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Summer of Discontent on Metro

Do you remember a time when we had so many disruptions in our transit system? I think this letter-writer has captured the feelings of many commuters.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I've been a big fan of Metro since I came to D.C. for college in 1983. Watched the system grow, cheered it on. Love the architecture, the cleanliness and the (usual) efficiency.

Two jobs ago, I used Metro every day from Glenmont to downtown, and it was a great commute. Back downtown again now, and I read your Aug. 6 column on my ride from Farragut North to Glenmont. Crowded train, post-accident slowdowns, hot car, lurching stops, inch forward, lurch some more.

Desk to my house, door to door (including time lost at the never-ending Glenmont parking construction) took 75 minutes. Cost: $12.75.

This morning, I drove. Door to door: 45 minutes, including the walk from bargain price self-park to my office. Cost: $10 (and I saw a garage for $9). That $2.75 (or $3.75) will more than pay for my gas, and I saved 30 minutes one way. An hour a day. For summer commutes at least, Metro no longer makes sense for me. And that's a shame.
Scott Riffert
Aspen Hill

There are delays on all the lines because of safety checks stemming from the June 22 crash on the Red Line and from scheduled maintenance in the aging subway system.

If Metro's performance on Inauguration Day was the peak of public appreciation of what it can provide, then right now, we are in a very deep valley. Have you changed your commuting habits this summer? How many are making calculations similar to those in the letter?

Join me at noon today for our weekly online discussion about all traffic and transit topics. If you'd like to submit a question or comment for the chat in advance, use this link. And as always, feel free to comment here on the blog or to drop me a line at

By Robert Thomson  |  August 10, 2009; 9:56 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting , Metro  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail delays, Red Line crash  
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Next: MTA: Heat Slows MARC Traffic


I'm ashamed to admit it, since I moved from Silver Spring to DC to become less car-dependent, but since the crash I've been using Metro less and driving more. It's simply not efficient to spend 45 minutes to go from Northeast to Northwest on the red line, and the dearth of crosstown buses means multiple transfers to go somewhere as nearby as Dupont Circle. Hopefully the problems with Metro will cause DC's transportation planners to provide more bike routes because commuters should have more options than relying on an inefficient public transit system or driving.

Posted by: VDouglass | August 10, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

So Metro covered up the "near miss" in March, I wonder what other details and reports they hide from the public. Also, the system wide delays this past weekend were ridiculous and outrageous. I would recommend sorting out the bugs and problems at night BUT there was a death on Sunday night, so so much for that idea. Honestly, how can Metro best resolve all these issues and delays before the public demands a complete overhaul of the system operations and functionality?

Posted by: ImWithStupid | August 10, 2009 11:22 AM | Report abuse

I couldn't agree more with Riffert. I used to love Metro, and now I avoid it like the plague. It has gotten so unreliable and so slow. The only plus of driving into town to go out at night is that I have to stay sober so I can get myself home, and that's better for my health. No more hangovers! Thanks, Metro.

Posted by: petjam | August 10, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Note to Aspen Hill - if driving to Rockville Metro makes sense, you might want to try that option. I also commute from Glenmont to Farragut North, but tried the other side this AM and it was significantly quicker.

Posted by: mcljphillips | August 10, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

One factor in my decision to drive to work is the temperature at Metro Center. Whether I'm commuting to Archives or Virginia Square I need to change trains at Metro Center (unless I walk the greater distance to Judiciary Square to catch the red line). For health reasons, I can't take the heat.
Living mid way between the two red spokes, it is faster for me to drive south instead of driving to either spoke or taking a half hour bus ride to Frendship Heights. So, Metro Rail is a second option when having car difficulties or bad weather -- especially in the summer when traffic is lighter -- but not the first choice. Cost is not so much a factor because my company reimburses.

Posted by: HistoryAnn | August 10, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

One word to describe the system; unreliable.

When significant weekend track maintenance is occurring, I would prefer that Metro be honest and tell patrons to just avoid the system altogether. When the wait becomes so intolerable that stranger’s band together to hail a taxi, you've got some issues.

This also doesn't begin to scratch the surface of broken escalators & elevators, inoperable station air conditioning, water leaks, poor lighting, etc.

My bottom line: I do not currently have a car, but I've reached my limit. Maybe I can trade-in an old Metro car as a clunker?

Posted by: V4vigilant | August 10, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

you could not pay me enough to drive clear through the city twice a day. For all of metro's faults, I will not get into my car. I enjoy my "down" time commuting so I can read the paper or a book. For me, its a good way to unwind for 40 minutes after work before going home to make dinner, clean up, take care of bills, and all those other irritants of daily life.

Posted by: RedBirdie | August 10, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

I'm in the same boat - well, car, I suppose - as Scott: Metro has proven itself to be the lesser of the commuting options available to me.

As a two commuter household, using metro from Wheaton to Farragut North each day costs far more than parking (and gas) to drive.

Daily Metro: $4 for parking + $14.40 (round trip for 2 during peak time) totals $18.40!

Daily garage at K and 18th is $11 plus maybe $2 in gas a day for a total of $13.

That's a savings of $5+ a day!

When it comes to time, Metro estimates it's 27 minutes from Wheaton to Farragut North. Having done the commute for a year, that figure is off by at least 5 to 10 minutes. The real commute time is roughly 30 to 35 minutes. And that was before the June disruption.

The time to drive takes about 20 to 25 minutes, straight down Georgia Avenue and 16th Streets in the morning. In the evening, it's about 10 minutes longer, taking the scenic route through Rock Creek Park.

I was considering going back to Metro once the trains were moving at full speed again. Instead, I want to thank Scott and you, Doc, for getting me to do the calculations and realize that it's far cheaper and may actually save time to drive.

Posted by: | August 10, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Metro has become a royal pain. Delays. Overcrowded trains. And this is August, when ridership drops. What is going to happen in September when everyone comes back from vacation?

I am also suspicious of Metro's escalator repairs. I have ridden the Red Line for 18 years and rarely failed to see an escalator under repair somewhere. It smells of corruption. There is no way the escalators should need to be repaired that often. Someone is making serious money off of them.

Posted by: InTheMiddle | August 10, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

I used to drive in and then I started taking metro. I swore I would never drive again. Now, I am looking at driving again - if I can get parking at my office.

I currently get my Metro fare covered by work. I just have to pay $4.50 per day for parking. Doesn't make fiscal sense to drive if I have to pay for parking. Assuming I get free parking at work, I "save" $4.50 per day.

Round-trip, 30 miles. I get about 20 MPG city so it's about 1.5 gallons per day. At $2.70/gallon, that's $4.05 in gas. My auto insurance will increase $77 per year if I drive to work - or $0.31 per day on a 250 work-day year. Cost is about the same.

Wear and tear on the car will be higher BUT it's faster to drive versus Metro (about 20 minutes each way faster). Multiple routes home so if there's a road blockage, I can get around it (versus being stuck in a tunnel).

If I can get parking, I'm dropping metro.

Posted by: r6345 | August 10, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

My problem with metro commuting is going to locations that are off the metro line. I need to leave my office and pick up three family members within an hour. Two are not very close to metro stations-think about a 5-10 minute walk followed by a 15 minute walk to my house from a metro station with no parking. So my commute would be walk to metro, take metro to one stop and drop off one youngster, get back on metro, go a few more stops, get off metro, drop off the other youngster, then take metro to my office. 3 metro trips at about $1.65 per trip per person for a total time of roughly 75 minutes. Driving by car takes approximately 60 minutes and costs about $12 per day to park. So right now I carpool and the cost per passenger is $1.50 per day plus gas, wear, etc.

Posted by: bbcrock | August 10, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

I was worried about using Metro for FedEx Field this Sunday, with 70,000-plus there for the DC United match. Normally at those events, platforms and stations get very backed up, and it was 95˚. With free parking at FedEx for this event, driving was an equally viable (if equally unattractive) option.

Anyway Metro was flawless. No waiting in either direction, and the fans streaming out after the game could immediately enter the station and board a waiting train. Trains were held there until full, but not crazy packed, and the A/C was money.

Just one reminder that Metro still does a lot of things right. Some of its problems are its being a victim of its own success: massive ridership, limits on night work, etc.

Now, dealing with those problems every day is just as maddening as commuting by car. Which is too bad.

Posted by: Godfather_of_Goals | August 10, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

G_of_G says: "Just one reminder that Metro still does a lot of things right."

Name five. ;-)

Posted by: | August 10, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

1. It gets me where I need to go safely (I'm far more likely to suffer and accident, serious injury, or die driving)

2. its easy to use

3. it moves great quantities of people, as we see during 4th of July, ball games, and other special events

4. connects the suburbs to the city

5. its the great equalizer: no matter how important you think you are, everyone is treated the same (for good and bad) on metro

Posted by: RedBirdie | August 10, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Count two more from my office driving because it's cheaper AND faster. The trek on Metro and bus from Cleveland Park to Georgetown takes 45 minutes each way and costs $5.30/day. If I didn't live a block from the Metro, it would be even longer.

Or I can drive a couple of miles down Rock Creek Parkway spend less than a buck on gas and get from my door to my desk in 15 minutes. A co-worker drives in from Takoma Park for the same reason.

We get our parking paid for by our employer, so that saves us a lot. But avoiding the crowds, the delays, and the bus inching its way lurch-by-lurch along M Street, Penn. Ave. & K Street are also saving my sanity!

Posted by: Zuleika | August 10, 2009 6:40 PM | Report abuse

Regarding having "down time" in the metro to read, listen to music, or just chill out. That is fine if you can get a seat or are not crammed in so much that you can't even enjoy listening to your Ipod because of the backpack in your face and the purse that is hitting your leg because everyone is standing up like sardines!

Posted by: Dougmacintyre | August 11, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

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