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Weekend Metro riders shouldn’t bear all the inconvenience

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Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Why should commuters and weekday businesses get a pass on Metro’s scheduled disruptions? The worst of the Metro inconveniences are intentionally reserved for weekend riders such as me.

I understand the rationale, but Metro’s condition of disrepair affects everybody, so everybody should share the pain of the improvements. After all, weekend riders don’t get a pass on unintentional disruptions.

This could be done through a nominal effort, such as starting the weekend-long disruptions earlier Friday or ending them later Monday a couple of times a year. Of course, it would be disastrous for commuters, including drivers. That’s the point. It would show businesses and the feds that they have an interest in Metro’s state of repair, maybe even motivating them to push back against the annual efforts to low-ball Metro funding.

I know you won’t like the idea. A few years ago, you objected to an effort to get Metro riders to drive into the city on a particular day to demonstrate how Metro helps all commuters. Your argument was that everybody already knows how important Metro is, but what everybody knows and what they feel viscerally are different things.

I was a Metro commuter for several years, and such a maintenance plan would have infuriated me. But Metro’s efforts are primarily for commuters’ benefit, so commuters really should take some of the burden. Plus, Metro would get a couple of extra three-day weekends a year to do its major work.

It would be a lot easier to stomach the weekend [disruptions] if we weekend riders weren’t always and forever the commuters’ whipping boy.

Rebecca Johnson,
Silver Spring

DG: Has it come to this: riders turning on riders?

No, I think the heart of Johnson’s anguish is in her comment about the difference between what everybody knows and what they feel.

(VOTE: Would you support more weekday work on Metro?)

Riders pretty much know that the transit authority needs to make the repairs so the train system will be safer and work better. But it doesn’t feel right.

In fact, it feels plain wrong when transit leaders can’t point to a time when the disruptions will end. So riders wind up asking whether anyone really knows what it’s like to rely on a transit system that proclaims its unreliability.

Metro concentrates the aggressive maintenance programs on the weekends, and that seems logical enough. If you’ve got to disrupt the service, do it when fewer people ride. But fewer isn’t the same as few. More than half a million Metrorail trips are taken on weekends.

What’s a “trip”? It’s somebody who needs to get to work, to an airport or terminal, meet a friend, keep an appointment, see a sight — all the things people do during the week. But for two days out of every seven, those people are pretty much guaranteed that the transit service will be disrupted.

Two days out of every seven, the Trip Planner, the online schedule and route guide that Metro encourages riders to use, will be inaccurate. Two days out of every seven, the platform information displays that show the next train arrivals will be thrown off by the maintenance schedule.

I can’t agree with Johnson’s proposal to include some Fridays and Mondays in the heavy maintenance schedule. I already hear from readers who object to having disruptions start at 10 p.m. Friday nights. Recently, a rider chided me for referring to “late-night” maintenance on weekdays that began at 8 p.m., saying I made that sound like the wee hours when, in fact, many trains still are crowded.

But I do think that, at a minimum, Metro could answer the plea of people such as Johnson and offer something — like a more flexible Trip Planner — that makes it easier for them to get around on weekends.

IN DEFENSE OF Metro

I can’t rant on like that without sharing a letter complimenting Metro staff members for their performance during one of these now-typical weekend splits in a line. This one was on the Orange Line, out where crews are connecting the new Silver Line, which will go to Dulles Airport, to the rest of Metrorail.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Amid all the criticism of Metro services, I have to report a good experience. Saturday, Feb. 11, I used Metro to go from Vienna to the Smithsonian station on the Orange Line. This line was under repair, so shuttle buses were substituted between West and East Falls Church stations. The transition worked smoothly — an army of Metro staff members directed us between the buses and the trains. As Metro had warned, the trip took about an extra 20 to 30 minutes.

Bob Stein, Reston

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

As I watch the beginnings of the Express Lanes on the Capital Beltway in Virginia, what are the Virginia Department of Transportation, state police and the lane operators planning to do if there were a major accident in the Express Lanes?

On Interstate 395, where the lanes are separated, the question answers itself. With the Express Lanes, the thought occurred to me that the state police might block the regular lanes of the Beltway to ensure the high spenders aren’t inconvenienced.

Bill Black, McLean

DG: Actually, Virginia Department of Transportation officials think a more likely emergency scenario would be to temporarily open the Express Lanes, the four lanes under construction in the middle of the Beltway between Springfield and the area north of the Dulles Toll Road, to get drivers around a blockage in the regular lanes.

But the Express Lanes will be separated from the regular lanes, just as the HOV lanes on I-395 are separated from the regular lanes. So the opportunities for a traffic diversion will be limited.

If a crash occurs in the Express Lanes, the lane operators will roll out their own force of emergency responders under contract to clear the lanes. The operators know it’s very much in their financial interest to get those toll lanes cleared quickly and have traffic flowing at the promised speeds. The Express Lanes will include good shoulder capacity, which could aid in emergency traffic diversion.

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