People who love the Silver Line or hate it tend to think of it as a regional development project or as a financing puzzle. The vote by the Loudoun Board of Supervisors to join the project means that someday we’ll think of it as a 23-mile commuter route.
Will we love that or hate it? Probably a bit of both. That’s when all the theories about the Silver Line will come down to the daily experience of riding trains.
To prepare for that, Silver Line supporters should familiarize themselves with the ways Metrorail riders are reacting to the new Rush Plus service. It’s inseparable from the Silver Line.
Transit officials will attempt to satisfy the needs of the riders using the Metrorail lines to the west of the District in Virginia while meeting the service demands from the rest of the ridership. Each will be jealous of what the other gets, and will be watching to see if their perceived loss is someone else’s gain.
Some riders who don’t like the Rush Plus changes that started June 18 have been asking me if Metro will abandon them and go back to the earlier schedule. That seems extremely unlikely, if not flat-out impossible. Rush Plus is based on Metro’s need to clear some room in the Rosslyn tunnel for the eventual arrival of the Silver Line trains.
Metro’s solution is to divert Blue Line trains. Since the Silver Line trains won’t arrive till late 2013 or early 2014, Metro is temporarily adding Orange Line trains.
Look for some tweaks in the Rush Plus but not for a wholesale revision of the plan.
Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said as much on Thursday when he addressed the Metro board meeting.
He acknowledged that “the first week of Rush Plus was uneven,” and “some riders had a better experience than others.”
“An unusual combination of events including record heat, a baseball series and infrastructure challenges impacted the service delivery on the system.”
(A prediction: When the Silver Line opens, we’ll still have heat waves, baseball and infrastructure challenges.)
“As expected,” Sarles continued, “there is a period of adjustment as customers determine which travel options best meet their schedule needs. This is particularly true for Blue Line customers who are becoming familiar with Yellow Line options.”
Apparently, not enough of them have tried the Yellow Line alternative yet, because, as Sarles said, “the change in headways does create heavier ridership aboard Blue Line trains in peak periods.”
Metro managers are “tweaking the service within the limitations of the system,” Sarles said. “We began testing one eight-car train in lieu of a six-car train on the Blue Line that will provide additional capacity in the peak-hour periods.
“We are still in a transition period, and it takes time for customer travel patterns to adjust and for us to assess the mid- and long-term ridership challenges.
“We will continue to closely monitor the customer experience as riders adjust to new patterns.”
The next big thing: When Orange Line riders have to adjust to new Silver Line patterns.
Meanwhile, here are some of the latest complaints about Rush Plus. They’re some of the comments that I didn’t get a chance to publish during Monday’s online chat, which featured many other comments about the service changes.
Blue Line blues: “The time between Blue Line trains at rush hour is supposed to be six minutes (which is bad enough, but we could deal with it if it were true). Again, this morning, I get to Pentagon City around 8:15 a.m. and there is no Blue Line train for 10 minutes.
“The train was packed, and not everyone on the platform was able to get on. The next Blue Line train after that was again in 10 minutes. I sent an e-mail to Metro last week but I’m seriously thinking of starting to drive. I’m sick just thinking about it, but what can we do?”
DG: The Rush Plus pattern for the Blue Line trains is supposed to bring in two trains six minutes apart, then a third train 12 minutes later. But I have yet to see trains arriving on exactly that schedule.
Metro has been advising the Blue Line riders to look for the 12-minute gap and consider taking the next Yellow Line train rather than waiting the 12 minutes. But it doesn’t help their planning if they can’t tell when the big gap occurs.
Rush Plus times: “Monday, taking a Blue Line train from King Street to Foggy Bottom from 9:35 to 9:55, the train prior to my train was an empty Yellow coming from Franconia.
When arriving at Foggy Bottom, I noticed the train after my train was an Orange heading to Largo. I thought commuting at the times I do, I’d avoid Rush Minus, but apparently not if this pattern is maintained (I have not seen Rush Plus trains at these times over the past two weeks). It doesn’t help that the platform sign at King Street hasn’t been working for the past few days.
DG: I’ve also noticed Rush Plus trains in service later than the official end time of 9 a.m. These aren’t problems in themselves as long as riders remember to watch the destination signs — and the destination signs are correct. That platform sign at King Street has been a problem for quite a while now, and this is a bad time for it to be malfunctioning.
Yellow Line Plus/Minus: “This morning, I rode the Metro Yellow Line from Springfield/Franconia to Gallery Place and the fare was $5.35. The cost really is excessive now. It used to be $5.10 at peak.
“The cost to park in my building is only $11 and it takes me 15 to 20 minutes to get to work from Springfield. The ride on Metro is over 30 minutes.
“Tell me why I should continue to take Metro knowing my costs are higher and my commute longer.
“Second, why does Metro not publish the times the Yellow Line leaves the Franconia-Springfield Metro during rush hour. I could at least plan better if I knew what the schedule was and time my arrival. I am paying peak fare and no schedule, no accountability. Do I trust Metro? Ugh, NO.”
DG: If you think you’ll feel better and save money by driving, then drive. You don’t owe Metro anything. You’re the customer. Do what works best for you.
You can use the Trip Planner on Metro’s Web site at www.wmata.com to figure out the scheduled departure times — including Rush Plus times — from Franconia-Springfield. But you can see from some of the other comments that riders feel they can’t always rely on the schedule or on the train destination information.
These are the realities of day-to-day train operations. Look for them again when the Silver Line stops being a Virginia construction project and becomes part of the regional Metrorail service.