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Metro has officially let the cat out of the bag…

July 25, 2011, 9:43 PM

It’s true. The cat is out of the bag. Last week, because of the extreme heat, Metro relaxed its longstanding prohibition on consuming beverages in the system, allowing riders “to carry and consume bottles of water on the system.” Take a look:

Metro's press release allowing water on trains
(Click it to see the full view of it, screen-capped from Metro’s site)

This was a good move, though I wish Metro would have left the term “bottled water” out of it, considering that it’s really not a good idea to have people running for the Aquafina, but instead running to their sink to put water in their reusable bottle before riding Metro. If I had been riding during the time when “bottled water” was allowed, I would be carrying a stainless steel water bottle with me, and if the beverage police had any problem with my reusable water bottle, then I think I would be having a quick (four-letter) word with them about it.

And then today, the ban was back in place, as per usual. But the world has now changed. Metro has allowed people to consume liquids while riding, and – get this – nothing bad happened. The cat is now out of the bag. Now that we know that the system will be just fine and there won’t be problems if people are allowed to have a drink on Metro, the ban on beverages is starting to look kind of silly.

So what about the carpets, you say? Well, remember that the days of carpeted rail cars on Metro are numbered. Realize that this is closer to what Metro will look like going forward:

Alstom 6026, with black floors and wool seats

Not this:

Interior of Rohr 1162

Resilient flooring. No more carpets. That means that if someone accidentally spills something, it can simply be wiped up, and no worry about having to shampoo the rug or otherwise have weird stains on the carpet. I was riding CAF 5169 this morning coming into work, and the carpet was fairly new based on the fluffy pile, but it looked like it had already seen better days, as it had a lot of gum ground into it in places. If resilient flooring gets gum on it, you just scrape it off and throw the gum away. With carpeting, it’s going to be there for a while.

Now I have ridden other subway systems, as you well know. I’ve ridden the Chicago “L” (CTA), and I’ve also ridden the T in Boston (MBTA). The CTA allows people to drink in their system, but not eat, as my sister demonstrates:

Ann Lysy has a drink on a Chicago "L" train platform

And the expression on her face says, hurry up, already. But there she is, legally consuming a bottle of “Vitamin Water” on public transportation in Chicago. And the stations generally look pretty clean. Here’s Monroe station on the CTA Red Line, late on a Thursday night:

Monroe station on the CTA Red Line

Pristine. And here’s Berwyn, also on the Red Line:

Berwyn station on the CTA Red Line

Perfect again, even on the trackbed from what I could tell. And what about the rolling stock? Let’s see:

CTA car 2886

And at night:

CTA car 2751

Looks all right to me, both day and night. No trash to be found. Compare this to WMATA cars where beverages are banned, where I’ve had the misfortune of sitting next to someone’s discarded bottle many times.

And then what about the T, which has no prohibition on food or beverage? Check out a station:

Downtown Crossing, a Red Line station on the MBTA

And a train:

Car 1315 on the MBTA Orange Line

Looks okay to me. Only debris that I spotted was newspaper debris, which we see on WMATA trains as well.

So as you see, systems will not necessarily become trashy if you let the people drink. I see discarded food and beverage containers riding the Red Line all the time on Metro, and eating and drinking is banned on Metro. So I think it’s time we rethink the policy a little bit.

My suggestion is something that someone else on the Twitter had mentioned (don’t remember who, though), and that I think is probably a good idea. Allow people to have drinks on Metro (any kind of non-alcoholic beverage – not just water), but shift enforcement to littering, and make sure there’s a considerable fine attached to it (with revenue from said fines going to fund the department that cleans the stations, trains, and buses). It’s natural to get thirsty. And when you need to have something to drink, it should be okay to sip something on Metro. But Metro needs to provide more trash cans (currently, there is only one per platform side, plus a few in the mezzanines), and provide recycling bins for more than just newspapers. And if someone finishes off a Coke or a cup of coffee on the train and disposes of it irresponsibly, cite them. Fine them. Make it an expensive mistake to litter.

Hopefully someone at Metro (Richard Sarles, are you listening?) will take this advice to heart and make it happen. I think that lifting the ban on food is probably a bit much, and nothing here should be construed to mean that I think that people should be allowed to openly drink alcoholic beverages on Metro. But lifting the ban on drinking non-alcoholic drinks on Metro is long overdue. Plus, as mentioned, Metro did let the cat out of the bag on allowing people to drink on trains and buses, and now that we have seen that nothing bad happened when people were allowed to drink on the Metro, it’s going to be hard to say with a straight face that an outright prohibition on consuming beverages on Metro is a good idea…

Web site: Unsuck DC Metro: Should the Bottled Water Ban be Ditched for Good?

Song: A blast from the Metro past: Breda 3273, Red Line from Takoma to Fort Totten, prior to rehab.

Quote: And in the end, unfortunately, I think this is an improvement, along with a flat rail fare, that Metro will ignore, because the existing way of thinking (absolute prohibition on food and drink, and distance-based fares) is too ingrained in the DC transit culture for Metro to look outside the box. That or Metro is just too bull-headed to try it on a longer-term basis. Who knows.

Categories: CTA, MBTA, Weather, WMATA