How is Metro coping? During the fiscal year ending last June, about 630,000 people, on the average, rode on Metro trains and buses every weekday. That's a 15 percent increase over ridership in the previous year. Although the gas lines are gone and we're in August, when ridership usually declines, Metro has gained about 20,000 subway riders over a year ago.
From the passenger's viewpoint, rush-hour service on the trains has been good in general, but sometimes very crowded. Although air-conditioning systems on some buses have failed, the trains have been surprisingly and refreshingly cool. From Metro's viewpoint, train service has been more than adequate, especially considering the unexpected surge of commuters. But funding delays have been an obstacle to providing what is clearly needed: more equipment to handle emergencies like a gas shortage. More important, because the gas shortage was not limited to Washington, D.C., but was a nationwide problem, Metro's growing ridership should be an indication that in the future Americans will be commuting by mass-transit systems more -- not less. The federal government has, in fact, just recently allocated the funds Metro requested before the shortage. But will those funds be adequate now to accommodate what will probably be a heavier load than anticipated, especially if gas lines return to Washington?
To accommodate those additional riders, Metro has recently tried sending an empty train to pick up passengers at Farragut West, Metro's busiest train station, during the evening rush hour. All signs suggest that this small experiment with an empty train has been quite successful, and there is no reason why it could not work as well in the morning rush hour or at several Metro train stations too.
In recent weeks, Metro has also issued a public appeal to this city's businesses, particularly the federal government, asking them to either push up or move back their work hours. At present, 40 percent of the people who work in Washington start between 8:30 and 9 o'clock in the morning. If more people could go to work at 7 o'clock or 10 o'clock, as Metro has suggested, by spreading out the peak of both the morning and evening rush hours, Metro could better handle its earlier train and bus riders. The Metro proposal is one possible answer to the area's transportation needs, and it deserves a fair trial.The shift in work hours would not cost commuters any more money. To escape the 9-to-5 rut, why not try 7-to-3 or 10-to-6?