, who is writing a thesis on genome assembly, has been gathering and publicizing data on the state of Metro’s escalators since March on his website, DC Metro Metrics, and Twitter feed, @MetroEscalators. (He also provides info on broken elevators and hot cars.) “Escalators in the D.C. Metrorail system are notorious for not working well,” he says. “I realized it would be possible to create this data set and actually track the escalator performance.”

Mendelowitz wrote software, developed a database system, and wrote code for the two to interact to process every aspect of an escalator’s performance, using publicly available data: how many times each escalator broke, the length of each break, an escalator’s overall availability, how often each is inspected, and so on.

Though he’s devoting a fair amount of free time to the project, Mendelowitz is no Metro ragebot. “I personally don’t run into too many problems with my trip,” he says. “I’m rarely inconvenienced.” Though he does suggest his data could help hold WMATA accountable, his work is more academic than advocacy—“mostly just for information.”

So which Metro escalators performed the worst this year? Mendelowitz shared his findings, which cover every escalator in the system from June 1 to Dec. 1.

Farragut North: 108
Potomac Avenue: 97 and 93
Metro Center: 96, 87, and 69
Columbia Heights: 80
College Park: 76
Mt. Vernon Square: 76
Foggy Bottom: 75
Stadium-Armory: 75
Brookland-CUA: 69
New York Avenue: 68

Ballston-MU’s escalator to the Vienna platform
Crystal City’s escalator to the Huntington platform

Dupont Circle, Q Street to mezzanine escalator, available 1 percent of the time
Pentagon, three escalators at the south end of the bus bay, 26 percent
L’Enfant Plaza, mezzanine to orange/blue platform escalator, 36 percent
Stadium Armory, D.C. General Hospital entrance escalator, 44 percent
Stadium Armory, Stadium entrance escalator, 44 percent
McPherson Square, Vermont Avenue entrance to New Carrollton platform escalator, 49 percent
Pentagon City, mezzanine to Mt. Vernon platform escalator, 50 percent
Farragut North, L Street entrance escalator, 50 percent
L’Enfant Plaza, 7th Street entrance to Branch Avenue platform escalator, 51 percent
McPherson Square, Vermont Avenue entrance to Vienna platform escalator, 52 percent

Clarendon’s escalator to the New Carrollton platform, 99.92 percent

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • JC

    The way WMATA parses their math, if that record increases from 1% to 2%, they'll record and report it as a 100% improvement in service.

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  • John Ciccone

    An odd study to be sure, but I should think useful for Metro.

    "Planning for Metro began in the 1950s, construction began in 1969, and the first segment opened for operation in 1976."

    The system is showing its age and we should expect a growing need for maintenance (and money to do it).

    However, I've used the metro systems in New York, Paris, Montreal, and London. It strikes me that our system is among the most expensive. And not the most convenient as stops are relaively far apart compared to other systems.

    Obviously, our system fares vary according to distance traveled, time of day, etc. I tried to find average costs for travel on the different systems, but the complexity of different zones, single fare vs multiple trip cards, time of day, transfers, etc., etc., made a hash of it. Somewhere the "average" fares must be available, but not easy to find. Comparing average costs (or costs per mile of travel) might be useful in comparing our system with the performance of others.

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