Category Archives: Local News

App will help fight parking tickets


WASHINGTON — There seems to be an app for everything these days, and soon there will be one to fight bad parking tickets.

The app, called Fixed, allows drivers to upload a picture of their ticket, then explain why the ticket shouldn’t have been written. Fixed takes care of the rest.

Fixed is launching first in San Francisco, and the developer hopes to expand to the District.

“A common misconception with parking violations is that they’re black and white. But frequently it’s actually a gray issue. That’s where we’re here to help, to get you off those tickets that are gray issues,” says David Hegarty, co-founder of Fixed.

“We have a team of legal researchers that pour over the parking regulations and ordinances that apply to parking. But what’s clever about our system is that it learns. We have an algorithm to know, for a given type of violation, what are the most common types of errors and what are the most effective defenses. The more tickets we put into the system, the smart the algorithm gets.”

Once a photograph of the ticket is uploaded, the app will asks why the ticket is wrong. It could prompt users to take more pictures, then will forward the information to the legal researchers. Fixed then helps challenge the ticket and write a statement of defense with legal reasons why the ticket should be dismissed.

For nearly a year, WTOP Ticketbuster has profiled the persistent and repeated problems with erroneous tickets written in Washington and the problems adjudicating those tickets at the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

District of Columbia ticket writers issue about two million citations per year, mostly from the Department of Public Works (DPW).

Hegarty says he’s a victim too, that’s why he started the app.

“I was working with my co-founders last November and we were kicking around ideas. One day, I came back to my car and I found two tickets on my windshield. It was frustrating because I just paid four others. I was fuming. But someone told me that I could contest them,” says Hegarty.

“I learned how to contest tickets, all the rules, and I won both cases. I told my friends about this and they suggested to put it into an app, so everyone could do it. That was the genesis for Fixed.”

The app launches the first week of March in San Francisco for Apple and Android phones and will be free to download. There’s a waitlist to join.

Hegarty hopes to expand to Washington, D.C. within the next 18 months, but will make that decision based on demand.

“The demand is so great that we’ve put in a wait list process. The way we’ll determine what cities to expand to next is the number of downloads we have in that city. So my advice to the listeners in D.C. want it to come to the D.C.-area sooner, they should download it and get on the waitlist now,” he says.

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Silver Line construction not finished; opening delayed again

WASHINGTON – Work on the Silver Line is not yet complete and the public opening of the massive public transit expansion will be delayed again, officials at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said Monday.

Dulles Transit Partners, the contractor building the $2.9 billion rail extension, said earlier this month that it had substantially completed work on the first phase of the Silver Line. But MWAA officials now say the contractor has yet to finish seven of 12 key areas including a lack of occupancy certificates for stations and the Tysons tunnel.

Other issues still to be addressed include water leaks in buildings, problems with the train control system and elevator and escalator problems, according to the airports authority, which is overseeing construction.

Monday’s announcement now means that DTP, led by construction giant Bechtel, will have to do additional work until MWAA officials are satisfied. Once the airports authority determines work is complete, it will take over the project and prepare to turn it over to Metro, which will have three months for additional testing and reviews before the public would be able to use the service.

The first leg of the Silver Line includes four stops in Tysons Corner and one in Reston at Wiehle Avenue. It is one of the largest infrastructure projects currently being built in the U.S.

Officials had originally hoped to begin service in December 2013.

Spike seen in cellphone thefts on Metro lines


WASHINGTON — Metro passengers may want to limit their cellphone use after new data shows an increasing number of crooks lurking the trains waiting to steal phones.

According to recently released statistics, there was a spike in 2013, and the trend was evident across the system.

“[Thieves] time it perfectly and wait for the doors to open or close,” says Metro Transit Police Chief Ron Pavlik.

In 2012 there were approximately 350 incidents of cellphones being stolen across the Metro system. Last year, that number was around 550, a spike of nearly 60 percent.

“It’s challenging,” Pavlik says. “But it’s something we’re going to tackle.”

As smartphone technology has gotten more advanced, the devices have become more appealing targets.

“The average person who steals it has no intention of activating it as a cellphone again. It still is a very valuable piece of equipment,” explains Pavlik.

Police are redirecting resources and working to address the growing problem. Meanwhile, passengers are being urged to take some small steps, including keeping phones out of sight while on trains or at least limiting use.

Nearly all victims have been younger than 25 years old and most are female, but the crime can happen to anyone as long as thieves feels they have an opportunity.

“Be aware of what’s going on around you,” Pavlik says.

Below is a breakdown of the thefts that occurred in calendar year 2012 and calendar year 2013.


Total theft snatches 640 cases 490 cases
Theft snatch cases involve personal electronic devices 94 percent (603 cases) 87 percent (424 cases)
iPhones 71 percent 60 percent
Cellphones 20 percent 23 percent
Tablets 8 percent 12 percent
iPods less than 1 percent 2 percent
Thefts of handbags, walletts, money, clothing 37 cases 66 cases
Male suspects 93 percent 94 percent
Suspects younger than 25 years old 98 percent 96 percent
Suspects who acted alone 76 percent 84 percent
Victims 69 percent women 50/50 for men and women

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Dunbar Teacher Handcuffed, Questioned by Metro Transit Police in Front of Her Students

In a case of mistaken identity, Metro Transit Police handcuffed and questioned a D.C. teacher in front of her students for a crime the students did not commit.

Brandi Byrd took 15 history students from Dunbar High School to the Holocaust Museum. After getting off a train at Mount Vernon Square on their way back to school, the students were shocked to see their teacher pushed against a wall.

“I’m like, ‘That’s a woman. Why are you being so aggressive with her?'” Carlton Green said.

Byrd couldn’t believe it either. “I’ve never been held against my will anywhere,” she said.

Metro police said they were responding to a report of an assault, and the students matched the description.

“I told him. I identified who I was,” Byrd said. “‘I’m a teacher. These are my students. We’re returning from a field trip.'”

But police held her for 20 minutes, and students recorded the incident on their cellphones.

“At no point did the gentleman who put me in handcuffs tell me why I was in handcuffs,” she said.

He only said she was being detained because of an active investigation, Byrd said.

Byrd became agitated and disorderly while police tried to figure out who the kids were, Metro officials said, but Byrd denied being any kind of threat and said police went too far by putting her in cuffs.

Police let the group go when they figured out it was not the group they wanted.

Byrd feels violated and said it still hurts where the metal handcuffs were clamped around her wrists.

Tips on clearing out after snowstorm

Snowy street

You may be clearing your driveway before the plow reaches your street. Push snow to the right, so plows won’t cover your work. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

Most people in the D.C. region will begin their post-storm travels as pedestrians, whether they like it or not. Here are some tips for getting around.

Clearing sidewalks. Rules vary, but most jurisdictions expect property owners to get out within a certain number of hours and clear their sidewalks. The District, for example, has a rule that sidewalks should be cleared of snow and ice within eight hours after the end of a storm. They don’t expect you to throw the snow in the street. When clearing driveways, toss the snow to the right. That makes it less likely the plow will push that snow back across the driveway entrance.

When clearing your own sidewalk, think about neighbors who may be elderly or disabled, and save a little energy for their walkways.

Metro doesn’t clear the bus stops or the areas around them. Metro does clear areas around rail station entrances and the above-ground platforms. Some platforms have a new type of paving tile that is less slippery, but some still have the original, slip-prone paving tiles.

Before starting to clear snow, try using Pam or car wax on the shovel blade, so the snow will slide off more easily. With a heavy snow like this, give your back a break by skimming off a top layer first, then making a second scoop down to the pavement. Think twice about parking in a street space your neighbor just cleared out. That probably won’t end well.

If you are driving, be extra careful of pedestrians. They’re more likely to be walking in the streets in the immediate aftermath of a storm.

Highway departments generally don’t clear bike paths.

Clearing streets. Much of the clearing work goes to contractors, whose trucks might not bear the emblem of the agency that hired them. The D.C. departments of public works and transportation team up on street clearing in the city. The Virginia Department of Transportation takes care of interstates, main roads and neighborhood streets within its turf. The Maryland State Highway Administration handles the state’s numbered roads, while counties and municipalities take care of the rest.

Highways in the D.C. area are in much better shape as of 10:45 a.m. than they were at dawn, but road surface conditions vary a lot across the region. Many drivers will have difficulty getting out of their neighborhoods. The initial goal for the plows working the neighborhood streets is to make them “passable.” That doesn’t mean you’ll see bare pavement soon.

If you are planning to drive to an airport in the D.C. area, be sure to check on your flight first. Many Thursday flights from Dulles, Reagan National and BWI airports have been cancelled.

Snow emergency routes. Some jurisdictions require owners to get their vehicles off snow emergency routes after the jurisdiction declares an emergency. This affects many District residents, where the Public Works Department tows vehicles remaining on those routes and imposes stiff fines.

Waiting for transit. Most of the D.C. region’s bus systems suspended service for Thursday morning. So did MetroAccess, the paratransit service. Watch for updates on restoration. This is the link to The Post’s storm updates. Metrobus’s Next Bus system, designed to provide real-time information on when the bus should arrive at your stop, doesn’t perform well during weather disruptions. So even as bus service is restored, don’t count on the accuracy of the prediction system.

See storm updates from the Capital Weather Gang.

Crowding draws complaints about Metro doors, announcements, escalators

A Metrorail train pulls into McPherson Square station. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

How Metro treats its rail customers was Topic A during my online chat Monday, and most commenters wanted to talk about customer discomfort.

The concerns they raised occur during rush hour crowding: Many of the commenter have experienced doors that close not only before riders on the platform can board but also before the riders on the train can get out. Other said they were annoyed by what operators say in response to crowding and delays. But I think all this got started in response to one Q&A with Metro General Manager Richard Sarles. This is the rider’s question and the GM’s response:

Q. “Why doesn’t Metro enforce rules about not closing doors while customers are still entering or exiting trains? A couple of weeks ago I was caught in a Metro train door. It closed on both my upper arms as I was just stepping out of the train. It was very painful. There were others still moving in and out of the car. When I complained to the station staff at Pentagon City, their response was the drivers have schedules to keep and I should step back when the bells sound.”

A. “I am not aware of such a rule. Train operators do their best to provide enough time for boarding and alighting, while not excessively dwelling at any one station to prevent train congestion. We never want to see anyone get injured, which is why we have posters and announcements advising riders that train doors don’t work like elevator doors. When you hear the chimes, the best advice is to step back and wait for the next train.”

That sparked a discussion Monday, in which commenters focused on the plight of riders stranded aboard trains by rapidly closing doors. At chat’s end, I said I would try to publish comments I couldn’t get to during the chat, so here’s one on that theme:

Yep, it’s us awful passengers…

“So if the operator isn’t allowing enough time for passengers to get on or off, it’s the passengers’ fault. It’s always all our fault. Imagine how smoothly Metro could run if it didn’t have to deal with pesky passengers. This is just offensive on too many levels to count.”

Another of the unpublished comments picked up on an exchange we had about what the operators say to riders in response to crowding around doors. In that exchange, a commenter characterized operator announcements as “petulant threats.” I said: “This is a mistake on the part of the operators who do this. They must have no idea how this nanny talk comes across to a train-load of jammed in customers.”

To that, the unpublished reply was:

Nanny talk

“Yes, it is occasionally annoying, but frankly so are the customers who idiotically jam themselves between closing doors, and risk having the train offloaded.”

Plenty of blame to go around. Some riders do lean against the doors, which can cause them to malfunction.

Another thread of this customer service discussion began when a commenter questioned why it may take “five or six seconds before the driver opens the doors” after the train has stopped at the platform. I offered my guess, that the operator first makes sure that all doors are indeed lined up to open on the platform, and also may need to move across the cab, open the window, look out and then hit the button on the left side of the cab to open those doors. This was an unpublished reply:

Metro doors

“I, too, wonder why this happens. However, your answer isn’t logical. First, we know Metro operates trains of six of eight cars in length and no longer. We have to assume that all stations have platforms that are at least eight car-lengths long, which is a safe assumption. Now, we also know that with manual operation of trains, the driver has to stop the train with the front of his/her car at the end of the platform. Therefore, if all that is true, the last car must be on the platform and when the doors open, there will be a platform for the passengers to exit. The only changeable factor is the location of the driver’s cab and if he/she can see out the front window that the train is as far up as it can go, why the need to look out the side window?”

It’s the operator’s responsibility to look out the window when opening and closing the doors. (Some riders question whether this is always done. Or if it is, why would the operator close doors when it’s obvious passengers still are exiting?) To open the doors on the left side, the operator must move from the right-side console over to the left side, open that window and hit the button on the left-side panel to open the doors. Sit in the first car and watch the operator do that. Should take about five or six seconds.

Another rush-hour service question I couldn’t get to during the chat:

Escalator/entrance direction

“Who determines which direction (up vs down) the escalators run at each station? Same question for the direction (in vs out) of turnstiles? The ratio of in/out & up/down often seems arbitrary, rather than reflective of the likely usage of each station. We shouldn’t, for example, see mostly up escalators and in turnstiles during the evening rush hour in Takoma since, as a residential area, people are mostly exiting (not entering) the station at that time… and yet we do (this occasionally causes major pileups of people all trying to exit through the one or two working turnstiles). I’ve seen this at other stations too. Simple common sense should dictate these decisions, but station managers certainly don’t seem interested in suggestions for improvement.”

This question is frequently asked, so I can tell you what Metro’s game plan is: The transit authority puts a priority on getting people off the platforms and out of the stations. During the evening rush, you may find two of three escalators between street and mezzanine going up and only one going down. Transit officials refer to this as “metering” the crowd, and the theory is similar to the highway “ramp metering” we discussed during the chat. Another form of metering is to stop an escalator and make people use it as a down staircase, because it slows their entry to the station. Fans leaving Nationals Park or Verizon Center may have experienced this.

Having experienced some dangerously crowded transit platforms in other cities, I have to agree with this safety measure. But there are other issues, as well. You know how delicate Metro escalators are. The transit authority doesn’t like to reverse direction frequently, because that might bust the escalator.

On that other theme concerning ramp metering in Interstate 66: I’m asking the Virginia Department of Transportation for some information on what drivers say is an extra long red light at the Lee Highway ramp to westbound I-66.