It sucks to get to a Metro station only to realize you just missed a train and are going to be waiting there for 15 minutes or more. It sucks even more when that station is outside, and it's a cold night. It takes suck to a whole new level when you took all the measures you could so this scenario would not happen.
Metro's budget woes have been sliced and diced, analyzed and pored over, and there's a lot of talk about service cuts, including fewer trains at night (PDF). But we see something missing from all the discussion, particularly from Metro's side:
Are there any plans to make the subway run on a reliable schedule?
Imagine the delight in arriving at a station at the same time as the train you want! Imagine! It's not rocket science--other countries have done this for decades.
Sadly, the fundamental task of running trains on time and according to a published schedule seems like pie in the sky here in DC. If Metro could accomplish this seemingly simple, cheap objective, the bitter pill of longer times between trains would go down a lot more easily.
Now to be fair, Metro recently began utilizing NextBus, which helps riders know when to head out to the bus stop, and although we still hear a lot about unreliability, it's a big step in the right direction, and a lot of people seem very happy with the service.
However, on the train side, we have been giving WMATA's schedules and riders' tools a test.
Over the past few months, we've taken Metro at night (between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m.) 21 times. For 10 of those times we used Metro's published schedules (yes, they really do have these!) and eleven times we used the online next train tool. The accuracy rate of both tools to within 5 minutes? Four out of 21 times!
That's not even 25 percent, and usually, the train was early, which is even more of a nuisance because it often leads to more wait time at the station. More than a few times, the next train tool showed "-- -" trains as the next train, which hardly inspired confidence.
The other night is a perfect example. We were heading into Rosslyn. It was very cold, and we didn't particularly want to wait outside at East Falls Church for a long time, so we logged onto WMATA.com and saw that a train was arriving in three minutes. That wasn't enough time, so when the next train appeared to be 10 minutes away, we headed out.
Now, we've timed the walk. It takes no longer than 6 minutes at a moderate pace, but we were moving pretty fast, and got to the perimeter of the station in under 5 minutes.
As we got near the entrance, we realized a train was on the platform, we bolted as fast as we could but didn't quite make it. Sixteen minutes until the next one.
Thanks WMATA. You're going to engender a lot of goodwill and even fewer riders when those seemingly random headways are 30 minutes or more.
After basic safety, running trains according to a schedule should be task #1. It's sad that even has to be pointed out.
Bathroom "galore" on Silver Line (WaPo)
Metro learned from 2003 storm (Examiner)
Catoe's year in review (Examiner)
How to get out of the transit death spiral (Examiner)
Look! A WMATA cookie. (GGW)