To say the first week of Metro’s summerlong shutdown of six stations has been trying for Blue and Yellow line riders is a bit of an understatement.
There was the “express” shuttle that was supposed to take commuters from the Huntington Metro station in Fairfax County to the Pentagon, but ended up at the Anacostia Metro station in the District. One commuter reported that it took nearly two hours to get from the Eisenhower Avenue station to Crystal City because the driver didn’t know the route, had to backtrack, skipped some stops . . . and then the bus broke down.
Still others complained that their shuttle buses were mired in traffic because their drivers didn’t know to get into the HOV lanes. And that’s not counting the long lines and waiting in 90-degree heat.
“Here’s some astounding math for #wmata riders — back-of-napkin calcs — best case scenario 1 hour extra commute x 15 wks is 75 HOURS less time with my family — that is not a ‘minor delay,’ tweeted one unhappy rider, referring to the 15 weeks the shutdown is expected to last — through Sept. 8.
Metro and local elected and transportation officials had warned it was going to be bad, but many riders were hopeful that the months of planning and preparations by officials would ease the pain. Not so far.
“Overall it’s been rough for people,” said Alexandria City Council member John T. Chapman (D).
The city of Alexandria is posting daily updates on the morning and evening commutes on its website.
“[Commuters have] had to adjust their commute from 15 to 45 minutes, we’ve been told,” Chapman said.
Metro officials said problems were to be expected this first week. The 107-day shutdown of Blue and Yellow Line stations south of Reagan National Airport is the first phase of a three-year platform reconstruction project. The six stations affected — Braddock Road, King Street-Old Town, Eisenhower Avenue, Huntington, Van Dorn Street and Franconia-Springfield — serve about 17,000 riders daily.
“As anticipated during the first few days of a major shutdown such as this, there have been some operational issues that will generally be smoothed out during this first week as we settle into our operations and customers adapt to the travel alternatives,” Metro said.
The transit agency said it would take 20 buses to handle the same number of customers as one fully loaded train. “Even with additional buses, it is not possible to replicate the capacity of rail with buses given traffic conditions and space constraints at bus bays which must still accommodate regular bus service that continues to operate,” the agency said in a statement.
Metro did not respond to questions about reports that many of the problems stemmed from shuttle drivers contracted from out of state, but did say Metro did train the drivers on the routes they would drive.
On Wednesday, the union that represents Metrobus operators said the agency was pulling some of its drivers from their regular routes and reassigning them to routes that serve passengers affected by the shutdown. It criticized the practice, saying that the operators have not been properly trained on the new routes, which compromises both passenger and driver safety.
Metro said that while the agency’s goal is to keep employees on their regular assignments, the shutdown requires “all available resources and the flexibility of our operators to provide support as needed.”
Some riders did exactly what officials feared would happen — gave up and returned to their cars. Alexandria officials reported that travel times across the city Wednesday were up 12 percent compared with previous weeks with “fairly consistent” delays between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. Northbound travel times on north/south corridors such as Route 1 and Washington and North Van Dorn streets were 25 percent higher than previous weeks in May during the peak morning hour, they said.
Jennifer Driver said when she arrived at the Huntington Metro station Wednesday, there were more than 100 people waiting to board shuttles.
The health-care lobbyist was even less pleased 30 minutes later when she was still waiting. By the time the third packed bus went by, she was just annoyed.
Adding to the chaos, she said, were fed-up commuters summoning Ubers and Lyfts, whose drivers then parked in the lanes reserved for shuttle buses, further snarling traffic.
“When Metro is working, it works and it’s really great,” said Driver, 35. “But for something like this, it’s like they did not realize the magnitude of people who rely on it. I just didn’t feel like they were prepared.”
Reston resident Cassandre Durocher said she was on a shuttle from the King Street station to Reagan National Airport with a driver who seemed confused.
“She didn’t know how to open the door of the bus,” said Durocher, 29, describing how the driver pulled to the curb and spent a good minute or two familiarizing herself with the control panel.
Then, as the bus approached National, the door just opened by itself before closing again, Durocher said.
“She was very surprised,” Durocher said about the driver’s reaction.
The closures also have had an impact on commuters who don’t even use Metro.
Hilary Tomeny, 34, takes the Metroway bus rapid transit service from Braddock Road to her defense industry job in Crystal City, but when she arrived at her regular bus stop Wednesday morning, the buses were full.
“Just got left by the second full @wmata Metroway bus in a row. Time for @limebike
“It’s like the Hunger Games out here #summershutdown @AlexandriaVAGov @unsuckdcmetro,” she tweeted.
“I should have known better,” Tomeny said later. “I should have known it would be a disaster.”
Alexandria transportation chief Yon Lambert said this first week will be a learning experience.
He said there have been some bright spots: The number of commuters using water taxis has grown. The Potomac Riverboard Co. added more morning trips from Old Town Alexandria to the Wharf in the District and is offering a 50 percent discount on round trips. On Tuesday, 84 commuters took advantage of the option; Wednesday, that number increased to 136.
Even so, Lambert said next week could be the bigger challenge.
“This being a holiday week, I think many people are out of town,” he said. Next week, “We are planning for even bigger numbers.”
He emphasized that commuters should continue to build in extra time and be patient. Those with flexible schedules should consider traveling during off-peak times or even telecommuting.
Officials say things may also get smoother as commuters begin to settle into a routine.
After all, Metro still has 14 more weeks to iron out the rough spots.
“I feel like maybe they might get it together,” Durocher said.
Then with the weary resignation of an experienced D.C. commuter she added: “But it’s Metro, so I’m not hopeful.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the impact of the Metro shutdown on traffic in Alexandria. Alexandria officials reported that travel times, not traffic volumes, increased 12 percent across the city during the Wednesday morning commute.