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This week's Metrorail crowding merely a preview?

The history of your Tuesday morning commute on Metrorail, via Metro's e-mail alerts:

-- "Disruption at Dupont Circle. Mechanical problem at Dupont Circle. All entrance escalators out of service at 20th & Q Street entrance. Station remains open."
-- "Disruption at Rosslyn. Delays continue to Vienna. Earlier train malfunction at Rosslyn resolved."
-- "Disruption at Rockville. Delays continue to Glenmont. Earlier train malfunction at Rockville resolved."

This continued the pattern for 2010. The Red Line commute on Monday evening was crowded on the platforms and crowded on the trains. Here's how one of our frequent commenters, EtoilePB, described it: "I left Silver Spring at 5:45 to head to Metro Center (then waited nearly 10 minutes on that elevated platform), but at Gallery Place our train doors busted and the standing-on-other-people-room-only train had to offload onto an already jammed platform. ... it was hugely dangerous. (And some people actually ended up getting shoved *back onto* the out-of-service train.) I went downstairs and took the Green to L'Enfant rather than trying to take the Red to Metro Center ... in better weather I'd have walked."

During our online chat at noon Monday, several people wrote in to ask me if Metro already had begun the service cutbacks it says it needs to help balance its budget.

No, that won't happen till late this month or early next month. But we may be in the midst of an unofficial, unintended preview.

The Metro board is scheduled to meet Thursday morning to consider the proposals from General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. to trim $40 million worth of spending from the current budget. Only about a tenth of that balancing would be done through service cuts, but here's what you don't get for $4 million.

Widen peak period train times in morning to save $114,000.
Between 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m.: From six to eight minutes

Eliminate regular eight-car train service.
What Metro says it offers now: 29 eight-car trains during peak periods.
-- Red Line: 10 trains
-- Orange Line: nine trains
-- Green Line: 10 trains

What you'd get if plan is enacted: 0 eight-car trains at peak periods, to save $672,000.

How that saves money: Less wear and tear on the rail cars, less maintenance, lower propulsion cost.

Widen off-peak train times to save $1.982 million.
-- Weekday midday and early evening: From 12 to 15 minutes
-- Saturday daytime: From 12 to 15 minutes
-- Sunday daytime: From 15 to 20 minutes
-- Weekday or weekend after 9:30 p.m.: From 20 to 30 minutes on Orange, Blue, Yellow and Green lines; from 15 to 20 minutes on Red Line.

Reduce holiday service
Cut service on certain holidays to better match the demand and save $35,000. Reducing service means running six-car trains only and eliminating some peak period trips. The holidays in question are Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President's Day, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Adjust Red Line run times.
The scheduled run time for a train between Shady Grove and Glenmont is 61 minutes. The adjustments are more complicated than a straight-forward cost savings (of $90,000 in the current fiscal year), so I'll elaborate in a separate blog posting, but these are the basics.
-- Metro would schedule different running times for peak and off-peak periods: Four minutes would be added to peak period running time, making it 65 minutes end to end; two minutes would be added to off-peak period running time, making it 63 minutes end to end.
-- Metro would widen the scheduled time between trains at peak periods from five to six minutes.
-- Metro would eliminate the Grosvenor turn-back during peak periods, pleasing passengers between Shady Grove and Grosvenor, but cutting service for riders on the more crowded platforms in the middle of the line.

Close some station mezzanines on weekends.
By closing 10 mezzanines on weekends at stations with low ridership, the transit authority would save $168,000. These are stations that have more than one mezzanine, but it would mean that riders have to walk an extra block or two to reach them.

Close some mezzanines early on weekdays.
By closing five mezzanines at 8 p.m. at stations with low ridership at those hours, the transit authority would save $50,000. These are stations with more than one mezzanine, but riders would have to walk an extra block or two to reach the open one.

Catoe wants to move quickly on these changes to save the money and balance the budget. There are plenty of other changes proposed for Metrobus, so I'll outline them in a separate posting. Metro's estimate on the bus savings: $1,082,173.

For now, I'd like you to consider the impact of the proposed rail changes. How would they affect your travels? What can you live with and what would you reject? What alternative solutions would you propose to help balance the budget?

By Robert Thomson  |  January 5, 2010; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail delays  
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Personally, I ride the Loudoun Commuter Bus because of the mess with Metro. It costs me $14 a day, but I don't have to deal with nearly as much crowding and it's a comfortable ride, with a bathroom even.

That said, Metro's going to end up losing money on this deal overall. They're going to take away rider space and make people wait longer for trains, thus increasing the number of people that will be there when a train arrives. When I used to catch the train at West Falls Church, there was already a problem sometimes with crowding, and by the time it left there, some days you weren't going to get anyone else on the train.

They'll lose riders over this, which means the cuts will equal out to a net loss, and they'll have to raise fares. They might as well just raise the fares now and at least keep something of a halfway-okay service.

The other thing they should perhaps do is spend some money to refit their cars now. Rip out the carpets and redo the seating to be along the walls only, like NYC; also make the seats hard plastic only. Make more room for standees and save on maintenance and cleaning...if there's no fabric or padding to worry about, someone could hose down the inside of a car pretty quick.

Posted by: kmcandrew | January 5, 2010 9:01 AM | Report abuse

I find this very disappointing. The Metro Board should be fired; was 2009 the biginning of Metro not being a reliable, convenient alternative to driving?
Seems to me, that the elected officials that are not funding Metro properly, are adding to the region's vehicular crowding, and energy consumption....

Posted by: Max231 | January 5, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse

I am just so happy about my decision to abandon MetroFAIL and drive to work. Even in the worst weather and the worst traffic, commuting by car is more comfortable and affordable than being packed like a sardine on a dangerous, dirty MetroFAIL subway. I can listen to music and adjust the temperature to my liking. Nobody with swine flu coughs in my face. I always get to sit down. No swearing, screaming aggressive teenagers. Driving is well worth the cost. I took MetroFAIL back and forth to work for 25 years, and I remember when it worked smoothly. Today, it is just a disaster.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | January 5, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

I've never understood why they close the 17th Street exit at Farragut West on the orange line on weekends and holidays. The one exit left open is at International Square which is deserted.
The 17th Street exit would be more convenient for the National Geographic Museum, the DAR, the Renwick Museum, and the Corcoran Gallery.

Posted by: swissmiss150 | January 5, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

They might wanna rethink that evening train timing, at least on Verizone Center and Nats Park event nights. Most VCenter events run past 9:30 and about 1/2-2/3rd of the crowd takes the train one way or another. The ballgames run late to and a lot of people take the train to those as well. Just saying, no demagouging here.

Posted by: EricS2 | January 5, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

"Weekday or weekend after 9:30 p.m.: From 20 to 30 minutes on "

this is absolutely the worst service cut and needs to be denied by the board. 30 minutes to wait for a train? can you imagine after a hockey game, nationals game etc? what about people in graduate school? Just simply unacceptable I much rather have FARE HIKES than service cuts.

Posted by: JG55 | January 5, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

How is it that 9 people died in a crash an nobody at Metro is held accountable? Seriously, what else needs to happen? Catoe needs to be fired. The Metro board needs to be fired. The fact that there has been no accountability in that crash sheds light on the pathological functionings (or should I say dysfunction) of the Metro system. There need to be substantial changes, and nobody is doing anything.

Posted by: 123cartoon | January 5, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Considering that one can walk almost everywhere in NW within the span of 30 minutes, I find these changes unacceptable. You would think that in the capital of one of the most powerful countries in the world we could find the funds to run a top-notch metro system like Paris or London.

Posted by: juantana | January 5, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

If gaps between trains are going to be more than 20 minutes (yikes), can they change the "next train arrival" screens to show trains that are arriving within 30 minutes? Right now they only show trains that are 20 minutes or less away.

I would rather see Metro close its budget gap by fining people who stand on the left side of the escalator... I can dream...

Posted by: DOEJN | January 5, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

How about we start saving money by firing incompetent employess. I have dealt with some very rude "station managers".

Also reducing the already long wait times on weekend nights is a horrible idea. If metro is not running frequently more people will drive, which means more people will be driving drunk. Metro should just charge a "nightime surcharge" for weekend and holidays after ten. This would bring in a greater revenue stream.

Posted by: Natstural | January 5, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

The prospect of just missing a train and spending 29 minutes on an outdoor platform is the point at which I'm willing to put up the new parking situation and drive into town. I would pay peak or higher fares for the existing 20 minute train frequency, but the cost in time of the proposed cut to nighttime service is simply too high.

As to commuting hours, these changes alone are not quite enough to convince me to drive into work, but it's staggering to hear that they're cutting service by this much (25-50%) and expecting things to be even worse in July.

Posted by: adbiosec | January 5, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

So Metro's answer to a budget shortfall is to make Metro even more unattractive and to drive away existing riders?? Brilliant.

I've been faithful to public transportation for decades, but I'm starting to rethink how much inconvenience I'm willing to tolerate. I think a modest fare hike is definitely preferable over what Catoe is proposing.

Posted by: redgrifn | January 5, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

If it saves so much money to go from 8 to 6 car trains, how about going down to 4 car trains on all lines?

Posted by: member5 | January 5, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I thought the public policy was to encourage people to take public transportation. There should be more 8 car trains, not fewer.

Posted by: posttoastie1 | January 5, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

The current service does not work. Anyone switching trains at Gallery Place has seen the GRIDLOCK that results when there are not enough trains and cars to service the crowds. It creates a DANGEROUS situation that is going to result in someone getting pushed into an oncoming train by the crowds, or someone getting sick or assaulted in a situation in which emergency personnel are unable to gain access through the crowds. And they are going to make it WORSE! Who is in charge here? No one with a lick of sense, that's for SURE!

Posted by: CAC2 | January 5, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Hi Metro customers,
I'm sorry to have to say this but I seriously doubt that anything any of you has to say is going to be even considered, much less implemented, and this applies no matter how great your suggestion is. The WMATA organization is so incompetent and corrupt that there is no way they are going to listen to any of you all, they do what they want to do and that's final. If you want to have input be prepared to spend several years of your life to get one or two small increments of change.

Posted by: g-lo | January 5, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

adbiosec, you can prevent having to wait 29 mins (or 19 mins as it is now) if you have a web enabled cell phone. By going to and selecting "Next Train" you can see when the next trains are arriving at your desired station (it shows what is posted on the electronic boards on the platforms). I find it really useful and often check the times on my way to the station. Oh 10 minutes til the next train? I can take my time walking. Next train in 4 minutes? I better hurry up so I don't miss it.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | January 5, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Doesn't Metro realize that the trains are quite busy during off peak, especially at lunch hour and between 7 and 9:30 pm? Much as I think Metro service is grossly unreliable, I would pay for a small fare increase to cover the trivial amounts, such as $114,000, that cutting rail service at rush hour *might* save.

There MUST be some way to MAKE Metro provide reliable service. So far, I have had three bad commutes on the Red Line this year. Monday morning 01-04, there were delays from Shady Grove to Glenmont. Monday evening 01-04, there were huge delays from Glenmont to Shady Grove. This morning 01-05, there were huge delays again from Shady Grove to Glenmont. It was MISERABLE standing on the plaform at Twinbrook, freezing my --- off this morning. Because of a malfunctioning train at Rockville, service, no trains destined for Glenmont arrived at Twinbrook for *15* minutes. This kind of service is INTOLERABLE.

Service quality has been declining for about 10 years. During last five years, Redl Line reliability has taken a nose dive, and during the last two years, the Red Line has been hopelessly unreliable.

Isn't there some way that riders can protest? Or the Washington Post run lengthy exposes? Can't anyone do anything to get better funding, more competent management, more reliable rail cars?

Posted by: RockvilleBear | January 5, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

At least it isnt a fare increase.

Posted by: thetan | January 5, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Seriously, I'd prefer a fare increase to the current trend toward longer wait times. For those of us reliant on public transportation, the metro competes with taxis. 30 minute wait for a train is absurd - the occasional 18-20 you see now is also ridiculous. Should be a 15 min max if they want to keep riders - the current unreliability is what prompts me to bike commute unless it's bad weather. Gaps of more than three min during the morning commute (speaking for the red line, anyway)= disaster of a ride. Way too crowded. An idea: those employees who stand next to the booths and watch to prevent fare-dodgers? Have them drive trains.

Posted by: HerrSlam | January 5, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

John Catoe is penny wise and dollar dumb.

Fire him now.

Take his consultants along with him.

Ban rowdy teenagers.

Make MetroAccess pay its own way and do not subsidize it. There are taxi cabs, you know.

Smash the cabal of do-nothing employees and make them repair stuff. I mean REPAIR, not juryrig something in the hopes of making it run an extra week.

Oh, and fire Catoe.

Posted by: bs2004 | January 5, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Since it appears that this will only save $4 million (and the bus cuts about $1 million), I assume there will also be fare hikes, so those who say they want to pay more instead--this is not an either/or situation.

Posted by: Louise9 | January 5, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

kmcandrew makes sense. Who needs the carpet? Doesn't take long before it looks awful & funky anyway. Put down whatever is easy to clean. Seats along the walls is a good idea. Management is clueless. How many of the execs ride Metro daily? Metro likes to spend time coming up with brilliant ideas like having musicians in the stations. The real issues that passengers complain about 24-7 get brushed aside with "we regret the inconvenience & appreciate your patience." Might as well broadcast that on the PA system on an endless loop.

Posted by: uncivil | January 5, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

The idea that 30 minutes between trains should be acceptable after 9:30 pm is just insane. I go to events at Verizon and don't to the Metro until at least 9:45 pm. The year that Metro decided that running 4 car trains on the Orange Line after 9:30 pm was a prior horrible decision. The trains were jammed pack and pull into stations and people could not get on the trains. The suggestion that just use the Next Train service is a joke. It is not just the wait time; it is the ability to actually get on the train that should be a concern.

Posted by: NovaCath1 | January 5, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Just increase the damn fares, for goodness sake!

Posted by: uh_huhh | January 5, 2010 9:12 PM | Report abuse

Farragut West: I agree with the suggestion that on weekends the 18th St entrance be closed and the 17th St one opened - not only closer to tourist attractions, but also where all the buses stop. I suggested this over a year ago...

Posted by: busgirl1 | January 6, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

NovaCath1, my suggestion to use the Next Train feature was to prevent a long wait. Something that is very useful with the current 20 minute headway. I agree with your sentiment of the potential overcrowding, however most likely Metro will still run more trains to get people home after events at Verizon and Nationals games (like they currently do).

Personally I think the 30 minute headway idea is fine, though I think it should not begin until after 10pm. I regularly take the train home during late hours and I don't think you will see the unbearable crowding you describe. There have been some nearly 30 minute headways lately with the track work on the redline and I have never had a problem getting on a train late at night. More people having to stand than usual but you still can get on.

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | January 6, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Am I dreaming or what? At a time when we need to expand our mass transit more than ever, I cannot believe that the three jurisdictions would let Metro implement such drastic cuts! We always argue that we cannot have the vast mass transportation systems of other developed countries because of our different type of urban development but there is no excuse to cut the number and size of buses and trains! Oh, I forgot! We are no longer a developed country, we are the first country to un-develop. So incredibly sad.

Posted by: Patou | January 7, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

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