Washington's Metro Embraces Spanish

The subway system serving the nation’s capital had a different look and feel yesterday, featuring fare signs and announcements in Spanish to assist with an influx of illegal-immigrant supporters who were lobbying lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Throughout the day, audible announcements that are piped through Metro’s system came through in both English and Spanish. At station entrances, Spanish-language signs explained the cost of a ride. Metro also boosted the presence of Spanish-speaking employees at stations.

The efforts came in response to the April 10 protests in Washington, which drew tens of thousands of illegal immigrants to the National Mall. Operators of the transit system were able to manage the large crowds of people taking the train that day, but this time around they wanted to make sure Spanish-speaking riders were able to understand instructions and fare information.

Joanne Ferreira, who works in Metro’s communications office, helped coordinate Metro’s response to yesterday’s activities. She speaks fluent Spanish and communicates with the Hispanic media on behalf of Metro.

“Little by little, we’re trying to use every resource that we have to not only get the information out in English, but also Spanish,” Ferreira said. “Yesterday, because of the rally, we put everything out there.”

Yesterday’s turnout—about 2,000, according to estimates—was significantly smaller then the April 10 rally. In fact, Ferreira said, it caused little strain on the system.

“For yesterday’s rally, we wanted to make sure customers didn’t have any problems getting their fare cards,” she said. “We tried to put Spanish-speaking employees in the system, but we were expecting a much bigger crowd like we had in April. We don’t have a lot of Spanish-speaking employees who could be out there helping the masses of people who are coming into the stations, so that’s why wanted to put the paper signs there to help get the information out.”

Ferreira said the money for the paper signs came from Metro’s budget for special events. She said there has been some talk of making Spanish-language signs a permanent fixture on Metro, but no decisions have been made about such a plan.