Rush Plus debuts to mixed reviews

June 18, 2012

Metro riders encountered crowds, delays and confusion on Monday as the transit agency rolled out Rush Plus, its biggest service change in more than a decade. But it wasn’t clear whether the problems stemmed from the changes to rush-hour service on the Blue, Orange and Yellow lines or whether they were typical of the morning commute.

Blue Line passengers traveling to downtown Washington from Virginia faced the biggest potential headaches with three fewer trains running each hour on that line. Riders seemed to feel the effects as crowded trains showed up in the morning at King Street, Crystal City and Rosslyn.

Eric Horvath, 28, an IT support contractor who commutes to Crystal City from West Falls Church, gave the new system an “incomplete grade” as he waited with dozens of others for a Blue Line train at Rosslyn station.

RushPlus, which puts more trains on the Orange and Yellow lines and fewer on the Blue during morning and evening rush hours, is designed to relieve crowding on the system’s busiest lines. It is also a way for WMATA to open space in the Rosslyn tunnel in preparation for the coming of the Silver Line.

Commuters on Monday, offered the effort mixed reviews. Trains were still packed by the time they got to Court House and Rosslyn. Other travelers noticed little difference in their commute, saying that trains were no more or less crowded than a typical day.

“This is how it is normally,” said Ronnie Hammad, 49, as he boarded a Blue Line train at Rosslyn to commute to Farragut West.

Metro officials dispatched more than 100 additional workers to affected stations on Monday and said they would have more personnel at stations the rest of the week. The agency spent more than $400,000 on a public information campaign tied to the new service.

Even so, there were communication glitches. In some stations, signs that were supposed to tell riders how long it will be until the next trains arrive were displaying incorrect or incomplete information. Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said the problem may have been the result of train operators typing incorrect destination codes into the system that run the platform display boards.

Roy Devese, 58, who commutes from Benning Road to Foggy Bottom, said he enjoyed the extra seating that came with more trains in operation as he headed home Monday. He offered his hearty endorsement.

“I think [Rush Plus] a good idea” he said.

Metro officials said they thought Monday’s Rush Plus debut went smoothly.

“Just as when you make a traffic pattern change on the highway — it’s the behavioral element — the human factor takes a couple of days to fall into a groove,’’ Stessel said. “We suspect this will be old hat for our regular riders in no time.”

There were some indications that it may take a bit of time for Blue Line commuters to adjust the idea that they can board a Yellow or Orange Line train to reach some of their destinations. There were reports that some Yellow Line Rush Plus trains were empty, while Blue Line trains were jammed with passengers.

Yellow Line riders didn’t report many problems, with some commuters praising the increased frequency of trains on that line. There was at least one spot of trouble when a Yellow Line train heading for Greenbelt went out of service at Pentagon City about 7:30 a.m., leading briefly to heavy crowds at that station.

At the L’Enfant Plaza station, the only stop serviced by the three altered lines, a Metro worker with fliers and an “Ask me about Rush Plus” button had nothing to do around 7 a.m.

Not all commuters were even aware of any changes. Carla Henson, a 50-year-old federal employee, rides one stop from L’Enfant to Federal Center; she said she hadn’t even heard of Rush Plus.

Check out our mobile tool outlining how Rush Plus could impact your commute at wapo.st/rushplusmobile.

Staff writers Mihir Zaveri and Margaret Ely contributed to this report.

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