The Washington area’s population is steadily rising, and officials at Metro, looking 30 years down the road, are trying to determine how the transit system will grow with it.
Metro is launching a campaign Thursday aimed at eliciting answers to some big questions: How should the agency increase capacity to reduce crowding? Which additional types of transit are needed? What is the best way to ensure the agency’s fiscal stability?
Citing data from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Metro officials say they expect the region’s population to grow 30 percent by 2040 and the number of local jobs to increase 40 percent.
In launching the campaign, Metro General Manager Richard Sarles and his team are asking riders not just to raise concerns about the existing system but to imagine a future system of more lines, stations and pedestrian connections that could serve a much larger region.
The agency recently named new heads of planning and real estate, roles that drive Metro’s decision-making about where to invest and expand. Meanwhile, Metro seeks to address immediate concerns, including safety, chronic escalator outages and train malfunctions, such as the computer glitch that caused a system shutdown twice over one weekend in July.
Metro has raised fares three times in fives years, with the basic rush-hour fare rising to $2.10, up from $1.35 in 2007.
“While we are rebuilding the system, we need to address crowded buses, trains and stations and develop plans to grow the system to meet ridership demand,” Catherine M. Hudgins, chairman of the Metro board, said in a statement. “The quality of life for our residents and our regional economic well-being depend on a robust Metro system.”
Metro officials and board members are scheduled to kickoff the campaign, dubbed “Momentum: The Next Generation of Metro,” at a meeting of the agency’s full board Thursday and activate an online survey at wmata.com/momentum that afternoon.
Thirty-six years after opening, Metro’s rail system has 86 stations and 106 miles of tracks. But the area’s population growth is outpacing the nation and is expected to accelerate, fueling a fury of apartment construction. The last rail station, NoMa-Gallaudet U, opened in 2004, and the first five stops on the system’s new Silver Line are expected to open late next year.
Shyam Kannan, Metro’s new managing director of planning, said he hopes the feedback will help the agency map where and how to grow. That could include new rail lines, bus rapid transit or connections to other systems, such as the proposed 16-mile Purple Line light rail system between Bethesda and New Carrollton and streetcar systems in the District and along Columbia Pike.
“Metro has critical questions that we have to answer,” Kannan said. “What is our business model? Do we need to expand the way we provide those services? Or contract and partner with other agencies? The truth is that, at this point, we just don’t know.”
Kannan came to Metro from RCLCO, a real estate strategy firm. There, he advised municipalities and transportation agencies on planning and financing public transit across the country. He said Metro’s viability over the long term would have a major role in determining the Washington area’s economic competitiveness for the next generation.
“It’s not only what can Metro look like, it’s what does Metro have to look like if it wants to continue to be competitive globally,” he said.