How would you improve Metro? There’s a contest for that.

Just about everyone has an idea for improving Metro. The challenge presented in a new contest launched by the blog Greater Greater Washington is to develop an idea within these bounds: Metro must be able to implement the idea in three to six months, the cost must be no more than $100,000 to create and almost nothing to continue, it must be legal, and it must not have any bad effect on service or safety.

The contest, developed by Greater Greater Washington in collaboration with the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Metro, already has drawn a bunch of entries. You can see them, comment on them and submit your own ideas, at

Contest entries will continue until July 15. Then by Aug. 5, a jury will select 10 of the entries that meet all the rules, and those finalists will be put to a public vote from Aug. 8 to 19, with the winner announced by Aug. 24. David Alpert, founder and president of Greater Greater Washington, says Metro has committed to using the winning entry within six months.

Alpert noted that Metro is in the midst of some huge rebuilding projects. Most prominent lately is the SafeTrack maintenance plan. In the meantime, he said, “there are opportunities to make smaller, faster, cheaper changes along the way which will improve the rider experience both during rebuilding and beyond.”

He pointed out the new decals on some platforms that mark where the back of a six-car train will be when it pulls into the station and the green “8” on the next-train signs that give riders a heads-up about the approach of an eight-car train. To that, I’d add the Customer Accountability Report launched by Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld. (You can find a link to that PDF on Metro’s home page.)

“Those of us outside the transit agency can’t turn wrenches or replace rail ties,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “But riders, advocates and the public have a wealth of knowledge, ideas and energy that we can share. Riders know the system intimately, and we’re excited to see the small, creative and implementable ideas the contest brings to light that WMATA can use to improve the rider experience.”
The contest winner gets “public recognition and some transit memorabilia,” according to Greater Greater Washington.

This is a great idea on the part of everyone involved. The transit authority needs to be more in touch with riders on the seemingly little things that actually could do a lot to boost customer service. Little projects with high visibility can help restore some of the public’s lost confidence in Metro.


Photo courtesy of J. Lawler Duggan/For The Washington Post

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