Thursday, December 25
Here are just a few of the items that will soon be available from popular on-line merchandise ordering websites. Each item is specially designed to resemble handcrafted memorabilia of your MARC train experience no matter how short!
What about that single one-way trip on the MARC train you took after a former friend recommended the convenient-when-working train service to BWI only to miss your non-refundable flight to Cancun due to "a mechanical problem" with the train? You'll never forget it with a MARC commemorative One-Way Ticket Stub Display Case! Brushed Aluminum (or Brass) frames the sturdy, scratch-resistant plexi-glass for an air- and water-tight seal to ensure that little memento will last forever!
The reproduction MARC Platform Electronic Message Marquee paperweight! Fondly recall the years of wondering when those gaudy things hanging menacingly over the heads of MARC train commuters would display any useful information or anything at all! Be the first in your cube-farm to display the 1/16-inch scale model of the actual MARC Penn-Line standard equipment. Add two AAA batteries and the marquee will display three "messages" 1. MARC Train Station, 2. Train Number 417, due to depart Odenton Station at 8:33 am, Southbound to Washington DC is operating 10 to 12 minutes late, and 3. Random lights!
A keepsake copy of a semi-faux version of last month's MARC train schedule! This authentic-looking, accordion-style pamphlet will give anyone the impression that they are holding an actual MARC train schedule Vol. MCDXII No. 137! But a closer look will reveal a humorous yet strangely familiar take on their recent MARC train experience. Also available in a plexi-glass and brushed aluminum or brass frame.
Tired of getting "that look" from your boss after walking in the door late again due to "mechanical problems"? Well, imagine the look on his face when you produce an Authentic MARC Train Excuse signed by John Porcari, Knuckledragger-in-Chief of the Maryland Department of Transportation! That's right, a full month's supply of personalized excused lateness memos on MDoT letterhead, give the official "O.K." to that day's lateness. Each excuse is addressed to your boss (simply supply the name!) and personalized to you. You fill in the date and train number using your own pen and ink, and bingo! You have an official excuse.
And what merchandise website would be complete without T-shirts and coffee mugs emblazoned with some of the catchy slogans first made popular by Mike Netherland and his Blogs? Slogans such as:
1. Never Run for a MARC Train....They don't Run for You!
2. CAUTION...Dangerous Overcrowding
3. "Jus' Push the Door Open, Man!"
4. "Commuters Riot"
5. I'm in the Loser Lot
And much, much more!
Thursday, December 11
First, I have figured out the secret to getting your Metro SmartBenefits, your MARC monthly ticket AND your Smart Trip card funded through CommuterDirect. I have been getting my MARC pass in the mail from CommuterDirect for the past three months, for the past two the charges have been correctly applied from my SmartBenefits and from my credit card.
But it was only until last month that I finally got the the remaining SmartBenefits allocated to my SmarTrip Card. Apparently you have to do this from a Metro fare machine. And apparently there are instructions for doing this on the Metro web site but I couldn't find them.
[NOTE I had a link to the PDF but that went dead when the webmonkeys over at WMATA decided to change their site. Kelly has scanned the hardcopy for us, but I can't figure out how to post the thing here. Soooooo if you want the thing e-mail at me at email@example.com and I'll send it to you...for free! I know it's a bleeping valuable thing, and I shouldn't just bleeping give it away....but it is bleeping illegal to try to sell bleep you don't own!]
Saturday, October 4
"Its supporters say it will be the essence of a transit-oriented development," according to newshound Joshua Stewart, who couldn't seem to find anyone to express a healthy skepticism about the impact the project will have on those who rely on the already-stretched-to-the-limit MARC system and infrastructure in Odenton. Obviously Mr. Stewart has not seen this blog.
The herd of veteran Odenton station devotees will note that the MARC system was already overwhelmed 10 years ago when the Town Center Plan had been collecting dust for only 30 years. Apparently Mr. Stewart doesn't read his own newspaper which a few weeks ago clued us in to the fact that MARC system upgrades on the Penn line and to the Odenton station itself were cut from next year's budget.
It took the MTA 10 years just to acquire the land on the opposite side of Rt. 175 to build an overflow parking lot which, now, thanks to excellent planning is itself overflowing whenever the Camden Line shuts down passenger rail traffic in favor of the higher-paying freight business. MARC actually encourages the hapless Camden Line passengers to make the short drive over to Odenton and catch a Penn line train much to the delightful surprise of regular Penn Line victims at Odenton.
Now parking is just one of the two-dimensional limitations of the system and the one-dimensional limits of its planners' thinking and imagination. Another limitations is on the capacity of MARC train carriages. Already overflowing to Dangerous Overcrowding levels on early morning and evening trains, I am predicting that the MTA will have to hire riot-squads and start buying water cannons to deal with high-density, mixed-use passengers trying to board these trains. We will be seeing scenes like this one in Argentina when passengers there refuse to ride on the tops of that nation's commuter trains as they peacefully do in Bombay.
MARC-Town may turn out to be a boon for Odenton residents and businesses. However, they will have more than a few angry folks if they over-sell the "excellent access to the busiest MARC train station in the county." I am advising all potential leasees and apartment renters to read the fine print very carefully before buying into this fantasy.
Unless the MARC fairy Godmother appears, soon, with gobs of cash as well as a magic wand, there will only be misery or worse in store for us for the next ten years when we can all celebrate the golden anniversary of the Odenton Town Center Plan.
Sunday, September 21
1. The first and easiest way to scrape together fast cash is to check between the cushions of the couches and chairs. You've done this at home and in college to help pay the rent or buy food. Now, the MARC fleet of single- and double-decker carriages has thousands of these little coin caches. The mind reels at the thought of how much rent and food you could score with that kind of treasure just waiting to be found.
2. Stop paying for the design and production of MARC train schedules. If I were the Knuckledragger-in-Chief of MARC, this is the first thing I would cut. If they are spending a dime they are spending half a million dollars publishing fictitious arrival and departure times. Not only are they completely arbitrary but they only set MARC management up for failure. If there is no schedule, MARC can hardly be accused of being behind it, now, can they?
3. Stop putting up those ridiculous electronic message marquees. There is no message of half of them all the time. The other half simply do not work. Talk about a waste of money! To recoup some of these squandered dollars I suggest the marquees be listed for sale on popular Internet classified and auction web sites like eBay.
More to come...
Tuesday, September 16
This is a typical load for the 3 trains out of Union Station between 5 and 7 pm. There are no places to hold onto. Taller folks tend to hold on to the fluorescent light covers that run the length of each carriage.
The man in the blue shirt is actually standing between the two carriages. Now I am sure the conductor on this train cleared these folks out of the vestibule before the man in the blue shirt was cut in half as the train switched tracks three times on its way out of the yard.
These people are not standing in the vestibule for the sheer fun of it. They are standing there because there is no room in the carriages to stand. This is what I call Dangerous Overcrowding.
Got pics? Send them to (firstname.lastname@example.org) me so I can plaster them all over the web!
Saturday, September 13
According to the Annapolis Kapital, funding for the garage (or just a study of the garage) and the extra carriages were cut this week from the MTA budget. I hate to say I told you so. On the down side, we have to listen tothe tired excuse of "well, we just have no money..." from the MARC folk for another 10 years.
Yeah, apparently those crazy Marylanders, in an effort to keep some of their money from the confiscatory O'Malley administration and entrenched Democrats in Annapolis, are driving less and buying less gas! Imagine that. And they are buying cheaper cars thereby paying less taxes to cover the enormous costs of getting a clear title on your car. The gas and title taxes were supposed to be revenue sources for the MTA projects that just went up in smoke this week.
Think about this for a moment. The revenue sources for mass transit are to come from people who don't use mass transit (they buy lots of gas and cars). Now, if all of those gas- and car-buyers decided to take mass transit instead, where would we be? On MARC trains that look like the one in the video clip posted nearby, that's where. What large group of idiots that meet for 90 a year in Annapolis decided that this was a good idea? Hmmmmmmmm.
Well, in the Kapital-paper (that's as opposed to the Sun-paper) John Porcari, MDoT Knuckledragger-in-Chief, says he is looking for a few good ideas that the MARC-ons can do NOW, on the cheap. Herewith some ideas:
Parking in Odenton - I have been trying for about 10 years now to get the MARC-ons to CHARGE for PARKING in Odenton. Why? For the exact opposite reasons why it's stooopid to base mass transit revenue on taxes that decline with the increase in mass transit use! The LAST reason it is a good idea to CHARGE FOR PARKING is to make money.
People take to free parking like bears to a garbage dump. Charging a even a nominal fee will instantly cause some people (a statistically predictable percentage) to look elsewhere, like going BACK to BWI where most of them used to go before THAT garage project started causing parking and other problems. A larger fee would cause even more folks to try other ways of saving money. Especially those folks who live all the way out in Piney Orchard. People (this excludes MARC managers) make rational decisions a thousand times a day based on the "How-much-it-gonna-cost-me?" model of human behavior.
Oh, but Mr. Netherland, they whined, we don't want to discourage ridership! Why not? If you discourage ridership (IF, that is) in the bargain then you also solve the Dangerous Overcrowding of the early morning and evening trains. They name streets after people with such ideas.
Oh but how would we treat the day-trippers, the one or two day tourists? They have a right to ride too, ya know! Yeah, they have a right to ride. They don't have a right to free parking.
I look forward to reading and posting your ideas. Remember, the MARC-ons get an e-mail message every time we post!
Friday, September 12
I also told him that for most MARC commuters "Train # 411" means nothing. He promises to tell us the time of day he catches the train, instead.
Subject: MARC Penn line # 411Then one from Bombay, India by Alkesh a database systems genius who works with Bill:
I caught MARC Penn line # 411 at Odenton; standing room only; I'm standing in the overflow between the cars with 6 others. Surprised it isn't considered a safety hazard requiring them to add more cars. At least it's not as bad as some countries' trains on which people ride on the top and outsides of the trains - with livestock (HA). Have a great day!
For those who could not visualize what Bill is talking about, Google for 'local train in Mumbai' and watch videos on YouTube! You will forget about risk involved in all the adventure sports here and also learn about time management (during the commute)!!! :-)
BTW, I have commuted by local trains in Mumbai for about 6 years and enjoyed the challenge of getting into the train, getting a seat and of course getting out of it at the station you wish!... And, really miss the fun hanging at a door specifically while the train passes on a bridge :-)
Here is the clip that Alkesh urges us to Google for:
Sunday, September 7
I am curious if, in your world, you have ever come across this…That conductor should be promoted! He obviously cares about the comfort and safety of the passengers in his charge. I think my correspondent is of a different mind. If he were to spend some time on the 6:40 after the 6:05 has been cancelled on the Penn Line during tourist season he would quickly appreciate the Brunswick Line conductor's efforts.
[a CSX conductor], tells the passengers of his daily trains that they must remain seated until the conductors announce the next station stop. This conductor won't even allow more passengers onto his train if there is no more seating room. He has threatened to throw people off his train who stand up in the seating area in conversation with other passengers.
As you can imagine, no one at MARC or CSX seems to care to get involved. Any thoughts?
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Furious rail commuters in Argentina set fire to a train on Thursday in anger over delays during the morning rush hour.
Television images showed black smoke and flames engulfing the train at the station of Merlo, in the western suburbs of the capital, Buenos Aires. At nearby Castelar, passengers hurled stones at the ticket office and blocked the rails.
"We understand that people get angry when the service is delayed or canceled, but they absolutely can't attack a public service in this way," Gustavo Gago, a spokesman for rail company TBA, told local television.
Now by publishing this bit of news The Marc...Train in no way condones or encourages this type of behavior by MARC commuters, no matter how late their trains or how disrespectful their employees or how much of the-run-around they get from MARC Managers.
Saturday, September 6
First he didn't understand what I was talking about. Then he insisted that the doors were working properly (this assessment he made while seated behind the desk next to a young lady he was entertaining). When I insisted that they were not, in fact working, that all he had to do was get up and move a switch, things got testy. At least one of the Union Station Holding Pen B fixtures witnessed the exchange.
Finally he relented, admitted the doors were switched off and said: "Man, just push the door open; just push the door open!" He kept repeating this, while disdainfully shaking his head. Well I gave up and went back to the door, pushed the fake "Push to Exit" button glued to the wall, then muscled open the door using the finger pull mounted on one side.
Once on the other side I watched as passengers struggled with the door. Petite women or women with their hands full (as people who actually work for a living find themselves), men and women with disabilities, senior citizens who struggle to get through thin air had to wait as other passengers pushed or pulled the door open. I watched small children nearly caught as the hydraulic-press-like door easily closed on them after an adult had gone through.
We are not asking for miracles from you morons. We are just asking for a little respect.
Wednesday, September 3
About a year or so ago, the horde of passengers began to surge. Two trains-worth of MARC passengers began to annoy the good folks at Union Station and so MARC "management" began herding us out of the way. First we were asked to wait in Gate B, or B and C, depending on how many trains were late.
Complying with this request was not easy. Conscientious passengers first encountered the retractable rope line, anchored to their 40-lb-pedestals blocking the entrance to Gate B. Not wanting to overtly defy a duly-placed rope line, MARC passengers snaked their way between and under the impediment.
Once past this hurdle the compliant passenger would have to force open one of the double, hydraulic-activated "automatic doors." These doors are not designed to be manually operated. There is no handle to use to safely push open the door. And there is no overriding the hydraulic piston to which the door is connected.
And the struggles of the MARC passengers were all fun entertainment to the Amtrak employees who seem like fixtures inside Gate B. Two or three of them would just sit there and watch passengers struggle with doors. Well I got tired of this real fast. I would not limbo my way past the rope line and I would not try to muscle open the doors. The first thing I would do is release the retractable rope. Then I would activate the doors with the switch that Amtrak employees apparently couldn't bother themselves with flicking.
Well, my subversive, fun-killing, activities were being monitored, it seems and it wasn't long before the good folks at Union Station were ready to pounce on me. An Amtrak employee jumped up (yes, jumped!) ran over to me and demanded that I close the doors, pointing menacingly with his walkie-talkie. I refused. The police were summoned. The policeman was amused but tried to accommodate the Union Station sting-leader.
After this run-in with the door police, I began noticing certain things about the holding pen. First the doors were one-way. You can push to get in, but not out. Also the doors leading out to the platform were also one-way but were also non-functioning automatic doors. The classic fire-trap. I referred to the holding pen as a fire-trap several times loudly during the meeting with the MARC managers. I suggested that at a minimum:
1. The doors need to be fitted with the standard push bar to assist in manual operation.
2. If the automatic doors are constantly broken they should be taken off their pistons and made to be easily operated.
These suggestions were noted but, hey, this is an old building, the MARC-on tried to give me a history of Union Station. We don't have any authority...we don't have any money...yadda.
Saturday, August 30
I have investigated this CommuterDirect thingy and appears to be workable. As Michelle said earlier in comment, it will be a drastic change, and some of us may not be able to take advantage of it. The following is an English translation of the description of the service from the "info" page of CommuterDirect.Com. For those who enjoy reading this masterpiece in the original MARC-ese please link to https://www.commuterpage.com/smartbenefits.cfm.
The easiest thing is to enroll in the SmartTrip program. Yes, this is the same program METRO operates. Sign up using the link at the bottom of the page linked above.
To get your employer-sponsored transit subsidy you have to provide them with your SmartBenefits account number. Your employer will then deposit your subsidy into that account. You can use some or all of it to but your Marc Monthly pass and other stuff to be mailed to you. Just like on-line bill payments and on-line shopping that keep my marriage from ending in a "bitter divorce" every year.
Those of us whose employers are of the "what-will-they-want-next-free-coffee-and-donuts-every-morning" attitude toward transit benefits can still purchase the monthly pass via CommuterDirect and have it delivered by mail.
I'll let you know more about this next week when I sign up for an account.
Wednesday, August 27
It was just too good to be true. I expected the MARC morons to set up a pristine holding area with new seats that were arranged so that passengers could actually get to and sit in half of them. So imagine my amusement when I arrived to find a stuffed to over-capacity Holding Pen and the three MARC "managers" deflecting questions about the two trains that evening and the generally shoddy service that Maryland commuters have endured and will likely continue to endure.
I got the same shell game when I asked about the Dangerous Overcrowding of the trains, like this evening's 6:05. First the manager who accompanied MARC Director John Hovatter denied that there was overcrowding on the train. Then he denied that it was Dangerous overcrowding. Finally, after listening, while several other passengers nodded their heads, to graphic descriptions of how dangerous overcrowding occurs routinely on their trains he admitted that there is nothing they could do about it. Look at them, he said gesturing to the throng mobbing the Holding Pen doors to the platform, we can't stop that. I countered that Amtrak can and does stop them effectively with their riot squad and dogs they deploy every night to keep passengers from hindering the off-loading of incoming trains.
Why can't you just keep folks from boarding cars that are filled to capacity? Well, our customers would never stand for it, he relented. What I and countless others have seen would make personal injury trial lawyers drool. If for no other reason, MARC should make an effort to regulate the flow of passengers onto their carriages to keep from paying out million-dollar settlements.
On a routine basis, two trains worth of passengers are stuffed, literally onto a single train. Conductors enforce the prohibition of standing in the vestibule easily enough. The scene on these trains like one from a Third-World train service. The only thing missing is the chickens. This can't possibly be America in the 21rst Century, I find myself thinking.
Next....Shoddy Conditions in Union Station!
Dear MARC “Ticket-By-Mail” Customer:Effective November 1, 2008, MARC willOne more thing to bring up at this evening's Meet the MARC Morons tea party in Holding Cell B. Mention how happy you are to lose this little convenience; that there are other little conveniences you could do without, too.
discontinue the CSX “Ticket-by-Mail” program. CONSEQUENTLY, THE NOVEMBER MONTHLY TICKETS PURCHASED IN OCTOBER WILL BE THE LAST SOLD THROUGH THIS PROGRAM.
Tuesday, August 26
Monday, August 25, 2008 12:21 PMFor those who are going to be there anyway, here are a few pieces of mind you can give:
Subject: Meet The MARC Managers At Union Station
Wednesday August 27, 2008 MARC operations managers will be inside Union Station at the Gate B waiting area on Wednesday, August 27, 2008 from 4:30 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. with timetables and to answer questions about the service.
- Dangerous Overcrowding of trains due to short train sets, cancelled trains, conventions tourist season, etc.
- Shabby conditions in Union Station “waiting area.” Including the non-function “automatic doors,” poorly arranged seating, poor condition of seating, etc.
- Idiotic management of train problems
- Poor, at best, communication system; Late notification of late or cancelled trains.
- The comfort and convenience of the paying customers is obviously not a priority for MARC.
- MARC Commuter stress-relief squeezy toys.
I'll be there. Look for the guy with a hat and a beard. Send me a piece of your mind (or, heaven forbid, post a comment here) and I'll add it to the list.
Also, if you go there be sure to report on your experience. E-mail it to me or, again, post a comment!
Sunday, August 24
Apparently I was wrong in that assessment. In Friday's Annapolis Kapital-paper a letter-writer remarked at how much more efficient a set of hovercraft would be in ferrying folks back and forth across the Bay than, say, a new bridge. Apparently the writer saw one of the craft courtesy of the Australian Navy or Coast Guard at some show in Annapolis. The cost of buying and operating a fleet of these machines would be negligible compared with spanning the Bay with miles and miles of steel-reinforced concrete, he argued. And he is probably correct.
The writer, moved by the recent tragedy and ensuing chaos on the Bay Bridge, is searching for that which man has searched ever since confronting the opposing forces of time and geography. But the idea of operating a ferry service on or close to the waters of the Bay fails when applied in the modern era for several reasons. The main problem is that such a service would have to be a state-run operation.
Why does it have to be a state-run operation?
a. Because no one in his right mind would risk any amount of time and money when he could get "the government" to do it for him.
b. Our good fellow taxpayers over the years who have floated (no pun intended) the idea in the public press (or in this case the Annapolis Kapital) did so precisely because they think it is a compelling public service that will allow the state to confiscate your property to see it done.
c. Because no private individual outside of a Berkshire-Hathaway shareholders' meeting would be able to absorb the cost just in liability insurance let alone the frivolous lawsuits, of operating such a service.
Given that air-tight argument, under which organ of the Maryland government would the development and operation of a public transportation system such as a ferry fall? Yes, the Maryland Transit Authority, that great mover of people; that efficient investor of your tax dollars on such innovations as the electronic computerized message marquee on the MARC train cars whose two messages I've ever seen are "NO MESSAGE;" and "DO NOT PUT YOUR FEET ON THE SEAT;" that brain trust of folks whose motto must be: "We regret the inconvenience and appreciate your patience."
Yes, these are the same folks we would have to trust to ferry us safely from shore to eastern shore, at night, in the dead of winter. Right. About those who think a Chesapeake Bay commuter ferry service is an idea whose time has come one thing is sure: They have never had to commute on a daily basis to and from Washington DC on the MARC train thing.
To them I submit that the worst things that could befall a MARC train commuter (outside of the freak and tragic accident a few years back when a MARC train collided with an Amtrak train, at night, in the dead of winter) is that their train will never arrive or arrive late at the worst possible time (usually after work, on a Friday) or that the thing will break down halfway between New Carrollton and Seabrook (the middle of nowhere for those unfamiliar with Maryland geography).
Now imagine the nightmare scenario facing the MARC Hovercraft Bay Ferry service commuters, at night, in the dead of winter, in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.
Thursday, August 21
Wednesday, August 20
First it was a fatality. Now apparently the poor devil is still alive but in critical condition. The trains have started running again, apparently, though they are "extremely overcrowded."
I guess I'll head up to the station....taking pictures!
Tuesday, August 19
So I nvite them and all to provide differing perspectives on MARC commuting, all of them should be varying degrees of bad. I will set aside an open thread monthly for "good" MARC experiences, just to make my mom happy (she thinks I am too negative about most things, bless her).
Also, I welcome pics. I think pics will be an excellent way to illustrate our torture. If you find that your fellow passengers are annoyed at your picture taking, just tell them it's for the The MARC...Train blog and you should be OK.
One lady blogger (http://anything-pj.blogspot.com/2008/07/my-packed-marc-train.html) has tried this but take your time and compose your shot. Try to work a MARC logo into the frame if at all possible.
Now I have to get ready to catch the MARC Train but I'll be back.