Metro work affects all lines this weekend

The transit authority has been installing new signs in stations. They're easier to read, and reflect the upcoming addition of the Silver Line, which will have a transfer point at Metro Center. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

All Metro stations will be open this weekend, but trains will share tracks through work zones on all lines and that will affect the schedules.

Here are the details on Metrorail service between 10 p.m. Friday and the rail system’s midnight closing on Sunday.

Red Line. Crews will work on the tracks between Judiciary Square and NoMa-Gallaudet stations. Trains are scheduled to leave the ends of the line at Shady Grove and Glenmont every 16 minutes. But extra trains will be in service from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday between Shady Grove and Judiciary Square. In that zone, trains should reach platforms every 10 minutes.

Orange Line. Crews will work on the tracks between Stadium-Armory and Eastern Market. Trains are scheduled to operate every 20 minutes all along the line.

Blue Line. It shares the tunnel with the Orange Line through the work zone, and will be on the same 20-minute schedule.

Green Line. Crews will work track switch parts between the Georgia Avenue and Fort Totten stations and also on the tracks between the Navy Yard and Anacostia stations. Trains all along the line will operate every 20 minutes.

Yellow Line. On a normal weekend, Yellow Line trains share the tunnel with the Green Line that goes north to the Fort Totten station. Because of the weekend work, the Yellow Line trains will go no farther north than Mount Vernon Square. To go beyond that, get off the Yellow Line train at Mount Vernon Square and wait on the platform for the next Green Line train toward Greenbelt. The Yellow Line trains will operate on their normal weekend frequencies.

Travel tips

Metro’s strategy on weekends like this is to space the trains far enough apart so that they don’t get bunched up waiting their turns through the single-tracking work zones. To minimize your wait on the platform, check Metro’s online Trip Planner after midday Friday, when the weekend schedule will be incorporated into the Trip Planner calculations. This helps, but it’s no guarantee of avoiding a wait. The weekend trains can get thrown off schedule, just like the weekday trains. Also, some riders have told me they still experience delays aboard trains at the points where those trains are to enter the single-tracking areas.

Also, the next train signs on the platforms are less reliable on weekends, when the trains are sharing tracks through work zones.

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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Lawmakers seek to restore trust in speed cameras

The House Environmental Matters Committee approved a bill that would set up an ombudsman to let people resolve speed-camera disputes without going to court. (WTOP/Ari Ashe)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A new position will work to ease drivers’ frustration with speed cameras in Maryland after a House committee’s meeting Tuesday.

At a hearing Tuesday, the House Environmental Matters Committee heard testimony on a number of bills to reform speed-camera programs, ultimately deciding to accept a measure that would create an ombudsman in each county and town that would serve as a customer service liaison between police and drivers.

House Bill 929, proposed by Delegates James Malone, D-Baltimore County, and Herb McMillan, R-Anne Arundel, would also explicitly define a school zone as K-12 and requires cameras to be located within a half-mile of the center point of the school.

“When people have a complaint or a concern, the driver will be able to go to [the ombudsman], as opposed to the court. Hopefully, a lot of these erroneous tickets that people are getting will be able to get taken care of with an ombudsman,” Malone says.

“We’re going to watch the effect of the ombudsman across the state as much as we can. I’m sure when we pass state law that the local jurisdictions are adherent to the law. If they don’t, in my opinion, repercussions will have to be taken.”

McMillan says the ombudsman would give drivers a fair shake.

“An individual who gets a ticket from a speed camera can go to the individual, who’ll look at the records surrounding that camera, talk to the liaison. The liaison at the point can dismiss the ticket, and you wouldn’t even have to go to court. I think this is going to be useful to Maryland citizens.”

But some aren’t too confident that smaller jurisdictions in Prince George’s County will pick a reputable liaison. WTOP has chronicled problems in Fairmount Heights and Morningside and, in recent years, problems have also surfaced in Riverdale Park.

“Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, what we need is oversight: Having the Attorney General looking at this will bring fresh light to this dark subject,” says AAA Mid-Atlantic Spokesman John Townsend.

Ron Ely of the Maryland Drivers Alliance, an opponent of speed cameras, says the new position won’t make things worse.

“We’re not saying having an ombudsman is a bad thing,” Ely says.

“But the committee seems so determined to leave every local government to police themselves. You’ve got to wonder: Some of the local governments we’ve had the most problems with, who are they going to pick? Like in Morningside, they could pick their existing code enforcement officer.”

Ely is referring to Regina Foster, who was recently named code enforcement officer after stepping down from the town council for the second time in three years. In 2011, Foster resigned after a Maryland State Police investigation found that she may have inappropriately voided red-light camera tickets. She denied any wrongdoing.

Morningside driver Mike Weathersby testified on Tuesday. WTOP Ticketbuster helped him after his video showed him going the speed limit, yet he still received a ticket from the town. Weathersby recalled the story WTOP reported on last November to lawmakers, many of whom came to him afterward and apologized for the ordeal.

“Today was the first day I heard about it. I will be happy to work with Delegate Aisha Braveboy to see what we can do, to make sure it doesn’t continue or happen again,” says Malone.

Braveboy, D-Morningside, sent a letter to Morningside and urged them on WTOP Radio to conduct an independent audit of their program, similar to an audit conducted in Baltimore last year. Morningside told WTOP that if we wanted to conduct an independent audit, we would have to pay for it ourselves. Both Baltimore and Morningside used Brekford Corp. as their vendor.

“The truth is, Morningside is making money off of speed-camera tickets. It’s the cost of doing business to ensure whatever device you’re using is accurate. They should build the cost of an independent audit into their contracts and any town budget decisions they make. If you don’t have the desire to ensure the speed cameras in your town are accurate, then you shouldn’t be using them,” says Braveboy.

McMillan says HB 929 will help in places like Morningside.

“Quite candidly, a lot of the things that came out of Baltimore City and those jurisdictions you’ve identified in Prince George’s County were the motivation for this legislative,” he says.

“Under this legislation, everything that Morningside has done, as far as records, would be open to the public. It also requires the Town of Morningside to have their equipment calibrated daily and checked and validated annually from someone other than Brekford. I think all these things will restore confidence in towns like Morningside.”




Breaking: Silver Line Delay Disappointment


WASHINGTON– Transit riders looking forward to the opening of the Silver Line in Tysons Corner and Reston will have to wait longer, as the project will face more delays and repairs.

Sources tell WTOP that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) will announce on Monday that it does not consider the Silver Line complete, citing issues with the automatic train control circuitry and other new issues. The contractor building the Silver Line told MWAA on Feb. 7 that it believed the project was complete. MWAA had 15 days to inspect the work and decide whether it agreed that the tracks could be turned over to Metro.

The automatic train control circuits and other electronic signal issues were behind a delay announced late last year that caused the project to be delayed into 2014. Originally, MWAA and Metro hoped the Silver Line would open to passengers in late December 2013, although WTOP reported last June that such a launch would not happen.

Circuit and signal issues are troubling because those components were cited as causes of the deadly 2009 Metro crash outside Ft. Totten, which killed nine people. Metro shut down automatic train operation afterwards and trains still run in manual mode, which is a subset of the automatic train control system.

Sources tell WTOP that MWAA’s decision will delay the project at least three weeks, if not longer. Once MWAA does agree the project is complete, it will turn over the Silver Line to Metro for another 90 days of testing.

While no firm deadline is set for a grand opening, the delay means the Silver Line will not likely open until at least July 2014.

On Thursday, Fairfax County Supervisor Cathy Hudgins told WTOP that she would be very disappointed if the Silver Line did not open before the end of the summer.

Metro loses about $2 million each month the Silver Line is not open.

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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.

Watchdog report: Metro employees cheat the parking system

WASHINGTON (WJLA) – A viewer complaint to ABC7’s Watchdog unit asked us to investigate illegal parking by WMATA employes at the Anacostia Metro Station’s parking garage.

The viewer claimed while she was ticketed for her meter running out, Metro employees were being allowed to cheat the system.

The small parking lot adjacent to the Anacostia Metro parking lot garage is popular with Metro employees. It allows for up to 12 hours of metered parking, but many Metro employees aren’t paying – the meters all read “expired.”

ABC7 made multiple visits, seeing many of the same cars parked for free.

According to the “Metro Employee Parking Policy – Reminder” memo sent to all employees last January and obtained by ABC7 News, “Metro employes must pay the Board-approved parking fees to park personal vehicles at Metrorail stations and Metro parking facilities.”

But what about the parking passes, vests and even a police patch seen on the dash boards of more than a dozen vehicles parked at expired meters?

Employees were told, in writing, those items “do not relieve an employee of the responsibility to pay parking fees and parking meter charges.”

“I work for Metro and I don’t think I should have to pay, period,” says one Metro employee.

Some Metro customers disagree.

“They shouldn’t be cheating the system,” says John Joyce. “I have to pay just like anybody else. I’m a paying customer.”

“I’m definitely paying to park,” says Moses Muldrow. “They should pay to park.”

In a statement to ABC7 News, WMATA spokesperson Dan Stessel says:

“This is an issue that comes up from time to time, and one that requires occasional reinforcement with employees… employees parking their personal vehicles must comply with all applicable parking fees and regulations. I have forwarded the complaint to MTPD who will step up patrols at Anacostia to resolve the issue.”

The transit agency says it also received a complaint from a rider about the situation at the Anacostia parking garage and promised the Transit Police would step up patrols.

On ABC7’s next visit, nearly every Metro employee’s vehicle parked at an expired meter had a $25 citation on the windshield.