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Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 96

On Tuesday, we featured the ninety-sixth challenge to see how well you knew the Metro system. Here are the answers. How'd you do?

This week, we got 28 guesses. 14 got all five. Great work AlexC, Peter K, JamesDCane, ArlFfx, Sunny, dpod, Solomon, J-Train-21, Stephen C, Andy L, Bryce L, PeoplesRepublicSoldier, Peter K is a nice guy don't be hatin' on him, and We Will Crush Peter K!


Image 1: Huntington

Turns out that whichWMATA is for lovers, just like the state where all of these stations are located. The six of you who identified the theme are clearly the biggest transit lovers of all.

The first image shows the northern bus loop at Huntington station. This entrance to the station is beneath the aerial structure carrying the Yellow Line towards Eisenhower Avenue, and is fairly distinctive. All but two people guessed correctly, and the two incorrect guesses were Eisenhower Avenue. But you can see that the tracks here are separated approaching the island platform. At Eisenhower Avenue, the tracks are side-by-side, with platforms on either side of the tracks.

26 guessed correctly.


Image 2: National Airport

The second image shows the view of the southern portion of National Airport station, viewed from the upper level terminal roadway. The main clue is the setting of the station. It could be interpreted as a median station, given the roadway in the foreground. However, none of Metro's median stations have a "Gull I" canopy.

27 got the right answer.


Image 3: Dunn Loring

The third image shows covered bike parking at Dunn Loring station, installed as part of TOD redevelopment near the station. Most of you probably figured this one out by noting the highway signs visible through the trees. These guide signs include a digital screen to display toll information for the I-495 Express Lanes, so this has to be one of the stations near the interchange with I-66 and the Beltway. The yellow tab also signifies the left exit for the Express Lanes, which is an additional clue.

Other guesses included West Falls Church and Vienna, but it can't be either because of the orientation of the station. At West Falls Church, the only entrance above the level of the highway is to the south. But from that perspective, the station would extend to the left. Here, you can see the western end of Dunn Loring, which stretches to the right.

Vienna would have a perspective like this from the northern side entrance, but there's no highway sign in the vicinity. I-66 is also a bit wider at Vienna because of the collector-distributor lanes for Nutley Street.

Only Dunn Loring fits the bill, as 22 of you figured out.


Image 4: Greensboro

The fourth picture shows a view of Greensboro station on opening day. The architecture is clearly indicative of one of the new Silver Line stations, with the vaulted ceiling here making it one of the three "Gambrel" stations. The presence of the nearby office buildings from this perspective eliminates Wiehle Avenue. And at Tysons Corner, different buildings would be visible.

25 gave the correct answer.


Image 5: Vienna

The final image shows a view looking through the Vienna station from the north end of the station bridge. The three stations at the end of the Orange Line each have a bridge with a design similar to this one. But there's a key difference here. At Vienna, there are two bridges, one to each side of I-66. So it makes for a particularly long view through the station from either end.

But the other important difference is that at West Falls Church and Dunn Loring, the bridge only spans one side of I-66, ending at the station's mezzanine, which means you can't look through the station, like here. At those stations, the mezzanine would be visible as the end of the bridge.

16 came to the correct conclusion.

Thanks for playing! We'll be back in two weeks (December 20) with our final quiz of 2016.

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

Photography


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 96

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


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

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


The DC reps on the WMATA board might veto late-night closures

The WMATA Board is nearly ready to move forward with new, shorter late-night hours, and the vote to make them official is in two weeks. But there's another big potential hurdle: DC's representatives on the Board might veto the cuts.


Photo by Tara Severns on Flickr.

Update: As of 10:30 on Friday morning, it looks as though DC will in fact OK the late-night cuts lasting for two years.

On Tuesday, WMATA staff submitted its final proposal for late-night hours to the Board: end service at 11:30 pm Monday through Thursday and 1 am Friday and Saturday and runs between 8 am and 11 pm on Sunday. Moving to this schedule would provide an additional eight hours per week for needed maintenance.

On Thursday, the Board's Customer Service Subcommittee, which is tasked with sussing out the details before the December 15th full Board vote, said the hours cuts are fine as long as the changes expire in two years, at which point new approval would be required to keep them in place. This came after a few hours of back and forth and arguing about how the cuts would impact low-income and minority riders, as well as how they would hurt businesses, employees, and the region's economy.

Most Board members (emphasis on "most") appear to be ok with either one or two-year cuts as long as there's an expiration date. Metro staff say the programs they need to get done require at least two years to get started.

There won't be any service cuts if DC vetoes them

Generally, once a subcommittee approves something, it's well on its way to Board approval. But that's not so clear here.

Since the late-night closures first became a possibility, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser has been a strong opponent, insisting that Metro bring back 3 am weekend closings and return service hours to pre-SafeTrack levels.

On Thursday, WMATA Board Chairman Jack Evans, who is also a member of the DC Council, reinforced the Mayor's stance, saying that even being open to the cuts was a huge compromise from DC. Evans warned the Board that if any new cuts were to be enacted, they would need to be limited to a year or the jurisdiction's Board reps would veto the measure.

If Evans and the DC contingent of WMATA Board members (four of the Board's 16 total members) use their jurisdictional veto power, the Board goes back to the drawing table. The existing service hour reductions that Wiedefeld put in during SafeTrack would eventually expire, and the system might end up going back to its normal service hours—but without the time WMATA staff says it needs to do much-needed preventative maintenance.

Transit


Cell service in tunnels, junking old rail cars, getting finances in order. Here's what's in Metro's Back2Good plan.

On Wednesday, WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld unveiled "Back2Good," his road map for getting trains running safely and reliably during 2017. There isn't all that much by way of new information—most of the efforts the plan mentions are already underway—but it does group ongoing projects together so it's easier to understand what Metro is up to and verify that it's making progress.

It's no secret that plenty has happened with Metro since Wiedefeld became the GM/CEO last November: the rail system shut for the snow storm; all trains were halted for a day to check for faulty power cables; there was a derailment; SafeTrack started; the delays continue.

Wednesday's announcement focused on looking into the second year of Wiedefeld's leadership, hoping to build off of the stepping stones put into place during 2016. Back2Good (unrelated to the Matchbox 20 song, I'll note) basically lists out how Metro plans to continue addressing the three key things Wiedefeld has stressed since he first came aboard: passenger safety, the actual service Metro provides, and financial management.

Looking broadly, the new plan looks to be a break from the past and is hopefully a continuation of Wiedefeld's goal of increased transparency. The majority of the goals listed include deadlines or other ways that both Metro and the riding public can monitor and keep track of. Below, there's more detail on the plan for each area along with my take.

Back2Good stresses following through on plans for making the system safer

Wiedefeld's goals for the upcoming year include making the system safer for everybody and try to make sure there aren't any more major issues. One big goal is cutting down red signal overruns, which are when a train enters track it isn't supposed to be on. The plan to do this is to change train software as well as make signal lights brighter.

Another goal included in Back2Good is continuing the effort to bring new cell service into the system's tunnels. That'd mean more than just cell service for passengers who want to watch videos and listen to music (with earbuds, of course) during their commute; it's also a critical life-safety issue so that riders can call for help in emergencies.

Cell service is a long-running issue that includes one bankruptcy, but it looks like Metro is finally going to be able to start installing the cabling needed. Some sections on the Blue/Silver/Orange lines should start being activated throughout 2017.

Another pilot that Metro already announced will have track workers wearing armbands that'll alert them to when trains are nearing so that they can be standing clear of the tracks in time.

The plans and solutions laid out here aren't all new; most of these have been publicized before (the tunnel cell cable installation is a long time coming, for instance). What Back2Good is doing is simply grouping them under the umbrella that is Wiedefeld's second year. The fact that there's a consolidated list of known quantities in the pipele that have staff, project managers, and deadlines bodes well, though.

More reliable service is the best way to bring riders back

If service isn't reliable, riders aren't going to use the system; Metro has seen a ridership decline over the past few years corresponding with less-reliable service than in previous years. Wiedefeld is hoping to begin turning this around in 2017 by focusing on the rail cars - the 1000, 4000, and 7000-series cars, specifically.

Because of previous crashes and incidents with the 1000-series cars, the NTSB recommended they be removed from service as soon as possible; Metro wants to finally be able to finish this process in 2017. However, since the 4000s are so much more unreliable, they want to remove these at the same time, which would do the most to increase train reliability.

In the remaining "legacy" cars (2000s/3000s/5000s/6000s), Metro says it will perform "complete component fixes" on subsystems like the HVAC, propulsion, and brakes, which can cause train delays or offloads. Since the agency will no longer need to belly the 1000s or 4000s ("belly" means only running cars in the middle of trains), they can go back to operating same-series trains, which should in turn help increase reliability. They would operate as the six-car trains, while the 7000s will operate as eight-packs.

GGWash contributor Alex Cox had this to say about the railcar focus:

I'm glad that Metro is placing an emphasis on repair of its rolling stock, since disabled trains cause over half of rider delays. It's high time that the unsafe 1000-series and unreliable 4000-series cars finally be retired.
The goals set out for reliability are certainly doable; Metro is already in the process of removing 1000s from service and could start the 4000s if the NTSB allows it. By making sure shops have the people, training, and equipment needed to fix railcars and targeting the worst-performing subsystems, the 25% reduction in delays should be doable. The other projects listed in the Back2Good plan for cleaning and updating the stations have their own schedules and deadlines and reflect what riders see day in and day out.

Metro's working off the financial baggage

As Mr. Widefeld said in his GM's Plan almost a year ago, "Metro is doing less with more." Back2Good notes plans to cut 1,000 positions at Metro, ensure money dedicated for capital projects is spent as expected (Metro has had an issue with proper project management, so money gets left on the table), and to get a budget approved for the FY2018 year.

Metro finally received an on-time and acceptable financial audit for the past year, after several that were late or which the auditor had objections with. The agency could even be taken off a program in which they have to spend time justifying money spent to the FTA.

Showing that the agency knows how to handle it's money well and is not spending unwisely sends a message to the local jurisdictions that when Metro says it needs money, it really does. It also shows riders the agency is serious about controlling its costs.

There's more focus on riders, and Metro's progress is becoming easier for us to track

Alex, again:

It's nice to see WMATA putting a specific focus on improving the rider experience; most importantly by increasing service reliability, but also through more immediately perceptible changes like cleaner stations and cell phone service in the tunnels.

One of the major criticisms that Metro has faced over the last several years is a lack of transparency and poor communication with the public, but this plan looks to continue the agency's recent trend towards being more open about its problems (especially flagrant safety violations like red signal running) and letting its customers know how it intends to solve them.

In addition to the focus on the rider, the plan sets out goals and deadlines, which the agency and riders can verify later in time, including the promise to "cut delays due to train car issues by 25% in 2017." Through data Metro puts out in the daily service reports and the data given to third-party developers, riders can check to see how the system is running in almost real-time.

The lack of the publicizing specific projects and deadlines is something that I've criticized Metro for in the past, so some of the clarity in this plan is welcome news.

While it's goal isn't to fix every tiny thing that's broken in the Metrorail system, Back2Good should be a step in returning the system to one that's more reliable and more able to fulfill it's main purpose of moving riders from A to B.

Transit


Metro now has an official plan for getting better in 2017. It's called Back2Good.

WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld has released the agency's plans for fixing its safety, reliability, and finance issues in 2017. Metro is calling the plan "Back2Good."


Wiedefeld at the National Press Club. Photo by Adam Tuss on Twitter.

Speaking at the National Press Club this afternoon, Wiedefeld outlined the plan. Highlights of the initiatives include:

  • Preventing near misses by reducing red signal overruns.
  • Completing work on schedule for installing the public radio system and activating cellular service in the tunnels as work is completed.
  • Reducing delays and offloads from track defects and railcar failures by 25% in 2017, through means including accelerating the retirement of the oldest and most unreliable cars, commissioning 50 new trains, implementing targeted repair campaigns of defective components on the legacy fleet, and rebalancing the rail yards to avoid missing terminal dispatches.
  • Power washing, scrubbing, and polishing all 91 stations annually instead of every four years.
  • Further reducing expenses by eliminating a total of 1,000 positions.
  • Balancing the budget and securing regional governance and funding solutions.
Read the full details in Back2Good white paper released by WMATA here. What do you think of Back2Good? Tell us in the comments.

Transit


This map shows where the most bus riders live and how close they are to Metro

High population densities are generally considered necessary for frequent and direct bus service. However, not all dense populations have high bus ridership. I recently created a map of the population density of people who commute to work by bus in the DC area.


This map shows the density of people in the region who reported that the longest part of their commute was by bus. The green regions around Metro stations are half-mile walksheds. The darker the red color in the census tract, the more people there take the bus.

To create the map, I used the Census's 2014 American Community Survey's data on how many people in each census block group reported that they made the longest part of their commute to work by bus. It's important to recognize some limitations to this data: in particular, it completely excludes non-working individuals who still make many or most trips by bus. Furthermore, it excludes anyone who uses a bus to get to a Metro station that's too far to walk, and then uses Metrorail for a longer trip to their job.

In addition to the ACS data, I plotted half-mile walksheds around Metrorail stations, using a GIS shapefile provided by WMATA's PlanItMetro blog back in 2014 (unfortunately, this shapefile predates the Silver Line and so doesn't have walksheds for those stations). These walksheds allow us to compare areas of high bus ridership to the areas in which residents have a reasonably short walk to a Metro station.

In some places, lots of people take the bus even though they live near Metrorail

It is interesting to note that some of the highest bus-rider densities in the area are in DC's Mid-City, the neighborhoods from Shaw to Petworth that are in the vicinity of Green and Yellow Line stations. It is likely that these area's proximity to downtown and the fact that they are served by very frequent bus routes (the 14th Street, 16th Street, and Georgia Avenue lines) makes the bus a more convenient, as well as cheaper, alternative to Metrorail.


Chart by Dan Henebery.

But more predictably, most big groups of bus riders don't live near Metrorail

Unsurprisingly, the high density of bus riders along the Silver Spring-to-downtown Metrobus lines continues north of the Georgia Avenue-Petworth station, where the corridor is not served by rail. As can be seen in the above chart, the 14th Street and 16th Street lines are Metro's busiest bus lines, and the Georgia Avenue line is its fifth-busiest.

Other than in Mid-City, though, the areas of highest bus rider density tend to be in corridors that are not well served by Metrorail. Within the District, high densities of bus riders can be found along the H Street-Benning Road line—Metro's third-highest-ridership bus line—in the largest area of the original L'Enfant City without Metrorail service.

Like bus riders in the northern Georgia Avenue/14th Street corridor, many of the bus riders East of the River live in areas not well served by Metrorail. A cluster of bus-riders on Massachusetts Avenue in the vicinity of American University is also some distance from Metro stations. The lack of major bus routes in this area suggests to me that they are mostly students riding university shuttles.

Outside of the District, lower population densities, a less transit-friendly built environment, and less-frequent bus service naturally leads to lower population densities of bus riders. However, high densities of bus riders are found along the Columbia Pike corridor in southern Arlington County, which has been the site of proposed rail lines since the original laying-out of Metro.

The Langley Park area, at the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard on the border between Prince George's and Montgomery Counties is also home to a large cluster of bus riders. Metro's sixth-highest-ridership bus route, the circumfrential Greenbelt-Twinbrook line, runs along University Boulevard in this area, which is also served by a number of other Metrobus and RideOn bus routes. The new Takoma-Langley Transit Center, serving these routes, is scheduled to open at the University Boulevard/New Hampshire Avenue intersection in the next several months, and the area is also slated to be home to several Purple Line stations.

It is interesting to note that the White Oak/Calverton area, at the intersection of Columbia Pike and New Hampshire Avenue in eastern Montgomery County, is home to perhaps the highest density of bus riders outside the Beltway. This area is also an employment center, with the FDA's White Oak research campus on the site of the old Navy Surface Warfare Center.

Transit


Metro staff recommend closing at 11:30 weekdays, 1 am on weekends

WMATA staff are recommending that after SafeTrack ends, the Metro system adopt a new service schedule that ends at 11:30 pm Monday through Thursday and 1 am Friday and Saturday and runs between 8 am and 11 pm on Sunday. Reducing late night service will provide an additional eight hours per week for maintenance.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Moving forward with this plan will save Metro millions in operating costs, approximately $2 million of which will be spent on new late-night bus service. The WMATA Board will vote on whether to make it official at its December 15 meeting.

Late-night rail recap

We first heard about potential reductions to late-night service after SafeTrack in July. At first, there were three proposals for cutting service, but in September, a fourth emerged. Unfortunately, all left riders facing relatively low levels of service, even when considering that they came with additional bus service. Accordingly, the public reaction (including that from myself) to these proposals was to demand a different choice set, with better service options.

WMATA proactively responded to many of these comments by providing more data to make the case for increased—and daily, not reactive and intermittent—maintenance time. Agency staff are now recommending that the board adopt Proposal 3, which keeps the system open until 1 AM on Fridays and Saturdays.


Image from WMATA.

Survey says...

On Monday, WMATA released an analysis of all the public input collected during October, focusing particularly on the findings of a rider survey that garnered almost 15,000 responses in 25 days. The analysis slices and dices the survey responses based on the self-reported demographics of the survey respondents, including race and income.

The staff analysis found that all of the proposed service cut alternatives would have a disproportionate burden on the low-income population that makes up 13% of Metrorail riders, confirming the rationale behind much of the outcry by riders and elected officials during the comment period.

Proposals 3 and 4 were also found to have a disproportionate impact on the minority populations that compose a whopping 45% of Metrorail riders. These impact calculations are based on existing ridership patterns, and do not take into account whether some trips may be more flexible or discretionary than others for riders—all trips are weighted equally. Public input can help illuminate these subtleties.


Image from WMATA.

The riders who participated in the survey, across demographics, expressed a strong preference for Proposal 3, which preserves service after midnight on Friday and Saturday. WMATA staff concluded that "although Proposal 3 creates a disparate impact and disproportionate burden and there appears to be a less discriminatory alternative before staff considered public input...practically speaking, no less discriminatory alternative exists because minority and low-income populations overwhelmingly prefer Proposal 3."

Clearly, public input had a substantive influence on the outcome of the staff recommendation. By creating a structured process to receive input through the survey, WMATA was able to gather real information about rider preferences that they were able to incorporate into the decision-making process in a meaningful way.

Whose input?

Is WMATA collecting and interpreting public input in an appropriate and equitable way? It is worth noting that only 30% of the survey responses were collected through in-station surveys that targeted the ridership hours that would be impacted by the service reduction.

For example, my home Metrorail station, West Hyattsville, was surveyed only once, during a Saturday morning shift that yielded the biggest Spanish-language response of any shift by a factor of 3. But out of 14,975 surveys, WMATA collected only 314 Spanish-language responses in total.

It would be interesting—and potentially important—to know if the response results or respondent demographics differed for the online vs. in-station survey groups. If so, WMATA should consider placing more weight on the survey results that most clearly represent riders that will be impacted by proposed service changes.

Transit


Metro's "pick your own price" pass will become permanent. Here are 3 ways it can continue to grow.

WMATA's SelectPass, new this year, is a good deal for almost anyone who rides Metro daily. It's been a pilot program, but soon will likely be permanent.


For some of these folks, riding Metro may have gotten a lot cheaper when SelectPass came around. Now, it's going to stay that way. Photo by Aimee Custis Photography on Flickr.

The pass lets you select a fare level (say, $3.25), pay one fixed price for the month, and then get unlimited rides that cost that amount or less. For more expensive rides, you only pay the amount beyond your set level. Our handy calculator helps you figure out what level is the best deal for you.

According to a presentation from WMATA, Metro now sells 3,700 SelectPasses a month, compared to just 400-1,000 a month for the long-standing unlimited rail pass which did not offer various price levels.

98% of pass users rate the pass at least a 7 out of 10. Low-income riders are even more likely to use the pass, representing 18% of pass users but just 12.8% of overall Metro riders. And WMATA estimates that the pass has slightly increased revenue while increasing ridership even more—just the point of a pass like this.

Michael Perkins has been pushing the idea for this pass since 2009 after getting the idea from Seattle's ORCA; the transit in that area, as with WMATA, has a variety of fare levels that makes the simple one-price-fits all pass not work.

You can currently get the pass at a fare level of any 25¢ increment from $2.25 to $4.00, plus the $5.90 max fare. Metro plans to add fare levels from $4.00 to $5.75 as well if the (quite old) faregate computers can handle it.

Beyond this, there are a few ways Metro could work to further improve this pass:

Make it easier to get with employer benefits

Many riders get transit through their employers, either where the employer pays for some transit fare for free, or as a pre-tax deducation from the employee's paycheck. Unfortunately, it can be a pain to get a Metro SelectPass this way if the employer or payroll personnel are not helpful or knowledgeable.

Employers set up benefits through a special (not very user-friendly) WMATA website. To get a pass, the benefits administrator has to specially designate the money for a pass rather than to go on your SmarTrip card as cash.

Many employers don't know how to do this. Other commenters have said that some employers use third party companies to process these benefits, and not all of those companies support the pass yet.

One GGWash contributor, who asked not to be named, writes, "I made a request with my employer when the pass first came out. I followed up a few months after that. I still haven't heard anything."

Metro either needs to work on making it possible to get the pass even with a non-savvy payroll department, or it should make the payroll process easier so employees can help their employers set up the pass correctly.

Allow riding rail or bus without extra cost

Right now, you can add on a bus pass to your Metro Select Pass for $45 more per month, which is like buying a month's worth of bus rides for just over $1 each. It's a good deal if your normal commute includes a bus ride, but it's not a good deal if some of your trips are on rail only and some of your trips are on bus only.

We want to encourage people to use the best transit mode for their needs. If the train isn't working well, people could switch to the bus; let them. Plus, for people who commute daily by rail, it's in Metro's best interest to let them take some midday bus trips for free when the buses aren't full.

Therefore, it would be better if the Metro Select Pass worked for either mode of transit, rail or bus, as long as it's less than your selected pass value.

Encourage more bulk purchases

Right now, if you're a student at American University, you (or, more likely, your parents) pay a $260 per semester mandatory fee, and you and all other students get an unlimited transit pass. This encourages more students to ride transit, while Metro can charge only $260 a semester because most students don't ride every day.

Beyond adding more universities, Metro could explore building a program to create such passes for other groups, including condo or apartment buildings, employers, and others. When passes are purchased in bulk, the price per pass can be reduced, and everyone is encouraged to use transit.

To get approval for new buildings in many jurisdictions, developers have to prepare Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plans, where they identify strategies to help residents or workers commute by more efficient means than driving. This often includes Bikeshare memberships, car-sharing memberships, TransitScreens in lobbies, and more. Passes could be a great amenity as well.

Congrats to Metro on building a successful new pass program! We look forward to seeing where this goes in the future.

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