Some Metro officials are not convinced the agency can win back riders fleeing the system because of sparse off-peak service — or that it should try — in the face of looming financial obligations, budget constraints and the endless backlog of maintenance needs.
In discussions Thursday that raised questions about the agency’s core mission, board members and top officials deliberated over how best to address the agency’s falling ridership and revenue gap; ridership is down 10 percent since May 2016 and 125,000 average daily trips over a decade.
The discussion followed a budget preview from General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld that outlined Metro’s intention to keep fares and service at their current levels — though he has not ruled out a service increase.
“This is not a business where every customer represents more profit for the organization. It’s the opposite,” said board member Steve McMillin, an appointee of the federal government. “It would be crazy for this authority to simply run more trains in off-peak times chasing additional passengers.”
Internal and external analyses have determined that service is the best predictor of ridership changes, other than outside factors beyond Metro’s control, such as population and jobs.
McMillin’s comments, then, raised questions about what the agency’s mission should be.
Metro said it is examining several areas, from customer service to hours of operation to rail and bus frequency to address the ridership problem. Comments by Chief Financial Officer Dennis Anosike shed light on the agency’s thinking at this point; he said Metro “will seek to rebuild ridership through better customer engagement,” echoing Wiedefeld’s budget talking points that prioritized customer service and workplace culture to win back riders.
Metro is investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of a man who was in a motorized wheelchair when he fell down an escalator at the Columbia Heights station Wednesday.
The 66-year-old man has not been identified by D.C. Fire or Metro officials.
The incident happened just after 1:30 p.m. Video footage reviewed by The Washington Post shows that the man waited at the left elevator on the lower level of the station for about 14 seconds before maneuvering his wheelchair onto an “up” escalator. The man disappears from the frame as the escalator ascends. Some time later, horrified passengers begin rushing down the escalator as the wheelchair tumbles to the bottom.
Metro Chief Safety Officer Patrick Lavin said the elevator arrived on the lower level less than a minute after the man pushed the button to call it. Lavin said the “elevator was functioning at the time and was available for use.”
Lavin said that once the man approached the top of the escalator, his wheelchair tumbled down the moving staircase, which suddenly halted.
“The circumstances as to why the escalator came to a stop will be part of the investigation,” he said, though he later clarified that Metro officials believe the escalator halted after the man began to fall.
Martine Powers and Faiz Siddiqui
The number of cars the Arlington Memorial Bridge carries each day.