The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

On the water taxi, a different kind of Metro shutdown

Doug Belote (in blue suit) watches sailboats pass as he heads home to Alexandria on a Potomac Riverboat Company water taxi, while Michael Reiter (in blue shirt) takes pictures. (Kery Murakami/Kery Murakami/Express)
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Like thousands of other commuters heading home Tuesday evening, Doug Belote was trying to unwind after work.

Somewhere, his usual Y11 bus from downtown D.C. to Old Town was crammed two deep in the aisles.

But as the sun sent streaks across the water, Belote watched about 20 sailboats pass, their sails full of the calming cool breeze.

“Much better traffic to watch,” said Belote, Bank of America’s senior vice president of marketing, as he headed on a water taxi toward Alexandria’s waterfront from The Wharf in D.C.

As Metro’s summer-long shutdown of six rail stations ended its second full week, the roughly 19,000 Yellow and Blue line commuters who use the closed stations continued figuring out how to navigate their new reality.

Somewhere, others were packed in Metro’s free shuttles, which are proving to be transit’s equivalent of snail mail.

But for the nearly 2,275 people who Alexandria’s transportation department said commuted on the Potomac Riverboat Company water taxi last week, the shutdown is very different — one with lingering views and beer. Potomac Riverboat said the number of trips since the shutdown has increased by 43% over the same period last year.

Having learned quickly that the rear-facing bench at the back of the boat has the most sweeping view, Belote watched the Washington Monument shrink into a pin, and felt the office and its cares fade away.

He was asked if he felt guilty that others were instead gazing at someone’s armpit.

“Not really,” he said.

But he recognizes his good fortune. He lives by the Alexandria waterfront, so it was easy for him to do this.

Sitting on the bench behind him, on the other hand, was Michael Reiter. He lives near the Franconia-Springfield station. During the shutdown, his commute has been taking him an hour by either a Metro shuttle or the Virginia Railway Express. He was on the boat only because he went to a happy hour near The Wharf after work.

He’d get off the boat that day, take a bus to the closed King Street-Old Town station, and then a Metro shuttle bus to Franconia-Springfield. With the boat ride, it took a half-hour longer than the shuttle or VRE.

“It was a nice day and an enjoyable commute,” he said. “But not something I can do every day.”

In the enclosed area below, at deck level, Wendy Battaglino was heading home from her job as exhibition coordinator at the National Gallery of Art.

“I’d be exasperated right now,” she said, when asked how she’d be feeling if the Yellow Line were running.

Her calm, she said, continues on the free Old Town Trolley home, where she’s finding herself noticing the neighborhood’s charm for the first time in a while. “I’d been taking it for granted,” Battaglino said.

Nearby, Cannon Cook stared at his phone with a can of DC Brau he’d bought from the deck-level concession stand at his side.

Some on the boat had tried a Metro shuttle during the shutdown’s first week. Cook hadn’t even bothered.

The taxi takes a little more than the 45 minutes, door to door, that it used to take him to get to his government contracting job near L’Enfant Plaza by train. He’d keep riding the water taxi after the shutdown if Potomac continues offering a discounted fare, as it is during the shutdown. The company hasn’t said yet if it will do that.

Cook was asked why he was downstairs. The answer came without hesitation.

“It’s where the beer is,” he said.