Travelers can make better choices if they are given better information


A jumble of roads and signs defines the I495 beltway looking north from Tyson's Monday, Nov. 19, 2012. (Dayna Smith/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
Columnist December 14, 2012

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

It is really amazing to hear all the additional changes coming to Metro after the nasty ones inflicted on the Blue Line this year. Blue Line trains every 12 minutes only? Should Blue Line riders be charged only non-rush fares?

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 Tuesday, I got to Pentagon around 7:10 a.m. There was a Yellow Line train coming, and no Blue for eight minutes. My destination was McPherson Square. So I got on the Yellow Line train to L’Enfant Plaza and arrived just in time to see a train leave on the way to McPherson Square. The next was not for six minutes.

So if Metro is going to badger Blue Line riders into switching trains, could we please do a little better on the timing?

If I switch to head for the Yellow Line, there is no guarantee there won’t be problems there. The whole system is just too unreliable and is part of an overall transportation system that is a mess.

— Alice Cave, Alexandria

Metro officials say that adding the Silver Line will mean subtracting from the Blue Line at the end of next year. The Blue Line already was on the minus side of “Rush Plus” after the new peak-period pattern was put in place last summer.

Cave is among those hardest hit because she travels to the west side of the District. When the Silver Line starts running , her Blue Line trains will arrive every 12 minutes.

While I don’t believe Metro has any intention of setting a special rush-hour fare for Blue Line riders, she has a legitimate beef. The Blue Line schedule will be the same whether she rides during the peak or off-peak.

Starting from Pentagon, she is in a position to go with either the Blue Line for the straight run to McPherson Square or with the Yellow Line for a transfer at L’Enfant Plaza. If the transfer works just right, she might get to McPherson Square in about the same time.

But in making her choice, she needs to know whether the transfer will work right. If Metro can’t provide more Blue Line trains, it should at least give riders the best possible information to guide their trip choices.

Measuring savings

I’m also hearing from Capital Beltway drivers in Virginia who feel like they don’t have all the information they need for their commutes. This writer proposes a solution.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Traffic reporting is not always timely, and at several entrances to the new 495 Express Lanes, you have to make a decision without being able to see the traffic flow ahead.

My son, Dan, came up with a solution that would allow the cost-benefit analysis.

The solution is to adjust the toll signs so they also display “time saved.” The signs could show the toll — say, “I-66 $1.20,” then flash “Time Saved 3 Mins.”

The display could alternate every two seconds or so. The driver observing the toll and time savings could then make an informed decision.

— Paul Schafer, Fairfax

Both the transit riders and the drivers are in need of guidance to make the best of their commutes. The transit riders need faster and more reliable information on travel times to choose lines. The drivers need more information on travel times to choose lanes.

Now, I don’t want to push this comparison too far. Blue Line riders are in a bad spot because they lost service. Beltway drivers are trying to make the best use of a new service.

But in each case, we’ve got intelligent travelers who need travel intelligence. Transportation agencies should come through for them. The express lanes have been open only since November. Metro riders have complained for years about the information provided by the platform signs, so I think there’s more pressure on Metro to upgrade its communications. Still, Virginia should take note.

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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