Dr. Gridlock

Dr. Gridlock: Metro's Costs Prompt Some Commuters to Grab the Car Keys Instead

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I've been a big fan of Metro since I came to D.C. for college in 1983. Watched the system grow; cheered it on. Love the architecture, the cleanliness and the (usual) efficiency. Two jobs ago, I used Metro every day from Glenmont to downtown, and it was a great commute.

Back downtown again now. Crowded train from Farragut North, post-accident slowdowns, hot car, lurching stops, inch forward, lurch some more. Desk to my home took 75 minutes. Cost: $12.75.

This morning, I drove. Door-to-door: 45 minutes, including the walk from bargain-priced self-park to my office. Cost: $10 (and I saw a garage for $9). That $2.75 (or $3.75) will more than pay for my gas, and I saved 30 minutes one way. For summer commutes at least, Metro no longer makes sense for me. And that's a shame.

Scott Riffert, Aspen Hill

Riffert said he would like to get back onboard. "I'd feel more like part of the solution than part of the problem," he wrote to me, "but the cost and time difference weigh against it."

Other commuters have made such calculations over this summer of discontent with Metro. Many, like Riffert, believe in transit as a concept, not just as a utility, but lately it isn't making as much sense to them as it used to.

One traveler said on our Get There blog that driving from Cleveland Park to Georgetown is cheaper and faster than taking Metro. The train-and-bus trip takes 45 minutes each way and costs $5.30 a day. Driving a couple of miles down Rock Creek Parkway costs less than a dollar and takes 15 minutes. The boss covers parking.

Another commenter -- part of a two-commuter household -- said the cost of taking Metro from Wheaton to Farragut North each day is greater than the price of parking and gas. The Metro is $4 for parking plus $14.40 round trip for two during peak periods. A garage at K and 18th streets NW is $11, and the gas is $2 a day.

The transit commute time was 30 to 35 minutes before the consequences of the June 22 Red Line crash made that estimate even rougher, the commenter said. The drive down Georgia Avenue and 16th Street NW is 20 to 25 minutes. A scenic variation through Rock Creek Park in the evening takes 10 minutes longer.

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