Greater Greater Washington

Riders abandoning Metro on weekends

According to WMATA's latest performance review, overall Metrorail ridership is dropping, and weekend ridership is plummeting.


NoMa station. Photo by the author.

Overall there were 4.2% fewer Metrorail riders in FY13 compared to FY12, and weekend ridership in June 2013 was fully 12% lower than weekends in June 2012.

Although Metro's report claims the drop is due to Hurricane Sandy and the federal government's unanticipated extra Christmas Eve holiday, the obvious explanation is terrible weekend service. Neither the hurricane nor a one-day holiday in December had any effect on that June 2013 number, after all.

Obviously Metro needs to perform a lot of maintenance on weekends. That's necessary and appropriate. But WMATA could do (and used to do) more to make the system usable on weekends.

It's not necessary to run 24-minute headways on an entire line in order to single track one short segment. For example, if Metro needs to single track between Foggy Bottom and Smithsonian, they should still be able to run regular service between Vienna and Foggy Bottom.

The location of track crossovers does limit where Metro can turn trains around, but crossovers are never more than 2 or 3 stations apart, so it is always possible to turn trains around somewhere.

WMATA's heavy maintenance schedule hurts, but it's a temporary problem. In a few years, presumably, maintenance work will catch up and weekend shutdowns and single tracking won't be as common. On the other hand, WMATA's denial to admit terrible service turns riders away is a potentially bigger problem. And if they're not putting out the best service possible, that's a huge problem.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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WMATA continues to stick it's head in the sand. Every other mode of public transportation has seen increased ridership and they manage to blame holidays and a non-hurricane. I don't know what's more unbelievable: that Metro has the gall to make this shit up or that the WMATA Board swallows it by the spoonful.

by Adam L on Sep 9, 2013 12:42 pm • linkreport

Actually Metro has abandoned US on weekends.

by ceefer66 on Sep 9, 2013 12:43 pm • linkreport

The deplorable weekend service is a major existential threat to the transit-oriented, walkable lifestyles the region seeks to cultivate. What good is housing near metro if you only are running 30 minute headways, or have bus bridges linking otherwise contiguous points on the line?

by Will on Sep 9, 2013 12:45 pm • linkreport

The "temporary maintenance" has no timeframe. They wont tell us when each line is expected to be done because they have no idea. Each time they fix on thing something else bites em.

The only way they will ever catch up is to bite the bullet, lower the benefits and salaries more than just a superficial level (it is a joke that they say they saved money this year by increasing operation costs by 5%) and taking those savings to pay for overtime and off hour work between 1am and 5am every night, with weekend work only occurring between midnight and 8am.

by Navid Roshan on Sep 9, 2013 12:46 pm • linkreport

The problem here is at the board level.

These questions need to be posed by the board to the staff claiming every possible excuse (the economy, cheap gas, holidays, weather) for declining ridership.

Pretty clear people are leaving metrorail behind, and WMATA doesn't even know it.

Real lack of a strategic vision other than scaring your customers (we've got to close the red line for several years to fix leaks) to gin up contributions.

by charlie on Sep 9, 2013 12:53 pm • linkreport

And weekends are a great chance to win over new populations and demographics to riding Metro.

Forget that!

by Capt. Hilts on Sep 9, 2013 12:57 pm • linkreport

I'm with ceefer, it's a simple problem to fix. Just start running trains faster than once every twenty minutes. It's impossible to make a transfer that way and give people any reasonable time to expect to be somewhere.

by drumz on Sep 9, 2013 1:02 pm • linkreport

What's worse, I wonder how much of that lost ridership is going to be permanently lost? I mean, why should I return to Metro on weekends if I've found another viable mode of transportation to get me where I want to go?

The longer they deny this problem, the worse, I think, the low ridership numbers on weekends are going to be, long-term.

by SerAmantiodiNicolao on Sep 9, 2013 1:02 pm • linkreport

"The deplorable weekend service is a major existential threat to the transit-oriented, walkable lifestyles the region seeks to cultivate. "

as someone who is "car lite" rather than car free, who bikes, and who is willing to ride the bus, I would grab at affordable housing in a safe, walkable neighborhood near metro despite abysmal weekend service.

Can you please tell me where such places are located?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 9, 2013 1:03 pm • linkreport

I moved to the area near the NoMa (then New York Ave) Metro station from Virginia in 2007. One of the first things I did was get rid of my car. I could walk to work and used Metro on the weekends to get around town. Since 2007, I've been car-less... until this past March. I finally got sick and tired of dealing with Metro's continued BS and never ending system slowdowns that I broke down and purchased a car. I haven't been on Metro since then. If I go out and come back late, I just cab or Uber. I still have my Smart Trip card, but it's been almost nine months since I used it.

That's just my personal story...

by BiLL on Sep 9, 2013 1:03 pm • linkreport

As a Green Liner I know I am fortunate that I've largely been spared, but I definitely find myself relying more and more on bus service to get me around rather than chance it with dicey transfers. I am a huge transit supporter but I absolutely understand why people would abandon Metro given it's incredibly dismissive attitude toward riders lately.

by BTA on Sep 9, 2013 1:04 pm • linkreport

I specifically moved to a place within walking distance of a metro station, but it's gotten to the point where weekend service is disrupted so often that I don't even check any more. I just avoid riding it on the weekend. This usually means that I don't go into the District on Saturdays, or if I do I take the bus or drive. If I'm meeting someone somewhere on Friday, I have to make sure I leave in time to catch the decent pre-10:00 service so that I don't get stuck taking an hour and a half to get home.

I figure that if I've decided this, then surely tons of people who have less of a preference for transit have made the same decision. Most of those have probably just gotten used to not even considering metro on the weekend. It's going to take a lot of work to get those people back.

Serious question: What would it take for WMATA to consider this a real problem? Sustained weekend ridership drops of over 10% clearly aren't enough. What would be?

by Gray on Sep 9, 2013 1:10 pm • linkreport

Let's not turn this into a discussion about Metro's HR/compensation practices, OK? That's a separate topic.

Metro claim that 1AM-5AM is simply too small of a window to get any usable work done. This is easily the most believable of their excuses, given that they've only got 4-5 hours to set up, get work done, and clear the work site in time for the morning opening. Even to an outsider, this should seem incredibly expensive and inefficient.

However, the other excuses are unacceptable. Metro needs to answer a few key questions, and address a few common complaints:
* How did things get this bad?
* What is the current scope of work?
* What projects will prevent things from getting this bad again?
* If weekend closures are so effective, why is there still so much single-tracking?
* How can the system be modernized in the future to improve service?

As far as complaints go:
* Why is late-night service so bad?
* Why are short-turn trains only provided occasionally?
* Why do short-turn trains not operate at all hours?
* Why have bus-based alternatives not been improved or advertised?
* Why do substitute bus services only shuttle passengers around the work zones? (ie. why wasn't there a bus to Gallery Place from Union Station this past weekend)

I know that there are answers to these questions. I wish that Metro would share them with us in a straightforward manner.

I'd be particularly interested to know if Metro has ever considered upgrading to a more modern signaling system that would allow them to run driverless trains at night.

by andrew on Sep 9, 2013 1:13 pm • linkreport

Completely not surprising. Unlike many, I am lucky to have other choices, but I no longer use Metro on weekends especially. Even at off-peak M-F times, if I do use Metro, I only use it only for one leg of the trip, and use Cabi for the return trip rather than get stuck waiting for a long transfer.

by spookiness on Sep 9, 2013 1:13 pm • linkreport

Gray is right, I know multiple people who dont even bother with metro on weekends.

What that means is less trips are taken = less economic activities. Is there a great new restaurant....but it requires a metro trip? For get it, better stay home.

Other trips are replaced by walk and bike, which isn't a bad thing.

And as others mentioned, some buy a car, and thus drop metro for most trips, thats a bad thing.

If metro is incapable of running better train service, they need shuttle buses or something.

by JJJJJJ on Sep 9, 2013 1:13 pm • linkreport

Agreed. I tell visitors (friends/family) not to even bother with metro on the weekend. It's one of the primary reasons we ended up buying a car. We live less than .5 miles from a metro, but when they close down the stations on the weekend, or have 25 minute headways, what's the point?

It's acceptable for commuting, but weekend service is too awful to bother with.

by Alex on Sep 9, 2013 1:16 pm • linkreport

Yup. I used to look forward to taking out of town weekend guests on the best underground transit system in the U.S. Now I tell them to take a cab.

by aaa on Sep 9, 2013 1:20 pm • linkreport

I'm still not convinced that the system rebuilding work has much to do with the terrible weekend headways.

Yes, some shut downs need to happen. Yes, some single-tracking would mean delays along portions of the line. However, Metro can (and should) offer more frequent weekend service than this.

In Dan's piece, he links to a Dr. Gridlock column where he describes Metro's thought process on weekend service - completely ignoring the benefits of frequent service:

The gaps between the trains on lines undergoing work reflects a recent shift in Metro strategy. The intent is to make service more predictable. Under the old system, the transit authority would tell us that there would be delays of about so-and-so many minutes in the zones where trains shared tracks. Trains would stack up outside the zone waiting to take their turns using the single open track. Trip times were often unpredictable.

The problem here is that with more frequent service and single-tracking, you'd get delays in the single-track zone. With less frequent service (and Metro's habit of platooning trains together), you get effective delays (via long headways) along the entire line.

I get that Metro doesn't have a lot of good options here, but that's no excuse to stick heads in the sand and pretend that there isn't a problem.

by Alex B. on Sep 9, 2013 1:21 pm • linkreport

I've actually stopped driving from Bethesda to Capitol Hill on weekends and have begun taking the Red Line all the way. I have a NYT and a headset and I'm prepared to wait and I walk farther to avoid the blue-orange transfer at Metro Center, which is so unpleasant, though the new ceiling tiles help, a bit.

by Capt. Hilts on Sep 9, 2013 1:21 pm • linkreport

Good points all. I did make a similar point last Dec., that in the face of national increases in transit ridership, WMATA is dropping, and that this was a concern. (Being an outlier is always an indicator, either positively or negatively, depending on in which direction you're skewing.)

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2012/12/transit-ridership-rises-nationally.html

Likely it is due to the kinds of issues outlined in the post and comments.

Plus, I would expect that on the margins, the increase in biking and car sharing is affecting ridership.

E.g., yesterday we went to Adams Morgan Day. normally we would have taken transit and it would have taken a long time, either red line at Takoma to green to Columbia Heights and walk or 62 bus to Petworth to H8 bus to Mt. Pleasant and walk.

Instead we did car2go both ways. The extra cost was paid back in terms of saved time.

2. But yes, the ability of transit to support a sustainable mobility lifestyle is impinged by WMATA's general culture and approach as well as the specifics of the degradation of weekend service and reliability.

And while I disagree with the sentiments in previous threads about breaking up WMATA etc., I do have serious concerns that as an agency, it's not culturally situated to support lifestyle support objectivs. The problem is compounded by the reality that DC elected officials don't seem to understand the issues either.

by Richard Layman on Sep 9, 2013 1:21 pm • linkreport

And this is what we get for having Richard Sarles as the General Manager at WMATA. Remember that Sarles' previous job was over at NJTransit, which is more or less a "pure" commuter rail/bus system. When Sarles came in to DC, he basically decided that WMATA was also going to be a commuter rail/bus system as well. Do work on weekends because nobody rides on weekends anyways.

Heck, the way WMATA has actually done the track work is pretty inefficient. Look at MTA's FasTrack projects for an example of how to things right. WMATA spreads crews around all over and as a result, nothing actually gets done with the weekend work, so they have to keep going back. I remember it took them several weekends just to get the new ceiling tiles in at Farragut North, which resulted in single-tracking between it and Judiciary Square. Part of why it took so long was they never had more than 6 or 7 people out at a time. While obviously you don't want to have people running into each other, it'd take at least 50 for that to happen. Why do we never see pictures from work sites? Because frequently there's only a handful of people out doing minor stuff that we see them doing on weekdays anyway.

The problem, basically, is just bad management, plain and simple.

by Aaron Z. on Sep 9, 2013 1:23 pm • linkreport

I'm big on riding Metro or bus whenever possible but the lack of service on the weekends has literally changed over the past few years. I used to take Metro to play soccer on the weekend but lately it's been averaging over 2 hours round trip commute and I was a 3 minute walk at both origination and destination! Now I just drive and it's 30 minutes max each way.

Sometimes I don't mind because it allows me to catch up on reading but often times I'd rather spend that extra hour with my wife than waiting for the next train.

by Fitz on Sep 9, 2013 1:28 pm • linkreport

Here are some other explanations:

1) Furloughs of federal employees
2) More people are biking
3) Better bus service. Arguably, bus service has never been better, with express bus routes (such as the 37 bus), newer and more modern buses, and the NextBus service.
4) Expanded car-sharing and taxi options

by 202_cyclst on Sep 9, 2013 1:32 pm • linkreport

BiLL in NoMa, buying a car probably wasn't necessary unless you regularly venture to the burbs on weekends. With personal bike, CaBi, car2go, the Circulator and zipcar filling various mobility needs (and as you mentioned Uber) getting around the city without Metro has never been easier. In fact, I suspect the proliferation of much more reliable alternatives (that are also more responsive to users) has a lot to do with the drop in weekend ridership. I live less than 10 minutes walking from the Woodley Park metro but use the system maybe twice a month at most (weekend or otherwise). I feel as liberated being Metro free as I do being car free.

by Dno on Sep 9, 2013 1:32 pm • linkreport

I'm with Gray and JJ...

I've said it once and I'll say it again (and yes, I have contacted WMATA about it rather that just complaining in an echo chamber)....the change in headways for the weekends and late night hours is soley responsible for my refusing to take Metro during those times (actually, I avoid Metro at those times but 100% refuse to *transfer* at those times).

That has resulted in almost all of my after-work activities being switched from DC to my neighborhood (Old Town). We're talking gym membership, art/dance classes, trivia night etc. Just about the only thing I do in DC after work and on weekends is going to a few hockey games per season or a quick happy hour every now and again.

It's too bad because I do like hanging out in all sorts of different neighborhoods, but I cannot justify the time expense on Metro or the financial expense of a cab every time. At 10pm, it takes about 15 minutes to drive from Capitol Hill to Old Town. On Metro it takes between 45 and an hour--and most of that time is waiting for a train to show up/transfer.

by Catherine on Sep 9, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

Metro's sheer purposful blindness is hilarious to watch in action.

by Columbia Heights on Sep 9, 2013 1:36 pm • linkreport

WMATA made the [probably realistic] decision that they could afford to lose low-margin weekend riders to track work. The core of their business is still commuters. That's how the system was designed, and that is the function it continues to play. Folks on here can whine about Metro not contributing to their lifestyle goals, but Metro was never designed to get DC-area residents to go car-free.

by Ben on Sep 9, 2013 1:39 pm • linkreport

I read that headline and went "yup, that's me."

I'm trying to view my lack of transit options on the weekend as an opportunity to get to know my neighborhood better - the local farmer's markets, restaurants, and activities all within walking or short biking distance. I'm also on a frequent bus line, so I've got options for getting downtown if desired, but forget about anything that requires a transfer - the wait times are not worth it.

I tried to get from Petworth to Friendship Heights several times (and several different public transit-only ways) on Saturdays this summer and eventually gave up and joined a car sharing network. Sigh...

by Abby on Sep 9, 2013 1:39 pm • linkreport

202_cyclist: greater usage of bus (switching from rail) would still be captured in ridership.

Furloughs might have a slight impact, they haven't been all that significant I don't think, at least so far, in DC.

Although looking at the jobs data and the drop in federal procurement, certainly that decline (especially because those jobs were often associated with transit benefits) has had some impact. Federal employment and procurement are expected to continue to drop to at least 2017, according to data I saw presented on Thursday.

And as charlie pointed out elsewhere, as agencies move out of the core, they move to locations that tend to be less efficient to reach by rail transit, and this is likely to lead to downward shifts in transit ridership.

E.g., the difference between DC and SF and transit is that we have a core of federal agencies + the transit benefits that federal employees get. For the most part, they don't have that. Therefore they have reduced transit ridership (BART at least, MUNI is still high because the city has 25% more population than DC).

As federal agencies leave the core, rail transit ridership could drop.

@Columbia Heights: the purposeful blindness is not hilarious. It's tragic.

by Richard Layman on Sep 9, 2013 1:44 pm • linkreport

Folks on here can whine about Metro not contributing to their lifestyle goals, but Metro was never designed to get DC-area residents to go car-free.

Not sure how this is relevant.

It doesn't matter what the system was designed to do; the role that it fills now is what matters.

WMATA made the [probably realistic] decision that they could afford to lose low-margin weekend riders to track work.

There's no reason Metro can't offer better (read: more frequent) weekend service while still doing all the track work they need to do.

Short-turn some trains along the track without work. Run more trains through the single-track zone.

by Alex B. on Sep 9, 2013 1:45 pm • linkreport

Almost every time I choose Metro to get into the city, I wind up wishing I had ridden my bike instead. Under the best of circumstances - minimal waiting for a bus or train - it takes about the same amount of time. But throw in train delays, long waits, missed connections, and RideOn buses that quit after 9pm, and the bike becomes a no-brainer.

by Matt O. on Sep 9, 2013 1:45 pm • linkreport

@Ben: If that's the case, I think they're being pretty short-sighted in their cost/benefit analysis. I chose my current apartment in large part due to its proximity to the Friendship Heights station and I used to spend over $100/month on metro between commuting and weekend usage. But in the past year I've started biking and it has been incredibly liberating -- I actually know how long it will take me to get to another part of the city on the weekends! In addition to using my bike to get around on the weekend, I've become a daily bike commuter and hardly ever take metro anymore -- and when I do, I'm usually reminded of and annoyed by WMATA's complete lack of of concern for customers using the system during non-commuting times.

by oxie on Sep 9, 2013 1:48 pm • linkreport

Ben -- while you're right that WMATA was not designed to enable a transit-centric/sustainable mobility paradigm in DC, it does do that, because at the core you have 31 stations over about a 15-20 sq. mile area.

(Basically I countered the point in _Cities in Full_ that yes, the WMATA system, like BART, is polycentric, but at the core in DC [and I guess you could argue along the Wilson Blvd. corridor in Arlington] in functions moncentrically, just like how the MUNI rail system serves SF.)

In fact, WMATA was designed to serve commuters. But that is no longer the point, if WMATA wants to remain relevant going forward. But the agency is pretty hidebound and it will be very difficult to change. Its origin story, being run by a retired Corps of Engineers General shaped the agency going forward. The management-union relationship doesn't help either.

by Richard Layman on Sep 9, 2013 1:48 pm • linkreport

oxie -- that's why I started biking originally (1990). More control over your time. I figured compared to transit, I "saved" at least 30 minutes/day by biking. The only problem is that my mate doesn't bike... So yes, trips up to 5 miles are easily equal or faster by bike, and trips to areas where transit routing is more indirect (e.g., to Georgetown from Takoma, Columbia Heights to Georgetown) are much faster by bike.

And I am starting to see a greater variety of people biking, families, etc. I rode in to Capitol Hill a little later than normal today, and I saw a woman biking with a baby carrier, and a younger daughter on her own bike, going northbound on 8th St. NE in Brookland and I saw a bakfiets front bike carrier with child on the MBT and in Capitol Hill presumably post-dropping off the child...

The more and more you see this broadening of the pool of bicyclists, there will be some marginal but significant impact on transit use.

by Richard Layman on Sep 9, 2013 1:52 pm • linkreport

the thing is though, a lot of the comments here are (alex B's apart) are NOT along the lines of "we know there's a mtnce backlog, here's how that could be addressed better" - they are either pure whine's "service is bad, I gonna do carshare" or "they should have at least admitted how bad it is"

I mean transparency is probably net net a good thing. But being more transparent about the problem won't get more people to take metro on weekends when alternatives beckon.

I'm not sure about the short turn trains. I'm assuming they think thats not worth the trouble in terms of managing operations, communicating changes, etc.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 9, 2013 1:54 pm • linkreport

Richard Layman:

"greater usage of bus (switching from rail) would still be captured in ridership."

Not necessarily. If I was traveling from Glover Park to Eastern Market, you could take the D2 to Dupont and then metro to Eastern Market. Alternatively, you could take the 30s bus the entire way. This seems like it would be counted as a reduction in transit trips.

I don't know if furloughs have been insiginficant in Washington. Unemployment has increased in Washington, DC, in part because of the furlough. Most metro-rail trips are commutes to/from work. If people are working 8% - 10% fewer days because of the furloughs, ridership should be expected to decline.

by 202_cyclst on Sep 9, 2013 1:58 pm • linkreport

@JJJJJJ and Catherine:
I'm the same way. There are a lot of concerts and things in DC that I've thought I'd like to go see, and ended up deciding against because of the unreliability of Metro. Nothing I REALLY wanted to see...for those I've always managed to find a way. But it's not convenient. And another thing: my parents have actually stopped taking Metro almost entirely because of how unreliable and user-unfriendly it is, especially towards older people who live in the suburbs.

@AWalkerInTheCity: Sure, a lot of it's whining. But I think it's critical to build a picture not only of the depth of the problem, but of the kinds of problems being faced by Metro, long-term. Because if the hardcore transit fans who post here are avoiding Metro on weekends, that suggests that the problem goes deeper than Metro acknowledges, and is going to take longer to fix.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Sep 9, 2013 1:59 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity

Brookland is still quite affordable.

by Anon123 on Sep 9, 2013 1:59 pm • linkreport

@202_cyclst: But not so much on weekends. And it's the loss of ridership on weekends that would concern me, were I working for Metro.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Sep 9, 2013 2:00 pm • linkreport

I don't know if furloughs have been insiginficant in Washington. Unemployment has increased in Washington, DC, in part because of the furlough. Most metro-rail trips are commutes to/from work.

Take another look at the stats in the post. The single biggest decline in ridership was on the weekends - a 12% decline over last year.

The WaPo story on this data (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dr-gridlock/wp/2013/09/09/metro-ridership-revenue-down/?hpid=z6 ) shows weekend ridership down almost 20% relative to the budget.

Unless all of those furloghed workers were working weekends, I don't think that is the explanation.

by Alex B. on Sep 9, 2013 2:03 pm • linkreport

AWalker--I think people are chiming to contribute to the part of the discussion how WMATA is wrong about their theories on why ridership is down. But if that's whining....ok.

I don't know how they could do it better. Maybe they can't. I'm not an urban planner or transportation expert. But I AM a consumer and commuter and I know, for 100% sure, that Metro's change in service during the time periods in question has directly and significantly effected my decisions on how/when/if to get around and I am by far not the only one.

This has nothing to do with Hurricane Sandy or Christmas Eve as WMATA claims. This is about 25 minute headways.

by Catherine on Sep 9, 2013 2:04 pm • linkreport

It would be really great if WMATA actually released ridership data on a regular basis (monthly) so that we could see exactly what trips or kinds of trips at what times were being affected. But they don't, so we are left guessing whether it's people from the 'burbs using other modes, or people traveling within DC switching to the bus/car2go/bikeshare, etc.

by MLD on Sep 9, 2013 2:05 pm • linkreport

How is stating how Metro's (lack of) weekend service is affecting the way we behave on the weekend whining?

by Fitz on Sep 9, 2013 2:06 pm • linkreport

"How is stating how Metro's (lack of) weekend service is affecting the way we behave on the weekend whining? "

thats what I got from the tone.

BTW this was comparing FY 2013 to FY 2012. Do people recall weekend service in FY 2012 as being good? If not, I'm not sure weekend service problems can account for the decline.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 9, 2013 2:12 pm • linkreport

I will steal Abby's comments and say this is me too: "I read that headline and went 'yup, that's me.'"

I just drive, walk, or use Capital Bikeshare vs. riding Metrorail on weekends as well. I really wish we had more frequent bus service too other than every 30 minutes.

by Transport. on Sep 9, 2013 2:13 pm • linkreport

@AWITC

DC is not unique with its maintenance problems. There are solutions and other agencies around the world have implemented them successfully. The people who are complaining here about Metro management have zero faith that Metro has the willingness or the competence to actually address its many problems. That's the larger issue.

For an example of how an actually world-class transit system handles track maintenance, please see Transport for London's incredibly useful and informative site:

Service updates, including future and weekend track work information on the main page: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/livetravelnews/realtime/tube/default.html

Detailed service plans about what work is being performed, HOW LONG IT WILL TAKE, and what improvements will mean for passengers: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/projectsandschemes/18072.aspx

by Adam L on Sep 9, 2013 2:15 pm • linkreport

I figured that money could solve the service problem. That's why service was cut so drastically in the first place because the recession knocked out metros ability to pay for increases service.

Find the money to pay for it and you can easily figure out the technical issues like short tracking.

by drumz on Sep 9, 2013 2:18 pm • linkreport

MLD--why would that make a difference? Also it's not an either/or.

As you can see in the comments Bill in NoMA and Alex (who I believe lives in DC based on the comment) solved their problems with Metro by purchasing cars. I live in Old Town, which you'd count as the 'burbs based on doing being "within DC" and *I'm* the one who switched to bus/ZipCar/bikeshare (but mostly personal bicycle) to get around.

That, and the key feature of my Metro Avoidance Plan is to just stick to my own neighborhood, which is a shame because I do like a bunch of places around here. I'd probably be doing same thing if I did live in DC--I just will not transfer on late nights and weekends. It would be the same if I lived in Clerendon, Eastern Market, Friendship Heights or Silver Spring. I'd just stick close to home.

by Catherine on Sep 9, 2013 2:19 pm • linkreport

@alexB; at least at some agencies, there doesn't seem to be a connection between the transit benefit and when you schedule your furlough. So that $5 or $10 just slips through the cracks and into WMATA.

Again, maybe WMATA needs to take the hit to weekend ridership. although it might be just as good to shut down lines altogether as wekeend. What is upsetting here is the level of denial

by charlie on Sep 9, 2013 2:22 pm • linkreport

as for hurricane sandy being a non event all that matters to metro ridership is fed offices being closes, not the level of wind and rain

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/federal-eye/post/for-opm-chief-decision-to-close-federal-offices-during-hurricane-sandy-was-an-easy-one/2012/10/28/de353caa-215a-11e2-8448-81b1ce7d6978_blog.html

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 9, 2013 2:23 pm • linkreport

I very much hope that someone at WMATA is reading these comments. Would be interesting (and appropriate?) to see a response from WMATA posted here.

I know that personally, as a 22-year resident of the area - always deliberately around transit - I have given up on Metro on weekends. It's just not reliable.

by Blaine Collison on Sep 9, 2013 2:29 pm • linkreport

As @andrew suggested upthread, there isn't terribly much discussion going on about how things got this bad.

The current Metrorail management is certainly doing a terrible job of managing the ongoing work. The extended weekend headways are really unacceptable, especially for parts of a line far away from the actual worksites. When traveling with kids, like I likely would be on weekends, the switch-to-driving threshold is pretty low; entertaining a 2-year old on a Metrorail platform for 20 minutes is a bit trying.

But there is something to the sentiment that the current management is dealing with a mess that was handed to it. I think it's about time that the Post or Citypaper, or someone on GGW for that matter, made a serious investigation into the reasons things are this bad now. Why is there so much deferred maintenance? Is it really deferred maintenance? Did Metro management see this coming? Did they have a maintenance plan that, had it been implemented, wouldn't have let the maintenance backlog get this large? Did the board ask management to make such a plan? How much did the former boards know about the upcoming maintenance needs? Did they ignore the problem, or were they kept in the dark? Were they unwilling to press their home jurisdictions for increased maintenance funding? Were they under external pressure to keep fares and jurisdictional contributions low? Did they knowingly budget under an "I'll be gone when this becomes an issue" philosophy?

by thm on Sep 9, 2013 2:30 pm • linkreport

"Overall there were 4.2% fewer Metrorail riders in FY13 compared to FY12, and weekend ridership in June 2013 was fully 12% lower than weekends in June 2012"

based on this the weekend decline was about 3 the total decline. The weekend decline therefore explains the total decline if weekend ridership was about 1/3 of total ridership. Was it in FY 2012? Personally I doubt that very much. I beleive it was a smaller part of total ridership. Ergo, a significant part of the decline was due to weekday ridership declines, which are more likely to be due to Hurricane Sandy, to fares and fed transit subsidies, etc than to weekend service issues.

Ergo, the WMATA press release may well be correct. They should provide the data that would answer this question.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 9, 2013 2:31 pm • linkreport

When Metro needs to shut down a line segment for maintenance, how much coordination does Metro do to make sure that other associated maintenance can get done at the same time? For example, if you're taking down a section to do the switch replacement at X station, can you also get rail ties and fasteners replaced at adjacent track segment Y?

When Metro shuts down for maintenance, how much pre-staging of equipment and kitting of equipment do they do? Or do they shut the line down and then start collecting their gear to go.

Does Metro have on-site engineering and tech support to help with any problems that come up during the maintenance, or if they encounter a problem do they have to waste time getting approval of conditions or fixes?

by Michael Perkins on Sep 9, 2013 2:41 pm • linkreport

Interestingly, I googled a bit and found this Board document that draws conclusions I believe most here would agree with. It's from March, so based on slightly dated data. The above data make these effects more dramatic, but still...the overall conclusions are likely the same.

But I never hear WMATA discuss these reasons.

The analysis indicates that the causes of the ridership drop depend on the day of the week and time period being considered:
  • AM and PM peak ridership is down three percent (approximately 2 million trips) compared to the same period last year as a result of the reduction in the federal transit benefit and the peak fare increase
  • Midday and evening ridership on weekdays is down four to five percent (approximately 1.4 million trips total) as a result of the off-peak fare increase
  • Weekend ridership is down nine percent (approximately 1.3 million trips) as a result of the off-peak fare increase and the increased intensity of track closures for rehabilitation efforts

by Gray on Sep 9, 2013 2:43 pm • linkreport

Oh, and bought a motorcycle so I have only ridden Metro twice in the past month.

by Michael Perkins on Sep 9, 2013 2:46 pm • linkreport

One day of ridership would only be like 1/300th of annual ridership though. Sandy would be a blip and not a very noticeable one.

by BTA on Sep 9, 2013 2:49 pm • linkreport

The problem here is that with more frequent service and single-tracking, you'd get delays in the single-track zone. With less frequent service (and Metro's habit of platooning trains together), you get effective delays (via long headways) along the entire line.

+1

Remember when there was a time when Metro actually warned riders they could be on a train sitting in station waiting for single track movements for 10+ minutes?

From 2004:

"Prior to entering the single track area, the first train to arrive at Dupont Circle and Rhode Island Avenue respectively will hold for 11 minutes, waiting for rail traffic to clear from the opposite direction, and to wait for the following train to be within two minutes of that first train holding. To expedite train traffic, two trains sharing the same track and proceeding in the same direction, between Farragut North and Union Station will be separated two minutes apart before two trains will be permitted to pass in the opposite direction."

Granted, neither way (frequent trains and station holds vs. infrequent trains with no delay) is the greatest...

I'm not sure about the short turn trains. I'm assuming they think thats not worth the trouble in terms of managing operations, communicating changes, etc.

Yea, I can't point to anything definitive either. Removing the usefulness of National Airport's pocket track years ago didn't help, and I don't think they like using the D&G pocket outside of stadium more than already required. This hurts flexibility, but shouldn't be an outright deal breaker. I wouldn't be shocked if Metro is just so set in their ways / afraid to do more special ops.

by Rob K on Sep 9, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity

Weekend ridership used to be about 1/7 of total ridership I believe. Even before extensive track work, Saturday+Sunday did not add up to an entire weekday's worth of ridership.

@Catherine
MLD--why would that make a difference? Also it's not an either/or.

The point would be to put data behind comments from people. It's obvious that people are making different choices, it would be interesting to know what portion of the lost ridership is those different kinds of trips.

@charlie
at least at some agencies, there doesn't seem to be a connection between the transit benefit and when you schedule your furlough. So that $5 or $10 just slips through the cracks and into WMATA.

The money that is not used goes back to the agency; that change to smartbenefits was implemented in 2010. The IRS required WMATA (and other transit agencies) to implement this - I suspect it was because of prodding from other agencies about the costs of the transportation benefit.

Beyond that, WMATA can't use any money that is on smartrip cards until the fare is paid; they are prevented from including it in budgets for good reason. There is a point where they can count revenue from unused fares but it is after several years I believe.

by MLD on Sep 9, 2013 2:56 pm • linkreport

Metro sucks more than a discounted prosti##te... Period.
Personally, having to ride the metro on the weekend to go to work was such a pain in the neck that I just moved to a new place at walking distance from my work. Metro just lost my 150+ USD per month.

I won't be surprise if one day we see Metro deciding to simply shut down the entire metro every weekend: It will be much more profitable to run a commuter train at rush hour, with full train paying peak fare.
Metro is a mafia

by NoNo on Sep 9, 2013 2:57 pm • linkreport

In March 2013, the average weekday ridership for metro-rail was approximately 712,000 per day (http://wmata.com/about_metro/scorecard/documents/Vital_Signs_May_2013(Q1).pdf). There are 10,000 daily Capitol Bikeshare trips (http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/news/2013/09/06/capital-bikeshare-hits-5-millionth-ride.html) and perhaps 2,000 daily Car2Go trips. A very rough guess is perhaps 1/3 of these trips are diverted metro rail trips. This is 3,960 former metro-rail trips diverted to other modes.

VRE and MARC ridership has also increased by nearly 1,400 daily riders combined (http://washingtonexaminer.com/marc-commuter-trains-attracting-record-ridership/article/2530650).

Bike-commuting overall has increased (i.e. non-Capitol Bikeshare).

In sum, perhaps twenty percent of the decrease in metro-rail ridership can be attributed to a shift to other modes excluding private automobiles.

by 202_cyclist on Sep 9, 2013 3:15 pm • linkreport

Are they surprised? Yesterday, I waited 20 minutes for a train, 20 minutes to change trains, and had a 45 minute delay with the shuttle bus and waiting for the new train to continue on. It's deplorable.

by Mark Wright on Sep 9, 2013 3:18 pm • linkreport

When I worked in DC and lived in Baltimore, I routinely missed the MARC because of Metro delays. I started walking the 1+ mile, becuase it was faster and certainly more reliable.

I moved to Silver Spring, close to Metro while I worked and went to law school, 2002-2007. By the time I graduated, Metro was getting worse, and I found I could beat Metro on my bike 95%+ of the time. The 5% was when I exactly timed each point and was lucky, but with further headways, breakdowns etc, that was rare. 45 minute commutes ballooned to 1.5hr. Station managers were rude, and bikes were not allowed. So I abandoned Metro, and bike or drive.

by SJE on Sep 9, 2013 3:21 pm • linkreport

HR/compensation issues are quite relevant. They could run at greater frequencies if the cost per employee were lower. They should be paying a livable wage sure, but come on...

Also I agree that I would rather see larger shutdowns (coupled with real progress on maintenance) then this piecemeal crap.

by h st ll on Sep 9, 2013 3:23 pm • linkreport

@MLD; yes, the money in the card that is usused goes back to the agency.

However, given the limited nature of a furlough (at most one day a week) and that some agencies aren't really tracking it, I suspect that $5 on a metro card is being spent.

Even more so since some agencies are letting your furlough in hours - you come in for 4 or 6 hours and use your usual metro allowance.

so it isn't an issue of the IRS rules -- it is that it hasn't been worth it for some agencies to figure out how to deal with furloughs and transit benefits.

by charlie on Sep 9, 2013 3:24 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman:
Unemployment has increased in Maryland, DC, and Virginia. DC has lost 1,600 jobs from April - August 2013 (http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-08-19/business/41423839_1_labor-market-bench-strength-unemployment-rates). I don't doubt that poor weekend service is likely the biggest reason for the ridership decline but there are other explanations as well.

by 202_cyclist on Sep 9, 2013 3:29 pm • linkreport

Personally, I used to commute daily on the bus and metro raail. Now I bike 3-5 days per week. My girlfriend used to commute daily on metro-rail as well and now walks.

by 202_cyclist on Sep 9, 2013 3:33 pm • linkreport

I thought metro was like MARC. No weekend train service.

Am I missing something?

at least MARC will have trains on weekends starting in a few months- and they will be on a schedule.

by Tom A. on Sep 9, 2013 3:33 pm • linkreport

@charlie
@MLD; yes, the money in the card that is usused goes back to the agency.
However, given the limited nature of a furlough (at most one day a week) and that some agencies aren't really tracking it, I suspect that $5 on a metro card is being spent.

Even more so since some agencies are letting your furlough in hours - you come in for 4 or 6 hours and use your usual metro allowance.

so it isn't an issue of the IRS rules -- it is that it hasn't been worth it for some agencies to figure out how to deal with furloughs and transit benefits.

But if they use that money to take a trip, then either they are taking an extra trip (ridership wouldn't be affected by furloughs) or WMATA is losing out on later revenue that the rider would pay with their own money. I don't understand your point.

Alex B said furloughs was a part of ridership being down, you claimed that WMATA then gets to pocket that unused transit benefit money, I informed you that was not the case. WMATA does not get to pocket money from fares not used (trips not taken) until at least a year has passed (more actually I think).

And no, agencies don't care about that $5-10, it's not worth it to try to police that with paperwork for ~8 furlough days or whatever.

by MLD on Sep 9, 2013 3:40 pm • linkreport

Labor issues ARE relevant. IIRC, the problem with escalators was partly that the escalator guys were paid well below private sector, but some other positions were much much higher, and all because of labor rules.

by SJE on Sep 9, 2013 3:56 pm • linkreport

I strongly agree that the problem is the massive, often greater than claimed, delays throughout the entire system. We simply avoid using metro rail at all because of this.

I wish they'd take the approach of closing an entire section for the entire weekend, putting 100% of their workers on it, and using express buses to cover just that section. It'd be far more welcoming for a rider to know that you'd have minimal impact if you weren't transiting the affected segment and, if you did need to cross, you'd be looking at a shorter period of bus service rather than many months of unpredictable 15-90 minute delays which metro often won't publicize.

by Chris Adams on Sep 9, 2013 4:07 pm • linkreport

@Oxie and Richard Layman: You're right - it is short-sighted. But when has WMATA ever been held accountable for being short-sighted?

@Richard Layman: Metro may have a lot of stations in the core, but that's exactly the point of my comment - the core probably isn't where weekend travelers usually want to go. Weekend travel isn't part of Metro's core mission. That's why Metro feels it can be safely ignored.

by Ben on Sep 9, 2013 4:45 pm • linkreport

I have also pretty much stopped using the metro on weekends. If I need to get somewhere within DC, I bike. If I need to go to MD or VA on the weekends, I drive. And that's not even counting the near-uselessness of the bus system on weekends.

Honestly, I've had enough of waiting for DC to get "greater" when it comes to infrastructure and quality of life. I'm leaving for NYC.

by Tyro on Sep 9, 2013 4:55 pm • linkreport

How does the Circulator ridership trends compare with metro-rail and metro-bus? Has any of the decline of metro-rail ridership occurred because Circulator ridership has increased?

by 202_cyclist on Sep 9, 2013 5:06 pm • linkreport

Ben -- I was arguing a different point about the core and its relevance (and my definition is pretty expansive, maybe not what you think, from Foggy Bottom to the Armory Station, Navy Yard up to Brookland and probably Cleveland Park--I used to say Van Ness but that might be a little far), but indirectly, you affirm a correct and different point, that Metro sees its primary role as getting people to and from work Monday through Friday.

202_cyclist: I don't doubt the numbers, but it's not just DC, it's the areas that WMATA serves, so the negative impact is higher. E.g., in DC 1600 workers * 22 days/mo. * 40% (the rough percentage of people who use transit to get to work) * 2.5 (let's say two work trips each day and 1/2 other trip) = 35,200 fewer trips per month.

If it's federal jobs specifically, their transit usage rate is actually higher. Some agencies it is as much as 80% (SEC). And so the impact would be even greater.

wrt your other bus point, I can't imagine for the most part, people willingly giving up Metrorail even with the bad headways for rail on the weekends, e.g., your Glover Park to Eastern Market. Mostly people won't make the trip or will choose other options. (E.g. Suzanne and I were joking the other day about how terrible it was to ride the B2 from Mt. Rainier to Capitol Hill.)

Also, I mentioned biking, but I was tremendously remiss in not separating out the impact of bikesharing from regular biking. I am finally seeing more trips at more times of day at the various places I travel in the core. And the reason that the system requires so much rebalancing is because "it isn't used as bike sharing is intended." Bike sharing is supposed to complement trips on transit, not replace them, e.g., riding to work Downtown from Adams Morgan instead of taking transit.

Although, 2011 research by McGill academics of the Montreal mobility scene found that 33% of trips on Bixi were diverted from transit.

http://tram.mcgill.ca/Research/Publications/Making%20the%20marriage%20work.pdf

That's gonna have some impact. (In Montreal, especially, it's not seen as a bad thing, because of Metro overcrowding at peak periods. Trips diverted to Bixi can take the edge off, and indirectly increase capacity.)

by Richard Layman on Sep 9, 2013 5:40 pm • linkreport

thm -- your point about projected needs for maintenance is an old story. WMATA planners wrote quite a bit in the early part of the 1990s about the need for long term investment in maintenance as the system would begin to age. People, the board, etc. (not the Post, they wrote a lot of stories about it) ignored it. Everything the planners wrote came to pass--the system deteriorated to the point where heavy maintenance was required and in order to perform the tasks serious degradation of service would occur.

cf. what happened to NYC Transit in the 1970s especially and the need to upgrade.

Of course, in our region, with only five lines, unlike Chicago, NYC and London (mentioned in this or other threads), we have fewer options for parallel rail service while some lines are being repaired. Hence the partial closures which are the least worst but still bad option.

by Richard Layman on Sep 9, 2013 5:45 pm • linkreport

There is no good excuse for the widespread, terrible service on weekends. It was not always this way. By not providing reliable weekend service, Metro is failing us as a region in a most fundamental way. What is Metro going to do about it? We should demand a response. This is important.

(And a suggestion: If Metro claims it cannot use its overnight closing hours effectively to make progress on maintenance, it should consider something like NYC's new FastTrack program, where lines are from time to time shut down at 10pm on WEEKNIGHTS until the morning rush, in order to reduce the frequency of weekend service changes. Bus bridges and shuttered stations at 11pm on a Wednesday are arguably more acceptable than reduced weekend service in the middle of the day)

by nativedc on Sep 9, 2013 6:16 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman

I wouldn't compare NYC or London to Chicago. The L is pretty bad and only has redundancy in the northside segment. Also, fully 5 lines of the L share track in the loop - if you needed to perform heavy maintenance there, those lines would be out of commission. Also, Chicago is so big and the L covers so little space that you really only have redundancy on the northside and in the loop. I think that the lack of track and the fact that the L only serves a small portion of the city's population (especially poor population) is one of the reasons why the EL has underperformed; ridership on Metro has consistently outperformed the L.

by rsn on Sep 9, 2013 6:30 pm • linkreport

Perhaps WMATA is watching the demographic trend data, and assuming that since most people are moving to walkable neighborhoods with shopping and entertainment close nearby, they have little need for transit on weekends.

by Chris S. on Sep 9, 2013 6:54 pm • linkreport

As other lines reach the age now of the Red Line I expect they'll have just as many problems. Not very hopeful.

by Tom Coumaris on Sep 9, 2013 7:06 pm • linkreport

I have largely given up on Metro altogether except the short and mostly above-ground ride from my place to Union Station in the morning, where I catch a commuter train to my job. (I often walk the same route home in the evening.)

My main reason for giving up riding Metro comes down to claustrophobia, exacerbated by the endless unannounced tunnel-sitting that the trains do more and more frequently.

I don't generally have this issue in other transit systems where, even if the trains stop, the announcements about when they will continue are usually audible, prompt, and accurate.

The even slower trains on the weekend both above- and below-ground have made me give up weekend riding altogether. Now, if I need to get somewhere on the weekend, I work out a combination of buses, cabs, and walking to get me there. If that turns out to be too costly or time-consuming, quite often, we just don't go.

by Craig on Sep 9, 2013 7:58 pm • linkreport

Richard Layman: its true that there were warnings, and that these were ignored. Part of that was the management, but WMATA as a whole seems to be on a permenant PR campaign rather than fixing the problems. Some honesty about the problems would be good.

by SJE on Sep 9, 2013 9:17 pm • linkreport

I feel bad for people coming from somewhere else who don't live around here. They're coming to see the monuments and museums and what not, and may not realize weekend service is like this until they get here. They also probably don't realize their federal tax dollars are going into this system, and they still get stuck paying some of the highest fares in the country for crappy service.

by Nickyp on Sep 9, 2013 10:29 pm • linkreport

Why doesn't WMATA just build a set of express tracks underneath all local tracks within the system sort of like the Lexington Ave Lines in Manhattan. Sure it would be incredily expensive but the agency wouldn't have all of issues concerning track work and delays. Let's make these captial investments now so that we won't problems in the future.

by Marc on Sep 10, 2013 7:40 am • linkreport

Metro needs to:

1. Prioritize maintaining the budgeted headways on weekends as much as possible while still performing maintenance on schedule. This means customers may have to wait for other trains to clear a single tracking area. This also might mean that some trains don't go through the single tracking area, turning around to provide service through the unaffected zone.

2. Work on providing transit passes so that people who pay for their commutes at least get these extra weekend rides for free.

3. Provide more comprehensive information about the scope and progress of the maintenance being performed, and update that information on a regular basis.

4. Provide information about parallel bus routes when Metro shuts down a section.

by Michael Perkins on Sep 10, 2013 7:44 am • linkreport

For the longest time, I tried to live car-free in DC. But, lately I have thrown in the towel. The weekend service is terrible and really killing Metro as a viable option for travel.

However, I think there are 2 deeper problems which harm car-free lifestyle in DC.

1) The relatively small dense urban core, leads to less residents with amenities in walking distance. Unlike NYC or the inner core of Chicago or San Francisco, DC does not have a dense mixed-use downtown where one can live and do most of what they need to do in walking distance. Instead, much of DC's new development is being pushed in far-flug, low amenity locations like NoMa and Capitol Riverfront. Even at full build, these neighborhood will never off the scale and level of amenities that residents of DT SF/CHI/Philly to or Paris/Manhattan have within a 20 minute walk. As a result, residents will have to leave their neighborhoods to carry on many tasks. This encourages car ownership. I don't know anyone in Manhattan who takes the subway to grocery shop. Most people just walk the couple blocks to the nearest one.

2) Additionally, METRO by its very make up is not really an urban transit system like the NYC subway. Rather it is a subway/commuter rail hybrid. This commuter rail function will only grow with the opening of the silver line and talk of further suburban expansion. Without clear realization of this, this will only lead to further declines in Metro service. Metro needs to adopt a zone approach. Maybe out to Ballston on the Orange and Silver Spring and Bethesda on the Red line. Inside that zone is an "urban transit" system. People use the system as a primary means of transit. Like people in London/NYC/Paris. Beyond that, the outer zone in commuter rail. People mostly get around by car, and use transit only for specific occasions. Commuting, going to events on the mall, baseball games etc. Too much of metro-expansion seems driven by the pipe dream of urbanizing the outer suburbs, as if small TOD projects will turn Reston into Paris. Let’s face it, people in Fairfax county will never use public transit in the same way people in an urban area like Dupont circle will. This is true in every city on earth. Time for metro to acknowledge it.

by Chris on Sep 10, 2013 9:57 am • linkreport

"Too much of metro-expansion seems driven by the pipe dream of urbanizing the outer suburbs, as if small TOD projects will turn Reston into Paris. Let’s face it, people in Fairfax county will never use public transit in the same way people in an urban area like Dupont circle will. This is true in every city on earth. Time for metro to acknowledge it."

To clarify - metro does not make decisions about expansion. The Silver Line was planned by Virginia and the NoVa jurisdictions (esp Fairfax) and is being funded by federal grants, grants from Virginia, the counties of Fairfax and Loudoun, the developers in Tysons Corner, and tolls on the Dulles Toll Road - NOT by the district of columbia or by WMATA.

The silver line will not turn Reston into Paris, but Fairfax County believes it is necessary to achieve their goals for urbanization, esp in Tysons Corner.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 10, 2013 10:07 am • linkreport

Mr Malouff,

You may have the title of transportation planner, but your words discount your knowledge.

Absolutely, there can be more trains then 24min, but there are so many more factors involved. Your argument is similar to SilverLine turn back at EFC station. It takes up room, it holds a slot, that is why trains will go through to LARGO.
Furthermore, ridership has to support more trains. Transportation Operations experts are the best to discuss this not transportation planners. If Arlington wants to spend more money to turn back trains I vote that you find a new job. Because I would not want to pay. Same for Fairfax, for a train to turn back in many cases train has to leave station in wrong direction, go through nearest crossover and stop and go back. Multiple safety issues and significant time constraints.

by Timelost2 on Sep 10, 2013 10:11 am • linkreport

Personally, I've abandoned Metro for Uber on the weekends (and I don't ride it during the week).

by m2fc on Sep 10, 2013 10:16 am • linkreport

Uh he actually addressed that issue:

"It's not necessary to run 24-minute headways on an entire line in order to single track one short segment. For example, if Metro needs to single track between Foggy Bottom and Smithsonian, they should still be able to run regular service between Vienna and Foggy Bottom.

The location of track crossovers does limit where Metro can turn trains around, but crossovers are never more than 2 or 3 stations apart, so it is always possible to turn trains around somewhere."

So yeah, it might require more work operationally but I see no reason that should be impossible. WMATA has been giving a big middle finger to people that rely on transit on the weekends and it's turning off even dedicated users. That's a problem. Ridership doesn't just drive frequency; frequency in a city like DC drives ridership.

by BTA on Sep 10, 2013 10:19 am • linkreport

Chris, while you are absolutely right about DC and amenities and transit, it still doesn't mean a car is required or car ownership is required.

Yes, we're not SF or even Seattle (they don't have as good transit, but their neighborhoods appear to be denser so there are more neighborhood districts with a wider range of retail options that are reachable on foot).

That being said, bike + car share + transit + walking + potentially bikeshare (I think it's more useful to own your own bike) + car rental on occasion means that car ownership is not necessary.

We live 0.8 miles from Takoma Metro and the Takoma commercial district, by the MBT, with supermarkets within 1.25 miles, and 5 miles to downtown.

While we use car2go maybe more than I'd like (because Suzanne doesn't bike), I don't feel a need to own a car, because I do a lot of bike-based shopping.

OTOH, were I to take a job in the Baltimore area, I'd have to get a car. The bike to Union Station, MARC to Baltimore, bus or bike to final destination takes a long long long time. I spent 4 to 5 hours/day commuting when I worked in Baltimore County.

Or, we'd have to move, but then that would mean that the other person in the household would be forced to make grueling commutes instead.

by Richard Layman on Sep 10, 2013 10:25 am • linkreport

It's easy to criticize WMATA and in many cases the criticism is rightly deserved but if you plan your trip and don't have to transfer, metro-rail service can still be decent on the weekends.

My girlfriend and I live about a six or seven minute walk from the Navy Yard station. We used the WMATA trip planner website and left eight minutes before the next train. We took metro-rail to U Street three weeks ago for brunch. We didn't have to transfer and we didn't have to wait to the next train. Admittedly, if we had to transfer, it would have likely been a different experience but metro-rail can still be a convenient, competitive option for some weekend trips.

by 202_cyclist on Sep 10, 2013 10:53 am • linkreport

san francisco has denser neighborhoods than dc. seattle does not. seattle is smaller and sparser than dc. malouff had a post about it a while ago.

by Ballston Guy on Sep 10, 2013 10:56 am • linkreport

Then why, compared to DC, does Seattle have so much more significant commercial districts as part of many of their neighborhoods? Granted some function as "intra-city regional districts" serving multiple neighborhoods (like West Seattle).

by Richard Layman on Sep 10, 2013 11:07 am • linkreport

Then why, compared to DC, does Seattle have so much more significant commercial districts as part of many of their neighborhoods?

I guess I would question if it really does, if you also include Alexandria/Arlington along with DC.

by MLD on Sep 10, 2013 11:22 am • linkreport

i cant fathom why you think seattle has more significant commercial districts. the grass is always greener on the other side, maybe? dc has vastly more office space, both downtown and in suburban TOD areas like arlington/montgomery, and vastly better neighborhoods. seattle has nothing like columbia heights or georgetown.

the one thing seattle has that dc doesnt is better retail downtown. but that isn't even what you're talking about.

seattle is a great city, but it's not on the same tier as dc. it's very solidly in a smaller category.

by Ballston Guy on Sep 10, 2013 11:44 am • linkreport

ps: seattle also has more industry. bigger port. but that's not what you're talking about either.

honestly. i don't see what's special about west seattle. it's 1 moderately-OK mixed use main street surrounded by bungalows. it's certainly not as good as, say, H street. is it just that it's disconnected from the core that has you interested in it? in that case it's just a less dense, less transit-accessible version of clarendon or bethesda.

by Ballston Guy on Sep 10, 2013 11:51 am • linkreport

I'm not sure if anyone brought the obvious up, but from a transit rider's point of view the is...

Wait for it.....

Fare zones instead of having a single base fare.

Increasing fare pricing.

Buses and Trains not operating 24/7.

Not building extra tracks for express subway service.

by steve on Sep 10, 2013 11:59 am • linkreport

I only know of a handful of US rail systems (and indeed global ones) that operate 24/7: NY Subway, NY/NJ PATH, Chicago "L" , and oddly enough PATCO (PA/NJ). A lot of bus lines do have night service and WMATA really should do a better job of distributing that info to the public like other cities do.

As much as I would love 24 hours service WMATA just doesn't have the ridership yet to hit that kind of Span even in the core. Buses are the way to go for late night service.

Also as a hybrid commuter rail/subway system we really do need fare zones unless MD and VA want to shell out a lot more money to subsidise the system.

by BTA on Sep 10, 2013 12:15 pm • linkreport

BallstonGuy -- I use different terminology than you do. When I write "commercial district" I am referring to the retail and services mix of a district located in a neighborhood or an "employment district." I'm going to admit it's a bit sloppy.

The retail districts in many neighborhoods in Seattle are significantly more interesting than in DC, other than Georgetown (or if you like chains, Friendship Heights). I spent hours in the West Seattle district going from shop to shop. I can't do that in Capitol Hill or Dupont Circle or Adams Morgan (other than spending lots of time in used book stores).

2. Steve, DC's base fare tends to be lower than most cities, on an individual fare basis. It gets higher though, and the cost to transfer from bus to rail and vice versa is much higher in DC.

However, no city in the US has monthly passes for rail + bus that are as expensive as DC's. Then again, for federal workers receiving the transit benefit, it doesn't matter. For the rest of us, it makes a difference between having a transit-supported lifestyle and not.

by Richard Layman on Sep 10, 2013 3:04 pm • linkreport

"However, no city in the US has monthly passes for rail + bus that are as expensive as DC's. Then again, for federal workers receiving the transit benefit, it doesn't matter. For the rest of us, it makes a difference between having a transit-supported lifestyle and not."

Very, very true. And - so long as federal employees get the transit benefit - nothing will be done to make the system more financially accessible to lower income riders. When I get off at Capitol South, I know I'm among the few paying the full fare.

And, the graduated fare system discourages the very people we want riding Metro from riding Metro. The logic is backwards.

by Capt. Hilts on Sep 10, 2013 3:38 pm • linkreport

"The retail districts in many neighborhoods in Seattle are significantly more interesting than in DC, other than Georgetown (or if you like chains, Friendship Heights). I spent hours in the West Seattle district going from shop to shop. I can't do that in Capitol Hill or Dupont Circle or Adams Morgan (other than spending lots of time in used book stores)."

This is a good point. I have always wondered why there is so little retail in downtown DC, at least since the old school businesses closed their doors in the 70s/80s.

by Chris S. on Sep 10, 2013 3:46 pm • linkreport

Thank you for writing this. Poor metro service on the weekends has turned me off from using the system. Living near a metro won't be such a great amenity if you still need some sort of car option for crosstown trips on the weekend.

by MiCoBa on Sep 10, 2013 3:55 pm • linkreport

Count me among others who have cut back on weekend Metro use. 20-minute headways do not permit freedom and spontaneity, whereas my bicycle does. When I was a kid, I faintly remember that Metro advertised 10-minute weekend headways; we've come a long way since then, it seems.

Re: Seattle, it and Pittsburgh share significant topographical difficulties for inter-neighborhood travel, and its urban core did not decline nearly to the same extent as DC's.
Re: steve, implementing those ideas would cost untold sums of money, and earlier articles on this site have debunked their utility.

by Payton on Sep 10, 2013 5:40 pm • linkreport

I know I avoid metro like the plague on the weekends, especially when I hear there is single tracking or buses being used in place of complete track shutdowns.

by Jon on Sep 10, 2013 7:55 pm • linkreport

@Tom Coumaris

Many of the problems are on parts of the Red Line that are similar in time of construction as the Blue and Orange Lines

by kk on Sep 10, 2013 11:41 pm • linkreport

Then why, compared to DC, does Seattle have so much more significant commercial districts as part of many of their neighborhoods?

This is largely because many neighborhoods in DC self-identify as being residential, and they neither expect nor want active retail and commercial activity. Remember that the prospect of opening more corner stores was considered a danger to neighborhood integrity along with the open hostility to the Big Bear Café when it first opened.

Retail/commercial business in the District is associated with parasitic liquor store owners, out-of-state developers/investors, and the pretentious/over-ambitious. There is very little local tradition of neighborhood business ownership outside of a few core amenities.

by Tyro on Sep 11, 2013 11:45 am • linkreport

Who wants to sit in a dingy, stinky, darkly lit Metro underground station, either at nights or on the weekends? Only if I have to.

by comedy22 on Sep 11, 2013 11:46 am • linkreport

Bike-share also has an impact on these numbers. In reality, Metro service sucks on the weekends, but there are also more modes available to folks now that used to entirely rely on transit.

by Jon on Sep 11, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

I gave up using metro on weekends about a year and a half ago when it started seeming like every plan to do so was ruined by WMATA. It is pointless, so why bother? And I am car-free.

by Danielle on Sep 11, 2013 8:20 pm • linkreport

I live in Columbia Heights and I avoid Metro on weekends simply because I can. There are any number of bus routes within 3 blocks of my apartment that I can take to get all over the city. Plus, most of the places I go on weekends are all within 2 miles anyway, which for me is about a 30 minute walk. Why bother with Metro and it's crappy service on weekends? Only if I have to leave DC do I bother...

by Matt S on Sep 12, 2013 9:24 am • linkreport

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