Some commuters who got a late start Monday morning because of delayed office openings were skeptical about Metro’s promise to add extra service to accommodate them.
Late-morning riders — particularly those on the west side of the Orange Line — said they waited 12 minutes or more for trains that were very crowded. Here are some of the complaints they sent in during my online chat at noon:
“Supposed rush hour service: I am another one: attempted to get on train at Vienna at 10 a.m., but trains were 12 minutes apart ... just be truthful with us riders. Don’t claim you are offering rush hour service but then clearly have 10-12 minutes between trains. Though to be fair, I have experienced that during rush hour on the way home, so maybe that is the new rush hour service!”
“Extended rush hour: I was at Shady Grove at 10 a.m., and while I was waiting they took three trains in a row out of service before letting the crowds finally board an in-service train. Rush hour service indeed.”
“No extended rush hour: I commute from Pentagon City to Navy Yard. I can confirm that at 9:45, trains were 12 minutes apart on the Yellow and Blue lines and at 10:15, trains were 12 minutes apart on the Green and Yellow lines. The first problem with Metro is that you can’t believe anything they say.”
Those were among the comments I didn’t have time to publish during the chat. The first comment I did publish came from an Orange Line rider:
“Can Metro get any worse? Does no one from OPM coordinate with Metro? I tried in vain to take Metro to work today. OPM announced very early last evening that the government would open at 11 a.m. In a sane world, Metro would know that and adjust their personnel accordingly. Instead, around 10 a.m. when I entered Ballston station trains were running 10-12 minutes apart. Each train that came into the station was already quite full. The packed platform at Ballston could not empty into the trains. This is pathetic and ridiculous. Why did Metro not add trains to the late morning rush hour?”
The federal Office of Personnel Management does coordinate with the transit authority and scores of other traffic and transit agencies in the D.C. region about the effects of winter weather and about delayed openings or early closings. There’s at least one gigantic conference call before decisions are made.
On Sunday night, the transit authority issued this statement: “Due to expected icy conditions and an announced delayed opening for Federal employees, Metro will operate an expanded morning rush hour service on Monday, Jan. 23, 2012. Both Metrorail and Metrobus service will operate additional trips during the late morning hours for the benefit of customers traveling to work later than usual.” Metro also cancelled its plans for midday track work Monday.
Transit spokesman Dan Stessel said there was additional service Monday morning. He said it was significantly better than what riders would normally have experienced at late morning hours, but not what they’d see at the peak of the peak.
Stessel said that, on average, inbound trains arrived at Ballston every eight minutes between 9 and 11 a.m.
Many of my readers reported above average experiences.
I did hear from one commuter who did all right.
“Red Line from Rockville: I must have been lucky today. I got to Rockville around 9:45 a.m. The train was already leaving when I got to the station, but there was only a six-minute wait for the next train. It was fairly empty and didn’t get really packed until about Tenleytown or Van Ness.”
I often hear from riders who say they observed gaps between trains far greater than the few minutes they expect at rush hour. The people I hear from most frequently are morning riders on the west side of the Orange Line, which is extremely crowded.
The trains going through downtown bunch up the same way buses bunch up in heavy traffic when lots of people are getting on and off. By the time trains get out west again, the schedule is off, and riders wait a long time for a train that’s jammed, because lots of people arrived on the platform during the long interval between trains.
Sometimes, that train is followed quickly by another that is far less crowded, because people in a hurry had to jam aboard the first one. Sometimes there’s no relief at all because so many people are arriving on the platforms, and train after train is packed.
So even on an average morning, many riders don’t have average experiences. But the cumulative effect of them is probably going to be a factor in how they view the fare increase proposals that the Metro board is about to put before the public.
Stessel said additional trains were operating on all lines, even after fares returned to their off-peak levels at 9:30 a.m.
Between 9 and 10 a.m., he said, ridership was about 30 percent higher than usual. Before that, it was lighter than normal. Between 9 and 11 a.m., 15 inbound trains arrived at Ballston. That creates the average of a train every eight minutes. At Friendship Heights on the Red Line, 25 trains arrived during the same time period, for an average headway of four to five minutes. At Pentagon City, 27 inbound trains arrived during those two hours, for an average headway of four and a half minutes.
That’s far better than normal midday service, but what Metro thought it was communicating in its initial statement about the service wasn’t what these unhappy riders were hearing.
“Our goal was to communicate that there would be more service to accommodate later ridership,” Stessel said. “If people interpreted this as a specific headway commitment, our apologies — and we’ll be more clear next time.”