WMATA/Metro Unveils New Plan To Win Back Riders

And it doesn’t suck. Here’s what Metro is proposing:

  1. Extended frequent service. Trains would run at rush hour frequencies (every eight minutes) until 10 am instead of 9:30 am. In the evening, trains would run rush hour service until 8:30 pm instead of stopping at 7. Riders would not be charged peak fare prices during those new higher-frequency times.
  2. Flat fares on the weekend. All Metrorail weekend fares would be $2, no matter the distance. Metro will still use weekends to do significant trackwork, so trains would still continue the “rebuilding” service and single-tracking which we’ve become accustomed to over the past few years.
  3. Yellow Line rush hour service would be restored to Greenbelt. A version of this service called ‘Yellow Plus,’ which was eliminated in 2017, allowed every other Yellow Line train to run all the way up to the northern terminus.
  4. All Red Line trains will run the full length of the line. Metro made a fuss about eliminating the Grosvenor turnback and having all trains run to Shady Grove. This budget would not only include that, but would also eliminate the Silver Spring turnback. Trains would run on the entire Red Line every four minutes.
  5. All trains would run as 8-car trains, with no more 6-car trains. Metro has wanted to do this for years and years, but costly system-wide power upgrades were deferred and are still (slowly) underway. The press release doesn’t say how this would happen, or when.
  6. All Metro SelectPasses would include unlimited bus trips in addition to rail. One, three, and seven-day rail and bus passes would also drop in price.
  7. Decrease the Rush Hour Promise threshold from 15 to 10 minutes. A trip delayed more than 10 minutes over Metro’s “on time” metric would cause a credit to be issued to that rider. Credits for trips taken with the Metro SelectPass are limited to $3.

For buses:

  1. Riders with a SelectPass would be able to take Metro buses for “free” (not including regional bus providers like RideOn or DASH), which would be one positive change.
  2. In addition, the 1-day bus+rail pass (currently $14.75) would be reduced to $13, and the 7-day bus+rail pass would decrease in price from $60 to $58. A new 3-day rail+bus pass would also be added for riders to buy for $28. The unlimited 7-day bus-only pass would drop in price from $17.50 to $15.

There are some good things here. More Yellow Line service is desperately needed and would cut down car traffic from Maryland. Having trains run the entire Red Line makes D.C. a lot more accessible, especially for the eastern end of the line (past Silver Spring) which is lower-income than the west end of the line.

A key thing is making Metro SelectPasses a better deal. I use Metro Select (essentially, a monthly pass), but still have to pay ‘a la carte’ for bus trips. This makes the system much more like Boston’s Charlie Card, where local bus is included, and makes people more likely to use the bus, rather than a private car service (taxi, Uber, or Lyft)–the middle routes of ~1 to 1.5 miles are key in convincing people in D.C. to use the bus instead of other services. Extending rush hour service also is useful for people running errands and so on, though the improved evening service should be extended to 9 pm.

The downside is that the $2/ride on the weekends is a tacit admission that weekend service is going to suck for the foreseeable future. There’s also no discussion of improving bus service, or altering bus routes to fill in gaps that the subway doesn’t cover (as opposed to MetroBus serving as a feeder system for the subway). The greatest problem is that there is nothing about late-night service. Yes, some people might ‘Metro in’ and ‘Uber out’, but once you’ve decided to pay more to go home, there’s a good chance you’ll pay to go there.

So, it’s a mixed bag, though I think making buses free for SelectPass users is actually a very significant step that won’t receive the attention it should.

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