- Free transfers begin at noon today. (Photo: flickr/mat_the_w)
Today marks the opening of what's called the "Farragut Crossing," which is really no more complicated than the ability to walk from the Farragut West Metro station to the Farragut North Metro station without paying extra money to exit and reenter the Metro system. The two stations are less than a tenth of a mile apart — about two blocks in total — but serve entirely different Metro lines (Farragut North serves Red, Farragut West serves Orange and Blue). What WMATA is introducing makes sense, although I'm not sure how much time it'll really save to walk between stations rather than just change to Red at Metro Center. At least Metro Center will be less crowded, which is likely the ultimate goal. You may have heard about this initiative under its initial name of "the virtual tunnel," which riders immediately reacted against.
And have you heard WMATA's holding a launch event at Farragut West today at noon? No worries if you haven't. The only mention I've seen of the event is an @WMATA tweet from yesterday and as of mid-morning, an e-mail notice announcing that Councilmember and Metro Board Member Muriel Bowser, DDOT directorTerry Bellamy, Metro General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Richard Sarles, and Riders’ Advisory Council member (and Greater Greater Washington founder) David Alpert will be there at 17th and I. Your event invitation in 140 characters:
What a nice, public gesture to celebrate the new feature, right? WMATA will release a press release on the opening a little later today, I imagine, with choice quotes about the convenience of Farragut Crossing and maybe even a sweet photo from the lunchtime gathering.
Seeing the invitation, I began to compare and contrast how the District Department of Transportation rolls out its new features with how WMATA does and the overall differences between the different (and often overlapping) groups of commuters the city and the transit agency deal with throughout a given year.
DDOT is no stranger to these little ceremonies touting their achievements. Remember when that fancy median showed up on Connecticut Avenue south of Dupont Circle? DDOT was there, ribbon in hand, everyone from Mayor Vince Gray to councilmembers to DDOT director Terry Bellamy. When the Circulator crossed over the Anacostia, suddenly you see Council Chairman Kwame Brown, the mayor, and Councilmember Tommy Wells riding the Circulator together to celebrate. A new traffic light in Petworth warranted a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Bellamy and Muriel Bowser earlier this fall. Soon D.C. officials will be back to cut another ribbon near Dupont Circle to honor a different enhanced median.
Why does WMATA seem like such a stranger to these back-patting ceremonies? They serve a useful enough function in terms of communicating the efforts. I'd call them corny but the reality is that they usually represent many thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars being invested into these projects, and people should very much know about them. The Farragut Crossing, for instance, cost WMATA half a million dollars to develop, according to The Examiner. The mind reels to consider the cost of what the tunnel would have been were it not virtual. These little ceremonies serve as a useful way for organizations to attempt to drive coverage of their achievements rather than their failings. But WMATA, despite its countless meetings, seems to make little time for these types of ceremonies, at least not anywhere near as often as DDOT seems to. They have in the past — with U.S. Secretary Ray LaHood, even, when WMATA got new diesel electric vehicles in 2010 — but there's little I've seen them pushing forward in recent months. Even the new SmarTrip function for uploading money online, largely praised, passed by without any pegged event. Nothing happened to mark the new escalators either. WMATA celebrates its achievements quietly, with press releases, with better communication of upgrades through social media.
I'm not advocating that WMATA should hold more ceremonies, really, because in the end, they're still for show rather than part of the substantive processes behind the achievements. It's all too easy for many to cut ribbons while ignoring the genuine tasks at hand (not that I'd accuse DDOT of that). Metro is, clearly enough, putting a lot of work into their Metro Forward repairs and upgrades, with stations closed just about every weekend. DDOT seems to hold this ceremonies so naturally, though, and I find the difference interesting. WMATA may want to keep riders' expectations of their system relatively low, I suspect, and to parade about over every advance would perhaps seem in poor taste with so much still malfunctioning or inoperable due to repairs. The city oversees a greater number of transportation projects, of course, so I view that as one reason. How people see the two entities is radically different. Metro comes off as one monolithic entity to most commuters, and it's natural for rage to build up against its centralized authority. You see the busted escalators, the jerky rides, the delays, and it's easy to say, "Goddamn, Metro!" The source of anger is clear. Yet I don't think people react the same way when trapped in gridlock or facing construction on the road. The anger is just as present if not more so but it's rarely directed against city officials in such a casual way. People assign blame differently.
People also understand DDOT's projects better. Petworth residents know the value of a new traffic light and understand why it's a good thing. Metro riders don't necessarily understand the value of switches installed in a station closed over the weekend. Would a ceremony really help at all in that case?