Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Did you know D.C. has placed 'secret shoppers' on Metro?

December 7, 2010 - 12:50 PM
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(Photo: Jay Westcott)

I didn't know, either.

I spotted it in a line item on Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's proposed budget-cutting proposal. The plan calls to eliminate the "CityYear Secret Shopper Program" to save the city $50,000. According to this document from the Metro customer service committee, the program was initiated in 2008 at a cost of $150,000.

If you don't already know, a "secret shopper" or "mystery shopper" is an undercover customer sent in by a company or agency to see just how well or how poorly things are running. I'd expect a place like Dunkin' Donuts to do this sort of thing, but it never occurred to me that Metro would want to do a little plainclothes quality control.

It seems that the city has been giving the CityYear kids -- those red-jacket-clad 17-to-24-year-olds committed to a year of service around town -- a certain amount of bus and rail fare in exchange for doing reports on their experiences with Metro. Strikes us as a win-win, for the most part.

But we can understand why Fenty would've put this one on the chopping block. It ain't exactly cheap, since the fares come out of city funds, and frankly there are more cost-effective ways to get a clear-eyed assessment of what's going on in the bowels of Metro.

For instance, a few months ago I discovered this enormous secret shopper program operating online. Not only are the participants passionate and informed, the program is real-time and paper-free. Best of all, it doesn't cost a dime.

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p.s. If you know anything about this other secret shopper program paid for by WMATA, drop me a line.

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