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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


In defense of "political theater" for Metro

Jack Evans, DC Councilmember and chair of the WMATA Board, is making noise. He's shouting that Metro needs $25 billion to fix everything that needs fixing. On Friday, members of Congress accused him of "political theater" and "rampant parochialism." But perhaps some theater is just what Metro needs right now?


Photo by Tommy Wells on Flickr.

I talk about this issue, and more, with WAMU's Martin di Caro on this week's Metropocalypse podcast and a Facebook Live video we recorded right after the podcast taping. Check it out!

Let's leave aside the irony of two members of the United States House of Representatives decrying "political theater." Gerry Connolly, one of those leveling the attack, is not an unserious person and has done a tremendous amount for our region and for Metro. In fact, on the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, he unflaggingly pushed the Silver Line through decades of studies and inaction, and he deserves a lot of credit for it happening.

Connolly was upset specifically because Corbett Price, the other WMATA board voting member from DC, made a provocative suggestion. He posited that if Virginia doesn't step up to fund Metro, perhaps DC should veto the opening of the Silver Line to Dulles and Loudoun County. Needless to say, Connolly isn't happy about this idea.

I don't want Metro to cancel the Silver Line. Price and Evans don't either.

They were saying that Metro is in a crisis, and Virginia didn't seem very eager to fix it. Evans, Price, DC CFO Jeff DeWitt, and others have suggested a regional sales tax to give Metro a reliable funding source. Mostly, that proposal was met with hemming and hawing from both Annapolis and Richmond.

In a nutshell, this is how the discussion has gone:

DC leaders: Hey, the house is on fire! We should put out the fire!
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan: I don't think we should. On second thought, I'm okay with if if Montgomery and Prince George's Counties pay for the firefighting work, but I don't want to.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe: I think our house should demonstrate it can take steps to improve its structural integrity before we put the fire out.

Who's job is it to fix Metro?

The buck stops with nobody. DC, Maryland, and Virginia (a collection of Northern Virginia cities and counties, more specifically) share the governance of Metro, which means no chief executive can take decisive action to fix it, and also no chief executive is personally blamed if it fails.

Riders get angry at Metro for its failures, not at McAuliffe, Hogan, and DC mayor Muriel Bowser for not pushing for fixes.

So, Evans and Price are trying to make people pay attention by being controversial. It's not surprising that's rubbing some other leaders the wrong way, but has something else worked better?

The last two board chairs, Tom Downs and Mort Downey, were not politicians and not loud. They were transit experts who ... um, hired their friend Rich Sarles to run the place for a few years, during which time, unbeknownst to nearly everyone, the system got even worse.

I can understand the impulse to keep politics out of Metro, but we had not-politics and the problem did not improve in any way. So Evans and Price tried to pressure Virginia using the Silver Line. Perhaps that was a good tactic, or perhaps not, but doing nothing was not a good tactic either.

Should the Silver Line be under negotiation?

Their argument about the Silver Line isn't totally crazy. Based on the formula that decides how much various jurisdictions pay for Metro, even though the Silver Line extension is entirely in Virginia, DC and Maryland will pay some of the cost of running it. Starting the Silver Line also, sadly, precipitated a crisis where Metro suddenly couldn't get enough railcars out on the tracks each day.

Still, it's dangerous for one jurisdiction to block new service in another. DC and Maryland do benefit from more people having access to Metro. The board might do one thing to help one jurisdiction this time, and another the next. Metro can only work if DC, Maryland, and Virginia are trying to work together, not at cross purposes. The Congressmembers accused DC's reps of acting parochially, and the board needs less parochialism, not more.

(Connolly should also tell that to Maryland's Michael Goldman, a paragon of parochialism on this board. Goldman suddenly announced that Maryland didn't want to pay its share of the 5A bus to Dulles, for instance. He also stopped Metro from funding required retirement benefits and refused to fund upgrades to power systems to allow more 8-car trains.)

Conflict between jurisdictions is inherent to Metro's structure

Metro is more like urban subway in most of the area inside the Beltway, and mostly a suburban park-and-ride commuter train outside. That could change in Tysons, eventually, and elsewhere, but there aren't a lot of people living outside the Beltway who forego owning a car because Metro makes it easy enough to get places without one.

That means, as Metro is constituted now, there will always be some battles between DC, which wants more frequent service and service over more hours, and suburban jurisdictions where longer mid-day waits are less of an issue. There are always going to be budget fights about whether the parking fees should go up when fares do, or not. Or the maximum fare—riders going the longest distance don't pay as much per mile as others. That's either fair or not depending on your point of view.

Most of all, Metro needs all local governments to take Metro's problems very seriously. A lot of experts think it could stop being financially viable within a year if something is not done. The Silver Line should not be canceled, but maybe a bombastic politician who gets headlines (along with a capable manager who's actually fixing problems) could get this issue the attention it needs. Other methods haven't worked any better.

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


WMATA recommended express bus service along 14th Street NW four years ago. Is it time to make it happen?

The buses that run up and down 14th Street NW are among the most used in the region, but they move slowly and don't come often enough. WMATA suggested adding express service a few years ago, but that has yet to happen.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The 52, 53, 54 run along 14th Street, from Takoma to downtown DC. Many people use the bus to commute from neighborhoods like U Street, Columbia Heights, Petworth, and Brightwood to downtown and back. Approximately 15,000 riders use these buses on a typical weekday, and according to some measures, they're among the most used in DC.

According to data from DC's Office of Planning, a quarter of the new residents who moved into DC in the last five years reside in the area served by the 14th Street buses, and from 2011 to 2015, the number of businesses soared from 7,371 all the way to 13,992. Many of these new residents and business employees don't own cars and rely on transit and other transportation services.

But relative to how many people would use them, the 14th Street buses are slow and don't run frequently enough. They stop quite often—at every corner during some stretches. For example, if a rider gets on the 54 at Buchanan Street NW and off at I Street downtown, it takes 26 stops. By contrast, that's three times more stops than than the S9 buses, the express buses that run down 16th Street. More anecdotally, a neighbor of mine recently waited over 20 minutes for a bus during rush hour.


Image from WMATA.

Buses also get caught in snarled traffic on the stretch of 14th Street next to the mall where Target and Best Buy are. In this area, buses don't have signal priority and lots of people double park without penalty.

Slow moving busses and not enough of them are especially acute problems right now because Beach Drive is closed. Many Upper Northwest residents can't use Rock Creek Parkway as a commuting route and this has pushed many more riders onto the bus.

Also, as a result of the problems with the 14th Street buses, many who live along 14th actually go out of their way to use the buses along 16th. That just leads to packed buses and overcrowding on those lines. Improving 14th street bus service would benefit those riding the the S1, S2, S4, S9, 70 and 79 by lessening crowding on 16th and Georgia express buses which would also reduce clustering.

WMATA recommended express bus service on 14th

These issues aren't new—WMATA actually teamed with DDOT to study 14th Street buses in 2011 and 2012. One of the biggest conclusions was that the corridor needs express service. Express busses run the same route as local buses but stop at fewer stops. By skipping stops, they are able to move faster. In exchange for walking one or two extra blocks to the stop, riders can get where they are headed much more quickly.

The study included a rider survey, rider focus groups (I participated in one of those), and a series of public meetings. The study team also gathered data from interviews with Metrobus operators and subsequent interviews to discuss potential service proposals and preliminary recommendations.

The study concluded that express bus service on the 14th Street line (it called express service "limited-stop bus service") would benefit riders:

The advantages to this proposal are that this service would not only enhance route capacity, but would also improve service frequencies at bus stops served by the limited stop service (service frequency at local-only stops would not be impacted). It would also reduce travel times for passengers able to utilize the bus stops that would be served by the limited stop service. The primary disadvantage is that this proposal would likely incur additional operating costs.
WMATA also recommended lengthening the 53 Route to terminate at G street (it currently ends at McPherson Square), running more service north of Colorado Avenue NW, and extending service to the Waterfront area, as well as giving riders better information, doing more to enforce parking restrictions, using articulated buses and training bus operators specifically for the lines they drive.

The key recommendation for express service is discussed in detail beginning on page 33 of here.

According to the report, making these changes would be relatively inexpensive (about $1.25 million). The report also says they could generate more DC tax revenue in increased commerce than they'd cost to fund. These buses are needed for longtime residents and new residents alike. This would be a huge (and cheap) win for DC.

Though improving this line with more, better service was a good idea in 2012, it's an exceptionally good idea now. Express buses along 14th Street would mean more people could travel the important corridor by bus.

More specifically, it'd mean more frequent service at key stops and shorter travel times for riders, smaller headways, and better quality. This would be a huge boon to those commuting or traveling longer distances (such as to Walter Reed). If the service proved successful, even more resources could go toward it over time.

The city as a whole would benefit from an investment in better bus service along 14th Street, as it'd lead to better employment opportunities for people seeking jobs, less traffic congestion on important north-south streets, and a broadening tax base.



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


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.

Photography


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 95

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

This week, we got 23 guesses. Twelve got all five correct. Great work J-Train-21, dpod, maxG, Sunny, Stephen C, Solomon, Peter K, We Will Crush Peter K, JamesDCane, AlexC, PeoplesRepublicSoldier, and David Duck!


Image 1: Southern Avenue

This week was a themed week. All of the stations are located on or very close to a jurisdictional boundary shown on the Metro map.

The first image shows a view from the mezzanine at Southern Avenue, one of the four "high peak" stations in the system. This station, as its name indicates, sits on Southern Avenue, which forms the boundary between DC and Prince George's County. The main clue here was the bus loop bridge at the far end of the platform. We featured it in week 31.

17 knew the right answer.


Image 2: Friendship Heights

The second image shows Friendship Heights from the Western Avenue mezzanine. This is one of the "arch I" stations that are located along the Red Line northwest of downtown. Friendship Heights is the only one of those stations with two mezzanines. It also has globe lights atop pylons, which are only usually used at outdoor stations.

This station sits almost entirely in the District, but the northern wall of the station is just south of the Maryland line, but two of the four entrances from the Western Avenue mezzanine lead into Montgomery County.

20 guessed correctly.


Image 3: Takoma

The third picture shows the solitary elevator faregate at Takoma station. Takoma is the only above ground Red Line station that has a platform faregate. This is because the elevator here is located a good deal farther north than the escalator entrance at the southern end of the station. So it has its own fare control.

This station sits entirely within the District of Columbia, but Montgomery County (and the city of Takoma Park) is located just across Eastern Avenue, less than a block away.

19 got it right.


Image 4: Van Dorn Street

The fourth image shows the platform at Van Dorn Street, viewed from the sidewalk along Eisenhower Avenue. The outdoor nature of the station and the "gull I" canopy limit this to one of 12 stations. Since the station isn't elevated, you can further narrow the possibilities. But this four-lane road means it has to be Van Dorn Street, the only station that fits.

This station sits on the border between Alexandria City and Fairfax County. The station is in Fairfax County, but the road and bus loop is in Alexandria City.

21 figured it out.


Image 5: Capitol Heights

The final image shows the street elevator at Capitol Heights. There doesn't appear to be much to go on in this image at first glance. However, with a close look, you can spot a "Welcome to DC" sign in the center. This sign welcomes people driving in on Central Avenue as they cross Southern Avenue into DC from Prince George's County.

This station is entirely within Prince George's County, but is just across the street from the District.

16 came to the correct conclusion.

Great work, everyone! We'll be back in two weeks (on December 6) with another quiz.

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

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