How to Save Metro For Tourists and Locals

I have a confession to make: I love tourists.

In a town with about as low of an approval rating (collectively) as the Transportation Safety Administration, it comes as no surprise that most people in Washington hate tourists. DCists mutter under their breath how much they hate these “real Americans” mucking up their commute pretty much on a daily basis.

Golly, if only they were seasoned train riders of a taxpayer-funded fiscal black hole of a debacle just like WMATA, DCists could get to the business of mis-running the country on time!

Why do I love tourists? Well, I used to be one:

The author (right) with his sister Betsy in 1994 on Metro (Reagan Airport). Betsy also resides in the greater Washington area.

Most people who come to D.C. come from somewhere.

Unlike the picture suggests, I came here from Ohio by way of Missouri — not Michigan. My thrifty parents (both Ohio State grads) were OK violating Ohio social mores putting us in Michigan gear because these sweatshirts were about $2 a piece at TJMAXX. (Yes, my Mom is a Maxxanista.)

While tourists and visitors getting in the way can turn any normal Washingtonian into an obscenity-spouting hater over time, there is another aspect here that is rarely touched upon:

Many people in Washington, D.C. are just snobby know-it-alls who hate outsiders. 

If you disagree with my assessment (while I normally support a free and open debate on my blog) I’ll just say this: you’re wrong.

But, the sad fact remains that people visiting are not really good at grasping the metro madness. They stand on the left, refuse to move, crowd the escalators up at rush hour with strollers. You name it, I’m sure it happens 100 times a day on the system. And even if these people are from other places that have trains (Chicago, New York, even Cleveland) they still can’t ride the metro correctly “our way.”

It is an inconvenience to us that work and live in this city, sure, to deal with folks who can’t follow our metro etiquette.

It’s probably pretty disconcerting for people bringing their young ones to tour the nation’s capital. Imagine coming from a rural place like Springfield, Missouri. You get on the escalator and your stroller takes up all of the space and some kid in a suit shouts up telling people to get a move on. That is probably pretty intimidating.

I don’t expect that many tourists enjoy the awkwardness of being a square cog in a round system. So I have a solution:

Make tourists and non-residents use a special gate.

Since residents of D.C., Maryland, and Virginia all pay taxes that go to fund WMATA (as well as fares, and some federal taxes that get diverted) — we should come up with a special SmartTrip card that goes to all tax-paying residents of the two States and the District. Any non-residents will have to use the non-resident gate, and pay a slightly higher fare.

This will also help ensure that people comply with local residency requirements and deter them from fraudulently keeping their residency back in their former home State. One person each gets a special card (presumably from their DMV, which is tied to their Driver’s License or State ID card) and could have the option of purchasing extras for guests (for a price, of course.)

I figure that this will have costs, but the entrance to each station that is frequented by non-residents will have a separate escalator with a fare card entrance machine at the top. This would be their entrance to the station, and once they went down the escalator, there would be a barricade that takes them to the station and circumvents the other farecard entrance machines, which will only accept resident SmartTrips.

At some stations, the non-resident entrance would lead them down a separate escalator, diverting tourists from residents, and generally making everybody’s lives easier.

We could also make people who take lots of luggage and big things like bicycles take the tourist entrance, charging residents who do this slightly more for using this gate to account for the fact that they are occupying more space on trains.

Anyways, this is just an idea of mine, but I wanted to share it.



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2 Thoughts on “How to Save Metro For Tourists and Locals

  1. The term “segregate” might land the program in trouble, but otherwise the idea of streamlining DC metropolitan area tax payers is a good idea.

    My only beef with tourists is the people who stand on the left side of the escalator. I’m from an agricultural state with next to no transportation, but I’ve driven a car before and grasp the concept of a passing lane. Your point that it can all be overwhelming is taken, however.

    To me the solution, which would make my metro experience much more pleasant, would be to scrap the asinine “watch your bag” announcements or “First time riding the Metro?” and replace them with a few quick explanations welcoming visitors to their capital, and asking them to for the love of God stand on the right hand side of the escalators. That would be useful, it would ease my singular problem with tourist foot traffic, and I would also quit yelling like a crazy person when my concentration is broke during a book reading because of a some dribble over the loudspeakers.

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