Thursday, July 8, 2010

Punished on the Western Red Line

From CF:
I leave before rush hour and reverse commute from Judiciary Square, where I live, to Rockville, where I work. At this time, all trains go to Shady Grove, or at least they are are supposed to.

Twice last week, some trains only went as far as Grosvenor, leaving us long distance travelers stranded on the platform at 6:30 a.m. watching as every single other passenger in both directions was served over and over (three trains to Glenmont to my zero Shady Grove trains). And yet, we long distance riders pay the most!

The other morning, when I arrived and the sign said 20 minutes until the next train, I complained to the station manager. Her response was to shrug, turn around and close the door.


During my long wait, announcements were made about Blue Line delays but never once about those of who had been stranded waiting for trains beyond Grosvenor. Running trains on time and communicating with passengers isn't a budget problem. How can they get away this? When you leave your house at 6-something in the morning, 20 minutes is everything.

BTW, Metro's response to this was:
Red Line trains run to Shady Grove just as they do to Glenmont, during rush hour they are scheduled every six minutes. Every other train stops at Silver Spring and Grosvenor.

If your reader has a concern or complaint, he should call our customer service department.
From Ben Schumin:
Metro's fare structure is for the most part based on a boarding charge plus distance traveled. If you are traveling to Forest Glen, Wheaton, or Glenmont, you're paying a pretty penny for service, and only getting half as much as the folks below you. From Metro Center during rush hour (before greed-of-the-greed, pardon me, "peak-of-the-peak" was implemented), it costs $3.70 to get to Forest Glen, $4.10 to get to Wheaton, and $4.55 to get to Glenmont. For that cost, every other train terminates and returns downtown well before reaching the final three stations. Let's talk about a parity issue for a moment, here. Those of us who pay the most for Red Line service get the least amount of Red Line service. That doesn't seem a fair bargain.

Add to that my belief that Metro was bluffing the whole time when it came to their threatened service cuts. They were never going to cut service, because it would have been political suicide for all the board members (even though a few of them need to commit political hara-kiri - yes, I'm looking at you, Jim Graham - and leave office). They did, however, play the public like a violin, getting people to say that they would be more than willing to pay higher fares rather than see service cut. And that gave them carte blanche to institute the second "Metro's largest-ever fare increase" in a row this week (2008's fare increase was also described as Metro's largest).

So needless to say, I'm a bit annoyed. It's time to discontinue the Silver Spring turnback in regularly scheduled service. Send all the trains to Glenmont. I pay substantially more per ride than someone going to Silver Spring ($3.25 from Metro Center to Silver Spring vs. $4.55 to Glenmont), and therefore for the amount I pay, every regularly scheduled Red Line train should go there to service these riders, who spend more to fund Metro's services than someone going to Silver Spring.

This is also why we need to go to a flat fare. Metro will run trains at a given headway to the outlying stations regardless of whether there are five people on the train or 500 people on the train. Likewise, they will staff all the stations and run all the utilities regardless of how many people are actually on the train. Thus it costs Metro basically the same to take someone from Metro Center to Gallery Place as it does from Metro Center to, say, Takoma, because the train will be run in service to the end of the line regardless of passenger load. Therefore, everyone should pay equally for the provision of the entire service. That also gets into the idea that transit is a public good, and therefore everyone should help pay for it. Because the best place that I could afford is way out in the suburbs doesn't mean I should be punished for it. Seriously.

Other items:
Metro's new door-to-door service goes horribly wrong (WUSA)
Local transit agencies feeling pinch (Examiner)


Anonymous said...

As a Silver Spring rider I say praise jebus for the turnbacks. Sometimes I can skip an overcrowded train knowing that an empty sits 2 minutes away in the pocket track. That overcrowded beast will clear out Gallery Place and I won't have to fight to get out the door at Metro Center.

I used to live in Gaithersburg and take Metro from Shady Grove. That's why one moves closer into their jobs.

bmfc1 said...

Metro can't even write and bs excuse properly: "Every other train stops at Silver Spring and Grosvenor" is not true. Every train stops at Silver Spring and Grosvenor. Every other train continues beyond those stations.

Liz said...

Sorry, Ben, you should have taken the higher costs of commuting into your accounting to live way out in the suburbs. Those of us that bear the higher costs of living in the city shouldn't be punished for your decision to live in suburbia.

bmfc1 said...

How can anybody justify a) higher costs for b) half the service? If Metro still needs the turnbacks, then don't charge us more for inferior service. Metro says that we get a train every six minutes? Ha! It's usually between 7 and 10 each morning. Some "rush" hour service that is.

Anonymous said...

Folks need to riot. I'm serious. You're not getting to work on time and you're paying more for less.

Michael said...

The outer portion of the Red line gets the same amount of service as every other line in the system, every six minutes during rush hours. This is the service on the Green, Blue, Orange, and Yellow lines. The inner portion has much higher ridership and has double the service because of it.

It costs Metro more to run trains out that far. The time that it takes trains to go all the way to the end and turn around is time we have to pay for. The service is run based on ridership, and Metro has determined that the ridership can be served with six minute service past Silver Spring and Grosvenor.

I recommend that your first rider with the service complaint send in a customer service complaint with as much detail (time, location, date) as possible, then email a separate copy to the General Manager. His email is not hard to figure out, it's the first initial and the lastname at wmata dot com.

Next time Metro announces that they have a large deficit, I advise your second reader to organize a campaign to advocate cutting back service rather than have another fare increase. I'd be interested to see how many people would join that Facebook group.

Anonymous said...

I'm up for a riot! Let's get all Irish up on these mo-fos!

Anonymous said...

@ Liz - the guy works in Rockville. He doesn't live there. You can't just move your company.

Anonymous said...

Whether you work way out in the suburbs or live there isn't the point. The point is that people who are on the trains for 4 or 5 stations shouldn't have to pay as much as the people who are on the trains for 12 or 13 stations. To use another example, people who drive from Gaithersburg to downtown DC pay more in gas/wear and tear/etc than people who drive from Adams-Morgan to downtown DC. Why should metro have a flat fare structure when other modes of transportation don't?

Anonymous said...

Easy solution to this: don't move to this shithole of a city unless you can afford a car or can afford to live near work.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that all trains should run to the end of every line, your reasoning on flat fares is nothing but self-serving suburban bullsh*t.

No, it doesn't cost "basically the same" to run the trains more distance. There's more wear and tear for one thing.

And yes, while it does cost "basically the same" to run a train between Metro Center and Takoma Park as it does to run a train between Rhode Island Avenue and Glenmont, it doesn't cost the same from Metro Center to Glenmont as it does from Metro Center to Takoma Park. You use the system more, you should pay more for it.

Until DC can put a commuter tax in place and actually get income taxes off all those people who use city services without paying for them, all a flat fare on Metro does is punish people who live in the city.

Or, to put it another way: Because I was lucky enough to find a place I could afford in the city doesn't mean I should be punished for it. Seriously.

Anonymous said...

I call the red line the blood line.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Anon @7:59. I love that the turnback trains are usually empty when directly preceded by a train that runs the entire length of the track. It makes commuting easier and more comfortable (which is important when wmata does everything in its power to ruin every commute).

I honestly don't care if people pay more to go a shorter distance. If the distance you travel is so short and the price you pay to metro is so ridiculous that you can't fathom it, maybe you should start walking. Or you could take a cab and really pay out the nose.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for the flat fare. The buses have it, why shouldn't the trains?

Anonymous said...

I used to ride metro from Shady Grove to Dupont Circle and back. 6 minutes between trains is not accurate at all. Most of times there were at least 10 min between trains in the morning.

As for the Grosvenor trains being every other one, that's also a lie. There were countless times that I let a Grosvenor train go by to wait for the SG one, and another Grosvenor train came. Not mentioning the times that a Shady-Grove bound train broke down and we had 2-3 trains stop at Grosvenor in a row. Try to fit a mob of people into an already-packed SG train?

Needless to say I was often late for work and also to pick up my kid from daycare.

Between parking and fare, I was paying more than $300 a month. My car does really good mpg and if I fill it up once a week it costs me $160.00/month. So I started driving to work. I feel so much better. Only miss having time to read. I'd go through a book in a day or 2 stuck in Metro delays.

Anonymous said...

Same problems on the green line. I'm often waiting 10 minutes in between trains during rush hour and I get really tired of the trains that terminate at Fort Totten that mean at the end of the day, I'm often waiting 15 or 20 minutes for a train that actually takes me where I need to go. I don't mind paying more - of course I should have to pay more for a longer ride, but I do mind the lack of service.

Wish I Could Afford to Live in DC said...

Oh, hey Liz? Some of us didn't have a choice but to live int he suburbs, since DC priced us out in favor of the rich.

But hey, keep on riding your broken-down Metro train of assumptions there. It's easier than thinking.

DMC in DC said...

I believe Metro is going to see a fine example of Laffer Curve take place. Laffer Curve regards the optimal tax rate to get the most revenues, and the theory is that when tax rates are pushed past that point, that revenues will start to fall. Similarly, this curve could apply to metro fares and fare revenues. If the fare is too low, revenues are low, if the fares are reasonable for the service provided (an important factor in fare level), more riders will ride and fare revenues will increase. However, as Metro raises fares to a level that riders may feel is unreasonable for the services provided, they may begin to lose those riders or riders may switch to off peak hours to reduce the fare, and fare revenues will begin to decrease/ I believe this will indeed happen, and it's beyond me how the big metro chumps are blind to such fact.

Anonymous said...

I am always amazed when people claim it is "unfair" for people who ride long distances to pay more than people who just go a few stops, or that it is wrong to charge more money at rush hour, and that a flat fare structure is somehow better and fairer. The fact that most transit systems (e.g. NYC) have a flat fare structure is due to their age - they were built before the technology existed that makes it possible to impose fares based on time and distance, and it would be expensive to retrofit them with sort of system DC uses. Something similar applies to buses - it probably isn't currently feasible to install a system requiring people to "swipe out" when they leave a bus, so buses can't charge based on distance (though they do charge a higher flat fare on certain express routes). But there is no God-given right to a fixed cost to ride, regardless of distance or time of day.
Is it "unfair" that Amtrack charges more money to take you to New York than to Wilmington? Do you expect airlines to charge the same, whether you are flying to Detroit, Los Angeles, or Buenos Aires? If you decide to fly to visit your family on the day before Thanksgiving, are you surprised that the airline charges more than if you made the exact same trip a week earlier, even though jet fuel prices and airport landing fees remain unchanged?
Of course not, and there is no reason why Metro should charge the same fare for everybody either.
And no, I am not a city dweller with a short commute who wants to soak the suburbanites - I live in Virginia and commute to downtown DC at rush hour, so I do pay considerably more than the minimum Metro fare, though not as much the maximum to the end of the line.

Anonymous said...

@DMC in DC: why would you assume that "the big metro chumps" are blind to the fact that raising fares would reduce ridership? I would assume the opposite - that they are aware of this basic fact of economics, and that they are keeping an eye on ridership numbers and the response to the fare increases to see what really does maximize revenue. I also think the fare increases may serve as an incentive to reduce overcrowding and change rider behavior - if people who some flexibility in their work hours start shifting their commute to avoid the "peak of the peak," that is a good thing for the system. And if some people decide that it makes more sense economically to form a carpool and avoid metro altogether, that too might be a good use of the transportation infrastructure.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 11:38 AM

While I understand your reasoning, your airline example doesn't hold water.

Airlines base their fares on the popularity of the route and the popularity of the day that you wish to fly. It's simply supply and demand. That's why it's way cheaper for me to fly to Los Angeles,CA than it is for me to fly to Columbia, SC. It doesn't matter that Columbia is only 400 miles from DC and Los Angeles is 2,500.

I'm all for a flat fare too. The buses have them but no one's willing to touch that fare structure since any mention of it would mean that you're targeting those who are "less well off".

Anonymous said...

To Anon 10:16 am...There already is a DC driving tax: the insane parking rules and regulations combined with overzealous parking enforcement officers. A real commuter tax will never ever happen. End of story. Every time it is discussed Congress shoots it down when the VA/MD Senators protest. People who live and work in the suburbs should not be punished for enjoying the city nightlife.

bmfc1 said...

This discussion is forgetting that the original post objected to two things in tandem: being charged a higher amount for 50% of the service. If it was being charged more but getting as many trains as someone going to Silver Spring, I wouldn't object. If it was a lesser fare because I'm getting half the service, I would understand. But what the quoted blogger and I object to is both events taking place.

DMC in DC said...

Anon: "I would assume the opposite - that they are aware of this basic fact of economics, and that they are keeping an eye on ridership numbers and the response to the fare increases to see what really does maximize revenue."

I disagree, and do not think the fare increases will raise revenues at all and will begin to decrease them. Riders are already changing to the off peak, and 10:30 am and 8 pm times are now running fully packed trains, when they typically had not before. This tells me the peak fare they expect to gain revenues on is having the opposite effect and driving riders to the lower fare times. Sure, this may reduce overcrowding at peak hours, but it surely does not increase revenue one iota.

Anonymous said...

@Anon 12:00pm: The airline analogy is not perfect, and I'm certainly not going to defend airlines as being completely rational. But I do think a rough analogy to public transit holds: whether because of supply and demand, cost and distance, or greater competition on certain routes, airlines charge different fares to different cities on different days, and even have Saturday night stay requirements to try to keep business travelers from taking advantage of the cheapest fares. Moreover, Amtrack, a government monopoly (and thus maybe a better analogy to Metro), charges different fares based on how far passengers travel. Nobody has ever seriously suggested that this isn't right, or that Amtrack or the airlines should be required to charge everyone the same flat fare. Yet some people seem to think they are "entitled" to some sort of flat fare on Metro.

The airline model of charging what the market will bear is a more useful way of understanding why Metro charges more at rush hour too: service at rush hour is not necessarily "better" (there are more trains, yes, but also more crowding), but there is much more demand at rush hour, and Metro can get away with charging more, just like airlines can get away with charging more around major holidays. And just as higher holiday fares encourage people to shift their plans (leave on Tuesday and come back on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, for example), higher Metro rush hour fares will encourage people with some flexibility to adjust their working hours to ride later or earlier.
But I think we will know that things have gone too far if Metro starts introducing lower fares for those willing to stay over a Saturday night. :-)

Anonymous said...

@DMC: I don't disagree that higher fares could reduce revenues; I just disagree with assuming this plausible theory to be a proven fact, and with assuming that Metro officials are completely blind to it. If the fare increase actually reduces revenue, then Metro should lower the fares until they find the optimal level that maximizes revenue. I recall that something like that happened many years ago in Boston - when they raised subway fares on "the T," ridership dropped so much that it reduced revenue. Then they lowered the fares to an intermediate figure - higher than originally, but not as high as the first fare increase. That seemed to do the trick. Metro can do something similar, and roll back the fare increases, in whole or in part, if necessary.
I personally have not noticed any drop in ridership during the peak rush hour periods, though I have noticed over the past few years that crowding now extends well into the evening, past the end of rush hour. But whatever Metro does should be based on real data, not on my anecdotal observations, or on our theoretical speculation about what might or might not happen.

Anonymous said...

But is it really distance based? I take the metro from Van Ness to Rockville every morning to go to work in MD, but it is $.40 cheaper to go all the way from Van Ness to Forrest Glen. Is that actually geographically closer? I wouldn't know.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous (Van Ness): Fare is based on "composite miles" and Metro gives these mileage figures from station-to-station on their website.

What I can't find is a formal definition of what a "composite mile" is online--if you Google it, it looks like Metro is the *only* transit agency in the world that uses that term. But I think I've figured it out with the help of Google Earth.

According to Metro, composite mileage from Van Ness to Rockville is 11.06 miles. Van Ness to Forest Glen, 9.59 miles. So the fares are correct in accordance with these mileage figures.

But this isn't the true mileage, either as the crow flies or as the rails run. Rockville is fairly close on both counts since the rails run more-or-less in a straight line. Forest Glen is either 5 miles as the crow flies, or 14(!) miles when you trace the actual route--the big dip that runs you through downtown and back up.

Average those two figures and you wind up at 9.5 miles.

It appears composite mileage is in place so that those who use Red Line to go from one arm to the other aren't paying 14 miles worth of fare to wind up at a location five miles away. Splitting the difference in the fare calculation seems pretty reasonable IMHO.

Michael said...

@anon at 8:10, the distance formula is based on the average of the rail distance and the "crow flies" distance, so it might actually be closer to forest glen.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't cost the metro more or less money to run the trains out to the end. They always have power to the tracks and the employees still work till the end of their shift; therefore, metro should not make it more convenient to those inside DC vice those at the end. Metro is not going to lose money if they send the trains to the end all the time because once ur inside the metro they made atleast 2 bucks and people still going to use a crowded train car.

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