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WMATA's latest grades: Rush Plus needs tutoring

WMATA's latest scorecard gives the agency some good marks for on-time performance, but the roll-out of the Rush Plus program has been more disappointing, officials told the Riders' Advisory Council (RAC) Wednesday.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Launched in June, Rush Plus added more trains to the Orange and Yellow Lines during rush hour but decreased the number of Blue Line trains. The plan aimed to reduce Orange Line crowding and create more track space for the Silver Line, which will take passengers to Dulles Airport.

WMATA has not been able to transition as many Blue Line riders to the Yellow line as it hoped. Just 14% of Blue Line riders have made the switch, according to a rider survey taken at the end of July. Passengers who haven't switched cited an unwillingness to transfer at L'Enfant Plaza and a concern about wait times, said Jennifer Green, a communications officer for WMATA.

Green said that Rush Plus has seen some success. There has been a slight decrease in crowding on the Orange Line and passenger loads declined on the Yellow Line, but are still unbalanced on the Blue Line. In the morning, Blue Line trains are carrying between 86 and 98 passengers per car, and in the evening they are carrying between 96 and 120 passengers.

WMATA even offered riders an incentive to try out the yellow line with a complimentary $5 travel pass. Approximately 140 people participated in WMATA's "Hello Yellow" campaign.

Rush Plus has received largely negative reviews from riders, and RAC members passed on the message to WMATA.

"All my neighbors and friends hate it," said Barbara Hermanson, a representative from Alexandria. "People are upset now with the level of Blue Line service, and they're going to be even more upset when it decreases further with the Silver Line service," said Ben Ball, a DC representative.

In response to riders' complaints about longer wait times on the Blue Line, Green announced that WMATA is adding an 8-car Blue Line train during rush hour. Beyond that, she said that the system is "maxed out" in its capacity to send more trains through Rosslyn (the limit is 26 trains per hour). "There isn't any extra space," Green said. "It's all being used."

RAC members hear updates on labor negotiations, on-time performance

Despite a natural focus on Rush Plus during the RAC meeting on Wednesday, attendees did discuss more than just the early returns on Rush Plus.

Earlier in the meeting, Denise Mitchell, a senior labor relations officer at WMATA, announced that contract negotiations are ongoing with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, the largest of the 5 unions to which WMATA employees belong. Contracts have concluded for 3 of the other unions, Mitchell said.

Overall, things are going well at WMATAat least according to WMATA. Its Metro Scorecard feature shows that both Metrorail and MetroAccess are exceeding the "on-time performance" ratings set for it, and Metrobus falls just below it, as of June 2012.

Data on customer satisfaction is a bit out of date. The figure stood at 79% for both Metrorail and Metrobus in June 2011, but the agency is scheduled to update these figures this fall, according to their website. WMATA will be conducting additional surveys this fall.

One point of concern: between April and June of this year, the customer injury rate, measuring injuries to any customer caused by some aspect of Metro's operation that require immediate medical attention away from the scene of the injury, increased for the first time in 5 consecutive quarters.

Visiting students compare RAC to its equivalent back home

Over 30 people were in the audience for Wednesday's RAC meeting. That is higher than normal, owing largely to a contingent of visiting urban and regional planning students from Ryerson University in Toronto.

Michael Lin, one of the students, highlighted a difference between the meeting and a similar one back home. "It seems less argumentative," Lin said about the meeting, even though it began with Chris Barnes, a member of the public who criticizes the RAC each month, calling the council a "failure" and asking for the chairwoman to resign. "Even though there are arguments, there's more respect and integrity to the process," he said.

Sarah Smith, another student who survived the 2-hour meeting, called it "interesting" but wondered why attendance is normally sparse. "If there are so many issues, why aren't people here?"

Jeremy Barr is a graduate journalism student at the University of Maryland. He previously worked in non-profit communications and has interned in politics on several occasions. In the last year and a half, he has lived in Adams Morgan, Logan Circle and Mount Vernon Square. Email him at jeremy.m.barr@gmail.com. 

Comments

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1. blue line people are going to have to suck up the Lenfant transfer. Orange crush sufferers never had that choice.

2. Yes, this reemphasizes the need for a second crossing. but that doesnt help now

3. Would additional bus service over the 14th street bridge help? Crystal City to Farragut, say?

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Oct 5, 2012 12:02 pm • linkreport

"...a member of the public, who criticizes the RAC each month, calling the council a "failure" and asking for the chairwoman to resign."

You know he posted what he said to his website, right? (Unsuck cross-posted it as well.) http://fixwmata.com/post/32831426923/fixwmatas-address-to-the-wmata-rac-10-03-2012

At a minimum, it seems like a link would've been appropriate. Better yet, I'd like to see a full article about the RAC and its (in)effectiveness.

by yatesc on Oct 5, 2012 12:16 pm • linkreport

Only Metro could be so stupid as to be surprised that Blue Line riders didn't rush to embrace a longer, less convenient commute.
The Blue / Orange separation should have been done simultaneously with the Silver Line project. It was irresponsible (but typical of politicians) to try to do the Silver Line on the cheap, and then act surprised when it worsens the problems on the Orange and Blue Lines in a completely predictable way. Of course if they had been honest about it, and proposed an additional Potomac crossing, the cost would have been so much higher that the project probably wouldn't have been approved. And maybe it shouldn't have been.

by MM on Oct 5, 2012 12:20 pm • linkreport

Nothing about buses?

Isn't Alpert on the RAC?

by charlie on Oct 5, 2012 12:29 pm • linkreport

I stepped down from the RAC last year because I was trying to cut back on evening commitments. Also, I didn't write this article.

by David Alpert on Oct 5, 2012 12:32 pm • linkreport

The whole reason why Blue Line riders refuse to switch trains is that they can get seats at the two stations where it matters: Van Dorn and Franconia-Springfield. People have to choose between a seat and a few minutes extra versus an extra transfer, less chance on a seat and a few minutes of their trip. Seems an easy choice to me.

My estimate is that only half of the riders in Franconia-Springfield takes the Yellow Rush Minus Lines. The other half waits for a Blue Line.

WMATA has somehow severely underestimated the number of Blue to Orange transfers in Rosslyn. They will never change trains.

Finally, morning trains keep filling up at the Pentagon. That is something WMATA can work on with extra buses and better information. Difficult, because no bus will be faster than a train, and the Pentagon Bus Station is a difficult to navigate place.

by Jasper on Oct 5, 2012 12:48 pm • linkreport

"Difficult, because no bus will be faster than a train, and the Pentagon Bus Station is a difficult to navigate place"

The folks you would aim a Pentagon-Farragut bus at wouldnt, I think, be so much folks transferring from rail, but folks current transferring from the express buses TO metrorail. Those folks are already familiar with the bus station.

Also you could run buses from Crystal City or Pentagon City to Farragut - those people need never board metrorail at all.

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Oct 5, 2012 12:56 pm • linkreport

Express bus service from Crystal / Pentagon City to Farragut is not a bad idea. (I'd consider it.) Best option would actually be to take 110 north to the Memorial Bridge, then curve around to Ohio Drive and the E Street expressway, and then up 18th Street. (20th Street would drop me off in front of my office but I won't get greedy.)

That said, sounds like the issue isn't so much people heading to Farragut, which was always on the "stay on the train" side of the Rush Plus split. It's people headed to McPherson and Federal Triangle that aren't changing trains. So the bus service option should ideally target those stations. (assuming I have this all right, of course)

by Dave on Oct 5, 2012 1:01 pm • linkreport

Express buses would be an OK idea, except no bus is going to be faster than even waiting for several trains before getting on one. So why would people switch to a bus if they aren't willing to switch to the Yellow Line for a quicker or less congested ride?

by MLD on Oct 5, 2012 1:11 pm • linkreport

This kind of misses the whole point of the RAC, which is to advocate for riders and discuss our concerns. Instead, it's one WMATA presentation after another with the Council hardly pushing back on anything.

The "scorecard" wasn't even discussed at that meeting, so I'm not sure what it's doing in this article, but it sort of speaks to the larger problem: who cares what metrics WMATA is putting out? The larger point is what the riders are encountering, which is routinely not on-time anything or working escalators/elevators.

And as MM said - and I raised at this RAC meeting - Metro continues to treat riders like children who can't handle an uncomfortable truth. Rush+ was never about service improvements (assurances to the contrary); it was about creating room in the Rosslyn tunnel for Silver Line trains. And that's something, terrible as it is, that we can more or less live with. But just tell us that up front, WMATA!

by WMATARage on Oct 5, 2012 1:11 pm • linkreport

Someone also mentioned once a Columbia Pike to Farragut bus that seemed like a good idea to me. You could have a group all the way from Annandale and through Arlington a one seat ride and ease some of the burden at Pentagon as well.

In short, I'd like to see if Metro has considered more Va. to DC service beyond the options there (38B and 11Y are all I can think of at the moment).

by drumz on Oct 5, 2012 1:13 pm • linkreport

@drumz: There's a 16Y that does just that. There's also a 3Y that goes Lee Highway to Farragut.

by Michael Perkins on Oct 5, 2012 1:30 pm • linkreport

"Rush+ was never about service improvements (assurances to the contrary); it was about creating room in the Rosslyn tunnel for Silver Line trains. And that's something, terrible as it is, that we can more or less live with. But just tell us that up front, WMATA!"

So true. But that wouldn't justify the hundreds of thousands spent to justify it.

by charlie on Oct 5, 2012 1:30 pm • linkreport

It is my understanding the Potomac River tunnel capacity is 27 trains per hour, such that, before Rush+, there were a maximum of 14 Orange Line trains per hour (each direction) and 13 Blue Line trains per hour (each direction).

by tmt on Oct 5, 2012 1:40 pm • linkreport

@MLD

For a one seat ride - easier to board, and possibly cheaper, than riding metrorail. If you live in a hirise near Crystal City - you can walk to the train, take the Yellow to lenfant, change (at crowded Lenfant) to the Blue, and then take the blue. Or you can walk to the bus stop and take the bus straight to Farragut.

and yes, this is similar to the 16Y concept. Now for less frequent lines than the 16, running buses into the district means either stopping at Pentagon first (with loss of time) or reducing the number of buses that are useful for folks going to destinations poorly serviced by a farragut bus. It works for 16 cause thats got so many buses. My idea would simply be a net increase in buses - to keep the system functioning until the seperate blue line is completed.

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Oct 5, 2012 1:40 pm • linkreport

@drumz I believe the river crossing lines during rush hour run by WMATA are:

3Y - Lee Highway
7Y - Lincolnia-North Fairlington Line
11Y - Mount Vernon (Express)
16F - Columbia Pike (MetroExtra)
16Y - Columbia Pike (MetroExtra)
38B - Rosslyn-Ballston
5A - Dulles Airport (lots of commuters from Herndon)

by Ryan D on Oct 5, 2012 1:46 pm • linkreport

oh yeah one other thing - speed up DoD on getting a CaBi station at the Pentagon.

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Oct 5, 2012 1:49 pm • linkreport

"It is my understanding the Potomac River tunnel capacity is 27 trains per hour, such that, before Rush+, there were a maximum of 14 Orange Line trains per hour (each direction) and 13 Blue Line trains per hour (each direction)."

Actually, 26 per hour and 16 orange line trains and 10 blue line.

by jnb on Oct 5, 2012 2:27 pm • linkreport

Thanks Ryan D, good to know there are more than I thought.

by drumz on Oct 5, 2012 2:46 pm • linkreport

26 TPH??? For shame. Chicago Transit Authority was capable of less than 120 seconds headways (30 TPH) with mechanical relay driven signals and manual operation 60 years ago. (source a published column written by a retired GM of CTA) With all the sophisticated hardware/software WMATA can't outperform "old tech"??? Of course, the difficult to fix issue is inadequate platform length and car fleet. Running anything less than full length trains in rush hour is rider hostile.

by david vartanoff on Oct 5, 2012 2:50 pm • linkreport

@david vartanoff:

David, the Metro was actually designed with 90-second headways. But those assume several things that Metro has been completely incapable of ensuring recently: a state of good repair, reliable rolling stock, and most crucially, ATO (which hasn't been in use since the fatal June 2009 crash).

But man, can you imagine what a difference that would make?

by WMATARage on Oct 5, 2012 2:53 pm • linkreport

An issue that always gets overlooked in the RushPlus debates is that the change had a meaningful impact on another line too: Green Line trains to Greenbelt routinely get stuck waiting in the tunnel south of L'Enfant, since WMATA can't get the extra Yellow Line trains clear of the L'Enfant platform in time. Usually it's just a minute or two, but longer delays aren't unheard of (and maddening when they happen -- I come out of the train with an urge to slap the next person who uses the word "momentarily").

by cminus on Oct 5, 2012 2:59 pm • linkreport

@ cminus:Green Line trains to Greenbelt routinely get stuck

Dude, that just happens every time two frequent trains need to merge. It happens northbound before Rosslyn, it happens southbound at the Pentagon. Now it happens at L'Enfant as well. Welcome to metro! I bet it happens westbound before Stadium-Armory as well, but I need go there.

an urge to slap the next person who uses the word "momentarily"

That is legitimate. Metro needs to skip that word from their messaging.

by Jasper on Oct 5, 2012 4:18 pm • linkreport

@ Jasper, cminus:

It also happens north and south of Mt Vernon Square. I wish WMATA would just run all the yellow lines to Greenbelt during rush hour. When the 7000 series cars start entering service, Metro should keep a few 1000 series trainsets for this purpose.

by Steve S. on Oct 5, 2012 5:11 pm • linkreport

WMATA connected Crystal City and the Pentagon with Rosslyn with Metrobus service on routes 9E and 10E. The problem as I see it is the timing. No bus can travel the one way mess of streets in Rosslyn quickly, especially during rush hours, and the loop through the Pentagon and then back out of that facility must eat up about 10 minutes with traffic. The fact that no one on this board knew about the 9E and 10E service I suppose shows how unknown it is.

by Transport. on Oct 5, 2012 6:02 pm • linkreport

Did somebody say 7000 series?

by selxic on Oct 5, 2012 6:14 pm • linkreport

@Jasper, until RushPlus came on line the northbound Green/Yellow merge at L'Enfant was an exception to the rule. I don't know if the Green/Yellow merge at L'Enfant had better track infrastructure and/or a lower level of service than the other merge points, but merge delays used to happen only every once in a while. Now they're routine.

by cminus on Oct 5, 2012 6:40 pm • linkreport

@ cminus:a lower level of service

Lower level of service. One or two minutes extra between trains makes all the difference. Just think of it. There are only three extra Yellow Lines there, and you get this much trouble. Congestion is a problem of the last 10%.

by Jasper on Oct 6, 2012 6:22 pm • linkreport

Is there a plan to move to 90 second headways where needed once the massive system improvement project(s) are completed? Seems like an easy way to get a lot more capacity.

by H Street LL on Oct 7, 2012 1:09 pm • linkreport

@ H St LL:Seems like an easy way to get a lot more capacity.

How about 8-car trains all the way?

On the other hand, WMATA just has to recognize that the Orange/Blue tunnel downtown is bursting out of its seams. While 90s headways and 8-car trains will help a bit, they're not permanent solutions. WMATA needs to start planning for an extra line downtown. If the city keeps growing at the current pace, more metro is needed. Especially considering that there is virtually no growth possible on DC's roads.

by Jasper on Oct 7, 2012 2:33 pm • linkreport

It is worth noting that the a.m. loading levels on Blue line trains described in the article are well within WMATA's proposed loading guidelines and that the p.m. rush loading levels are also within the guidelines though somewhat closer to the high end of the 80 to 120 people per car range.

by Steve Strauss on Oct 8, 2012 10:44 am • linkreport

@ Steve Strauss:It is worth noting that the a.m. loading levels on Blue line trains described in the article are well within WMATA's proposed loading guidelines

and fall easily within what is colloquially referred to as "sardine" level.

by Jasper on Oct 8, 2012 12:22 pm • linkreport

@Jasper:
120 people per car means every seat taken and the same number of people standing.

A crush-loaded train is probably up around 160-180 or so

by Matt Johnson on Oct 8, 2012 12:31 pm • linkreport

Express buses would be an OK idea, except no bus is going to be faster than even waiting for several trains before getting on one. So why would people switch to a bus if they aren't willing to switch to the Yellow Line for a quicker or less congested ride?

The bus is just as fast as the train lately. Depending on your point of departure and arrival, it may make more sense to MetroBus it. But many people don't even think of that option.

I recently started using the bus more, and have found that, overall, it's just as fast and I usually get a seat.

by LuvDusty on Oct 9, 2012 12:29 pm • linkreport

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