In this letter, a traveler from the Washington area compares his experiences on Metro with trips on other urban transit systems in recent months. His conclusion: “WMATA is by far the worst of the six systems I have extensive experience with since November 2016. And it is much, much more expensive than any of the others.”
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I am a longtime Metro rider and now commute about three days a week between Wiehle-Reston East and Foggy Bottom, about 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. I pay $5.90 each way.
Salt Lake City: I spent two days using that city’s light-rail TRAX system. That network has five or six lines and covers the metropolitan area very well, with lots of stops and an impressive radius (probably at least 30 miles) around the center of the city. Service to the airport is included.
A one-day pass for the whole system costs $6.25 for an adult. In the core downtown area, riding the train is free; an announcement is made at a certain point telling passengers that after the next stop, riders will have to be in possession of a paid ticket.
I took at least 20 trains. All were well described via clear loudspeakers and LED displays. All arrived on time. The system is open until midnight, maybe later, depending on the line and the night.
Dallas: I spent half of one day riding the DART system light rail. I am from Dallas but left before DART was built, so this was my first time on it, and I was eager to see my hometown from public transportation.
The system is extensive, including a train to Fort Worth and both major airports. Every train of the 10 or so I took arrived on time. All trains were announced via LED display and clear speaker. A one-day pass costs $5. The train system runs until at least midnight every night.
I returned home via a flight to Reagan National Airport. My flight was delayed by more than an hour, and I arrived 15 minutes after the last train left Rosslyn for Wiehle. The airport Metro station was already closed. A significant number of people on my flight had counted on being able to take Metro to their destination.
Mexico City: I rode the extensive metro there for a week in January. All rides anywhere, anytime cost less than 25 cents (five pesos). The system services 6 million riders a day. The trains are frequent, announced and on time. Most trains are more packed than WMATA trains and for more of the time. Trains are at least as clean as our Metro.
Portland: I spent a day riding Portland’s MAX Light Rail. The trains are exactly like the Dallas or Salt Lake City trains. They are clean, frequent and on time. A day pass for adults costs $5.
Denver: I spent two days last week riding Denver’s trains. It is just like Portland in terms of the type of trains and stations and information boards, but it’s $9 a day for the whole system. Also, Denver’s trains were occasionally late and did not seem to be as frequent. Still, it was a lot better than Metro.
I arrived at Reagan National Airport station at 10 p.m. on a Tuesday to go to Reston. There were no signs in the station telling me this, but I learned from the MetroHero app (dcmetrohero.com) that Silver Line trains were running only from Ballston to Wiehle. I waited about 20 minutes for a Blue Line train to Rosslyn.
I caught an Orange Line train from Rosslyn to Ballston about 10:35 p.m. Very luckily, the last Silver Line train of the day was right behind us, so a lot of us — including a large hockey game crowd — were able to get out of the Orange Line train and hop on the last train to Wiehle.
One hour is not bad from National Airport to Wiehle, but the fact that the system had added the hitch of taking three trains made it a close call. I would like to think that Metro would have kept Silver Line trains running up until the last Orange Line train, just to help those who had to make the Ballston switch.
In other words, the system should have created a way in which Silver Line riders would be treated exactly the same as if the Silver Line system were running normally. Apparently not.
DG: I know there’s a lot we can talk about in comparing these transit systems. But I’d like to stick to two points.
The first is that I admire Ballard’s pursuit of transit as a means of getting around these cities. One of the difficulties in getting people to try transit is their reluctance to cross that threshold into a new experience: to learn the fares and how to pay them, and how to navigate to their destination.
The second is to note what categories this frequent transit rider consistently chooses to highlight: fares, frequency of service, on-time performance, reliability, ease of navigation, comfort, cleanliness.
We might debate the differences among the transit systems, but I’ll bet most of you would consider Ballard’s standards of customer service to be universal benchmarks of systems people want to ride.