Tag: metro

RELEASE: Coalition for Smarter Growth Responds to Failure of Regional Leaders to Address WMATA’s Ridership Challenges

Press Statement
For Immediate Release
October 3, 2018

Contact:
Stewart Schwartz, 703-599-6437 (c)
Aimee Custis, 202-431-7185 (c)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Sun., Sept. 30, 2018, the Washington Post ran a story detailing the failure of the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority board members to commit to increasing Metrorail service.

In Sunday’s Post story, the elected and appointed officials charged with the stewardship of our region’s rail and bus system refused to say that they would unite as a body to run more trains, more often, in order to increase ridership. Such a move would follow the demands of riders, the recommendations of consultants, and well-known industry best practices.

National Transit Database data show that Metrorail ridership is down about 25 percent from a decade ago. Five of the past 12 months have set new record lows.

“We know this is primarily due to unreliable service and unreasonable wait times for trains,” says Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Schwartz continues, “These long wait times, especially during nights and weekends, have made other modes of transportation, like biking and ride-hailing, more attractive and more realistic to use than Metrorail.”

Schwartz says, “WMATA’s own consultants, hired to study declining ridership, have made clear to WMATA what has been intuitive to its customers for years: while there is increased competition from ridesharing services, low gas prices, and telecommuting, the primary cause of Metro’s ridership slide is reduced frequency, and especially reduced off-peak frequency on evenings and weekends.”

In his comments to the Post, board member Christian Dorsey did identify the need for “more service generally,” and “less disruption in service through closings and maintenance activities,” including during off-peak hours. But advocates say that taken in total, the WMATA board’s comments to the Post show Metro’s board pursuing goals that do not align with the realities of how transit works for the people who use it. As has been shown time and again, frequent, reliable service is the most important factor in attracting and retaining people who ride transit.

Moreover, elected officials in local and state jurisdictions where WMATA operates have not committed to providing the necessary operating funding to make frequent, reliable service possible.

While the Post reported solely on Metrorail, urgent attention must also be paid to Metrobus and other area bus services. A lack of political will to install and enforce dedicated bus lanes or signals — so buses can avoid the congestion of personal cars and move more people — means that bus performance is slowing alongside Metrorail.

“We support frequent, reliable public transit that connects the region. We stand fully behind WMATA when it takes steps to realize that reality,” says Schwartz. “We have worked closely with the agency as it has taken steps toward reform, fought for dedicated bus lanes, and campaigned successfully for its first-ever dedicated capital funding as part of the MetroNow coalition. We fought hard for this with the understanding that reliable financial resources for capital spending would enable WMATA, and its board, to focus on not just restoring, but improving, Metrorail service.

“WMATA’s stewards and elected officials representing the jurisdictions it serves are falling short in protecting the freedom and accessibility that transit service is central to providing to area residents. Frequent and reliable service increases transit ridership. It provides freedom and greater access to jobs and services. We need the board and regional elected officials to commit emphatically to improving service and ridership.”

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About the Coalition for Smarter Growth
The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington DC region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Its mission is to promote walkable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies and investments needed to make those communities flourish. Learn more at smartergrowth.net.

RELEASE: Business and nonprofit organizations reject stopgap approach to funding Metro

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 9, 2017

CONTACT
Stewart Schwartz, Coalition for Smarter Growth
(703) 599-6437
stewart@smartergrowth.net

TJ Ducklo, Greater Washington Partnership
tducklo@greaterwashingtonpartnership.com

WASHINGTON, DC — In response to reporting today about a stopgap spending measure for the Metrorail system, a diverse group of regional stakeholders representing Metro riders, businesses, nonprofits and advocates are calling for more urgent action to transform Metro—immediately.

A one-year funding patch for Metro repairs is short-sighted and does not prioritize the system or a long-term solution. Taking action in the legislative sessions starting in January 2018 is critical. We cannot delay until 2019 when the needs today are so urgent. Failure to address Metro’s funding and governance crisis immediately is not an option.

A temporary stopgap measure is simply not sufficient to support the types of changes necessary to bring Metro—and the regional economy as a whole—into the future effectively. Voters are expecting our elected leaders to stand up and lead. In a recent survey, 70 percent of registered voters from across the region said they would support an increase in public funding to improve the Metrorail system.

Funding alone is not enough to transform Metro into the transit system we need. Comprehensive reform across funding, governance and operations will bring about the greatest benefit to the region and the people who depend on Metro every day. A safe and reliable public transit system will strengthen the region’s economic growth, help make the area more environmentally friendly, and improve the quality of life for our growing population.

We are continuing to work with our elected leaders to make sure Metro continues to power our region’s success for the long term.

 

Federal City Council

Greater Washington Board of Trade

2030 Group

Greater Washington Partnership

Coalition for Smarter Growth

Greater Greater Washington

Maryland Center on Economic Policy

Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance

Washington Area Bicyclist Association

Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce

Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers

Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance

DC Sustainable Transportation

The Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce

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RELEASE: Business, Labor, Riders, Urbanists Join In Call to Fix Metro

WASHINGTON, DC –Six major organizations representing business, labor, transit riders, and urbanists joined today to outline principles that the region should follow to restore Metro to good health. In a letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser and Governors Larry Hogan and Terry McAuliffe, the groups said that the regional transit agency needs a strong General Manager backed with commitments of political support, organizational authority, and funding.

Why D.C.-Area Commuters Say They Are Dropping Metro

Call them the Metro quitters.

Months of consistently unreliable rush hour service have been emblematic of this rough year for the D.C. region’s transit system. An unknown but seemingly growing number of commuters are dumping Metro, giving up their seats — if seats are even available aboard packed railcars — for cars, bikes or walking.

WAMU 88.5 has received scores of emails and tweets from Metrorail riders who are quitting the system after the lousy summer that ended on a regrettably fitting note: on Sept. 21 a transformer fire at Metro’s power substation near Stadium-Armory will cause service disruptions for at least six months on the Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines.

“They’ve really completely crushed my faith in them,” says NoMa resident Benjamin Rockey-Harris, 33, one of several ex-subway users interviewed by WAMU 88.5. “I’m much happier walking. It’s working out for me, unlike Metro.”

Ridership down

Weekday rail ridership is down about 6 percent since its peak in 2008, although the trip figures rebounded a bit last year. Among the factors Metro leaders are quick to point to, the recession, rise of teleworking, loss of the federal pre-tax transit benefit, and growth of alternatives like Uber and Capital Bikeshare usually top the list.

But what about riders who have quit the system because the service stinks? Admittedly, that figure is difficult, if not impossible, to accurately quantify.

“I don’t know that we can determine exact percentages and such, but we do know unreliability does have an impact on our customers,” says Jack Requa, the transit authority’s interim general manager since January. “There’s been a decline in ridership. We are certainly trying to determine the reasons for that and anything we can do to offset that.”

Preliminary figures show ridership dipped 7 percent in August from the same month in 2014 — a significant year-over-year loss. And with commuters facing slowdowns and delays on the three lines through Stadium-Armory well into next spring, more riders are expected to quit Metro.

“I’m going to walk”

It’s 8 a.m. on a Monday morning in Washington’s NoMa neighborhood. Rockey-Harris, an IT professional in downtown D.C., stands at the corner of 2nd and L Streets Northeast and makes an easy decision. Instead of turning right to go to the nearby by Red Line station, he continues to hoof it west on L.

“If it worked perfectly it would be 20-minute ride to work, but I’d rather walk 45 [minutes] than deal with the chaos, honestly,” he says.

The chaos he describes will sound familiar to just about anyone who has tried to board a rush hour train lately.

“Metro means that I have no reliability of getting to work on time. I’m going to pay a rush hour fee for a six- or eight-minute wait for a Red Line train, and then possibly not even get on the next train because they’re all six-car trains and they’ll be full,” Rockey-Harris says.

There was no single incident that drove him away from public transportation. Instead it was weeks and weeks of delays, packed trains, and late arrivals to work that convinced him once and for all to give up on Metro. Others share his story.

“I showed up to work 45 minutes late one time, and that was the final straw,” says Matthew Benjamin, 36, a federal worker who lives in Falls Church. He dumped the Orange Line and now rides his bike all the way into his office near Union Station.

“It was the inconsistent times that the trains were running. You couldn’t count on the same train to be there the same time each morning. That made my commute vary back and forth by 30 to 45 minutes at a time. And that wasn’t acceptable,” Benjamin says.

Crumbling confidence

Whatever the reasons for the long decline in trips, Metro can ill afford to lose any customers. The transit authority is projecting budget deficits for years to come as costs continue to rise against stagnant ridership and revenue forecasts. But public confidence — shaken by multiple rush hour meltdowns and major federal safety investigations — in Metro is crumbling.

“I’d rather take the subway but I can’t rely upon it,” says Becky Ogle, a federal worker and disability rights advocate, who drives from Bethesda into Washington every morning. Because she is in a wheelchair, she is concerned not only with train malfunctions and track problems, but broken elevators, too.

“I’m supposed to be at work at the same time my colleagues are, my able-bodied colleagues. But if I get to my station and the elevator’s not working, then usually it takes about an hour to recoup,” Ogle says. “I’ll have to go to another destination with an elevator working and back track on my own through my own rolling, or have Metro pick me up, which takes forever.”

Metro’s lackluster ridership was pinned on several factors, including slower-than-expected growth in Silver Line usage over the second half of 2014, in a recent budget analysis released by transit authority management.

“The general trend over the past three years of lower average weekday rail ridership has continued, with fewer days reaching a ridership total of 750,000 or more, and more days falling below 700,000,” the report said.

When asked what it would take to return to Metro, riders gave a simple answer: better service.

“We have one of the best subway systems in the country. I would just like to see it be on the upswing instead of the downswing,” says Jessica McBroom, a State Department employee who rides her bike to work.

McBroom, a D.C. resident, bikes six miles to visit family in Maryland on weekends instead of waiting upwards of 24 minutes for a train if there is track work.

“Where are we getting with all of this weekend track work?” she says. Metro is more than four years into a six-year, $5 billion rebuilding program.

Some have quit Metro in disgust. Others did so reluctantly.

“I have very fond memories of Metro. My first experiences in D.C. were my dad taking me to RFK to Redskins games as a kid. We took Metro every time and we never had a problem,” says Bryan Davis Keith, a federal employee who now resides in Winchester, Virginia.

“We never had issues with it breaking down or not knowing what was going on…now you are lucky if something doesn’t happen on your commute,” he says.

Instead of driving to the Orange Line station in Vienna, Keith drives all 100 miles into D.C. every morning, taking his chances with I-66 instead of the train.

Rider testimonials

We heard from many other Metro riders with strong feelings driving their decision to abandon it for their commute. Here are some select testimonials.

Staci Pittman

“For me, it was in 2014 when WMATA took a turn for the worse. I was constantly late for work and because I had to leave at a certain time to make my return trip, my days were usually short of 8 hours. On the return trip, a ride that usually takes 20-25 minutes from Bethesda to Union Station could actually take up to 45 minutes which made me miss my MARC connection and often times leaving me stranded once I made it to Odenton because I missed the last neighborhood bus. The situation seemed to worsen in the summertime and there was always single tracking, crowded platforms, burning rail and water issues. A simple trip from Bethesda to Friendship Heights to get an allergy shot during lunchtime often took an hour and a half roundtrip, including waiting times. Everything wore me down as WMATA delays became the rule and not the exception and having one day out of two weeks being on time seemed like a bonus. As much as I didn’t want to, I broke down a year ago.”

Danny Goldman

“I am a Rockville native. I grew up taking the Red Line and had pretty clear memories of using it as a go-to mode of transport into the city. When I came back from overseas a year ago to start grad school downtown, one of the reasons I was excited was Metro. I thought I wouldn’t need a car, it was convenient, and cost effective. I was wrong.

The Red Line has turned into a disaster, costs have skyrocketed, the service and facilities have deteriorated to the point of being a national embarrassment and safety hazard.”

Matthew Becker

“I haven’t quit completely because it’s still more cost-effective, but ever since I started having to take the Red Line to my current job in Bethesda, I’ve found myself using my own car, Lyft, and trying to take the bus further so as to avoid delays on the train. I try to monitor Twitter in the morning and listen to the radio to be aware of delays on the Metro but unfortunately I still have to rely on the train sometimes. As soon as I can move to a work location where I can rely only on the bus, the bike share, or my own two feet, I don’t plan to take the train ever again.”

Leigh Mihlrad

“I used to take an express bus to the Pentagon each day, and then take the Blue Line to Farragut West. I got so tired of the delays, and frequent inability to get on the train, due to how crowded it was, that I now drive to my department’s Arlington Headquarters and then take our free shuttle downtown. It takes slightly less time, even with some traffic on 395.”

Benita Robertson

“When I first moved here I was ecstatic about the availability of public transit and planned to rely on it 100 percent.”

“My enthusiasm declined with the increase of incidents and delays. I am a patient person so I can deal with delays, but what I can’t deal with is fearing for my safety. The final straw was the reduced train speed between Pentagon and L’Enfant plaza in response to much-needed track repairs.”

“Each day as we slowly creep over the bridge I nervously stared down at the water. There have been so many derailments, brake malfunctions and door issues. I am worried that there is a real problem with the tracks and that a major incident is just waiting to happen. I dislike driving. Traffic stresses me out and I’m terrible at parallel parking, but just yesterday I started researching monthly parking in D.C. so I can drive and park during the week. It’s a real shame, especially since I am a self-identified ‘terrible driver’ and strongly feel I shouldn’t be driving more than absolutely required. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take if I can’t rely on metro to be concerned about my safety.”

Maria Khan

“I quit taking the train this past summer after three years of consistently using it as my primary means of getting downtown from Vienna. I got stuck in the tunnel twice for 40+ minutes each time and have since developed a bad case of claustrophobia. I now cannot ride the train without getting an inevitable panic attack about whether I will be able to get off it once I get on due to all the stops and holds it does in the tunnels. The persistent holds for 40+ minutes in tunnels coupled with reports of smoke and fires, it just seemed like too much of a dangerous situation to put myself. I now take I-66 to work and always pass by an Orange Line train stuck on the tracks for no apparent reason and feel bad for the commuters stuffed inside it.”

Jessica Giguere

“I’m actually going to move into the city so I can walk/bike rather than Metro. Money is tight but I’d rather pay more on rent and sacrifice space than what I pay now in Metro fares and time. I spend at least 10 hours a week commuting from the Vienna Metro station to McPherson Square.”

Ryan Jesien

“I was a WMATA commuter from 2005 to 2013. I wouldn’t get on it today if I were paid to. I rode from Braddock Road to Silver Spring for a time period before dropping their horrible service in favor of biking or driving to work.”

“WMATA is corrupt, expensively priced, and unsafe. I would rather put my skull in a vice than ride their train. A dead horse is a more reliable form of transportation.”

Chris Dattaro

“This is the second time I’ve given up on Metro, and I’m never going back. I live in Old Town and was commuting to Rosslyn for a past job but now commute to Georgetown for a new job. Braddock to Rosslyn is 6 stops; Braddock to Foggy Bottom is 7 and all on the BL. Should be easy enough, right?”

“Between the inconsistent schedules and repeated delays it would consistently take over an hour door-to-door. The BL runs trains every 13-15 minutes during Rush Hour which is pretty mind boggling. It also cost me $7 per day roundtrip to take the Metro. If you multiple that out by the 23 work days in September, that costs me $161. So to sum it up:

Metro: $155-161 per month, 60-80 minute commute one way, no control over delays, overcrowded trains due to the infrequency at peak hours. Car: $135 + gas per month, 25-30 minute commute, flexible schedule. I also ride my bike a few times per week when it’s nice outside. The Metro is just garbage. I’ll use it as infrequently as possible and from here on out, mostly just for Caps games.”

Read on WAMU >>

Metro committee delays vote on budget options for two weeks

Transit advocate groups also agree that between fare increases, service cuts or increased subsidies from the jurisdictions, only the third is palatable. “Eighty-percent of those you polled support increasing state and local investment to meet Metro’s full operating budget shortfall, rather than include $46 million in fare increases and service cuts. When we see $46 million, we think of the spending on road and interchange projects where a single interchange can cost that much,” says Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.