Metro — and even transportation reporters — mostly think of the current shutdown in dry terms, like how frequently shuttles are coming to the affected stations.
But as the first week of the shutdown of six stations south of Reagan National Airport came to an end last Friday, many who had given up on taking slow shuttles were discovering that getting through the next 14 weeks also means figuring out real-life questions, like how to drop off children at day care and what’s too big of a favor to ask.
Around 8 a.m. last Tuesday, on the first workday of the shutdown, Jennifer Slotnick had been in line at the closed Braddock Road station waiting to try out one of the shuttles Metro is running. By the end of the week, Slotnick was among those who’d given up on that idea, after it took her an hour longer to get to work than her train commute.
Weighing her options at work last week, Slotnick said she has to drop off her 1-year-old son at day care, which takes 20 minutes, before she goes to get either a shuttle or a Metroway bus to her government job near Federal Triangle.
Her fastest option, she figured, would be to bicycle to drop off her son, then bike to the Crystal City station to catch a train.
But she’d need to get a trailer to pull her son along. And she’d have to ask the boy’s father, who picks up their child from day care, to also lug back her trailer each day for her to use the next morning.
“I still need to ask him,” she said, seeming unsure of the reaction she’d get.
As a middle ground for now, she’s paying $1.75 each way to take a Metroway bus, which, unlike the free shuttles, runs in a bus-only lane. Those who have tried both disagree on whether either is faster, but Slotnick said the Metroway bus took her about an hour and 15 minutes longer than the trip used to on the train, but a half-hour less than the shuttle.
As last week wore on, daily updates by Alexandria’s transportation department suggested people were finding an assortment of ways to deal with the shutdown. Traffic on the roads was up, as was the number of bicyclists on bike trails. And more people were riding the water taxi.
That’s what Metro officials had wanted. At a press conference the Wednesday before the shutdown began, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said the agency couldn’t replace train service with shuttles alone. Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly later noted that it takes 20 buses to carry as many people as one train.
“The reality is we need all of the above,” Wiedefeld said. “It’s not just the shuttles. It’s everything. It’s people changing some of their commuting patterns, starting later in the day, working from home. Replacing it with shuttle buses isn’t doable just because of the volumes of people we have and the availability of the buses.”
He thought it would take a week for commuters and Metro to adjust, but shortly they’d “get to a rhythm that people can live through.”
But for many, finding that rhythm thus far has meant trials and errors, and sometimes the goodness of spouses.
When Kevin Kaighin and his wife were shopping for a house last year, he’d wanted a place in Washington. She had her heart set on a home in Del Ray, even though the shutdown was coming. “I didn’t get that one,” he said, and they moved to Alexandria.
As the shutdown approached, she offered to drive him directly to the Crystal City Metro so he could take the train to his job as a defense fellow for a Democratic congressman.
“I was just stubborn and wanted to get the full experience of riding on the shuttle and Metro, just so I could see how much longer it really would take,” he said. After it took him an hour and a half last Tuesday, he decided to take the rides from his wife.
It’s taking him about 50 minutes now, only 10 minutes longer than normal.
Thomas Rawls still wasn’t sure whether it’s better to take a free shuttle or Metroway bus to get from Braddock Road to his job at a trade group by Gallery Place. He tried both last week. While some think Metroway is faster because it runs in its own lane, he said they both take the same because Metroway makes more stops.
So he’s leaving it to chance. “I’m just taking whichever one comes first," he said.
Carrie Wehling has given up on the shuttle after a bus last Thursday from the Pentagon station that was supposed to go to Huntington ended up in Woodbridge, Va.
She and her husband are exploring other transit options, but if they’re no better, the couple will start driving to work together ... at the EPA.
“We feel terrible about it," she said. "But what can you do?”