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Longer Trains, Shorter Trains

There are more eight car trains on Metro during peak periods this week, and more four car trains during off peak periods.

Metro - Gerald Martineau (2).jpg Metro adds and subtracts train cars. (Gerald Martineau)

Metro today will expand lengthen three Red Line trains into eight-car trains. On the Orange and Green lines, two trains will be lengthened to eight cars during the rush periods.

This is because Metro has added 20 new cars to its fleet. The remaining cars out of the 20 will be held in reserve in case another train must be withdrawn from service because of mechanical problems.

But the gap between peak and off peak service is growing this winter. During the off peak periods and weekends, you're more likely to see four-car trains on all the lines. Metro is trying to save money during the season when the ridership is lower. When the tourists return in March, the trains will be lengthened.

This also is the week the Metro board plans to vote on the fare and fee increases. Here's the agenda for the board's Thursday meeting at Metro headquarters, 600 Fifth Street NW. Here's the description of the increases in fares and parking fees that were the basis for the recent public hearings.

But you should also see Lena Sun's story in The Post on Sunday about a Maryland plan that would lower the impact of the increases for long-distance commuters who park at the stations near the ends of the lines in Maryland and Virginia. That plan also would eliminate the increase in the number of reserved parking spaces at the stations.

(Sun also wrote on Sunday about Metro's plans to make the SmarTrip card smarter, which would be of interest to riders who complain that they can't load the value of special passes onto the fare cards now. She and transportation reporter Eric Weiss are scheduled to do their regular online discussion about roads and rails today at 11 a.m.)

I don't like the four car trains anywhere, any time. I applaud Metro for trying to find ways to save money. Managers think the ridership figures for the winter justify using more fours. Also, you could argue that the fares will go up only for peak riders, who are getting more eight-car trains. The increases don't cover the off-peak rail riders.

But this doesn't mean much to customers waiting on platforms, as I said in Dr. Gridlock on Sunday. They're paying the same fare they've been paying, and their getting smaller trains that often will be more crowded, no matter what the overall figures are.

This isn't just a budget balancing exercise, important as that is. It gets back to the customer service issue we always talk about. Metro riders thought they were customers long before Metro started calling them customers. They get it.

When they pay for a ride, they don't care any more about Metro's budget than a car buyer, examining a sticker, cares about Ford's or GM's or Toyota's budget. They care about how much they're getting for their money.

Likewise, Metro has the worthy goal of system safety in its track weekend track maintenance program, but it's still a service cutback for the people who ride during those times. Now, they've not only got the delays, but also the shorter trains.

By Robert Thomson  |  December 10, 2007; 8:01 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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Next: Service Resumes on Green Line

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