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Some Metro Riders Switching Travel Patterns

Have you changed your travel habits since the Metro crash a month ago? It was part of my online discussion Monday, and I invited readers to tell me more. The comments I've received rarely express concerns about safety on the trains. Most express annoyance at the delays and crowding. These are among the responses, which include stories about changing travel times, changing routes or changing from transit to driving.

Van Ness: I live on top of the Van Ness-UDC Red Line station. My work day used to start at 9 am (getting off at Gallery Place), but because I couldn't get on a train from June 22 to July 2 at Van Ness-UDC, I switched my hours to begin at 8 am. Thankfully my employer allowed the change. Now, I can get on a car at 7:15 to 7:20 am and get to work on time. It was a riot the first few days after the crash on the red line, with about 4 to 5 trains an hour. No way could you even get on at Van Ness-UDC. Now, I'm all set.

Driving since crash: I'm no longer taking the Red Line from Shady Grove to my job in Dupont Circle since the Metro crash. For me, it was a health hazard. I'm 8 months pregnant and found the overcrowded trains to be dangerous.

Right after the crash, trains would be standing room only right from the get-go at Shady Grove. I found people generally less friendly and less inclined to give up a seat to a big pregnant lady.

Also, it became quite dangerous to try and squeeze my way off the train at Dupont. Twice, the trains were so crowded that I was unable to get off and ended up at Metro Center before being able to disembark. Seemed like to much of a risk of injuring myself or my child to force my way off the trains. At times, I felt very "threatened" by how many people would smash themselves on to a train. It was hard to be able to protect my belly from getting smooshed by bags and bodies.

For my drive I leave my house in Germantown at 7:00 each morning and arrive at work by 8:00 with no issues. It's costing me about the same as if I were to take Metro and is actually quicker - it used to take upwards of an hour and 20 minutes to get from my house to metro and then to Dupont. I like the change and plan on continuing to drive after I have the baby. Note: I carpool with my husband to work now, so am able to do the HOV lanes on 270. Seems like it'd take much longer to get to Dupont if I were driving solo.

Changed commuting: I have lived in the Van Ness neighborhood since 1985, taking the Red line first to Dupont Circle and then to Union Station. When I started commuting, it cost me 90 cents (!) each way. Even before the June 22nd crash, I was getting frustrated with Metro's delays, constant weekend maintenance, broken escalators, dirty trains, and nasty employees.

The older I got, the harder my commute was getting. Now, I'm No. 7 on the waiting list for parking in my office, and I know that once I start driving, I won't look back. Bye, bye Metro, and good riddance.

[Some riders think it's more than just the Red Line.]

Alexandria, Va.: The last couple of weekdays, I've been seeing 10 minute waits on the Blue line towards Largo, with no explanation. I had one today [Monday] at 8:30, while waiting at King Street. ... Since the crash, service has definitely gone down.

[Metro says it has not cut back service on the other lines.]

Red Line Commute: I commute daily from U Street/Cordozo to Union Station and back. Since the Metro accident, I've identified multiple escape routes and used them when necessary.

Typically the morning isn't that bad, green line to Gallery Place then on to Union Station, but I have departed and taken the Circulator along Mass Avenue.

The evening commute is worse. Typically I try to go Red Line from Union Station to Dupont and walk back to U Street, but I've also taken the Circulator and a number of Metro and bus options.

I guess I assess the most current situation before entering the Metro gates and either climb on the train and hope for the best or dump metro and find a bus. NextBus is proving to be a handy phone application.

Rockville, MD: With the Red Line delays going on for weeks now, I have realized that (almost) nothing grinds my gears more than hearing the train operators constantly abusing the terms momentarily, shortly, and directly.

When a train operator insists that another train is "directly" behind his or her train, yet no train arrives for another 8-10 minutes (by which time the next train is also too crowded to board), he or she ruins any trust these passengers may have the next time there really IS a train directly behind. Likewise, if it is clear that the train will not be moving for 5-7 minutes, the operator should not insist that the train will be moving "momentarily."

Needless to say, whenever a train operator uses one of these terms, I can't help but laugh in disbelief.

By Robert Thomson  |  July 22, 2009; 8:28 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail delays, Red Line crash  
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Next: Lane closures this week for Dulles Corridor Metro construction


Shifting to driving may be viable during the summer months, when traffic is a bit lighter, but this will be a nightmare if the delays -- and shift to driving -- continue past Labor Day.

Posted by: Chaucer2 | July 22, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

I live near Wheaton and take the red line to Metro Center. Of late I've been taking the #6 Ride-On to Grosvenor and coming in that way.

Before the crash, my commute was 30 minutes on Metro going from Wheaton. Anymore that's closer to an hour on any given day. Grosvenor, while I'm standing the whole way, still only takes 20-30 minutes. The initial bus ride is longer, but I'll take a 45 minute commute door-to-door over one that's an hour or more any day....

Posted by: | July 22, 2009 9:18 AM | Report abuse

The last comment, about "shortly," "momentarily," and other lies, really has brought to the forefront something I've noticed in the last month: you can really tell if your train operator is any good, and when s/he is, the ride is better.

I ride from Clarendon to Silver Spring in the mornings, via Metro Center, and the reverse in the evening. Monday morning, the Red Line train operator was communicative and precise. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are holding at this station for four minutes due to the backup between Fort Totten and Takoma as a result of last month's accident. We should be moving in four minutes." Today, from a different operator, I got, "*mumble mumble mumble* signal, holding *mumble* mm'tarly."

One of these commutes is more tolerable than the other, even if both take 90 minutes.

Posted by: EtoilePB | July 22, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Frankly, I don't feel safe on metro anymore - Now with this new announcement that they've turned off certain circuits. The passengers are relying completely on the driver to make the right decision. It seems as if Metro never was safe either, for the NTSB to tell metro to fix stuff that never got fixed...well that just tells me that metro really doesn't care about my safety.

Add to that the delays and the fact that it takes me over an hour to get to work that is 8 miles from my house (I can't drive because there's no parking at my office or nearby), I am more frustrated with metro than ever.

Yesterday, I waited 45 minutes for a bus that is supposed to come every 10. 2 different busses never showed. Ironically, when I called Nextbus to see when we could expect busses, I was informed that one was 5 minutes and another 12 minutes away. Funny thing that both of these busses magically disappeared and never showed. When I called metro about it during my 45 minute wait, even THEY couldn't find out where the busses went.

I am late for work at least once a week thanks to metro and I even leave earlier than ever. The bottom line is that metro doesn't care. If I could switch to driving, I would in a heartbeat. Even if traffic was unbearable, it's still a pleasant spring day in comparison to a trip on metro.

Oh and I would NEVER even consider taking metro on the weekends with all their track work BS. I ride my bike or drive wherever I need to go.

Posted by: Ellvee | July 22, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

So glad I live no where near the Red Line trains.

Posted by: hokusai | July 22, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Metro recently cut back sharply on the number of 21 bus routes through the Landmark area. (I've heard that this is because Alexandria is responsible for paying for these routes and the city has cut back.) There were once five 21 routes; now there is only one and it runs less often.

At Pentagon, it was possible to catch a bus every seven or eight minutes; now the time between is 20. That's a long time, when you have a baby you're trying to get home (without aggravating your fellow passengers, that is).

We heard from an Alexandria city employee yesterday that there will be another bus added to the schedule, so that the wait should be cut to 15 minutes. That's a step in the right direction, but this change has greatly affected our commute and not in a good way.

Posted by: dbitt | July 22, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

World class transportation system my ARSE! Metro, you BLOW!

Posted by: dem4life1 | July 22, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

The Nextbus system could not have come along at a better time. I don't even bother riding the train anymore. I just check online when the next bus is coming down the street and I have a quick 20-minute ride to work. Thank you S9.

Posted by: alewis4 | July 22, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

I used to take the green/yellow from L'enfant to Chinatown and transfered to the red for Silver Spring. Now I take the green to/from Ft Totten and only brave the red between Ft Totten & Silver Spring (even though that's the most dangerous stretch, according to reports). It seems lots of others are doing the same, as the once empty reverse-commute greenline has become overcrowded.

Posted by: SW-DCWaterfront | July 22, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Has the upset, anger, and heightened stress levels of the WMATA commuter population been addressed? I havn't been someone to read Dr. Gridlock in the past because routine metro commute was workable. I've now established alternate commutes, invested longer hours in my commute, and had to contend repeatedly with upset and acting out by fellow commuters as a direct result of frustration from these schedule inconveniences. All this, and to add insult to injury, I am paying the same price that I was when things were operating on a semi-functional basis?

Posted by: CmaryC | July 22, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

People who refer to Metro as "world class" typically seem to leave out that they are referring to "Third World." Then again, I'd have to apologize for saying that, because I've seen some Third World systems and they're a lot better than the hacks-on-tracks we have here.

Posted by: hofbrauhausde | July 22, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

I used to take the red line from Silver Spring to Dupont daily to get to my job in Georgetown--with shuttles, etc. it took an hour. After the accident, I drive, even though parking costs where I work are much higher than the cost of riding Metro peak hours. It takes me slightly less than an hour, but I do wonder how that will change after Labor Day.
I will still ride Metro when I want to go downtown for something and don't want to pay for parking, but only when time isn't an issue. From everything it sounds like, it just isn't worth it to try and deal with the lack of communication and crowded lines on a regular basis.

Posted by: sandyj1 | July 22, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

I take the bus more and the Red Line less. It is working OK. You get more riffraff on the bus than you do no the train (e.g., a bum yelling about the good deal he got on cheese at Trader Joe's) but I am getting used to it.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | July 22, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Metro may say they haven't cut service on other lines - but it takes me anywhere from 10-30 minutes longer every single day to get to and from work than it did before the crash. The commute in the morning is now on the 10-15 minute longer side whereas the commute in the evening is at times just nightmarish. I've taken to leaving later because I end up getting home at the same time regardless. Trains are packed; they aren't coming as frequently, they are frequently stopping (yes, with the constant "we will be moving momentarily" which does get on my nerves) and it's getting really old. As a result, people are less friendly then they used to be - I've noticed more pushing and shoving; more unwillingness generally (although a really nice man gave up his seat to an elderly lady today on a very crowded train) to give up seats to those that need them.

I'm getting to the point where my once hour long commute can be as long as an hour and half or longer at night....and when I know that driving (even in full rush hour) will take me no longer than 30 minutes, it becomes more and more tempting to consider driving to work. I am a whole hearted believer in public transportation and I'm trying to cope with the extended commutes, crowded trains, crowded buses, infrequent buses and failure of metro to keep anywhere close to a reliable schedule on some bus lines....but even the most dedicated of us public transportation people will eventually give up if things don't get better.

Posted by: vickistired | July 22, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

I used to take the yellow and red lines to work before the crash - I work at Dupont Circle. Since then, I've been taking the blue line to Foggy Bottom and walking. The less time I spend on the train, the better, and I get more exercise.

Posted by: beegrace123 | July 22, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

CmaryC - I had a kind of scary experience last week after the train I was on (red line at Cleveland Park) experienced "mechanical difficulties" and was taken out of service. A passenger in my car started yelling and screaming about how anyone who blocks the door should be shoved under the train and all sorts of other very violent scenarios. Everyone ignored him, but he continued yelling and ranting until he left the station. I have never seen anything like that kind of rage in the 14 years I've been riding Metro, but I bet it is getting more common.

I'm pretty locked into my commute, but as soon as the economy recovers, I'll start looking for a job closer to home so I can drive to work. The deterioration of Metro over the past 14 years is depressing.

Posted by: economicslowdown | July 22, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

I am a red line commuter from Shady Grove to Metro Center. The commute as everyone has said is a lot longer and more unpredictable.
But what I have also noticed is an increase in "commuter rage". More people are yelling at each other and arguing on trains. I am very concerned about this increase in anger. I know it's hot and the trains are delayed, and when you throw tourists in to the mix it's even more difficult. I mean everyone is unhappy. But can't we all just remember --It's just a commute!

Posted by: soleil2000 | July 22, 2009 11:08 AM | Report abuse

I went as long as I could, past Foggy Bottom escalator problems, last year and earlier in the spring; the recent Red Line accident; in-system crime; and, the OVER CROWDING of L'Enfant Plaza on Nationals' game days.

Yesterday, when the L'Enfant Plaza platform became dangerous, once again, I committed myself to an additional 10 minute commute by walking from Waterfront to Georgetown.

I had gotten lazy. Thanks MetroRail for encouraging me to get out of the danger, inconvenience and increasingly-more costly fares.

Posted by: Morgantoo | July 22, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

When I was assigned to a downtown DC client site 4 weeks ago, I decided to try Metro - the Orange Line from New Carrollton, changing at Metro Center to get to Judiciary Square.

My problem is not so much with Metro. After 20+ years of the New York subway, I can tolerate delays, crowds, dirt, broken escalators, and even rude transit employees. My problem is with the riders and the relative difficulty in using Metro.

I've been screamed at while trying to negotiate the ridiculously finicky farecard machines, cursed at for bumping into someone on a crowded train, punched in the chest for backing into someone, and spit at for Lord knows what. Once, while waiting in line to buy a Smart Card (which IMO, is an absolutely ridiculous requirement for paying for parking), the rest of us were held up by some woman who insisted that the Metro agent break the rules and sell her more Smart Cards than the rules allowed. When I had the temerity to ask the lady(?) to be considerate of the line behind her, she said she would deliberately continue talking and holding up the line even longer - which she proceeded to do.
Say what will about New Yorkers, but I don't encounter such rudeness in Manhattan.

Oh, and someone keyed my Mercedes in the Metro parking lot.

Now I drive. My company reimburses me for mileage and parking; I park in a brand new attended garage and listen to NPR or CNN, or Jazz music on the commute.

They can have Metro.

Posted by: ceefer66 | July 22, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

I'm still taking the Orange Line every day from Falls Church to Farragut. I hope metro returns to automatic operation soon!!! In manual mode, the drivers jerk the trains around, starting and stopping so hard and so often that it is quite a challenge to hang onto a pole and not fall onto another commuter. One day I pretended it was a new ride at Kings Dominion to try to make it more tolerable, but that only made me wish I was strapped in (or at least had a seat).

Posted by: DWinFC | July 22, 2009 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Metro's Red Line from Forest Glen is still the best way for me to get to/from work, in spite of the annoying delays.

Please feel free to drive instead - it'll ease the crowding on my train.

Posted by: Diner65 | July 22, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Wish I could walk to work. I'd do it every day. Morgantoo, you're lucky and I'm having commute envy right now.

Posted by: Ellvee | July 22, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Also a question of Dr. Gridlock:

Perhaps you could show this thread to someone at Metro? Do you or your fellow transit reporters ever have a chance to communicate what you see on your comment pages to Metro?

It's overwhelming the anger, frustration and resignation that riders feel. Does metro ever really HEAR that?

Posted by: Ellvee | July 22, 2009 11:39 AM | Report abuse

I absolutely agree with the commenters here. My commute mostly uses the Orange Line, transferring to the Red Line for a few stops, and even before the crash, it was obvious the Orange Line cars had been slowed down. Why? Who knows. We all bought Metro dedicated track so nobody else can hold them up, but it doesn't seem to matter.

As others have said, Metro, like the good government bureaucracy it is, does not care about its customers. Commutes are definitely longer, trains are overcrowded, there's frequently no air conditioning, escalators don't work. The system is awful, easily one of the worst in the country. 4 out of 5 days, there's a "mechanical difficulty" on one or both of the two lines I use, which permanently wrecks the trip. Hack politicians like Eleanor Holmes Norton and Jim Graham continue to enable this behavior and never miss a chance to tell us the problem is the people just aren't being ripped off enough. And for all this, we continue to pay rush hour prices.

Heckuva job, Johnny.

Posted by: DellC | July 22, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Hi all,
I have not given up on METRO yet but am "this" close.

I take the yellow and red lines from Pentagon to Union Station. The yellow line trains are coming MUCH, MUCH less frequently in the afternoons. SOmetimes I see 4-5 Green before a yellow at Gallery Place. Many afternoons no one can board the yellow line at Archives or L'Enfant even though those are just the 3rd and 4th stop. Because it's often so long until the next train, people force their way on and yell/scream/push/shove.

I like many of the other commenters have noticed much more pushing/shoving/threatening/yelling on METRO. Some of it by Metro Cops whom I've witnessed (at Gallery Place on the yellow and red platforms) yelling at passengers to board quickly to keep trains moving. It's very rude and disrespectful. Do the cops really think the passengers are waiting on the overcrowded platforms just to see trains go by? Of course we're trying to get on the trains!

I agree with others who disregard operators when they say momentarily or right behind. A momentary wait is not 10 minutes (as it was a few nights ago). A train right behind is not a train that's 10 minutes away (according to the info signs). Since operators don't tell the truth so often I can't ever believe them.

Posted by: bnofan1 | July 22, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

I'm still slogging through (Red Line from Bethesda to downtown stops), but some days are better than others. The crowds and gaps between trains seem to have gotten a little better (though the decrease in crowding could be due to the summer slump or increased driving), but slower trains mean a longer commute, and as someone mentioned earlier, some drivers are too jerky. I nearly got motion-sick this morning -- it was like being with a teenager riding the brake or learning the clutch. At least I had a seat, because I don't know how anyone standing kept balance.

Posted by: Janine1 | July 22, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

While Metro has its faults, among the most problematic is their idea of communication, the biggest issue is the lack of stable, adequate and timely funding for Metro. If everyone who rides Metro held their elected officials on the local, state and federal level accountable, things would certainly improve. In this day and age where public officials support increased growth in housing and business with the excuse that there will not be a comparable increase in traffic congestion because everyone can use Metro (Nats statium as example) these officials need to begin paying the price for this reliance, not commuters.

Posted by: calle06 | July 22, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

The people who make the decisions for Metro, the board, Congress, etc. should be made to ride on Metro. This should be a requirement for any person that works for Metro, or decides budget matters for Metro. I believe that a stable budget would be the result.

Also, if there are complaints about the way an train operator starts and stops, note the car number and date/time and tell Metro. That's the only way an operator will realize that the operator's technique needs improvement.

I've been on Metro for close to 15 years, and I am about ready to drive and pay more for a garage.

Posted by: VADave | July 22, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Wheaton to Ballston. Been connecting to the Red Line at Rockville or Twinbrook instead. At least on this side of the Metro, the pauses and stops are momentarily. I couldn't put up with the long stops outside of Silver Spring, then again at Silver Spring then again at Takoma only for the train to crawl its way down the track to Fort Totten.
I wouldn't even know how to start going by bus. Guess the 38B from downtown? But then what? The 30s don't run express. 79 is too far away. S9 picks up a half-mile away from SS station (and three-quarters a mile from the other bus stops) down near the Blairs, no? And to get to any of them, I'd have to get pass all the cars getting on/off 495.

Posted by: cprferry | July 22, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

I drive to work most of the time now. But I had jury duty recently, and had to get from Woodley Park to Judiciary Square. In the past, that would have been a no-brainer to take Metro. After hearing about many of my neighbors having a horrible time getting onto trains, and the un-reliability, I realized it wasn't worth it for me to even try. I couldn't risk being late to something like that...they issue arrest warrants for juror no-shows in DC.

So I drove. Not a bad drive actually, took me half an hour door to door, zip down Rock Creek Parkway over on Independence in a little bit of heavy traffic, up to 395 and through the 3rd Street Tunnel, and the court is only a block or two off the D Street exit. Only downside...parking is rediculously expensive in that area....the $12 a day I saw near the State Department was a huge bargain in comparison to $20. Oh well, at least I only have to do this only once every 2 years, and they do give a $4 travel subsidy to take the bite out of the fee.

Posted by: thetan | July 22, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

I live in the Franconia area, and usually ride my bike to Capitol Hill, but when I can't, I've been riding Metro from Huntington to King Street, then picking up the VRE from King Street to Union Station. I avoid the Red Line entirely, and even with the transfer between systems, it still saves me 15-20 min door-to-door.

Posted by: signof4 | July 22, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who disputes Metro's claim that no lines other than the Red Line are experiencing slower commutes and fewer 8 car trains. Hello, Metro officials! You need to start riding Metro yourselves, preferably during rush hour, because you obviously have no idea what's going on in your own system.

I've started getting up 15 minutes earlier just to make it to work on time, riding the Orange Crush from Vienna to Foggy Bottom. And I catch a fairly early train (around 7:15 am) before the REAL rush hour starts around 7:30. Slower, jerkier, start-and-stop (mostly 6-car) trains, way more hot and crowded and with longer waits in between. All for the same high fares. I suppose the Metro of the future is now, and we'd all better get used to it. Or find alternative means of commuting.

Posted by: emacco | July 23, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

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