Dr. Gridlock’s traffic, transit tips: Drivers, Metro riders measure shutdown differently

Robert Thomson
Columnist October 5, 2013
Shutdown commuting

Official calculations about the effects of the federal shutdown on commuting provide only rough ideas. The Virginia Department of Transportation saw more free-flowing traffic on Interstates 66 and 95/395 during the morning rush. Metro reported ridership down almost a quarter.

But I prefer calculations like the one my banker made on her Orange Line trip in from New Carrollton: She didn’t have to put her bag on her lap for several extra stops. Many other riders use my gauge: I parked one level down from my usual spot at the Metro garage.

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. View Archive

On the negative side, Metrorail passengers who have become used to seeing eight-car trains at rush hours must remember to move up the platform. The trains shrank to six cars because of the lower ridership.

Mahlon G. “Lon” Anderson of AAA Mid-Atlantic reported that a trip down 16th Street NW took much longer than normal. I suspect other drivers who confronted the closure of Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park were seeking an alternative.

What’s your personal yardstick for this national emergency?

Metro garage opening

Red Line riders have been asking about the new garage by the Twinbrook station that they say looks ready to open.

They’re right. Metro announced that the 426-space Metro West Garage will open at 5 a.m. Monday. It may not look too popular at first if the federal shutdown continues. (Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said all lines appeared to be affected by the shutdown.)

The new garage is part of a public-private development that will include retail space, residences and offices. The garage replaces a surface lot. Parking rates are the same as before: $5 weekdays, free on weekends.

Transit text tips

The Metro Transit Police have set up a text communications system that riders with cellphones can use to make reports that do not involve emergencies.

For an emergency in the transit system, call 911 or the transit police, 202-962-2121. But many riders puzzle over what to do when they see a problem that they consider less urgent. Metrorail passengers could use the operator call boxes in each car, however, sometimes they don’t want to be so obvious.

The new system may help them out: Text information to MYMTPD from a smartphone or to 696873 from any cellphone. Police Chief Ron Pavlik suggested that people err on the side of caution when deciding whether to make reports.

The transit police used these examples of non-emergencies worth reporting: unattended packages, suspicious activity, panhandling, solicitation, vending without a license, parking complaints and tips about investigations.

The text tips go to the transit police communications center, which is monitored around the clock.

Scofflaw penalty

A law that took effect Tuesday should allow the Maryland Transportation Authority to collect more of the money owed by drivers who don’t pay their tolls after passing through the video tolling monitors, such as those on the Intercounty Connector.

This is the form of tolling in which an image is recorded of a vehicle’s license plate and a bill is mailed to the registered owner. Under the law, the owner has 30 days to pay without penalties. After that, it’s a civil citation with a $50 fine for each unpaid toll. This can be contested in District Court. Failing to pay could lead to suspension of the vehicle’s registration.

New D.C. fines

Also Tuesday, the District increased its speed camera fines: A ticket for going 11 to 15 mph over the limit went from $92 to $100. For going 16 to 20 mph over the limit , it went from $100 to $150. For 21 to 25 mph over, it went from $150 to $200.

For more transportation news, visit washingtonpost.com/transportation.

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