Greater Greater Washington

Metro will open an hour early on "Black Friday"

According to Jim Graham at the WMATA board meeting last Thursday, the District of Columbia has agreed to pay to run Metro's services one hour early, starting at 4am, on Friday, November 28th. The Friday after Thanksgiving, dubbed "Black Friday", is frequently a busy shopping day, and many stores open early with major "door-buster specials" to get crowds into the store.


Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Graham hopes the extra hour will help customers reach District shopping areas like DC USA in Columbia Heights. According to Graham, the extra hour will cost about $27,000.

At DC USA, Best Buy opens at 5:00 am on Friday. Target, Staples, and Radio Shack all open at 6.

Michael Perkins blogs about Metro operations and fares, performance parking, and any other government and economics information he finds on the Web. He lives with his wife and two children in Arlington, Virginia. 

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What will the net cost be? (Cost - Net Revenue). Some riders will just ride earlier than they would have, making the net impact on revenue zero for those riders. Some will ride Metro when they might not have otherwise. So is this smart business or bad business? And do we really think that early metro opening will have an impact on District retail sales?

by Ward 1 Guy on Nov 24, 2008 1:19 pm • linkreport

I think the District is going to lose $27,000 it can't afford to lose for a publicity stunt for the Grahamstander.

by Adams Morgan on Nov 24, 2008 1:37 pm • linkreport

They just announced in a press release that they're also going to start the balanced transfer in Januray. Instead of 90 cents discount when transferring from rail to bus, it'll now be a 50 cent discount for rail to bus or bus to rail. That'll save me 10 cents a day starting in January ;)

by inlogan on Nov 24, 2008 1:49 pm • linkreport

You have to ask why is it going to cost an extra $27,000? Or better yet, is it really going to cost an extra $27,000?

If we're talking about non-exempt workers having to come in one hour early that one day of the year, can't WMATA just rework their schedules so that they get off an hour early some other day of the year (like private industry would do)? Not all at once, of course. But over the course of the year, I would think it would be easy to "make up" that extra hour to every affected non-exempt employee by letting them go home early by that same hour ...

However, I suspect that $27,000 was just pulled out of the air ... extrapolated from what the average cost to operate Metro each and every hour is ... and not what the incremental cost really is. If I am wrong, and that is really the incremental cost, then the bigger question is why aren't they managing better? ... i.e., Other than paying for the electricity to operate the trains and the costs attributable to an extra hour of wear and tear, there shouldn't be any incremental costs to operate that extra hour. They should even think about doing it other days of the year ... like this coming January 20th!

by Lance on Nov 24, 2008 2:14 pm • linkreport

I don't think it's that hard to see how an hour of service costs $27,000. You're talking about the entire system - 86 stations, each with at least one station manager. Round it up to 90 for the bigger stations like Metro Center. I have no idea what their labor costs are, but say their total cost (overhead and salary) is $50 per hour, and that's $4,500 bucks right there. Then add in the train operators, transit police, etc. and the labor adds up. Then add the extra electricity, etc.

I'm sure a budget whiz could nitpick it all to death, but it seems reasonable to me.

Also, whether it makes perfect financial sense or not, I think it's a good idea for the District to do, as well.

by Alex B. on Nov 24, 2008 2:55 pm • linkreport

This is important for the employees, who need to get there before 5:00 am no matter what.

Availability of Metro every day you need to go to work is a very big part of the decision whether to buy a car or not. Metro should be open whenever a lot of people need to get to work. Not being able to get to work (try to get a taxi at 4 am if you live in a low income neighborhood) without heroic efforts is a big deal - it can easily get you fired.

by Ben Ross on Nov 24, 2008 3:00 pm • linkreport

The reality is if you're gonna shop on Black Friday you're gonna buy lots of s**** and it's not likely that you will travel by Metro, even to start, as a result, because you are going to be thinking of how to carry all the s*** you buy around. So yeah, it's a publicity stunt. Since I seem to have already p.o'd CM G on my writings about Mount Pleasant, I guess I'll back off this one...

by Richard Layman on Nov 24, 2008 3:36 pm • linkreport

WMATA has announced that they are going to be charging peak metro fares on Black Friday, as well as normal parking fees in Metro lots.

Last year's ridership figures:

Friday, November 23, 2007: 377,000 (a little more than a typical Saturday)

Average/Typical November Weekday: 700,000-750,000

http://wmata.com/riding/viewReportArchive.cfm?Archive_Date=November2007

If you're trying to convince people to use Metro to go shopping and cut down on parking and congestion near major shopping destinations, why charge for parking and peak rail fares?

I understand WMATA cannot be infinitely flexible and prescient in predicting parking and transit demand, but the same argument people are using to justify not charging for parking and charging off-peak fares for Inauguration Day could be used here too, and in this case I agree with them.

The Metro system won't be crowded, but the roads and parking near shopping destinations will. Anything we can do to encourage transit use would be a good thing when the transit network is not congested.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 24, 2008 4:23 pm • linkreport

Alex, I think you're actually making my point ... though you may not have meant to. Costs items such as overhead are fixed or sunk costs. You're going to incur them whether you are open an extra hour or not. And the incremental labor costs for operating that extra hour can be eliminated if your schedule is properly managed. (I.e., Make more use of exempt employees who don't get paid overtime and reschedule your non-exempt employees so that they aren't working any more hours over the long run.) That leaves you only electricity (and extra wear and tear on the equipment) that you'll be incurring due to being open an extra hour. That will only add up to $27,000 if you're using roughly $300 per hour of electricity to generate power for the tracks. I think whoever gave us the $27,000 number looked at it like you did ... and gave us 'average' operating costs and not the 'incremental' costs for that one additional hour.

by Lance on Nov 24, 2008 4:35 pm • linkreport

Lance, in your ideal world, you're right. But in the real world, we're talking about increasing service for one hour on one day, not completely re-organizing WMATA's staff structure and payroll hierarchy.

by Alex B. on Nov 24, 2008 4:41 pm • linkreport

Richard, Are you saying that now that Carol won't be around to pull these publicity stunts anymore (at taxpayer expense), you think Jim will be biting at the chompt to fill the void?

Let's hope not. As Carol learned, the electorate has changed over the years ... and tends to see through these charades.

You are correct though that this is probably the worse day of the year to expect an early opening to really help anyone. Now, higher meter fares downtown that day might actually help ... We could get people in and out of parking spaces so that overall more people get a chance to drive down and do their shopping ... vs. people driving down there, feeding the meters, and smelling the roses after they've finished their shopping before heading home with their purchases.

by Lance on Nov 24, 2008 4:44 pm • linkreport

*That will only add up to $27,000 if you're using roughly $300 per hour of electricity to generate power for the tracks.

Actually, that should be $27,000 per hour for electricity. (I was thinking cost per station ... 90 stations.)

Alex, if they're actually really managing their schedule and resources, covering this extra hour should be as easy as pie. But I suspect you are correct ... i.e., that they are not really doing any managing ... Just throughing more resources on something whenever the need arises. So while it may not be necessary to go as far as reorganizing the staff structure and payroll hierarchy, it definitely would require a change in the way they do business. Sort of like what is <>finally happening with our school system in the District today.

by Lance on Nov 24, 2008 4:50 pm • linkreport

Lance, even if you factor out the overhead, you still have the hourly wages of the employees (I'm assuming their paid hourly, not based on salary).

Furthermore, I did some rough calculations on WMATA's electricity usage. Look at this PDF:

http://www.wmata.com/board_gm/board_docs/042607_AdminItem399770ElectricSupply.pdf

For FY 2008, electricity supply and distribution totaled over $73 million. Take that and divide by 52 and you get a weekly electric bill of $1,414,461. Divide that by the number of hours in operation (19 on M-TH, 22 on F, 20 on Sat, 17 on Sun - 135 total hours) and you get an hourly average electric bill of $10,477 per hour.

This is a crude calculation, to be sure - but it's not hard to see how you could get to $27,000 when you factor in all the labor as well.

by Alex B. on Nov 24, 2008 4:54 pm • linkreport

I am happy this is happening for one reason, and one reason only: we now have a dollar figure ($27,000) for a marginal hour of Metro operation.

With this dollar figure, it becomes much easier to determine whether Metro should run late-night hours (at least when there's no construction to be done). At the $1.35 off-peak in-city rate, that's 20,000 trips/hour needed for Metro to cover operations. If trips/hour drops below 20,000, then Metro is performing a public safety service, by reducing the number of auto accidents and muggings, and the local (and federal?) governments should be paying WMATA for that public safety service.

by tom veil on Nov 24, 2008 5:11 pm • linkreport

Tom,

Metro charges peak fares for late night operations after 2 am.

by Alex B. on Nov 24, 2008 5:20 pm • linkreport

Tom, One could just as easily argue that using metro increases the number of muggings at night ... After all, you have to walk through public areas to get to Metro stop ... and then again, to leave the Metro system ... Vs. driving from the safety of your garage to the safety of the garage/private parking at your destination. But I wouldn't advocate arguing the mugging (or the auto accident) factors in the first place. There are just too many "what ifs" to make a reasonable argument in either way. Now using the incremental cost to determine if it's worth keeping the Metro open at night is a good determination in my book. And I'd suspect if we got the real incremental costs (which I still think must be lower than $27,000) than we'd have a case for having Metro stay open 24 hours. (There might however be other costs we'd have to add it when doing the analysis ... such as the cost of extra security at stations and paylots at that time of night.)

by Lance on Nov 24, 2008 5:39 pm • linkreport

Lance,

You're right on the money about January 20th. My understanding is that Metro will open at least one hour early on that day.

And perhaps this can be some sort of a dry run. Those people who show up late or screw up can be summarily executed or something...so they don't do it when it really counts.

Metro doesn't make a profit, never has, and never will. In fact, 90% of the initial expenses were paid by federal taxpayers from places like California and South Dakota. And I don't care if this costs them a little money.

There are plenty of retail people who will need Metro to get to the Target or wherever they work early that morning. And for them, this will be a lifesaver. Because they can't be late on Black Friday, or it will be pink slip Friday. And if this Friday is a successful dry run for Inauguration Day's early start, great! If it discovers some problems ahead of time, even better!

by Mike Silverstein on Nov 24, 2008 7:35 pm • linkreport

Mike, I read in the Post this evening that Metro plans to open at 4 am on Inauguration Day.

by Lance on Nov 24, 2008 10:53 pm • linkreport

Lance, if you think with Carol leaving that the Grahamstander is going to start chomping at the bit to produce tax-payer publicity stunts you're crazy...the Grahamstander has been doing that for YEARS....JG does nothing altruistically, it's all about what he percieves will make him look better and that just cost the District government $27,000....

by Adams Morgan on Nov 25, 2008 10:37 am • linkreport

Lance -- with most of the Council it's stunts, not real policy. As an aside, I hate tax free promotions. WHen I was a Main St. manager we'd always be pressured by the City to promote them, and I would always seeth, because none of the stores in our commercial district sold the kind of stuff that was exempt.

I just don't see how reducing your taxable revenue is smart municipal policy.

The best thing to do to have people shop locally is to have awesome stores. The amount of sales tax people spend is minimal for most purchases, except for the big ticket items (furniture, appliances, cars, etc.).

by Richard Layman on Nov 26, 2008 11:12 am • linkreport

Richard, I think the idea with the sales tax holiday is to lure people into town so they can find out about those 'awesome stores.' It's a marketing strategy and needs to be evaluated in that context.

I have no idea if it works or if it makes sense or not - but I think you're slightly mis-characterizing the purpose.

by Alex B. on Nov 26, 2008 11:15 am • linkreport

It seems as though opening the Metro earlier will make it easier for the DC residents that don’t own cars to get to the early sales at Pentagon City, White Flint and other suburban locations, instead of patronizing DC stores. Some Virginia and Maryland residents might use the Metro to reach retail locations in the District, but if they are looking to make bulky purchases or do a significant amount of shopping, they might prefer to drive to suburban stores. Opening the Metro early probably is a good idea, particularly if buses will also run early, and as Mike points out, many workers rely on Metrorail and Metrobus to get to work, but perhaps the other jurisdictions should contribute funds to pay for the early opening.

by JW on Nov 26, 2008 11:49 am • linkreport

The sales tax holidays are usually done pre-opening of school and are really done because the other jurisdictions do it. They aren't about sampling DC vis-a-vis the other places, or at least, don't appear so to me. The best way to make that case is to have great stores and wonderful commercial districts. In the meantime, people outside of the city aren't going to make special trips to the Best Buy or Target in the city...

by Richard Layman on Nov 28, 2008 9:13 am • linkreport

Yesterday, one of the TV stations was announcing the early Metro opening. Even though the DC taxpayers are funding the early opening, they specifically mentioned how this will help people get to Pentagon City.

by JW on Nov 28, 2008 10:36 am • linkreport

DCist is reporting that just over 2,000 people rode Metro during the extra hour which equals $11.80 per customer (based on the $27,000 it's apparently costing the District). Add to that that this is a TAX HOLIDAY in the District and therefore even if those people were shopping in the District, the city will not recoup any of that money in tax revenue...Good job Grahamstander, good job.

by Adams Morgan on Nov 28, 2008 12:57 pm • linkreport

Metro should not only be open earlier- it should be open 24 hours a day. Our society could save a lot of resources if people moved to a real 24 hour schedule and spread out the work hours - less traffic- more transit, etc. Also- Metro should add station entrances all over, add 3rd tracks for express trains- after all- this is the second busiest and second largest subway system in the USA- and we need to have redundancy. It would also allow a safety margin in case of train breakdowns or accidents- to clear the trains out and through much faster. Metro needs to expand- and not just physically but service wise.

by w on Nov 28, 2008 4:48 pm • linkreport

You're not going to have 24/7 access until you have 3rd tracks, and adding them is a nontrivial matter. We dug up significant parts of Washington to put in cut-and-cover tunnels to build this system, and the stations are kind of difficult to expand in any way without bringing the whole thing offline.

by Squalish on Nov 29, 2008 2:18 am • linkreport

@w How do you expect WMATA to do that,

Who' gonna pay for the 24 hours system first; then most people wouldnt change there schedule because the metro system is open earlier/later. Most people would not go to work at mid night or 3 in the morning because of the fact that it would be more dangerous or the simple fact most people dont want to work between 11pm and 5am.

It may be somewhat easy to build a third track on some outside portions but what would you do on the other parts.

Take for example orange line on 66 to add a third rail would mean taking a lane of traffic on the interstate, on the blue line buildings would have to be torn down unless another set of tracks was built on top or below of the current ones in VA.

Gallery Place and Metro Center where would a third track go you would have to take up the platform to add room to build a third track and then that would affect passengers making it harder to get around within the station for years there is no possibly way to building it without disruption of the system unless they were to build a another level beneath both current track levels and that would still effect passengers since the bottom level would have to be reinforced.

What they should have done was build all of the outside stations similar to how national airport is but its too late for that.

Unless you have the $50 billion dollars to pay for it I doubt any of what you stated in your comment would ever happen, unless somehow WMATA, DC, VA or MD got a huge amount of cash.

by kk on Nov 29, 2008 1:13 pm • linkreport

Three or four track running is possible, but this is a case where the retrofit is much more expensive/difficult than an entirely new line.

If it was fiscally doable, where would a new multitrack line with express service fit into the system? Does DC have room for an entirely new routing without being wasteful, in your opinion?

by Squalish on Nov 29, 2008 2:15 pm • linkreport

It's bad enough that you have lines single-tracked on weekends and during maintenance emergencies. You'd pretty much have that all the time if you went 24/7. And Squalish and kk have already pinged on the cost and difficulty of 3rd-tracking the lines.

by Froggie on Nov 30, 2008 4:37 pm • linkreport

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