Greater Greater Washington

Does Metro close too early on weeknights?

Last week, a Nationals game ran late, beyond Metro's regular weeknight closing time, sparking a debate about who should pay for late service. But there are plenty of riders who could benefit from later Metro service every night, not just evenings with sporting events.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on flickr.

On that Monday, some fans who didn't know Metro's schedule or who thought Metro would stay open for the late game showed up at Navy Yard station after the game only the find the last train long gone. It sparked several news articles and much consternation on social media. Much of the ensuing public debate has focused on whether the Nats or the DC government should pay to keep Metro open late.

For a major city, Washington's transit system seems to close very early. While many people are concerned because it cuts into their nightlife or ability to attend late Nationals games, the heaviest burden falls on service industry workers, whose jobs often keep them out very late.

How does Metro stack up?

I looked at all the heavy rail and light rail systems in the United States, and out of 30 total systems, Metro is the 6th earliest to close.

Because every rail system is different, it's difficult to compare any one system to another. The measure I used seems to be the most reliable way to compare systems, though it's not perfect.

To compare each city, I looked up when the last train leaves the central station of each system. For Metro, that's 12:06 am, when trains leave Metro Center in 4 directions.

5 systems close earlier than Metro by this measure*. Sacramento is the earliest by far, with the last train leaving downtown at 10:23 pm. Norfolk, Salt Lake City, and San Diego all have their last trains through the core before midnight, and Houston's last departure is at midnight.

Most cities run later. In Atlanta, the last MARTA train leaves the airport at 1:00 am and passes through downtown at 1:35 am, almost 90 minutes after Metro has closed. Even BART, Metro's suburb-oriented cousin in the San Francisco Bay Area, has its last train departing Embarcadero almost an hour later than Metro, at 1:02 am.

3 American systems operate around the clock. The New York subway, the PATCO Speedline, which goes from Philadelphia into southern New Jersey, and PATH, which connects New York with northern New Jersey.

In Chicago, the Red and Blue lines run 24/7, though the other lines shut down at night. The last train on Chicago's Yellow Line departs Howard at 11:00 pm. And while Philadephia's SEPTA closes the Broad Street and Market-Frankford lines, it does run night owl buses along the same routes overnight.

*Note, that this measure looks at the last train leaving the core on any line. In DC, that time is roughly the same for all lines and directions, but in other cities, it can vary a good deal. For example, in Sacramento, the last train from the core is a Blue Line to Watt/I-80 at 10:23. But the last Blue Line train in the other direction (to Meadowview) leaves the core at 9:30.

Applying it to Metro

Metro closes too early. For countless workers in the region, Metro's early closing time keeps them from jobs or forces them to own a car to get around. For sports fans, Metro's early closure makes it difficult to take transit to games and means bad press when fans get stranded.

When Nationals games run late, fans need a way to get home. And in special cases, the Nats should be willing to chip in.

But the region as a whole needs to start funding later transit service. Increasing mobility won't just help baseball fans. It will make the region more accessible to more people.

Metro could extend service so that the last trains departed their terminals after midnight by adding 2 more departures to each line. With 20-minute headways, 2 departures would extend the span of service by 40 minutes, which would be a great start to running service over an even longer span.

That would be enough to bring Metro up to par with its peers in other cities. Of the heavy and light rail systems in the United States, the average last departure from the core is 40.42 minutes after midnight. Adding 40 minutes of span would result in Metro's last train departing the core at 12:46 am.

Of course it is true that nothing comes for free. WMATA and its member jurisdictions would have to pay for longer hours. But 2 more trains each way on each line wouldn't add very much cost. At the regional scale it would be affordable, and definitely worth the benefits.

Metro has been using the off periods for track work, but the short night periods don't give much time to achieve a lot, especially since it takes time to set up and break down a work zone. That's why Metro has been doing more weekend closures of whole segments of lines, when they can finish more work at one go.

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. Hes a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Planning Department. His views are his own and do not represent the opinion of his employer. 

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Metro should be running hourly service 24/7. They can be short 4 car trains, if there is little demand, but you can not be a world-class city if your transit network dies at night. And specifically, the Silver and Blue Lines should run such that Dulles and Reagan can be reached for first and last flights.

by Jasper on Aug 31, 2012 10:32 am • linkreport

And we're being very generous here by including in the discussion the trolley systems in Houston, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Norfolk, and Sacramento...

Among the true subway systems in the USA, Metro is certainly the earliest to close on weekdays.

A 1AM closing time would seem much more reasonable.

(If I ruled the world, the trains would run 24 hours - particularly now that Metro doesn't use the overnight hours for major track work, and has resorted instead to weekend shutdowns. Metro's argument 10 and 15 years ago for not providing 24-hour service was that the overnights were used for track work, and we thus avoided weekend shutdowns and delays)

by nativedc on Aug 31, 2012 10:38 am • linkreport

A few thoughts:

1) Would people be willing to have more weekend trackwork closures if non-trackwork lines ran 24x7?

2) What about operating the over-midnight trains on full-auto with no operators? That would significantly cut back on the cost of operating. What if there were no station managers, either? Just MTPD roaming the system. Would that be viable?

by MDE on Aug 31, 2012 10:44 am • linkreport

Yes metro closes too early on weeknights! It also opens too late, especially on weekends!

I think the idea of running 24 hours service with no operators is a great idea. For that matter, metro should go back to running trains on auto during the day.

by Sam on Aug 31, 2012 10:48 am • linkreport

I'm curious to know how much this would cost (I suspect it will be expensive), but I wholeheartedy agree that at least two additional trains should be added at the end of the night. In addition to sports events and concerts that might run late (taking metro home from a show at the State Theatre in Falls Church inevitably means needing to leave before the show is over, for instance), late flights into and out of National Airport would be more accessible, and the extension would likely encourage tourists and other visitors to stay in the downtown area until later in the evening.

by grumpy on Aug 31, 2012 10:48 am • linkreport

@ MDE:Would people be willing to have more weekend trackwork closures if non-trackwork lines ran 24x7?

While trackwork seems always there, in reality it is not. Metro can easily schedule night service, while still performing trackwork at night. Just provide bus service, like in the weekends. Those buses would run rather quickly because there is little traffic at night.

by Jasper on Aug 31, 2012 10:51 am • linkreport

With 20 minute headways late at night it is easy enough to single track whatever sections are being worked on.

by NikolasM on Aug 31, 2012 10:53 am • linkreport

Yes. WMATA should close later.

But it's hard because of the time they need to do maintenance.

In any case, they should run an Owl bus schedule along the subway lines, at least some of them can start on a test, during the hours that the system is closed.

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2007/08/night-owl-transit-service.html

by Richard Layman on Aug 31, 2012 10:57 am • linkreport

What about Night Buses? If WMATA ran limited stop buses that "followed" the Metro line (only stopping at stations), that might be a less expensive compromise.

Obviously I'd prefer Metro, but if I knew I could get from U Street back to Huntington on one bus, I'd be much less worried about missing the last train.

by Colleen on Aug 31, 2012 10:57 am • linkreport

An estimated cost would have been nice. I'm not sure the system has the money to cover this, esp. since the jurisdictions always want to fight over how much money each contributes to the system. And why mention buses with respect to other systems, but not mention that several bus routes offer afer midnight service here as well?

by Roman on Aug 31, 2012 10:59 am • linkreport

Just as a comparison to two world class cities:

The London Underground (i.e., the Tube, and definitely a world class city) opens at 5:30am (Metro opens at 5am) and closes between 12am and 12:30am depending on station. After that, you must take the night bus.

Also, the Paris metro (another world class city) operates between 5:30am and 12:30am.

So it seems we have a leg up on weekend service (in a much smaller population city). Having said that I wonder if, rather than operating metro longer on weekends(very expensive little usage) and keeping in mind that metro already stays open until 3am Friday and Sat, the solution is to run night buses on those lines where there is demand.

by Nevitt on Aug 31, 2012 11:04 am • linkreport

@Roman:
The only city where I mentioned buses was Philadelphia. In that city, when the subway lines close, SEPTA operates buses directly on the route of the trains. The buses even appear on the schedule.

In DC, we might have a few buses that operate late, but they're just normal bus lines, they're not a specific replacement "Red Line Owl" line or whatever. If you're trying to go from Silver Spring to Brookland, you probably don't care that the 70 is running.

As for running owl buses on to replace subway service here, that's difficult because in many cases, there are no parallel streets.

Just as an example, the Orange Line between Minnesota Avenue and New Carrollton has no easy path for buses. Neither does the Green Line north of Prince George's Plaza.

In Philadelphia, the owl buses are easy because the Broad Street Line runs (yes, you guessed it) under Broad Street. The Market/Frankford Line runs (again, right you are) under (or over) Market and Frankford, and is easy to replicate with buses.

by Matt Johnson on Aug 31, 2012 11:06 am • linkreport

Wow we can't even beat Pittsburgh or Portland?

I like the idea of owl buses to complement rail during off-hours. Limited-stop service along all of the lines, but not necessarily all of the stations, would be great.

But geez, with the way Congress keeps gutting DC services, I guess I ought to be happy we still have daytime Metro.

by Jack Love on Aug 31, 2012 11:32 am • linkreport

When this came up in the discussion of the Nats games running late, I was surprised how early the DC Metro system shuts down on Sun-Thurs compared to all the other major metro systems in the US.

The question of how early the DC Metro system closes should also look at when the last trains inbound depart from the outlying stations. According to the schedule, the last trains depart inbound from:
College Park: 11:33 PM
Vienna: 11:25 PM
New Carrolton: 11:36 PM
King Street: 11:37 PM
Shady Grove: 11:30 PM

How many tourists, visitors, new users of the DC Metro system have been left stranded because they thought midnight closing really meant midnight? They get to the station at 11:45 PM, thinking they have time to spare. Oops.

With the current schedule, how early would the last train inbound have to depart from Dulles Airport when Phase 2 of the Silver Line opens? 11:10 PM? That is hardly a "midnight" closing time.

Yes, Metro should add on at additional departures on weeknights, so a midnight closing time really means midnight.

The Metro should also open at 6 AM on Saturdays and Sundays. The 7 AM opening has to be a problem for retail and service industry workers working on weekends. It also means forget taking the Metro on weekends to get a early morning train or flight from Union Station or Reagan National.

The DC Metro is the second busiest heavy rail rapid transit system in the US. It should have operating hours that reflects that. The Metro should also look at reducing operating costs for late night operation such as unmanned stations.

by AlanF on Aug 31, 2012 11:33 am • linkreport

In theory, I'm in favor of it, but the economics might not be there. I suspect a good chunk of the service workers actually do live in the city and have access to a decent bus system even at night. In a city like New York you see people on the subway at all times of night, in DC I'm not so sure that would be the case. I like the idea of running late night bus service a la Philadelphia to mirror the Metro lines on off hours. I'm not a huge baseball fan, but my understanding is that a 13 inning game is unusual enough not to merit an everyday solution. It's almost my understanding that running a 4 car train is not much less expensive operationally than running an 8 car one (unless we are talking about peak capacity which entails purchasing additional cars) so I'm not sure that would be a cost savings.

by Alan B on Aug 31, 2012 11:41 am • linkreport

Throwing in my hat for the "night buses" option. While BART here is shown as an example of a rail system running later, its very easy to miss the last train (unlike metro, most of the city attractions are not within walking distance of a rail stop). They instead have bus service that runs all night along the rail routes and stop outside each station.

It works quite well, doesn't require that many employees (buses are every 30 or 60 minutes and don't require station staff), and is scaled appropriately for the relatively minimal weekday night traffic (there are shorter headways on early morning Saturday and Sunday to cope with weekend partying).

by Vinnie on Aug 31, 2012 11:52 am • linkreport

A thought about the Friday & Saturday night schedules. The last departure time shown for each station states simply add 3 hours for Friday & Saturday nights. Adding 1 or 2 additional trains on weeknight would keep the system open really late on weekends. One compromise could be with the later weeknight times to have the system stay open 2 hours later on weekends.

With 2 additional trains with 20 minute frequencies on weeknights, that would mean an official 2 AM closing time on weekends, but would only lose the last set of train runs on weekends. The last trains would be departing from the core somewhere around 2:30 AM. Would people accept that?

Are there statistics on system ridership by hour after 9 PM on weeknights and weekends? With seasonal variation data? More late night traffic in summer vs winter? What has been the trend in ridership for late night and weekends over the past 5 years?

by AlanF on Aug 31, 2012 11:53 am • linkreport

Overall, I think Metro riders have it pretty good- now in the Bay Area, I sure wish I had 3am weekend service!

But there are also real trade-offs for riders that come with more open hours. BART always resists staying open later on weekend nights because that's when they have their longest periods available for maintenance. And because they can do it then, we NEVER have weekend single-tracking or other maintenance delays. Imagine that!

Then look at New York, where supposedly the subway is open 24/7, but if you actually try to use it after midnight on a weeknight (and sometimes during the day on weekends), you'll have to read about 25 service advisory posters to see what's actually running.

What the Bay Area does have (at least for the SF-East Bay market) is decent Owl bus service that follows several of the BART lines (and BART is planning to add more!) So you can still get home after midnight, it will just take a bit longer. I think that's probably a good compromise since it means BART is always speedy and reliable during the day on the weekends.

by RichardC on Aug 31, 2012 11:58 am • linkreport

Hell yes.

We should stop the deceptive practice of saying the system closes at Midnight when the trains from outer stations leave well before 12am.

The last trains from Shady Grove, Glenmont, Greenbelt, New Carrolton, Largo, Branch Ave, Huntington, Fraconia Springfield, Vienna should leave at 12am and no earlier or the times of the system running should be changed to 5am to 11:40pm

Buses are not even a solution for people saying buses run after midnight and so on. How many buses go from DC to Virginia or DC to Maryland after Midnight. Hell you can be in many areas and there is no service after 7pm

@ Alan B

Most of the buses in DC dont run at after midnight so how can they have decent bus services. I have been stuck at Rhode Island Ave and Fort Totten before having to call cabs or friends to be picked up.

If you pick three places in every ward not near a metrostation I guarantee you will not find a bus running at night at all.

by kk on Aug 31, 2012 12:02 pm • linkreport

I agree that late buses would be helpful. I had assumed that one could catch a bus after the trains stopped. I was shocked to find out that after 11:30, Metro's trip planner tells me that there is NO service from the Navy Yard to my home in Arlington. Guess I'll be sticking with day games.

by Mary on Aug 31, 2012 12:22 pm • linkreport

Matt your argument against running night buses because it may be hard to follow the exact rail route is silly. All metro stations have road access. It doesn't really matter what route buses would take between the stations all that matters is they would get to each station. Granted this would probably double the length of time it takes to go through the system, but it s doable.

by Nathaniel on Aug 31, 2012 12:33 pm • linkreport

This has been discussed quite a few times on GGW over the past couple of years. Just search for "late night metro" in the search box.

Point is only a few thousand people metro wide use the system the last couple of hours it is open m-f. I am sure as it is, the last hour of rail service is the most subsidized on a per trip basis as it is.

It simply doesn't make sense on any level and waxing poetic about larger systems won't do any good either. DC is a city of 617K people. Comparing it to London, NY or Paris is pointless.

by nightrail on Aug 31, 2012 12:34 pm • linkreport

The biggest hole in service is definitely to airports and Union Station. I don't know how many times I've found a flight, only to realize I won't make the last train home, or won't be able to get there in time unless I take a taxi (not an option on my budget -- adding insult to injury since these early/late flights are often the cheapest).

by Elle on Aug 31, 2012 12:37 pm • linkreport

Show.Me.The.Money.

by movement on Aug 31, 2012 12:43 pm • linkreport

@nightrail; not to mention WMATA doesn't have any problem running shuttle buses along the same lines during trackwork.

by charlie on Aug 31, 2012 1:01 pm • linkreport

I'm not saying that DC would not benefit from later service, but I'd like to note that most major cities' metro systems close at midnight, around midnight, or shortly after midnight on weeknights. This includes Seoul, London, Paris, Osaka, Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Mexico City, Sao Paolo, Cairo, Barcelona, St Petersburg, and Montreal, among others. Very few systems run any type of 24 hour service.

That being said, I think it would be nice to run the last trains from the endpoint stations at 12 AM instead of running the last trains from the core stations as 12 AM.

Unfortunately this post fails to analyze the percentage of total riders who are most likely to use light night service, the costs incurred in doing so, the potential benefits, and the potential risks.

by Scoot on Aug 31, 2012 1:12 pm • linkreport

Yeah you guys shouldn't complain. Midnight closing is actually decent relative to everything in the world except for NYC. Three AM on weekends is frosting on the cake.

by Torshen on Aug 31, 2012 1:29 pm • linkreport

The biggest issue is that Metro is very expensive to run given the size of the system versus the total number of passengers. Even though Metro has the second-highest peak boardings in the U.S. after the NYC Subway, passengers per route mile is in the middle of the pack according to the APTA. The high cost to keep Metro running is not really not due to the trains but rather the need to keep all 86 stations open and operational.

This is part of the problem of having a hybrid commuter rail/subway system; off-peak efficiency is terribly low and raises the overall costs of the system.

by Adam L on Aug 31, 2012 1:46 pm • linkreport

@Elle
I don't get this argument. High-speed long distance travel is a luxury. If you can't afford a cab to the airport, what are you doing flying with any regularity?

by movement on Aug 31, 2012 1:46 pm • linkreport

I'm also for night owl bus service, like a bus every 30 minutes along all lines. Given it can be bus bridged, it can then be night-owl'ed.

For the Nats, the team just needs to pony up the cash.

by Drake Perth on Aug 31, 2012 2:14 pm • linkreport

Possibly a skeletal system could be kept running, perhaps fully automated, all night.

Say, Silver between Dulles and Stadium-Armory skipping most of the stations between Dulles and Ballston. Yellow, between Mt Vernon Sq. and King St., Red, between Van Ness and Ft. Totten, Green between Navy Yard and Ft. Totten. That would cover the airports and Union Station (which, pace movement, is a serious problem: the recent scenes of struggles over cabs at Union Station establish that) and most of the entertainment districts. It would still be a fully connected system.

WMATA would still close nearly half the stations and could reduce each of those left open to a single entrance.

by jim on Aug 31, 2012 2:19 pm • linkreport

@movement
A cab from central DC to Dulles could run up to $80-90 dollars. That's a pretty big chunk from my travel budget. So when I fly out of Dulles, I get there via Metro and the 5a.

But if my flight is earlier or later than Metro and/or the 5a, that's going to make things much harder or much more expensive.

by Colleen on Aug 31, 2012 2:22 pm • linkreport

@ Adam L. If the Metro system is expensive to run, then the costs will be (and currently are) reflected in fares. Running late night weekday service will surely increase fares, it's just a matter of how much, and whether people are willing to pay for it. Let's also consider the realistic possibility that, based on ridership patterns, late night service will be harder to sell in Virginia and Maryland than in the District, as well as a potentially hard sell to the ATU without some sort of concession from WMATA.

As you said, the high cost of keeping all the stations open would probably preclude some sort of "late-night" peak-type fare increase alone, so you'd probably need both a late-night peak-type fare along with a general fare increase.

by Scoot on Aug 31, 2012 2:24 pm • linkreport

@movement

I fly three or four times a year, generally to visit family (who live on the other side of the country). Two of these are usually purchase by my very generous parents. Any other trips, for weddings, etc, stretch my budget, so, yes, $20-30 for a cab to the airport (each way) makes a difference.

Family is important to me, but unfortunately I haven't yet been able to find a gig closer to home. Someday, it won't matter either way (I'll either be paid better here, or move back there), but it's still important to have transit to and from airports.

by Elle on Aug 31, 2012 2:33 pm • linkreport

@Scoot

Yes, the cost is already reflected in the fares (see also: every article decrying the fact that Metro is so expensive compared to other transit systems around the country). Metro already charged peak fares for the midnight-3AM service on weekends and the same could potentially be done for later service on weekdays. The problem, as you say, is that it will still be expensive and would largely get a good deal of push back from the Maryland, Virginia, and the new federal members of the WMATA board.

@jim

The trains can run fully automated once (if?) the system is repaired, but that doesn't mean it can run without a human operator. Someone would still need to be on hand to get the trains back to the rail yards and deal with any potential emergencies. There's really no cost savings there.

In addition, the cost of shutting down all the "suburban" stations would be technically possible but politically infeasible. I'd also argue that the people who are the most likely to use the Metro are those who need to get back out of the city to the suburbs at late night. People who live in the District, or the more urban areas of Arlington and Alexandria would be the most likely to take a bus or cab to get home; I'm not sure how useful such a reduced service would be.

by Adam L on Aug 31, 2012 2:59 pm • linkreport

Fully automated Metro? YGBKM. I wouldn't step foot on an automated Metro in 10 years. Way too much can go wrong.

by movement on Aug 31, 2012 3:11 pm • linkreport

"DC is a city of 617K people."

No, its a city of 5.7 million. Just because of the peculiarities of geography and politics conspired to place a a couple million people on the other side of a river or two in a different state does not turn DC into a city smaller than Akron, Boise, or Charleston.

by Another Nick on Aug 31, 2012 3:25 pm • linkreport

I agree with the "skeletal system" comment - many stations would see little traffic after midnight. Pick half or a third of the stations to be open 24hrs, and show those stations differently on the map. As a bonus, skipping stations would make for faster trips.

by Michael on Aug 31, 2012 3:38 pm • linkreport

Last I checked, Tommy Wells had to fight to keep Metro from discontinuing 3am service on weekends during the annual budget balancing process. My guess is when WMATA starts budget discussions for next year, folks will have to fight to retain 3am weekend service once again.

But, practicalities aside, it would be nice to have later service. The question is how much would it cost and would it be better than other service enhancements that could be provided instead for that same pot of money. Most of Metro's costs are fixed -- based on hours open -- regardless of the number of trains they are running. So, you could potentially get a much larger enhancement of weekend service for the same cost of a smaller enhancement to late night service.

Night owl bus service may be a cost-effective compromise.

the Orange Line between Minnesota Avenue and New Carrollton has no easy path for buses

Metro time between those stations is 10 minutes. Driving time is 24 minutes. That's a pretty big difference but potentially not a dealbreaker.

The other option is not trying to replicate metro service late night and simply running later buses along H ST, up 14th ST and up Wisconsin and keep it all within DC boundaries. Folks in the suburbs usually have cars anyway.

by Falls Church on Aug 31, 2012 3:40 pm • linkreport

@Michael and Falls Church

Again, I fail to see the utility in providing service only in the most urban areas. I would suspect that the people most likely to be using the Metro late at night are those who are coming from the suburbs. We've been going with the mantra that people coming into the city should take the Metro to avoid traffic, parking, etc. And that's a good thing. We don't want to go full reverse and say "You know what? It's really better that you drive instead."

In addition, as someone who lives in DC, I probably wouldn't be taking the Metro late at night anyway. Given the cost (peak fares) and lengthy headways, I'd be better off taking a bus or cab home; the same is not true for suburban residents. I just don't see who would bother taking Metro if it would service such a small area with so many other transit options.

by Adam L on Aug 31, 2012 3:55 pm • linkreport

What about late night limited service, operating in skip-stop mode.

The Red Line could look like this: Silver Spring, Ft Totten, Brookland, Union, Gallery Pl, Metro Center, Dupont Circle, Van Ness, Friendship Heights, & Bethesda.

Skip-stop service will reduce costs by not requiring every station be staffed.

by Xavier on Aug 31, 2012 3:59 pm • linkreport

I am curious what limited service would look like in VA. Arlington Cemetery, Pentagon, and DCA aren't needed from midnight to 4AM but it is hard to make a case for keeping any of the others closed. They are all either in highly populated areas or have large parking lots. Where is the cost savings?

by movement on Aug 31, 2012 4:18 pm • linkreport

@Adam L

Metro will already have data on late night ridership at least on the Friday/Saturday night service. So there's no need to suspect.

I see the political issue differently. If the overnight service is confined to the "ten mile square", then it could be funded entirely by additional levies on the District, Arlington and Alexandria. The VA jurisdictions already pay separately by a formula for regular service; the night service could be separately costed and the same formula applied. Those jurisdictions not being served and not being charged shouldn't care.

by jim on Aug 31, 2012 4:44 pm • linkreport

@jim

That could be politically feasible, but the question would be why would "ten mile square" (I actually like that as an all-encompassing term to describe DC, Arlington, and Alexandria) want to pay for that? Like I said above, it just doesn't seem like a service even worth having.

by Adam L on Aug 31, 2012 5:20 pm • linkreport

I think this is a good, modest proposal. Metro must have SOME kind of science behind the $30K bond they require for an extra hour of service for special events, so that's not a half-bad estimate of the costs. 4 nights a week 52 weeks a year is a total cost of about $6.2 million. Since Metro reimburses any fares collected to those bonding the special event service, we can assume that $30K is the total cost of operation. I can't begin to predict how many people would use this service, but any revenue generated would offset that $6.2 million, making the total out of area budgets less. That's the best cost estimate I can give, something less than $2M/juridiction/year. Some of which will ALSO be offset by additional tax dollars of people who stay out a little later.

Also loving the idea of night-owl bus service along the Metro lines. Certain stations can be skipped (Pentagon, Arlington Cemetery (already skipped late night), maybe only have one stop halfway between Metro Center and Gallery Place for the Red Line bus (align the Blue/Orange/Green/Yellow buses with this stop), maybe only one stop halfway between Pentagon City and Crystal City, skip National after the last flight (should be around 1 AM), etc.).

Weekend openings at 7 are also problematic, because of the previously mentioned PITA getting to the airports/Union Station for travel. Maybe do weeknight owl bus service until 3 and weekend early bird service from 5 with the buses? Could couple that with an "airport express" service where buses leave from, maybe Metro Center/Gallery, Rosslyn, L'Enfant and Ft. Totten and go directly to the two airports on weekend mornings, and depart every so often (preferably less than the 1:15 I've seen before for the 5A) until maybe 1:30 AM and drop off at the same points to connect to the owl bus on weeknights.

by Ms. D on Aug 31, 2012 5:21 pm • linkreport

Oh, you could also skip Smithsonian, Archives, Federal Center SW, and Federal Triangle for the late-night bus service. They're close enough to other major stations and low-enough traffic late that the few people who would board there can pick up the service at the next stop. Those stations also greatly complicate routes, making the buses more feasible.

by Ms. D on Aug 31, 2012 5:28 pm • linkreport

The question of the day is keeping the Metro open on weekdays to midnight for the entire system. Let's not lose sight of that.

Having written that, it is worthwhile to look forward to 2020 and 2025 and consider what the effect will be if 80% of the planned development around the Metro stations takes place, Potomac Yard in-fill opens & the price of oil really spikes. The system was not really designed with the idea of only having shorter turnaround runs in the core; the pocket and cross-over tracks reflect the construction build-out pattern and operational needs as the system was built.

As I see it, there are 2 approaches to running a reduced system for overnight operations: end to end run of most lines with many station closed or an inner core system that would stay within DC, Arlington, Alexandria and run partway into Montgomery County. One such core only concept might be:
Red Line: Silver Spring to Grosvenor (probably should end at Bethesda, but the Medical Center might want overnight service for staff and the pocket tracks are pass Gosvenor)
Orange Line: Stadium-Armory to East Falls Church (which is actually in Arlington).
Blue Line: closed. Yes, opens a big hole for Rosslyn connections, but this is a stripped down operation and people can still connect to the Yellow Line.
Yellow Line: Mt. Vernon Sq(?) to Huntington. Ideally should end at King Street, but might as well go to Huntington which would also provide parking garages.
Green Line: Fort Totten to Anacostia. The GL did end at Anacostia for a few years.
Silver Line: closed until Tysons Corner has the residental population to support overnight service. Running to Reston or Dulles would cost too much. Union Station and National would still have overnight service.

Then pick a few stations on those core routes to close. Smithsonian. If Faragut North and West were connected by a tunnel, close the street entrances to Farragut West. Other candidates?

If the full system currently cost $29.5K per hour to run at late night frequencies, what might this core system cost to run?

by AlanF on Aug 31, 2012 5:32 pm • linkreport

@AlanF: I the "core-only" idea. I think the system could be made even smaller than you plan btw, since pocket tracks wouldn't be required given the frequency of late-night service. I expect that the majority of use coming from late-night metro would come from DC, and a core-only service could be funded by DC. If other jurisdictions wanted to join they could, but they wouldn't be able to complain about paying for service that primarily helps DC if they weren't paying for it, and they couldn't complain about not getting service if it was available to them if they paid.

Metro serves as both commuter rail and an urban subway. The commuter need mostly goes away at night, but those of us here in DC who rely on metrorail to get around have a real interest in keeping those stations open late.

by JW on Aug 31, 2012 6:03 pm • linkreport

Everybody's assuming that there are a lot of people who make trips within core and therefore we can just cut off the suburban commuter stations, but that's just not true. Only 24% of Metro riders begin and end their late-night trips within the core. Like I've said, I suspect that's because people who live in this area have a multitude of ways to travel without relying on Metro. As such, it makes no sense for the District to pay to keep the system open even later for such a small percentage of riders.

by Adam L on Aug 31, 2012 7:20 pm • linkreport

@Adam L

That planitmetro link took its data from an Erik Weber post on GGW in Feb 2011. Erik provided the raw data (entries and exits by station) in a google doc. I have downloaded that data and simply deleted the outlying stations that neither AlanF nor I have suggested be served. The result is that approximately 2/3 of the late night ridership is between the core 48 stations: Bethesda and Silver Spring on the Red, Fort Totten and King St or Anacostia on the Green and Yellow, Ballston and Stadium-Armory on the Orange. Pentagon, Judiciary Sq, Federal Center and Federal Triangle contribute practically no ridership. So a ten mile square strategy extended to Silver Spring and Bethesda accounts for more than a majority of the existing late night ridership: about 8,000 riders per night.

If that 8,000 riders level were sustainable across all nights of the year (over five hours rather than three) the farebox would bring in on the order of 10-12 million a year for the late night service. A back of the envelope calculation (14 trainsets: 3 each on Green and Yellow, 4 each on Red and Orange; 40 stations open, each with two station personnel; about 20 cops patrolling; power, increased maintenance on the 84 cars used each night, etc.) says the service would cost on the order of $16M a year. So $6M would need to be ponied up by the jurisdictions: maybe $4M for DC, and on the order of $1M each for Arlington and Alexandria, plus a small contribution from Maryland for their couple of stations. Would these jurisdictions be willing to kick in this money to provide this service to their residents? That's the fundamental political question.

by jim on Aug 31, 2012 8:35 pm • linkreport

@ AlanF

Good luck skipping all stations east of the Anacostia except Anacostia and all PG County stops. You will have people in DC and PG County screaming all type of things because of that

by kk on Sep 1, 2012 5:57 pm • linkreport

@kk - Thank you for getting there before me. I was getting geared up for a post on the casual manner in which all Prince Georges County was cut out of this plan, but you said it well. It makes no sense to eliminate these stations, particularly since several have large parking lots, and some late night riders will be returning to their cars.

by Anon20748 on Sep 3, 2012 3:04 pm • linkreport

Metro and Nats needed to get a plan in place by the end of the month. Post-season baseball is coming to DC. Games televised nationally start/end later to accommodate all time zones. Add on 20-30 mins for extra ceremony and extended commercial breaks, the night games will go on past midnight. I'd speculate there will be more than a few hundred fans looking for rides. (Game 5 of a Workd Series tends to draw and keeps crowd more than a mid season, rain delayed game that goes into extras.)

by Andrew Broyles on Sep 4, 2012 8:38 am • linkreport

DC is not a 24 hour city first of all and second Metro only has two tracks and is in bad condition. If you take even 2 hours out of their track work time that's all the more work they end up having to do on weekends when all the local riders suffer most due to single-tracking and such. Baseballs fans can leave the game early or find alternative ways home, like buses, which generally run later than Metro does. I hate the early closing too, but I want Metro to have as much time as possible at night to do track work so they don't have to do it during the day. If they had a third track throughout each line, it would be a different story, but they don't (I"m guessing most of the systems with later open times on week days probably do).

by Matthew on Sep 4, 2012 10:15 am • linkreport

@Matthew:
No. That's a false assumption. The only systems that are open late that have more than 2 tracks are New York and Chicago. And most of Chicago is 2 tracks, along with many sections of New York's system.

Philadelphia's Broad Street Line has 4 tracks for about half the line, but the rest is 2-tracked. In Chicago, only the northern section of the Red Line has 4 tracks, and the Blue Line, which also runs 24/7, has only 2 tracks.

PATH, which runs 24/7 through some pretty old infrastructure also has only 2 tracks.

MARTA, which is probably the best comparison since it's about the same age and of similar design to Metro is also entirely a 2-track system.

At any rate, your assumption that a little extra service will hamper track maintenance is not necessarily a good one. At any given time, Metro can work in only a few places. If Metro needs to close a section of track early, that's no reason to close all the other non-work sections of track.

Metro's argument that they have to close early to do track work is less about getting work done than it is about a lack of creativity.

And it begs the question: If closing Metro at 11:25 is good for track work, wouldn't closing it at 9:00 be even better?

by Matt Johnson on Sep 4, 2012 10:23 am • linkreport

I feel like all the talk about late-night headways, etc. misses a crucial point: headways. The extreme infrequency with which trains run at night is a pretty severe detriment to above all, taking Metro for the shorter core trips.

Waiting 20 minutes at Gallery Place at 2:30 AM just to go the three stops to Columbia Heights is one of the most unpleasant experiences I can imagine and I know that it is in large part what stops me from being counted as a regular late-night user of Metro. Improving headways is one of the most important tasks for Metro to do anyways, and at night it's no exception.

WMATA seems to be misreading correlation and causation: late-night and weekend ridership is low; ergo fewer trains at longer headways are needed. But I wonder how much ridership they really could generate if they operated at sub-10 minute headways at all times (I imagine it's quite a bit).

As for all the bus ideas, the London night bus network was one of the most enjoyable parts of living there - in fact the buses were such an improvement over the Underground that I rarely took the latter except for longer trips.

by WMATARage on Sep 4, 2012 2:21 pm • linkreport

The largest "customer" of the Metro system is the federal government through the transit subsidy program. Thus, every effort (and dollar) to improve Metro should go to improving rush hour service. That is and has always been the intent of the system, that is where the riders are and that is where the money comes from.

by dcdriver on Sep 4, 2012 5:59 pm • linkreport

The largest "customer" of the Metro system is the federal government through the transit subsidy program.

It is untrue that most of the trips on the Metro are federal workers commuting.

Thus, every effort (and dollar) to improve Metro should go to improving rush hour service.

Money going to improve Metro should go to making it more reliable (fewer breakdowns) during rush hour, and improving service where we can generate the most ridership. Just because a large portion of the ridership is during rush hour does not mean we should spend ALL our money on rush hour.

by MLD on Sep 5, 2012 8:03 am • linkreport

every effort (and dollar) to improve Metro should go to improving rush hour service.

Well, that's certainly what it feels like, but I can guarantee you that if they ever took this approach I would absolutely move up and out of the District. The whole reason I live here is because I don't need a car (though I'm rethinking that every day I ride Metro), and with weekend/off-peak service already as awful as it is, any more cuts to that would make life pretty miserable.

by WMATA Rage on Sep 5, 2012 11:31 am • linkreport

Anyway, while the federal government does cover a lot of its workers' fares, it doesn't pay any taxes or any other contribution to the upkeep of the system.

In other cities, the largest employers often do offer some transit benefits, and also pay real estate and business taxes, some of which covers operation and maintenance.

The federal subsidy for transit fares is not a subsidy to Metro; it's a benefit to workers. It helps Metro some, in that some more workers take transit than would otherwise, but most of the workers would still ride and just have to pay out of pocket for the trips.

The people who pay for Metro are riders, and the taxpayers of DC, Maryland, and the counties of Northern Virginia (since the state gives little money for Metro). The system should serve the people of those three jurisdictions.

Plus, DC pays more than its share, because the formula has each jurisdiction paying partly based on the number of trips and stations. But many trips in DC are workers who don't even pay any taxes to DC. For its contribution, DC has the right to push for late night service and better off-peak headways to make Metro a system that serves both commuters and car-free urban dwellers.

by David Alpert on Sep 5, 2012 12:28 pm • linkreport

BART and METRO don't run all night as a political/cultural statement as to whom they want as customers. As others have said many lines in NYC and most of the CTA 24/7 lines are only 2 tracks. Any professional scheduler could design a decent overnight service accommodating maintenance via single tracking. As to cost, the capital to build the system is already spent. The S/Agent and T/O salaries while not trivial will be partially offset by increased travel during other hours by those who can't use the systems now because they would be stranded. Time for SF and DC to stop rolling up the sidewalks.

by david vartanoff on Sep 7, 2012 10:58 pm • linkreport

Show.Me.The.Money.

We've.Had.Three.Fare.Increases.In.The.Last.Five.Years

by LuvDusty on Sep 13, 2012 4:58 pm • linkreport

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