Even more reasons to feel blue about Metro cutbacks

January 3, 2013
Waiting commuters are reflected in the oncoming Metro Blue Line train as it arrives at Addison Road-Seat Pleasant station. (Linda Davidson – The Washington Post)

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You published my comments in September regarding concerns over the change in Blue Line service from Springfield to Rosslyn (my daily commute). I was very frustrated by the change in the Blue Line service when service was reduced in June.

In your article Dec. 5, I was further dismayed to read about even longer delays and disruptions when the Silver Line opens later this year. The Blue Line will suffer greatly:

“When the line opens, perhaps by the end of next year, Metro will further reduce the number of Blue Line trains, according to a staff plan. . . . The trains will be scheduled to operate every 12 minutes along the route between Franconia-Springfield and Largo. That will be the service level during both peak periods and off-peak periods.”

To have to wait 12 minutes at a minimum for a Blue Line train is unfair and totally unacceptable. That delay further lengthens my commute, and on occasion, I miss my connecting bus, which delays the time I get home to my children. The 12 minutes can easily stretch into 15 or 20, depending on what disruptions happen along the system.

I have made up my mind that I will have to quit riding Metro once the Blue Line service is further cut to accommodate the Silver Line.

It is not worth the frustration, the packed trains, the delay in getting home. I don’t pay for less service. I pay for good, reliable, improving service, and Metro is going in the opposite direction and unjustly affecting Blue Line ridership.

I have ridden Metro faithfully for almost 14 years, but I cannot handle any more frustration, stress and disruptions to my life.

P. King, Fairfax

DG: Many Blue Line riders do not have fond memories of 2012, and they will not be looking forward to this year, when the addition of the Silver Line cuts their service again so the new trains can get through the Rosslyn tunnel.

I do hope that before Metro imposes its second cutback later in the year, it can at least find a way to add express bus service into Rosslyn. But that won’t make them whole.

Metro did add some bus service in June, when the first round of changes, called Rush Plus, reduced service on the Blue Line, and it did add trains to the Orange and Yellow lines. But this extra service is not a realistic alternative for King and other riders bound for Rosslyn.

For them, there’s just no compensating service enhancement. And they find it galling that they are paying the same fare as the riders who got extra service.

Imagine if you were in a store checkout line to buy the same holiday gift as the person ahead of you. You can hear the clerk tell the person ahead, “I’ll swap that item for the new, improved version. No extra charge.” Naturally, you ask for the same deal. No, the clerk tells you. In fact, we’re going to confiscate your item and substitute a slightly irregular one — same price, and thanks for shopping.

You’d probably walk out, never to return.

That’s how King and the other Blue Line riders feel.

Compensating riders

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

This Blue Line service issue is a class-action lawsuit waiting to happen. It would seem that Metro would be unjustly enriched by collecting rush-hour fares from Blue Line riders while not having to provide any additional service for the increased fares. Or, has Metro indicated that it will abolish rush-hour fares for Blue Line riders?

Joan Rood, Chevy Chase

DG: I agree with the sentiment. It isn’t fair to enhance service for one group of riders at the expense of another.

I do quibble with one word: “enriched.” Metro loses money on riders. The cost of providing train service is well beyond the revenue from the fares. Taxpayers make up the difference. So I don’t envision Metro rolling in dough because of the Blue Line service cutback.

The transit authority has no plan to give Blue Line riders a break on fares. If the Smartrip electronic fare calculating system were as smart as we would like it to be, it should be possible to charge an off-peak fare all the time for a rider such as King who boards at Franconia-Springfield and exits at Rosslyn.

But even if the system were that sophisticated, I’d worry about going in that direction: If prices were lowered for riders who lost service, it’s bound to occur to someone that they could be raised for riders who gained service.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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