Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Encouraged to Drive

From CC:

I see the problems with Metro from a slightly different perspective than that of a regular user, which I'm not.

Yes, Metro has some issues, but underlying it all, I think, is that many of us in the region are basically encouraged to drive by various policies.

I live in Falls Church, and I work in Rosslyn. It's about a 15-minute walk to East Falls Church Metro and then another 5 minutes from the station to my office.

Maybe I should feel guilty, but I never think of Metro as an option unless I'm going for drinks after work. I drive to work almost every day.


Well, there are several reasons.

First of all, gas is cheap. Even though it's creeping up to $3 per gallon here in the Confederacy, gas is a CRAZY "bargain."

Secondly, parking is a deal as well, and it's subsidized by my employer. (Unsuck used to pay about $70 per two-week pay period to park Court House. The daily rate is $10.) And the parking is plentiful. I get a nice spot in a garage every day, and I can use that spot on the weekends as well if I want to go out.

My employer does subsidize Metro by taking out pre-tax dollars from paychecks, but that's not enough savings to tip the scales. The "regular" Metro fare would be $2.25 each way, soon to be more.

There are some people at my office that don't live "in range" of Metrorail--not sure if the bus is viable for them--so it's good they have a place to park, but there are plenty of people who live in Arlington, and yet they still drive to work every day.

Another reason I drive is that traffic is seldom bad, so I'm there much faster than Metro could ever deliver me and without the hassle. Getting on a westbound Orange Line train at Rosslyn is about the worst place to catch it, and frankly, trains are usually pretty full at East Falls Church in the morning.

There is one thing I'm curious about with all of this. I work in a "green" building," which I guess means it follows these specs, but there's nothing I can find that mentions parking, or encouraging the use of public transportation, and for a relatively small building, we have lots o' parking.

Yes, it would be a little cheaper for me to take Metro, and I'd even get a little exercise, but for now, I'm afraid driving wins out nearly every time. I'm sure I'm not the only one in this boat.

Other items:
Electrical Problem Forces Metro Personnel To Uncouple Train (WUSA)
"Mass transit is the center of American life" Uhhhh (WaPo)


Anonymous said...

And this is what Metro's up against. Suburbs that don't have to rely on mass transit (or people who choose not to use it) vs. so many people in the District who must use the subway to get to/from work. Metro is trying to service both sets of customers (I know, I know, 'trying' and 'service' don't go well with WMATA). But CC brings up a good point. How can Metro compete with Suburb-Suburb commuters who would rather drive because of preference and easier/quicker/cheaper/less crowded commutes? Hell, I take Metro everyday from PG to downtown, and don't think I haven't done the math in my head (just a couple fare hikes more and I'm driving... by myself... it is soon going to be noshit cheaper for me to drive and park in a garage).

Anonymous said...

I am in a similar position. With free parking at work, there is no reason to take the Metro. It takes about 20% longer to do so and costs about the same or more.

Anonymous said...

Some of us do not drive and do not own a car. It makes us the sacrifice to the great metro gods.

CC said...

I should add that yes, I'm lucky to have the option. Thought that was implicit.

Anonymous said...

Used to commute from Dunn Loring to Metro Center, then walk to Gallery Place. Total cost of trip - ($3.80 x 2 ways) + $4.50 parking. Then I found a $5 parking lot at work...

varun said...

Yeah, it's getting close. For two of us to drive 9 miles to work, it costs us $14 daily to park, plus a buck in gas each day; call it $16 in all. And we can leave when we want, it's a predictably 30 minute commute, the car is new, we're both seated, and it's a pleasant drive.

For us to commute using Metro, it's $3.65 each way x 4 = $14.60. And it's unreliable, uncomfortable and unpredictable - it may take 25 minutes, it may take 55 minutes. And if I may say so, even accounting for the vagaries of how badly DC drivers drive, my driving is smoother than the Metro.

I'm sure the garage I park at offers a monthly pass that works out to $12. The only thing holding me from doing exactly that is the occasional evening event that precludes us from taking the car in. But if Metro fares go up another 50c... it's game over.

Anonymous said...

CC - I could not agree with you more. I have been taking the Metro for the past two years to work (Court House to Metro Center). Over the course of just those two years I have seen Metro slide further and further downhill. Court House is a nightmare almost every morning and recently it has been a challenge just to get on a train at all. In October I began driving in a couple days a month just to see what it was like and put my name on the list for a parking space in the office garage. At the beginning of April I got a parking space in the building and now I drive in each day. I get to work faster (Court House - Metro Center should be a fast commute, but with all the sitting in tunnels that they do tends to be much longer) and without having to deal with all of Metro's woes and more importantly without having to deal with extremely rude people that ride Metro. Although it is more expensive to drive (my company pays for the parking garage in our building, but I pay for gas now) it is 100% worth staying off Metro for. Metro has lost what could have been a rider for life because of their terrible, terrible service.

Anonymous said...

Riders fed up with Metro should look into the variety of locally operated bus systems, MTA, DART, ART, DASH.

They can sometimes work to avoid Metro, and I've found their drivers generally more agreeable.

For anyone wondering why there is such a plethora of these local bus systems, the answer is simple. WMATA labor is pricing itself out of the market.

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, those of us stuck with Metro endured dangerous overcrowding at Pentagon City this morning, with customers resorting to shutting off the escalators ourselves because the platform could not accommodate any additional people.

Usual Metro fail this am, on three of five lines. Way to go Sarles.

Anonymous said...

This post is interesting to me. The author seems to couch the choice to drive as the obvious choice that anyone would make. Yet lists 2 positive aspects of metro, walking to/from both stations (exercise) and I think lower cost than gas and parking and car depreciation and maintenance.

I'd say the author is willfully making the lazy choice, the one that s/he sees reflected in the people around them, i.e. following like sheep, except that there must be something else outweighing those 2 positive benefits. I think it must be the perception of ease of driving vs. the irregularity of metro.

I think metro would only have to be frequent and highly predictable in order to tip the scales of choice in its favor.

Anonymous said...

CC - I couldn't agree more. I walk out my door at about 6:15 in the morning and make it into work at about 7:00. If I driv from Crystal City I can leave a little after 6:30 and make it in by about 6:50. The only thing keeping from going full on drive mode every day is work covering all Metro cost. Free vs about $10 a day is difficult to argue with.

saber_saw25 said...

"I think metro would only have to be frequent and highly predictable in order to tip the scales of choice in its favor."

No crap! I think that was what the entire post is about. Give people something that is, you know, good and people will use it every time.

Anonymous said...

I am a regular Metro commuter (Arlington to downtown DC), but I agree with CC, and I might make the same choice he or she did. I think CC is actually doing us regular Metro riders a favor by not riding metro between East Falls Church and Rosslyn at rush hour. There just isn't any extra space available on the orange line at peak periods. It would be good for air quality in the region if fewer people were driving their cars to work, but even if all the drivers wanted to be on Metro, realistically, putting them all into the Metro just isn't an option given the current capacity constraints.

GrapesOfRough said...

For now, I'm stuck with Metro. I live in downtown Silver Spring, about a 30 second walk from the Metro. Monthly Metro costs for me from Silver Spring to Navy Yard are roughly $130. Parking fees at my building are about $200/month.

A few more fare hikes, and a little lowering of gas prices and I'll hold that middle finger high as I walk away from Metro forever.

CC said...


Yes, laziness is part of the equation. I freely admit that. Surely though, you're not expecting the majority of people to be the most hassle filled way to get to work.

Anonymous said...

I've been a regular Metro commuter, and then my husband's job changed. Now we work near each other.

For us both to take Metro would be $3.55 each way, times twice a day, times two of us -- over $14 per day, probably up to $15 per day this summer. That's $71 a week in our household budget, and the trip that used to be 45 - 60 minutes now runs 1:15 - 1:30 nearly every day.

Whereas driving costs us about $30 in gas per week. Parking at his job is paid for by his employer. And the drive runs about 35 - 50 minutes.

I'm a staunch advocate of public transit and believe we need more of it, and better. But for saving over $40 per week (which pocket calculator math says adds up to over $2000 a year), and for getting an hour of time back? I can't stand by Metro anymore.

Anonymous said...

Parking is $135 a month (!!!!) where I work...and it's about 20 miles away from my house. The cost of gas, time in traffic, and parking all make Metro the best option for me.

Anonymous said...

According to Google maps, driving the back way from my home to work (NE to downtown), is about 5 miles and should take 18 minutes. I did this a while back in the early morning (pre-rush hour) to grab some large stuff I needed and didn't feel like hauling on Metro for a business trip. 18 minutes is a joke. It took me almost an hour one-way, and the only reason I could do it is because I was only going to be there for 5 minutes and could park at a meter in the early morning hours (the trip home was much better, I'd estimate only 30 minutes). Otherwise, it would be $20+ for me to park for a normal work day. Likewise, on a day that I took vacation, I drove to the grocery store that Google says is just under 4 miles away along much the same route and it took about 45 minutes at 3 PM, and longer to get home (over 2.5 hours total for a grocery run that consisted of about 20-30 minutes in the actual store).

While it takes me about 10 minutes to walk to the Metro from home and another 3 minutes from the Metro to work, all in all, I can typically make it from home to work in about 35-40 minutes. For all its fails, Metro is the best option for some of us, even when we have access to a car and the means (barely) to drive if we want. Interestingly, it's always the VA drivers I know who have rather expedient commutes, while living near MD, the commutes are always hell. Any MD car commuters out there want to comment on that?

Anonymous said...

I take Metro because I get Smart Trip benefits through my job and because driving is not at all feasible for me. (I live on the Hill and work in SW ... parking does not exist) I also have an evening job for extra income, so I actually hit every single metro line most days.

That said, I'm probably going to start biking or walking in the nice weather, which was how I got to my previous job anyway. I find Metro sort of depressing. It's an unpleasant and unreliable way to get from Point A to Point B and I show up at work already ticked off. Obviously I can't put monetary value on that, but mental state counts for a little.

Anonymous said...

CC: You use Metro on days when planning to go out for drinks after work? Are you really so certain that Metro is safer alternative. Frankly, I'd rather drive drunk down Route 50 than have to risk the gang rape that is my evening Metro ride home. CC: Can you let me borrow your car on the days you plan to go out drinking?

Anonymous said...

anon @3:36

Metro _is_ depressing. I hate being underground when it's a beautiful sunny day. Those dark, stinking, and dirty stations are not appealing at all.

Anonymous said...

This slew of comments should be a clarion call to WMATA (but it won't be). People do not like their product. And it's a product that people SHOULD feel good about using (blah blah green, blah blah cheap, blah blah sustainable). Instead, convenience, safety, and affordability reign. So driving alone in a car, braving rush hour makes so much more sense to so many DC area commuters. Like a certain political party I quit in 2004 (why it took so long, I don't know), I have given up on Metro-- a service that once was the pride of DC. Unlike a certain political party I quit in 2004, I COULD quit. Metro, I just can't quit you.
And you suck.
Soooo much.
Fix yourself, or people will stop riding in droves. Fix that death spiral. I think this is the most alarming unsuck comment section yet. It's worse than anyone thought.
Metro needs suburban riders.

Anonymous said...

This is what struck me when I first moved to this area in June 2009. I moved here from NJ/NYC area, where public transit is pretty much the best bet for getting around. Having a car, especially in NYC and close suburbs, is more of a nuisance than anything. Public transit is safe, reliable, and timely.

Then you take DC, where I get the impression that people feel entitled to a car, and will drive to work if at all possible.

To get into NYC, you have to pay an $8 bridge toll (maybe more now) plus more tolls to drive on the NJ Turnpike and other roads. Then you pay an exorbitant amount to park. The tolls don't exist here, and from the comments section it seems like a lot of employers cover parking costs.

It's just very sad to me that people would rather sit in their cars on I-95 for hours driving to their suburban home in Triangle, VA than take a bus or train. OK, so Metro doesn't go to Triangle. Why not sacrifice the huge house for something smaller that is more accessible to Metro/VRE/MARC/etc.? We moved from a Woodbridge, VA apartment to one in downtown Bethesda. It is smaller and costs more every month, but we save so much time commuting and get to see each other every day, and we're happier because we don't have to sit and deal with idiots on the road. Family time outweighs the extra cost.

I wish more people here would embrace public transit. Yeah, Metro sucks sometimes. The managers can be rude. The trains break down. But it's a vital resource for this area. I'm tired of people feeling entitled to driving.

Anonymous said...

I live in the MD suburbs, and commute in by metro daily. I don't have a car, and metro enables me to get along without one. Even if I did have a car, and if it were cheaper, I would still use metro because I prefer to get some exercise in my commute (when I lived in a different city I used to walk 45 mins to work even though I could have walked 15 and ridden the bus 15). I also prefer to be able to read a book, nap, or zone out rather than deal with traffic. Even after living in this area for 3 years I am still appalled by the terrible drivers. And I am a big supporter of public transportation as a concept. I like commuting with other people instead of in an anonymous capsule on a highway.

Metro has problems. But it's still so much better than the public transportation in some other cities where I've lived that I am a big metro supporter.

That said, if I were able to walk or bike to work, I would ... but I would never drive unless metro became so completely unreliable that I simply couldn't get anywhere. (The track work weekends are starting to approach this point.)

Shawn said...

I'm lucky enough to ride the orange line from WFC to Capitol South which is a long enough ride that I can get on a train in the morning and usually find a place to sit/sleep in the evening rush hour. The commute is consistently 45 min from station to station. I had to change trains at Rosslyn once and had to wait for three trains. That's madness, and the main reason that I cycle whenever weather permits. If there was better throughput (at least on the orange line) it would make a big difference. Whatever happened to the ALL 8 car train idea?

Anonymous said...

It kinda seems like we should tax property owners for the amount of parking spots they have and give that money to road maintenance. My office also has free parking, which is the main reason why no one ever takes Metro or Metrobus.

Anonymous said...

"Metro has problems. But it's still so much better than the public transportation in some other cities where I've lived that I am a big metro supporter."

Congratulations, you lived somewhere else before you moved here.

And, I could use the 'T,' 'L,' or BART to get to work? I have options?

I don't care if it's better than other cities. It's not good enough here and it's getting worse.

Anonymous said...

Metro was planned to bring people into the city from the burbs and then take them back. It's not really very useful if you're commuting in an arc rather than a radius. Way to keep ahead of the game Metro.

Unsuck DC Metro said...

Driving alone is the primary commute mode for 54% of Arlington Commuters, compared to 83% statewide.
Source: 2007 Virginia State of the Commute Study: Arlington Perspective

Anonymous said...

Just for some comparison: I lived in Boston from age 0 to 18 and I would not drive if you paid me. Parking is impossible, the Big Dig was a mess, everything in the North End is one way, and the signage blows. So most people agreed, why do anything but take the T? At my high school, those with and without cars always took the public transit in the city because, unlike the roads, it didn't get messed up by weather or construction or what-have-you. It could handle curveballs. In sum, if Metro could present itself as a BETTER (not just equal) alternative to driving, people would get in the habit of making it their default very early on.

Anonymous said...

Not one person mentioned how much money (and rime for repairs, hassles with GEICO, whatever) people save by not owning a car at all. I share a car with my gf and we save thousands of dollars a year. Without Metro, this would be impossible. I understand what most of y'all are saying, but if you don't own a car at all, the monetary comparison between buying one and driving every day or using public trans is not even close.

Boots said...

How about riding a bike? I used to metro into downtown DC from Ballston (sort of comparable distance) and it took me about the same amount of time. There's a good (downhill) trail from Falls Church right to Rosslyn, you'd hardly break a sweat.

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