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Themed subway cars. Now there’s an idea…

August 23, 2009, 11:15 PM

I was listening to the podcast of the August 1 broadcast of Car Talk, and they had this to say regarding public transportation:

Tom: I think we have to use your idea of – my brother has a brilliant idea. Not enough people use public transportation. His contention is that the people who run the public transportation business, subways and buses, especially the subway which we have here in the city of Boston. They try… they almost make it difficult for you and unpleasant.
Ray: They took all the fun out of it.
Tom: They took all the fun out of it.
Ray: They’ve sucked the life out of it.
Tom: Sucked the life out of the train. Like in Washington DC, you can’t eat a donut, you can’t drink a cup of coffee, you can’t do anything, you can’t spit, you can’t smoke a cigar… My brother thinks that all the public transportation systems should have theme cars.
Caller: Theme cars…
Tom: Theme. So that you can go in the “cha cha” car. And there would be band, bands in there, playing, people dancing, and…
Ray: Yeah, Xavier Cugat, would fit right in there!
Tom: Xavier Cugat! Or you could have the cigar-smoking car, or you could have… I mean, there’s no end to the number of themes that they could come up with, so that people would be fighting, paying hundreds of dollars to get on the train.

Since they mention Washington, let’s explore for a moment. First of all, what Tommy is describing is Metro’s rules sign:

Metro's rules sign

And yeah, those are the rules that allegedly suck the life out of the subway, though I’ve seen more than my fair share of people scoffing at those rules. But let’s think about themed cars for a moment. The thing that I immediately came up with was a disco-themed car. Metro’s a product of the 1970s, so this wasn’t a big stretch. Still, imagine if you will:

Metro disco-themed car

No one ever said I was an artist. And I stole the image of the disco ball from Wikipedia. So sue me. But yeah, hang up a disco ball, kill the lights, and pump in some Saturday Night Fever over the loudspeaker, and you’ve got it. You wouldn’t even need to light the disco ball, since there are lights along the tunnel walls that would provide adequate disco-type lighting. And as the Car Talk guys said, you could charge a premium fare, which would help Metro’s budget. And with the trains pulling all the way to the end of the platform now, you could designate, say, the #3 position as the disco car, and corral people that paid the disco fare to a certain area of the platform. Of course, the disco car would have to be a Rohr, since those cars were actually around when disco was up and coming, and still look like the 1970s today.

I guarantee you that would be one commute where I wouldn’t be taking my usual nap on the Red Line going home.

Now a cigar-smoking car is a bit much, because cigars are just too noxious-smelling. Sorry, Tommy. But how about a car with a bar? All you’d have to do is rip out the seats at the blind end of the car, put a bar in, and throw a bartender behind it, and teach him or her to make drinks and charge riders for it. And in typical Metro form, the bartender would have to be totally rude to the customers, and the bartender would be wearing a yellow safety vest with “WMATA” on the left side, and “RTRA” on the right. Imagine:

That could be amusing. Enjoy drinks at Metrobar (beer image from here) while riding Metrorail, and then take Metrobus to get you the rest of the way home to sober back up. Since the cars already kind of start to smell like beer late at night, why not? And yes, that’s me behind the bar in the safety vest (wearing the wrong color shirt), since I had no good photo of a real Metro employee to stick behind the bar.

Otherwise, though, the sky’s the limit. Of course, I doubt Metro would do any of these things, though if they took Click and Clack’s advice, they might very well prevent a fare increase or two, and if it really took off, they might even get enough money to build that M Street subway and finally divorce the Blue Line from the Orange Line.

Regardless, I certainly had fun exploring the concept, and I had a lot of fun with the illustrations.

Web site: A Dr. Seuss-themed party held on the Toronto Subway

Song: "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees. Yeah, we could rock a Rohr car or two with that. Metro would all of a sudden be seventies-hip all over again.

Quote: So would Metro ever do this? Hell no. But it would be amusing if they did...

Categories: Radio, WMATA