Many Metro riders endure weekend delays because they see no other choice

People waiting on Metro platforms during weekend maintenance delays have a lot of time on their hands. Some put their hands to use by sending Twitter messages. Here’s a typical communication from last weekend: “I’m pretty sure Godot will arrive before the next WMATA train.”

Because Metro’s maintenance program got much more aggressive last year, the weekend service disruptions are now routine. After this weekend’s shutdown of several Green Line stations, there will be 25 more weekends in 2012 when buses replace trains on some line segments. And those are just the disruptions considered major because they split lines. On most weekends, Metro also will set up work zones that require trains to share a track to get around them.

Riders are angry about the delays and the uncertain length of weekend trips. During my online chat Monday, I asked people why they they ride on weekends. An excerpt from the chat appeared in our sister publication, Express, on Tuesday under the headline, “Why Bother On the Weekend?”

Here’s a rider’s explanation.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am a Potomac River-running, kickball-playing, pool-using, bar-hopping, GALA Theatre-attending, stroga-practicing, 26-year-old professional woman who commutes daily.

I do have a bike, and Zipcar, CaBi [Capital Bikeshare] and Car2Go memberships. I know which buses I can or must use on the weekend to avoid being late.

I don’t have a car. In fact, of the many, many, many friends in the D.C. area, I know of only two who have a car.

The Metro is infuriating and does not do what it’s supposed to do. I’ve lived in Boston as a student and rode the T and commuter rail to school. I’ve lived in San Francisco and rode BART and Muni. I love my car-free lifestyle. So “why bother”?

Because I count on Metro to go to the grocery store. Because I count on Metro to help me get to the doctor. Because I count on Metro to go meet up with friends. Because I count on Metro to be reliable, safe and a smidge user-friendly. But most of all, because I have no other choice.

— Anamarie Farr, the District

Farr and friends are very important to the future of the D.C. region. They’re smart, skilled and active. She also pointed out that Tuesday’s Express contained an excerpt from Ashley Halsey III’s Post story about her generation’s lukewarm relationship with the automobile. “People younger than 30 are showing increasing disdain for owning combustion-engine power,” Halsey wrote.

The rest of us can thank them for making the roads less congested. But this really isn’t about doing favors. This is about how they want to live: car-free but mobile. They’ll pay a premium to live near a transit hub, a long-term investment in a way of life.

But what do they know about Metrorail, the region’s major transit asset and a focal point of their personal investment? They know that at least two days out of seven for the foreseeable future, the rail system will be deliberately disrupted. And sometimes it also will be unintentionally disrupted, because equipment fails.

Metro’s leaders have told us why this is the new normal: Lack of investment in the transit infrastructure led to alarming deterioration, and it will take a massive — and disruptive — repair program to bring it back.

To lessen the disruption by slowing the repairs would be to deliberately delay the time when the rail system will be safe and reliable, they say. But they can’t tell us when we’ll reach that point.

That might sound rational if you’re reading Metro’s six-year capital plan, and you’d have plenty of time to get through it if you’re waiting for a weekend train. But the riders investing their time and money in transit today need to know why, before they figure out they do have choices about how to travel and where to invest.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or
e-mail .

 
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