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Dr. Gridlock
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Posted at 11:26 AM ET, 06/19/2012

If Metro’s Rush Plus works, how will we know, and when will we know?

How are Metro riders supposed to measure whether Rush Plus works?

A passenger on the Orange, Blue or Yellow lines knows what a particular ride was like. Compared to last week, the train arrived earlier or later. The rail car was more crowded or less crowded.

But we often saw that kind of variation, and not only from week to week but from day to day. So first point: Let experience be your guide, but give your experience a little time to develop.

Rush Plus runs the same old equipment over the same old tracks. So door problems, switch problems, third rail problems — all the things that cause unexpected delays and crowd trains — are going to continue.

Even on the Orange and Yellow lines, the ones with more service because of Rush Plus, trains will be delayed and bunch up, so there will be a gap, then a very crowded train, then a less crowded train soon after.

Then the Operations Control Center will do a schedule adjustment, and some trains will hold with their doors open on platforms. And some more riders will come flying down the steps and hurl themselves into a crowded car like it was the last copter out of Saigon.

You know: Just another morning on Metro.

From the transit authority’s point of view, things went pretty well Monday.

“Speaking broadly,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said, “the operation went off as advertised.” And that’s a fair statement. Speaking broadly, Metro said it would add trains to the Orange and Yellow lines and subtract them from the Blue Line. And that’s what it did.

But Metro still needs to work on its communication skills. For this thing to turn out all right, riders need to figure out whether some new service pattern works better for them. For example, if Blue Line riders in Virginia can find some value in switching to the Yellow Line, they will help themselves and help riders remaining on the Blue Line, because their trains will be less crowded.

It’s fine to have people at the station entrances giving out brochures. (I think the little brochures are well designed, and informative about the overall service pattern.) But riders don’t always know what they don’t know till they reach the platforms. They could benefit from having Metro staffers roaming the platforms saying, “Does everybody know where they’re going? Anybody need directions?”

I didn’t see anything like that Monday, morning or afternoon.

From about 5:30 to 6 p.m., I stood on the platforms at Rosslyn to see how crowded they got and how crowded the trains looked. (I used to commute in and out of Rosslyn when The Post’s online newsroom was there.)

Rosslyn is not only a heavily used station, but also a transfer point for riders switching between the Blue and Orange lines. Riders stood a few people deep on the outbound platform, though the crowding diminished the closer we got to 6 p.m.

Both the Blue and Orange Line trains were crowded, even with additional service on the Orange Line and less service on the Blue Line. When there was a gap between trains on either line, the next one in would be more crowded and the second one in less crowded. Some trains were packed in the middle and less crowded in the end cars.

Conclusion: I can’t come to a conclusion from one day.

And we haven’t begun to talk about some of the other potential effects of the service changes. I got an e-mail today from a Maryland rider who commutes from Silver Spring to Crystal City. She was hoping to pick up one of those new Rush Plus Yellow Line trains when she transfers from the Red Line at Fort Totten.

That is a potential advantage, because it eliminates another transfer along that route. Rush Plus adds three Yellow Line trains per hour in the morning and afternoon, which should be pretty good for riders in Virginia and the middle of D.C. But up at the Fort Totten transfer point, that means the new Yellow Line trains arrive 18 minutes apart.

Please continue to share your experiences with me, either here on the blog or by e-mailing to drgridlock@washpost.com. I hope to publish some of your letters in my column, but for those, please include your full name and home community along with a phone number in case I need to call you.

By  |  11:26 AM ET, 06/19/2012

Categories:  Metro | Tags:  DC transportation, Metro, WMATA, Rush Plus

 
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