If you know me, you know that I am a big supporter of Metro. I’ve been riding it for 15 years and by now I have mastered walking up the escalator at Woodley Park, and I am very proud of that anaerobic feat. And now I am glad that I can walk a lot of steps because it seems that in every station I land each day, one or more escalators is out along with the elevator. I applaud WMATA for creating a public awareness campaign called ELLEN (I have no idea what this stands for) to educate riders about the elevator status. This seems especially critical for people with disabilities who cannot ride or walk the escalators and count on the elevators. I believe that if the campaign can effectively target people with disabilities, this is the most critical.
The challenge is that they are notifying people by text or email or PDA (who has one of these anymore?) of outages and far too many people who ride the system do not have access to such technologies. I know we like to think that we have ended the digital divide but I talk to my fellow riders every day and I know that far too many do not have the means for fare much less a cell phone.
While the campaign is using social media which is progressive and hits some audiences, I believe they are missing the core audience. Why not go back to a traditional and effective approach–calling people. There is automation that can dial people to let them know which of their frequently used elevators is out. The call can go to any landline–including shelters, soup kitchens and senior centers–and the messages can be pushed out from there.
Those of us who are currently able bodied? I think we are unlikely to sign up for alerts. I’d rather take my chances than have to get bombarded with more text messages in a box that’s brimming and exceeding my data plan. The only behavior I am adapting is that I now put my heels in my purse and make sure I have shoes in which I can climb the broken escalators. This could be a campaign right here… for those who can.. walk the escalators all summer and drop 10 pounds by fall! This would also address the city’s obesity issue.
In the age of technology sometimes we forget that the the simplest ideas are the best ones.