Metrorail rider says put people first


A Metro rider squeezes onto a train at the Vienna station. (Gerald Martineau/THE WASHINGTON POST)
Robert Thomson
Columnist March 20, 2012

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I’ve used Metro for many years, and have noticed the early closing of rail car doors, sometimes preventing wanna-be riders from getting on board a train, and even preventing some passengers from getting off trains. Here’s my thinking on this problem.

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

This happens because Metro has the wrong goal in mind. Metro’s goal is to keep the trains moving on or close to the schedule. To achieve that goal, trains are at times sent on their way from stations without a full exchange of departing and boarding passengers.

Instead, the goal in operating the trains should be to move as many passengers as possible from the station where they get on board to the station where they alight.

During off-peak operating hours, the first goal probably also satisfies the second and more fundamental goal. But in the crowding at peak hours, Metro should adjust the schedules to allow more dwell time in the stations where the greatest number of passengers arrive and depart.

That is, they should adopt the passenger movement goal, and accept the fact that train movement will be slower than currently scheduled in the area of the most crowded stations.

Otherwise, Metro is working to meet artificial goals and not giving passengers the service we need.

Yes, there will still be crowded cars. We can’t afford enough trains and cars so that no one would have to wait. We have to accept that it’s a crowded world on board Metro, and that travel through the stations with the highest ridership at peak will be slower than it is today.

But if Metro doesn’t pursue the correct goal — the service — then in the real world of high ridership and limited funds, it will not be doing what’s needed.

— Dudley Schwartz, Rockville

Most of us just get mad at the train operators. Schwartz has some ideas about how to improve a situation that is generating many complaints among my readers.

The time it takes riders to get on and off trains, the dwell time at a station, has bedeviled Metro and its riders for years.

Riders don’t like to be left behind on a platform, and they really don’t like being held captive on a train they can’t get off. Charlie, the “man who never returned” from a trip on Boston’s MTA, never saw the likes of a rush-hour ride on our Orange Crush.

Schwartz’s evaluation of transit goals reminds me of discussions among traffic engineers. These days, they talk less about moving vehicles and more about moving people. That can produce creative solutions to highway congestion.

Metro did something of that sort, and in the face of skepticism from riders. The transit authority adjusted service on the Red Line, putting more space between the trains at rush hour, reducing the total number of trains in service and making more of those trains eight cars long, rather than six.

The goal was to make the service steadier, more reliable and more accommodating. Did it work? Metro Deputy General Manager Dave Kubicek says he thinks the realignment is going well. I don’t notice the extra wait time, and the next train is more likely now to be eight cars. But the situation on the Red Line conforms to Schwartz’s scenario: There still are crowded cars, and while the schedule is looser, those doors sometimes close on riders, especially at the height of rush hour.

Outside the new Silver Line service, Metro’s plans include replacing cars but not adding more.

Riders will be hearing more this spring about what Metro is calling the “Rush Plus” service, which will add peak-period trains to the Orange and Yellow lines. That should help with the crush, but again, it’s a shifting of resources rather than an addition of rail cars.

To read previous Dr. Gridlock columns, go to washingtonpost.com/
gridlock. 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 drgridlock@washpost.com .

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