Why I Don’t Trust WMATA/Metro

And it’s not due to overblown fears about safety. Instead, this is the reason (boldface mine):

WMATA claims that reduced hours are necessary to properly maintain the system, but most other cities’ rapid transit systems manage with longer operating hours and later closing times

Reductions in the hours that Metrorail is open have been justified to the public on two separate grounds: The need to save money when ridership and farebox revenue are falling, and the need to have more hours when the system is closed down available for maintenance….

While WMATA’s current budget crisis will hopefully be temporary, its claim that shorter hours are necessary to keep the system in a good state of repair imply that the changes are expected to be permanent, although the currently-approved service changes will expire in two years if not extended by the Board…

Among the 12 rapid transit systems used in this comparison, D.C.’s Metrorail has the shortest weekday operating day of any American rapid transit system—17 hours and 20 minutes—and will be shortened even further—to 16 hours and 50 minutes—come July 1st

Every other American rapid transit system is open at least 18 hours a day, and four (the subway and PATH in New York, the PATCO Speedline in Philadelphia, and two lines of the Chicago L) are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week….

Metrorail’s current and new schedules both have the system opening at 6:00 am on weekdays. Only one system—the Boston T, at 6:20 am—opens later, but most systems open between 5:00 am and 6:00 am.

The major reason that Metro’s weekday operating hours are shorter than any other system’s is that Metro closes so early. Metro currently closes at 11:20 pm on weekdays and, on July 1st, will begin closing at 10:50 pm, an hour earlier than any other system

The fact that Metrorail is open fewer hours a week than any other rapid transit system—and will be open for even fewer hours after the new budget goes into effect—brings into doubt the claim that it is impossible to properly maintain Metrorail with longer hours of operation. This is particularly true given that a number of the systems Metrorail is being compared to are significantly older. And, although Metrorail does not have express tracks, none of the other systems discussed (except for the New York City subway and one line each in Philadelphia and Chicago) have express tracks.

Somehow Metro has to find a way to do better. The ludicrous overemphasis on safety–a standard the D.C. area road system couldn’t possibly meet–means that service and reliability (not to mention response to crises) has been deemphasized to the point where the system is, at best, mediocre. As the author notes, either Metro needs far more time because it is incompetent or Metro is lying to us about service needs to justify budget cuts.

Neither is acceptable, and the faux-gentility that often occurs in local political discussions (as opposed to the obnoxious tone in national politics) needs to disappear: figure out how to get this done.

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