“If the system starts breaking down at a faster rate and if they waste money and don’t keep up a state of good repair, then people will turn,” Schank said. “They’ll say, ‘The system is no longer reliable and I’ll have to change my commuting patterns.’ ”
Increasingly people say they avoid Metrorail because it is too expensive. In a 2005 Washington Post survey, 75 percent of riders gave the subway positive ratings for offering a “good value,” but that has dropped to 67 percent. Metro has had three fare increases in the past five years, and the base rush-hour fare is now $2.10.
Cathy Bernard, who lives in Chevy Chase and mainly takes Metro’s Red and Green lines a few times a week to go to events at Verizon Center or Nationals Park, said she’s seen a decline in Metro as the fares have risen.
“It’s gotten kind of high,” she said of the cost, “and it’s been a steady decline. It’s not as reliable as it used to be and the cars aren’t as clean as they used to be.”
Metro’s reliability ranking has not recovered from a big decline. In the poll, 73 percent gave Metro positive ratings for reliability, similar to the 75 percent in 2010 but down from the 87 percent who expressed this view in 2005.
Kristofer Harrison, 37, who lives in Alexandria, used to ride Metrorail to go downtown a few times a week to meetings but stopped because he became so frustrated.
“It was unbelievable how unreliable Metro was,” he said. “Every time it rained there was a problem.” Now he drives to his meetings.
With more track work and station shutdowns, riders say delays are a factor in whether they use Metro. Fifty-three percent of people who don’t ride regularly say the long travel time is a reason they don’t ride. That is compared to the 46 percent who felt that way in 2010 — before Metro had started its major rebuilding effort.
Mike Miller, 26, of Fairfax said he has been a longtime Metro rider but gave up using the subway on weekends to go into the District because he had to allow up to 45 minutes extra to make sure he was on time.
“With all these delays it is more convenient to drive,” Miller said. “I think service is going down. I’ve lived here my whole life and it hasn’t improved. For a major metropolitan area the service is below average.”
At Metro, General Manager Richard Sarles repeatedly says the agency has worked more aggressively under his three-year-tenure as part of a $5 billion rebuilding effort to repair and upgrade the aging tracks and equipment that have been poorly maintained over the past few decades. But he acknowledges that more needs to be done.
“I don’t want to rest on our laurels,” Sarles said. “The last thing I want to do is say, ‘We’ve done good enough.’ We have to continue to make these improvements or we will slide back in providing reliable service. It will get worse.”
Nicole Chavez and Mark Berman contributed to this report. Clement is a survey research analyst with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media. Capital Insight pollsters Jon Cohen and Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.