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D.C.’s Metro Considers Automated Stores

May 7, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Instead of stopping at the supermarket for a quart of milk on the way home, commuters in Washington and its suburbs may soon be able to pick it up right in the subway.

Metro is considering a pilot project with McDonald’s to install and operate vending machines at certain rail stations. An agency committee plans to discuss the proposal Thursday.

While McDonald’s Corp. is best known for serving up Big Macs under its golden arches, the company also operates two ``automated convenience stores″ under the name Red Box. One is in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, the other in suburban Bethesda, Md.

The refrigerated unit is about the size of a minivan and sells food, drinks, laundry soap and other products. It also offers 24-hour DVD rentals for $1.50, plus tax, spokesman Mark P. McGuire said.

``The whole idea is to place these machines in people’s travel paths so they don’t have to make a special trip to a video store or a convenience store,″ McGuire said.

For now, McDonald’s is only operating its machines in the Washington area. The company first tested the product at its restaurant next to Howard University last year. McGuire said the project is still in the test phase, and there are no immediate plans to expand to other parts of the country.

He declined to discuss sales figures, but said the company is pleased with the reception the machines are getting.

Sandwiches are the hottest-selling item in the convenience store part of the machines. However, Metro does not allow eating or drinking in the transit system, and transit police once famously handcuffed a 12-year-old girl for eating french fries in a subway station. McGuire said people could pick up items on the way home or into the office.

Some Metro riders see a benefit from the machines.

``It’d be convenient,″ said Quincy Goodman of Largo, Md. ``Certain items I could use would already be there when I got off and I wouldn’t have to look around when I got out of the station. ``

But Neil Adams of Severna Park, Md. doubted the vending machines would even become a reality for other reasons.

``They seem awfully nervous about stuff down there as it is. They won’t even reopen the newspaper vending machines,″ Adams said.

Metro removed newspaper vending machines from inside stations after the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks. A Metro spokeswoman said the move was in response to rider concerns that someone could leave a bomb in the machines after buying a newspaper.

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On the Net:

McDonald’s Corp. http://www.mcdonalds.com

Metro: http://www.wmata.com

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