Photo credit: Erick Gibson

How long is the Bethesda Metro station’s escalator, and why is it so often in such lousy shape? And why, if only one escalator is working, would Metro staff have it heading down rather than up?

—Robert J. Samuelson, Bethesda

The Bethesda Metro station escalator is 213 feet long (Wheaton’s is 230 feet, making it the longest in the Western Hemisphere, according to Metro).

Metro escalators made headlines in the fall, when several people were injured on them. (A Washington Post story at the time noted that an independent assessment found brake problems at the Bethesda Metro, among others.) And the Bethesda escalator was out of service for a major overhaul last summer and fall, according to Metro spokesman Steve Taubenkibel. He says Metro aims to have 90 percent to 95 percent of its escalators functioning at any given time. But complex maintenance requirements for all of Metro’s 588 escalators make them prone to service interruptions.

“These are not like escalators in shopping malls,” he says. “These carry millions and millions of people walking, running, carrying luggage and pushing baby strollers daily, and are incredibly complex in terms of design, with literally thousands of parts.”

Taubenkibel says Metro escalators can be knocked out of service for a number of reasons. For example, if a person trips or falls, a safety mechanism is triggered that turns off the escalator until a safety inspection is conducted.

Taubenkibel says Metro workers make “every effort to have one escalator going up,” especially in its deepest stations, but may have the sole functioning escalator go down during rush hour to accommodate heavy traffic heading into the station.

What is the penalty when underage drinkers are found on someone’s property? Does it apply if adults aren’t home?

—Michael Leonard, Gaithersburg

In order for it to be a violation of state law, an adult must “knowingly and willfully” allow a minor not in his or her immediate family to consume alcohol at the adult’s residence. The fine is up to $2,500 for a first offense and up to $5,000 for a subsequent offense.

Seth Zucker, a spokesman for the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, says adults have been charged with the misdemeanor in Montgomery County. “But it’s relatively rare.”

I often notice a 30-cent-per-gallon gap between gas prices at the Getty and Sunoco stations on River Road. What accounts for the drastic difference?

—Ben Beach, Bethesda

Rent or mortgage, property taxes, distribution and marketing costs, and competition from nearby gas stations all help determine the price of gas at any given station, says Peter Horrigan, president of the Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Distributors’ Association.

Bob Tomkinson, general manager of River Road Getty, says his station is often able to offer lower prices thanks to its supply agreement with its gasoline provider. The price he pays a supplier is based on daily market conditions rather than fixed, and though the station drops prices at the pump quickly to reflect lower costs paid to the supplier, it doesn’t raise prices quickly to reflect higher costs. “We see a lot more fluctuation,” he says. “When market prices go down, our prices go down pretty quickly to reflect that. On the flip side, when the market price goes up…we just eat it for a couple of days.”

Corporate Sunoco spokesman Thomas Golembeski says he can’t speak to local conditions, but he agrees that a station’s purchasing agreement with its supplier can greatly affect prices from station to station.

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