One theme we often return to here is that a mass transit system can’t be successful if it’s only used an alternative commuter route. The system needs off-hour and weekend use. Not only does that help pay the bills, but it also lets people ditch their cars for good: if city residents still need to own a car to get around on the weekend in a city, then your mass transit system has failed.
One problem in figuring out weekend travel use in D.C.’s Metro is that WMATA rarely makes that information publicly available–in public statements, they focus almost exclusively on weekday travel (which is, itself, part of the problem). But thanks to D.C’s local data nerds, going back to 2004, we have data! Here’s how the weekend and weekday travel patterns look, with the last two columns standardized to the 2009 data:
A key takeaway is that, of the ‘missing’ thirty million rides since 2009, almost eight million are due to declines in weekend travel–even though weekend travel only makes up around thirteen percent of the total travel. And it’s no accident that weekend use cratered in 2016, at the height–or worst*–of the weekend construction efforts. These weekend travel declines are probably due to three factors:
- Single tracking due to weekend construction. Two to three trains per hour isn’t any damn good.
- Early closing times. You can get there on Metro, but it closes by the time you want to go home.
- If you rub #1 and #2 together, you get an obvious increase in Uber and Lyft use. And if you’re using them to return home, why not use them to go there?
I realize there are still many repairs that need to be made, but WMATA has to do something about weekend service (and off-hour use suffers from many of the same problems). If it becomes a commuter-rail only, then it will slowly die. D.C. can’t afford that.
*Though Safetrack repairs, which officially ended, are still ongoing under other names.