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Transit


For Metro's plans to cut late-night service, big questions remain unanswered

If you were waiting for a big debate over eliminating late-night Metro service at Thursday's WMATA Board meeting, you'd be disappointed. General Manager Paul Wiedefeld presented the same information he'd announced publicly, the board asked no questions, and that was it.

Officials definitely heard from riders loud and clear, however. Riders have sent over 2,400 emails through our petition to Wiedefeld, Chairman Jack Evans, and the board. You can still contact them using this form or just sign up for updates as this issue progresses here.

This wasn't the meeting to really debate the (very bad) proposal. That would come later. Before any proposal would take effect, as I understand it, several things would have to happen:

  • Paul Wiedefeld would more formally propose the change as a board agenda item.
  • A board committee (presumably the Customer Service and Operations Committee) would discuss the issue further. This is where board members would hopefully ask the tough questions.
  • The committee would send it to the full board, which would also discuss it.
  • The board would have to vote to start the formal public hearing process.
  • Metro would organize public hearings around the region.
  • Separately, Metro would have to do a Title VI analysis to be sure the change doesn't unduly burden lower-income riders. That's far from a foregone conclusion—Boston's MBTA is facing federal scrutiny for not doing this analysis before cutting its late-night service.
  • The board could then vote to cut the late-night service, if it chose.
One major hurdle: DC could veto this (as early as the first board vote). Under Metro's compact, at least one vote must come from each of DC, Maryland, and Virginia for any proposal to pass. Both of DC's voting members, Jack Evans and Corbett Price, have publicly stated their opposition. Unless one of them changes his mind, the cuts can't happen.

(Meanwhile, Maryland rep Michael Goldman has said he's for it. Goldman is also the same guy who refused to put money in a fund for retirement benefits, refused to pay Maryland's share of the 5A bus to Dulles, and opposed using new 7000 series cars to make more 8-car trains.)

Here are the questions that need to be asked

The public needs and deserves much more information so we can weigh in before board members start debating this. It's too bad some of the members didn't take the opportunity of Thursday's meeting to ask, but riders can, we can (and will), and board members will have more chances later.

There are three major questions right now:

  1. Why is closing the ENTIRE system necessary, as opposed to targeted closures? What are the other options here? Could Metro close one line, or one segment, early on each weekend (or, heck, close it all weekend) for repairs? Metro workers won't be on every bit of track at once, right? So why does this have to be a blanket thing?
  2. What would be the best alternative? Let's say Metro persuades us that ending late-night service is necessary. How can Metro still provide a way for workers and entertainment patrons to get home safely and affordably, without using rail? A robust night owl bus network whose routes mimic the rail routes as much as possible? Or what about companies that are trying to offer more flexible, on-demand shared van transit especially for low-ridership scenarios?

    Wiedefeld said he's not secretly doing this to cut costs. But it's true that running Metrorail late is expensive. With all or even just some of that money, what's the best way to get people where they need to go?

  3. What about big events? Also, though, late night service is not always low-ridership. When there are sports contests, major concerts, and other big events on weekends, huge mobs enter the system at places like Navy Yard or Gallery Place at once. Rail can handle this; buses can't. Will event organizers pay to extend service? Would Metro even allow them to, if closing the whole system every weekend is supposedly necessary for maintenance?
I, at least, don't want to ever say "no way, I won't hear it" from Metro about anything. But neither is "we need to, just because, and no we don't have an alternative plan" sufficient. I hope before moving forward with any proposal, Metro officials will thoroughly and publicly study other scenarios for closing less, and alternatives that still achieve transit's purpose if closing early really is necessary.

We'll be doing more actions on this issue as it progresses. If you want to stay up to date on that so you can speak up at the right time, fill out the form below.

Transit


Find out your personal Metro on-time stats with this tool

When you look at Metro's on-time statistics, do you feel like they don't match up with your own experience? Today, you can look at the hard data with the new "MyTripTime" tool.


Screenshot of the author's three-month travel summary.

MyTripTime on-time scores are calculated by comparing actual travel times—when customers tap in and out with a registered SmarTrip card—to the amount of time that trip should take when service is running normally.

To access your personal data, you must have a registered SmarTrip card.

  1. Log in to your account.
  2. Click the relevant card (you probably only have one)
  3. There is a box on the right that says "manage your account"
  4. Click "My Trip Time Dashboard" that also has a "New!" flair and it should pop up.
If you have a SmarTrip card, you can see your travel time summary even your card isn't registered. You just need to create a new account on smartrip.wmata.com and link it to your card.

Our contributors' performances have ranged from 58% to 91%. What's yours?

Photography


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 88

On Tuesday, we posted our eighty-eighth challenge to see how well you knew Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 27 guesses. Eleven got all five right. Great work, Peter K, JamesDCane, Stephen C, Solomon, J-Train-21, Justin..., AlexC, RBAP, Ampersand, dpod, and We Will Crush Peter K!


Image 1: Federal Triangle

This week, each of the pictures featured a Metro elevator at street level. To solve the quiz, you needed to identify the surroundings visible in the background.

The first image shows the elevator at Federal Triangle. The Federal Triangle complex is visible in the background, and is a fairly iconic building. The curved facade could have been a help, since the entrance to Federal Triangle is in a semi-circular area west of 12th Street. Had the Old Post Office been torn down, as envisioned, a the opposite side of the street would also have a semi-circular facade.

Twenty-four got this right.


Image 2: New Carrollton

The second image shows the escalator canopy and pedestrian bridge at the west (Harkins Road) entrance to New Carrollton station. This canopy is unique in the system, so some of you may have figured it out that way. The bridge in the background leads to the IRS building. We've featured it before in week 21 and week 63.

Twelve made the correct choice.


Image 3: Pentagon City

This picture shows the elevator at Pentagon City. The tower in the background is the Ritz Carlton hotel. If you look closely, just below the elevator canopy, you can see a portion of the Nordstrom sign. There aren't many Nordstroms in the region, so that would have been a useful way to narrow this down.

Seventeen guessed correctly.


Image 4: Archives

The fourth image shows the corner of 7th and Indiana NW entrance at Archives. The red brick building is fairly iconic, and adds texture to the area. The Starbucks logo helped at least one person narrow it down, but the easiest way was simply to recognize the building. Nineteen did.


Image 5: Farragut West

Finally, the last image shows the facade of 1875 Eye Street, also known as International Square. The building towers over the 18th Street entrance to Farragut West, including the elevator entrance. It opened in 1979, just two years after the Metro station. The blocky nature of the building and it's height was a clue to look in DC. But like image number 4, recognition was the easiest solution.

Thirteen came to the correct conclusion.

Thanks for playing! We'll be back the second Tuesday in August with week 89.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

Transit


Metro proposes ending late-night service PERMANENTLY. That's a terrible idea.

Metro may never again be open after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and would close at 10 pm every Sunday, under a plan General Manager Paul Wiedefeld will propose to the WMATA Board this Thursday. Please ask the board to reject moving this proposal forward right now.


Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.

What is Wiedefeld proposing?

Metro closed at midnight every night before 1999, when it extended hours on Fridays and Saturdays to 1 am and midnight Sundays. The Friday and Saturday close extended further to 3 am in 2007.

The current SafeTrack rebuilding program moved closing times back to midnight temporarily. Now, Wiedefeld is proposing making that permanent, and further closing at 10 pm every Sunday, earlier than Metro has regularly closed in decades.

Any closing time is effectively earlier than the posted time, since the last trains leave core stations (where most late-night rides originate) with enough time to finish their runs at the closing time.

What are arguments for this?

The press release says,

Under the proposed schedule, the Metrorail system would be open 127 out of 168 hours in a week. Prior to SafeTrack, the system was open 135 hours per week. The additional track time increases safety and reliability by giving workers the time and space they need to keep Metro's infrastructure in a state of good repair.
I've spoken to transit experts who agree that Metro was not making enough time for maintenance. They say late night hours squeezed the repair work. Not only are there few hours, but it takes time to set up for maintenance, go through safety protocols to prepare the site, etc. and then again on the other end.

When SafeTrack was announced, Dan Stessel told me, "the need for late night service is lower since people are using [ride hailing] services" like Uber and Lyft, unlike before 2007. He said Metro serves only about 6,000 trips a night, and that number is declining.

Stessel argued that this service only helps "the nightlife crowd," because workers need service that's available 24 hours a day. (I'd say, except for workers in the nightlife sector, and there are many of those.)


Photo by Ian Britton on Flickr.

Our contributors say, terrible idea

Matt Johnson said:

I understand the need for maintenance windows, however, I can't support additional service span reductions.

Metro already opens late on Saturdays and Sundays (at 7 am) and closes (at 12 midnight) earlier than basically all of its peer systems. In Atlanta, for example, train service starts at 5 am every day and the last trains leave the terminals no earlier than 1 am every day (not just Fridays and Saturdays).

It would be far better for WMATA to do targeted closings (or perhaps close parts) of the system. For example, if a particular area of track needed additional work time, to close that section earlier, but not close the entire system early.

Dan Reed:
This plan is unacceptable. Late-night transit is a lifeline for thousands of workers, from bartenders to security guards to caretakers—and of course everyone who goes out and supports our region's thriving nightlife. Early closing times were fine for SafeTrack but need to be rolled back as soon as possible. Wiedefeld is doing a great job, but this proposal is a bad idea.
Bradley Heard:
This is a horrible idea! Any long-term maintenance strategy should incorporate the idea of late-night service, particularly on weekends. Full-stop. Trains travel much less frequently on weekends. ... We can still have a "safety-first" culture while also maintaining a service level acceptable of a major urban region.
Pete Tomao:
These service reductions will only hinder WMATA's ability to attract more riders, and further it's fiscal problems. As the TransitCenter study pointed out last week, riders want frequent and reliable service above all else. By limiting hours we are limiting what riders want most. This also just penalizes folks without a car (like myself).
Gray Kimbrough:
Just about every system in the world (almost all of them only 2 tracks throughout) is open for longer hours than Metro—often many more hours per week. If they can't find a way to maintain regular service levels with those hours and scheduled larger disruptions where needed, there has got to be something uniquely wrong with Metro's maintenance processes.
Patrick Kennedy, ANC 2A commissioner, wrote in via email:
And before any change is made, they need to have a plan in place for late-night buses that cross jurisdictional boundaries. ... Without a satisfactory answer ... I think this is a horrible plan. Safety and maintenance activities can't be a blank check excuse for a continued degradation in service.
Finally, Travis Maiers:
In a larger sense, this proposal is just downright depressing because it represents an unbelievably pessimistic outlook. Instead of putting out a bold 3 year plan to really bring Metro up to the standards of a world class system, we're instead talking about cuts and permanent 10 pm closings! Where's the vision, the drive, the sense of making the system BETTER? Why is it we keep reducing standards instead of increasing them?

Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

The board should ask for more information before moving forward

Besides the poor logic of this move, Metro decision-making and communication is still in a similar rut from the past: The staff internally make a decision about what to do, then present it as the only possible choice.

When Metro proposed closing an entrance at Van Ness, officials said it was necessary without explaining why other options weren't as good. Maybe that's true, but the public needed to know more.

There are many questions still out there around SafeTrack, too. What will be different for riders at the end? Will Metro have fewer fires? Fewer cracked rails? How many fewer? Will there need to be fewer single-tracking maintenance windows after? These questions were surely considered internally, but not answered to riders.

Everyone agrees that Metro needs significant maintenance, which is why SafeTrack had strong public support. And we hire Metro officials to make decisions. But when those decisions affect the public, it's reasonable to ask them to show their work, to justify why this is better than other options. We don't think it is.

The board can ask these questions. It should. And members should not put any service cut on the docket at this time.

Wiedefeld said in the press release that any change to late-night closures would happen after a public engagement process in the fall—which is required under the WMATA Compact. That's fine, and maybe he'll do a really bang-up public engagement process. In the past, these have often been pro forma events which meet the legal requirements but not much more.

There's time to hear more about the idea before it's on a runaway Metro train moving toward an actual vote. Ask the WMATA Board to get information to riders before approving any formal hearing process. Ask them to insist on a menu of options from WMATA, not just one. Or just tell them you don't think this is a good idea, period.

If some change turns out to be necessary, it can always happen temporarily for an interim period. But we really don't think this is the right answer. It's a proposal that should not move forward.

Photography


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 88

It's time for the eighty-eighth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of 5 stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun.

Please have your answers submitted by noon on Thursday. Good luck!

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

Transit


We asked and you answered. Here's a summary of the 1,380 ideas you submitted to MetroGreater.

Between June 22 and July 15, people across the region and beyond shared nearly 1,400 ideas for small, quick fixes to make riding Metro better. Below is a summary of the most popular ideas and a rundown of where they came from. We'll announce the finalists on August 8!


Photo by Beau Finley on Flickr.

Most ideas focused on Metrorail

Ideas for Metrorail topped the list with 1,042 suggestions. These ranged from small ideas like more "train ends here" stickers on platforms to huge investments in infrastructure like building a new "beltway" rail line that loops around the perimeter of the city.

Next, were 176 ideas related to multiple modes of transportation, such as improvements to transfers between bus and rail or integration with non-Metro modes like Capital Bikeshare.

More than 80 ideas focused on bus service, ranging from specific route recommendations to suggestions for making ingress and egress smoother to speed up service.

There was only one entry that specifically addressed MetroAccess. The idea: use technology similar to uberPOOL so MetroAccess can provide more efficient service by picking up people traveling in the same direction. However, there were several ideas that proposed small changes to Metrorail to make it more accessible to riders with disabilities.

Lastly, there was one idea for enhancing the streetcar: Megan recommended removing parking and replacing it with a bike lane along the streetcar route on H Street. Got that, DDOT?

Top 10 categories

There were A LOT of similar ideas for improving Metro. More than half of all ideas submitted fell into these ten categories.

Where did the ideas come from?

1,061 people proposed small changes to make Metrorail, Metrobus, MetroAccess and the WMATA organization better through MetroGreater.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of people who submitted ideas (97%) live in the region. Regional participation was quite evenly distributed across DC, Maryland, and Virginia, with roughly one third of all submitted ideas coming from each.

Check out the heat map below to see which places across the region generated the most ideas. This map was created using the zip codes people entered when submitting their idea.

There were also 42 ideas from people outside the region from places like California, New York, and North and South Carolina. One idea, from Rachel, came all the way from Tokyo. Tyrion Lannister also snuck in an idea in from Meereen on the continent of Essos. Well played, sir.

What's next?

This week, WMATA will review de-duplicated ideas and eliminate those that can't be implemented in under six months for less than $100,000. We hope they'll be able to give us insights into why some ideas, which seem simple and easy to carry out, actually fall outside the scope of these criteria. We'll share these in subsequent posts.

Once we have a list of feasible ideas, a jury of transportation leaders from across the region will meet to identify up to 10 finalist ideas. Starting on August 9, each finalist idea will be featured on the blog and you will be able to vote on your favorite.

The finalist idea with the most votes when voting ends on August 19th is the winner. The winner will not only have their idea implemented by WMATA, they will walk away with some great prizes.

Although the submission period has ended, you can still comment on ideas at metrogreater.org.

Transit


Metro's goal is 20 trains per hour at Farragut North. Here's what it actually averaged in May, June, and July.

Last year, I found that Metro was running fewer Red Line trains per hour than it had planned during rush hour. I'm counting again this year, and so far the numbers are a mixed bag.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

I counted Red Line trains running through Farragut North last year, so I went with the same location this year. I did switch to only doing in-person observations rather than relying on WMATA's next train arrival data, and to recording from 4:30-5:30 pm (last year, I recorded times in the morning).

The Red line clearly struggled in late May, with an average throughput of 14.6 trains/hour from May 23-27. This is nearly 30% below Metro's own service guideline of 20 trains/hour. On four of five days, train malfunctions and other problems affected service, though May 25th was quite bad even without any reported delays.

But since that time, service has rebounded and averaged around 17.25 trains/hour over the past two weeks. This is roughly in line with the number from last year's observation. There weren't any reported problems during this time, which surely has something to do with trains staying closer to their schedules.


A week's worth of Red Line throughput data from this month. Click to download a complete version of the data the author collected.

Do schedules need adjusting?

Despite the improvement, Metro only hit its service goal of 20 trains/hour on July 12th, with the trains headed toward Shady Grove. Headways varied significantly, with gaps ranging from two minutes to 10 minutes or more.

Train sequencing showed similar variation. While Metro's Trip Planner shows that train destinations should alternate (i.e. Glenmont, then Silver Spring, then Glenmont, etc.), it was not uncommon to see trains to the same destination arrive one after the other.

I asked Richard Jordan a WMATA spokesman, how often Metro re-evaluates schedules and whether the Trip Planner is updated to reflect these new times. His response was that "our current service pattern allows for 20 trains per hour on the Red Line. We monitor rail service daily and make adjustments as needed. The online Trip Planner is based on the current schedule."

Unfortunately, actual service doesn't match the Trip Planner. While trains should be arriving every three minutes at Farragut North during rush hour, that clearly hasn't been the case. And trains rarely arrive in the sequence listed online. Certainly neither of these issues is a critical problem, but they are worth addressing.

Why this matters

Metro's new general manager, Paul Wiedefeld, has said the agency needs to confront "hard truths" and be more transparent with the public. This honesty should extend to Metro's online schedules and service advisories. Obviously unexpected problems happen that cause delays, but Metro should strive to make sure service matches the online schedule, or vice versa.

Second, SafeTrack makes staying on schedule even more important. Service across all rail lines will be significantly cut at various times over the next 8 months, sometimes as much as 50% or more.

With trains set to only arrive every 10-18 minutes for multiple weeks, it's critical that they adhere to their modified schedules. Otherwise already lengthy delays around work zones could become unbearable and cause dangerous conditions on platforms and in railcars.

The good news: there are more 8-car trains

On a positive note, while I observed almost no 8-car trains last year (due to problems with the 4000 series), they are much more plentiful this year. And after a brief restriction, multiple new trains are once again traveling the Red line.

Transit


Traffic jams are up during SafeTrack

Getting from Point A to Point B by car has taken longer than usual during SafeTrack, and while people changed when they commute during some of the work surges, few changed their actual routes. Those are two of the key takeaways from an analysis of rush hour congestion during SafeTrack that came out on Monday.


Increases in travel times along roads in the Washington area during the morning and afternoon commutes during each of the four SafeTrack surges so far. All images from the TPB.

The report comes from the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, whose analysts looked at hour-by-hour data on traffic conditions both this year and last.

Now a month and a half into its 10-month plan to to perform major maintenance across the system, Metro's work has focused on four areas: there was single tracking between Ballston and East Falls Church in early June, a total shutdown between Eastern Market and both Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road later in the month and into July, and after that two shutdowns from National Airport, first to Braddock Road and then to Pentagon City.

You might not be surprised to see that freeway congestion, which the TPB measured by the percent increase in travel time, went up significantly during each surge. However, congestion increased much less outside on non-freeway arterials, which suggests that not very many people changed their routes to avoid the increased freeway traffic.

In addition, all four surges led to significant increases in travel times within downtown DC. These increases, even when Metro service in DC was not cut too significantly, are probably because more people drove to downtown offices.

While all four surges resulted in increased congestion, the increase was significantly larger for Surge 1 (single-tracking between Balston and East Falls Church) than for the other surges.


Change in freeway congestion for each surge, compared to the same dates in 2015.

The smaller increase in congestion from the later surges may have been due to the fact that the number of commuters generally goes down during the summer, as well as the fact that commuters were more aware of the later surges. However, it will be interesting to see how Surge 5, starting this week, affects congestion, since it will be a repeat of Surge 1.


A comparison of freeway congestion during Surge 1 to congestion during the same dates in 2015.

It's worth noting the difference between changes in the intensity of the peak period congestion—which simply represents more cars on the road—and changes in the time distribution of congestion, which suggests that a significant number of drivers adjusted their trips to take into account the real or perceived effect of the Metro shutdowns and single-tracking.

Surges 1 and 4 mostly resulted in increased intensity of peak period congestion, while surges 2 and 3 seem to have resulted in more changes to commuters' schedules.

What else do you notice in the image and graphs?

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