Metro General Manager Richard Sarles

Many long-anticipated changes are coming to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Streetcars are expected to begin service on H Street NE and the Silver Line is slated to start running to Reston and Tyson’s Corner. New fare cards and rail cars are also in the works systemwide. But many old problems and concerns about on-time performance, maintenance and safety remain. Kojo and WAMU 88.5 reporter Martin DiCaro talk with Metro General Manager Richard Sarles about where the system is headed.


Richard Sarles

General Manager and Chief Executive Officer, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)

Martin Di Caro

Transportation Reporter, WAMU

Related Links

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles explains why WMATA doesn’t use the transportation industry’s standard for measuring on-time performance. Sarles said WMATA compares measurements against their own internal numbers, rather than industry numbers, to check improvement. “The standard we use was here before I got here,” Sarles said.

Park service planning to charge for parking around Mall

The National Park Service has scheduled a public meeting for Feb. 11 to discuss its plan to install parking meters at various points around the National Mall later this year.

Multi-space meter
The meters would be the multi-space style, similar to those near
Nationals Park. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

The meters would require drivers to pay for what is now free parking on Madison and Jefferson drives near the Smithsonian museums, on Constitution Avenue north of the Lincoln and Vietnam memorials, around the Tidal Basin, on Ohio Drive and on a short stretch of parkway along the Potomac River northwest of the Lincoln Memorial.

The park service lists three goals for this program: Manage the parking turnover so more visitors can use the spaces, encourage people to take transit, rather than drive, and raise money to improve transportation services around the Mall.

The District government and the park service also are working on a plan to recreate a National Mall route for the D.C. Circulator buses in 2015. When the Circulator buses first began operating a few years ago, there was such a route, but the District Department of Transportation eventually shut it down because it wasn’t attracting enough riders.

Like almost all public transit, this bus route probably would operate at a loss, but the parking meter revenue could help subsidize it.

The parking meters would be the multi-space kind, with a single kiosk dispensing receipts that drivers can place on their dashboards.

Like the meter style, the rates, hours and days would be similar to those in the rest of downtown Washington, but they have not yet been set, according to the park service. The park police would be responsible for enforcement.

The park service has been working for years on plans to better manage the crowded streets around the national memorials, museums and open space.
According to a 2006 transportation study, the park service manages 14 miles of roads within the National Mall and memorials area, which includes 1,900 now-free parking spaces, about 400 of them on the Mall near the museums.

In this area, the park service has long faced some of the same traffic problems as in the Acadia, Zion and Grand Canyon national parks: At popular tourist times, people can’t easily get around in vehicles. In other settings, the park service has banned traffic and required visitors to board shuttle buses. The plan for the National Mall would offer new access to transit — the Circulator buses — while discouraging long-term parking through the use of meters.

The Feb. 11 meeting to discuss the plan is scheduled for 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the cafeteria at the park service’s National Capital Region headquarters, 1100 Ohio Dr. SW.

Weather causes road problems, school and flight delays

Light snowfall in the D.C. region overnight created challenges for commuters Wednesday morning, as some schools closed and others announced delayed openings, airlines canceled flights and police closed a usually busy ramp onto the southbound lanes of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway because of downed wires in the roadway.

U.S. Park Police said the wires toppled overnight onto the ramp that leads to the parkway from Route 193 in Greenbelt. They are not sure when the ramp will re-open, as they are waiting on a repair crew.

Police warned drivers throughout the region to use caution because some roads are slick and icy.

Metro had troubles on four of its five lines Wednesday morning due to the extreme cold weather.

VRE sent an email alert Wednesday morning to its passengers warning that power is out at its stop at the L’Enfant Station at 6th and C streets SW. VRE officials said riders should use caution when getting on and off trains because the platforms are dark.

Schools are closed in Prince William, Stafford and Culpeper counties. Schools in Fairfax, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Howard, Frederick and Arlington counties, and in Alexandria, are opening two hours late.

Air travel has been affected by the latest round of snowfall. About 250 flights across the country were delayed and another 950 were canceled as a result of the winter weather, according to FlightAware.

Eighteen flights were canceled at Ronald Reagan National Airport. Another 15 were canceled at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and four were canceled at Washington Dulles International.

For more transportation-related stories, click here. For updates on the Washington weather forecast, go to the Washington post’s Capital Weather Gang.

D.C. commuters were better choosing Metrorail in snow and cold, despite delays

Transportation and safety officials are always telling commuters they should use transit when travel conditions deteriorate. But many people were unhappy with the Metrorail service during last week’s snow and cold.

Would driving really have been a less stressful experience?

No. Despite problems that affected all Metrorail lines on the worst weather days, most train riders still made a good decision in picking transit over their cars.

We have many reasons to question decisions made by the original planners of the rail system. As in: 586 escalators? What were they thinking? But the fact that they overcame tremendous financial and political hurdles to build the rail lines should earn them our gratitude whenever our transportation network is put to the test.

Now, you’re probably reading this in the comfort of your home or office. My argument would be a tough sell to anyone standing on an outdoor platform with snow coming in sideways and the temperature plunging.

Metro officials themselves saw both sides.

“Throughout the storm,” said Metro General Manager Richard Sarles, “Metrorail and Metrobus continued serving our riders, and Metro’s parking lots and stations remained plowed, salted and shoveled.

“While some of our equipment is feeling the effects of the deep freeze that followed the storm, our employees deserve special recognition for their hard work . . . to keep people moving.”

Tom Downs, the Metro board chairman, focused on the effect of the cold temperatures, a likely cause of the broken rail that slowed travel on the Blue and Yellow lines in last Thursday’s morning rush. Downs recognized “the difficulty the system has operating when the temperature is in single digits. Cracked rail is a phenomenon that everybody who operates a railroad understands. . . .The only thing I can say to our customers is that we’re sorry, and we try to repair the damage as quickly as possible when it occurs.”

Both statements are true enough, but they must be combined for a realistic picture of transit travel last week.

On the rails

Snow totals Jan. 21 were the greatest for the Washington region in four years, but they did not force Metrorail to curtail above-ground service.

Still, those who did commute by rail encountered problems throughout the week. Not all of them were related to the snow and cold. As the storm intensified that afternoon, signal problems and train equipment problems — usually doors and brakes — led to delays of up to 20 minutes, according to Metro reports.

During the big chill Jan. 22, service on all lines was disrupted by track and train problems. The most common cause of delay was a brake problem. Of 51 incidents logged by Metrorail that Wednesday, 22 were attributed to brake problems. Five trains had door problems. During rush hours, most delays reported by Metro were less than 10 minutes. But at 8:23 a.m., a Blue Line train experienced a brake problem and unloaded passengers at the Arlington Cemetery station, an outdoor platform, resulting in a 14-minute delay on the line.

At 9:25 a.m., passengers had to get off an Orange Line train at McPherson Square’s underground platform because of a brake problem, and riders were delayed 24 minutes. At 4:12 p.m., passengers had to get off a Green Line train onto the outdoor platform at College Park because of a door problem, resulting in an 18-minute delay.

The delay totals listed here are from Metro’s reports for the week. Passengers waiting for trains often send out Twitter messages reporting longer delay times. They also experience the residual effects of delays in that they might have to pass up trains that are too crowded to board.

A Tweet last Wednesday morning from Sarah Dunn read: “Longest Metro ride this a.m. in 4 yrs living in D.C.; 90 min. from Dunn Loring to McPherson. Usually takes 30 min.!”

Also, the tidiness of the aftermath reports masks the uncertainty riders experience during the disruptions. Many complain that they aren’t getting enough information over the loudspeakers in stations and on trains to estimate the length of a disruption or devise alternative routes.

A Tweet the same day from Brian W. of Oakton read: “Are any [Orange Line] trains moving? Been sitting at Clarendon for 30 min. and seen no trains.”

The worst disruptions last Thursday affected riders on the Blue, Yellow and Green lines. In the morning rush, many riders on the Blue and Yellow lines were delayed about a half-hour because of the cracked rail between Braddock Road and Reagan National Airport. Workers had to install a new, 39-foot section of rail. Meanwhile, trains traveling in both directions shared the one open track around the problem area.

On the road

So, wouldn’t rail riders have been better off on the Beltway and the region’s other highways? Not according to safety officials and highway departments. During the week’s worst weather, they were urging people to stay off the roads.

The feds, local governments and many school systems did their part by closing last Tuesday and either staying closed or delaying openings the next day.

Road crews benefit far more from these shutdowns than does Metrorail, because the lack of traffic gives the plows a much better chance of keeping lanes open, even if they can’t get down to bare pavement.

The difference between the relatively easy commute on the snowy afternoon of Jan. 21 and the ghastly eight-hour commutes of Jan. 26, 2011, was the federal government’s timely decision to close offices for the day.

Even so, driving was tricky on the highway ramps and merge lanes. Crashes repeatedly shut highway lanes on important commuter routes throughout the region.

During Friday morning’s commute, the major travel disruption occurred on Rockville Pike, where an early-morning water main break near White Flint Malltemporarily closed that busy route to all traffic. Metrorail riders never encountered a similar service disruption.

Oops! Metro posted wrong signs for its new Silver Line

View image on Twitter


Metro posted incorrect signs at its Metro Center station — a mistake that is expected to cost some money to fix.

The transit agency is in the process of installing hundreds of signs throughout the system at its 86 rail stations to show the new Silver Line in Northern Virginia that will run through Tysons Corner to the edge of Reston. The Silver Line is expected to open sometime in 2014 although no firm date has been set.

But some of the new signs Metro workers started to put up at stations in the system had a mistake.

About a dozen signs at the Metro Center station went up earlier this week showing five stations that the Blue Line doesn’t serve. According to the incorrect signs, the Blue Line made stops at Court House, Clarendon, Virginia Square, Ballston and East Falls Church.

That’s wrong.

Those five stops are only served by the Orange Line. The Blue Line splits off from the Orange Line at the Rosslyn station.

The mistaken signs was first reported Tuesday by Adam Tuss at NBC 4.

Metro said it regrets the error and couldn’t immediately explain how it happened.

Dan Stessel, a Metro spokesman, said Wednesday that the signs have been taken down and “new signs will go up this week.” Stessel said.

He said the cost to fix the signs would be less than $2,000, but he said he did not know an exact price. He said the contractor that made the signs will be responsible for making the fix.

“May this be the biggest problem we deal with for [Tuesday],” he said. “If that’s what the news is about Metro, we’ll take it.”

A primer on Metro’s proposed fare and fee increases

Metro has proposed increases in its rail, bus and parking fees and invited the public to comment.

Metro has proposed increases in its rail, bus and parking fees and invited the public to comment. (Robert Thomson – Washington Post )

Starting Wednesday night, Metro will begin a set of six public hearings on its proposed fare and fee increases, which would take effect around July 1 if given final approval by the Metro board.

On Monday, I hope to have Metro General Manager Richard Sarles as the guest on myonline chat to discuss the fare proposals, the Metro budget and the long-range prospects for service improvements. You can submit questions and comments now for Monday’s discussion.

But for those considering attending one of the hearings, here are the basics of the Metro revenue proposals.

Operating budget
The transit authority budget is divided into operating and capital programs. The operating portion will cover the expenses for fiscal 2015, which starts July 1. Metro revenue comes from two main sources: the local governments that support Metro and the riders. The local governments account for 45 percent of the revenue, and the riders pay about 52 percent. The proposed operating budget is $1.76 billion.

To balance it, Metro’s leaders hope to get $44 million more from the local governments and about $30 million more from the riders, through the fare and fee increases.

The Metro board can adjust the rail, bus and parking charges to reach its revenue target, but it can’t approve charges that are higher than those it advertised for these public hearings. Otherwise, it would have to hold another round of hearings.

Metrorail. The average increase in the rail fare could be as much as 4 percent. The peak boarding charge could go from $2.10 to $2.20. The off-peak boarding charge could go from $1.70 to $1.75. The boarding charge is good for a three-mile trip. Beyond that, Metro adds charges based on distance traveled. The maximum peak fare could rise by a quarter to $6. The maximum off-peak fare could rise 15 cents to $3.65.

Riders will recall that some off-peak fares increased far more than the average when Metro raised the charges two years ago. Because of the complex way Metro calculates fares, some of those off-peak boosts amounted to 60 percent changes in certain station-to-station fares. In this proposed budget, Metro puts a cap of 15 percent on any station-to-station increase in the off-peak fare.

Rail passes. The cost of a one-day, unlimited rail pass could rise from $14 to $14.50. Other types of passes could rise to these levels: Seven-day short trip pass, $36.50; seven-day fast pass, $59.75; 28-day fast pass, $239. The Metro staff has proposed creating a one-day pass for visiting conventioneers, which would cost $10. This pass would not be available to the general public.

Metrobus. Several different proposals would affect bus fares. For riders using SmarTrip cards, the regular fare could increase by as much as 25 cents, to $1.85.
The express bus fare could go up by 35 cents, to $4. The fare for the airport buses could rise by a dollar, to $7.

There are two proposals that could affect bus riders who pay cash. Sarles proposed eliminating the cash surcharge. Metro imposed the surcharge several years ago to create an incentive for switching from cash payments to the plastic SmarTrip cards. But the transit agency staff says that removing the surcharge now wouldn’t have much impact on SmarTrip use, because riders now have other incentives to use the cards, including the ability to make transfers with them and to load them with seven-day bus passes.

An alternative proposal would keep the surcharge. Under this scenario, the regular fare with cash could rise by 20 cents to $2, and the express fare with cash would rise by as much as 50 cents, to $4.50.

Parking. The cost of parking at the lots and garages operated by Metro could increase by 25 cents. Prince George’s County has requested an additional increase of 50 cents to park at the Metro lots and garages in the county. That additional money could be used in several ways: For payment of current debt service that is financing construction of Metro parking in the county, for maintenance and rehabilitation of parking facilities, or for payment of debt service to finance construction of new Metro parking in the county.

Another fee proposal focuses on the Morgan Boulevard and Largo Town Center parking facilities, the nearest Metro parking to FedEx Field. The rate for parking during stadium events is now $25, but the Metro staff says that leaves the space under-utilized. Since the space is farther away from the stadium entrances than other parking fields and Metro doesn’t allow tailgating, the fee isn’t competitive. So the proposal would cut the charge to $15 during stadium events.

Capital budget
The other major portion of the budget pays for equipment and for the long-range rebuilding program. The proposed budget for the next fiscal year is $1.137 billion.

Metro officials expect that federal money will account for $487.5 million of that sum. About $522 million will come from state and local governments, and the remainder from other sources of financing. It doesn’t come from rider fares or parking fees, but the public still can comment on this part of the budget, which includes the weekend rebuilding program.

Hearing schedule
Each public hearing will be preceded by an informal information session at 6 p.m. This is a chance to talk with Metro officials about any transit topic, whether or not it’s part of the fare-increase agenda. The formal public hearings will begin at 6:30 p.m. This is the chance to offer testimony on the proposed budget and the fare increases.

Dates and locations:

Wednesday: Greenbelt Marriott, 6400 Ivy Lane, Greenbelt. A free shuttle will operate to and from the Greenbelt station.

Thursday: Hilton Springfield, 6550 Loisdale Rd., Springfield. A free shuttle will operate to Franconia-Springfield station after 7:30 p.m.

Monday: Matthews Memorial Baptist Church Fellowship Hall, 2616 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE in the District.

Tuesday: Montgomery County Executive Office Building cafeteria, 101 Monroe St., Rockville.

Wednesday, Feb. 5: Arlington Central Library, 1015 North Quincy St., Arlington.

Thursday, Feb. 6: Metro headquarters, 600 Fifth St. NW in the District.

Wednesday morning Metro troubles on four lines

Updated at 9:47 a.m.

Normal service has resumed at the Rosslyn station on the Blue and Orange lines.

Updated at 8:30 a.m.

The cold continues to affect Metro’s rails and trains Wednesday morning, as four of its five lines have had troubles.

Delays continue on the Green Line after trains had to share a track between U Street and Georgia Avenue.

There was also a problem with an earlier disabled train at Columbia Heights station but that problem was resolved by 8:32 a.m.

As of 8:44 a.m., there were still some delays from Orange and Blue and Green lines as a result of the morning’s problems, according to Dan Stessel, a spokesman at Metro.

Updated at 8:02 a.m.

There have been troubles on four of Metro’s rail lines Wednesday morning, making it a rough commute for riders.

At 7:45 a.m., Metro said there were delays on the Blue and Orange lines to Franconia and Vienna stations because of a disabled train at the Rosslyn station.

Trains shared a track between the Foggy Bottom and Clarendon stations until about 8 a.m. Metro said riders should expect residual delays in both directions.

Earlier in the morning, there were problems on the Red and Green lines as well.

Trains on the Green Line sharing a track until about 7:30 a.m. Officials said delays continued because of an earlier problem with a disabled train outside of the West Hyattsville station.

The earlier troubles on the Red Line were fixed. At 7:12 a.m., Metro sent an e-mail alert saying that normal service was back at the Tenleytown station after earlier issues in that area.

Updated at 7:41 a.m.

Riders on Metro Red Line should expect delays Wednesday morning because of earlier troubles with a train that was malfunctioning at the Rhode Island Avenue stop.

Earlier in the morning trains on the Red Line were sharing a track between Friendship Heights and Van Ness stations in an unrelated problem. That situation was resolved, Metro said.

Updated at 7:31 a.m.

Trains on Metro’s Green Line are no longer sharing a track but delays continue in both directions because of an earlier situation that involved a disabled train outside the West Hyattsville station.

For more information on transportation-related stories click here.

Original post at 6:03 a.m.

Metro riders on the Green Line should expect delays in both directions Wednesday morning.

Trains are sharing a track between Fort Totten and Prince George’s Plaza stations because of a disabled train outside the West Hyattsville station.

There was an earlier problem on the Red Line because of a disabled train but that problem has been resolved.

Metro had a disabled train on its Red Line outside the Tenleytown station around 6:30 a.m. but the train was moved by 6:51 a.m. Trains had to share a track between Friendship Heights and Van Ness stations. Just before 7 a.m., trains were no longer sharing a track but Metro officials warned that delays could continue in both directions on the rail line.

VRE sent an email alert Wednesday morning to its passengers warning that power is out at its stop at the L’Enfant Station at 6th and C streets SW. VRE officials said riders should use caution when getting on and off trains because the platforms are dark.

Metro infrastructure affected by cold weather

ARLINGTON, Va. (WJLA) – You don’t need Metro rider Victor Powell to tell you that today is not the day you want to be waiting 15 minutes for a train:

“Oh my God, I’ll probably be an icicle by the time it gets here…”

The cold has indeed taken a toll on Metro’s infrastructure. A picture from rider Kim Taylor shows the crowd of people waiting for the Blue and Yellow Lines Thursday morning after the frigid temperatures caused a rail to crack near the Reagan National Airport station.

And on Wednesday, Miranda Green snapped a photo of this packed Orange Line platform after the cold caused a variety of problems on several trains on various lines – something the agency says happened during our last deep freeze.

Engineers are now trying to figure out the cause:

“Deep freezes, metal contracts, what’s going on in the car in terms of moisture has different focuses for us — we’re trying to get through that,” explained WMATA General Manager Richard Sarles.

WSSC crews braved the cold to start repairs on a six-inch water main that broke in Silver Spring and cut off water to nearly two dozen customers.

“We have water on hand, just to be on the safe side,” said area resident Robert Hale. “A lot of people around here do that because we’ve lost the water quiet often.”

Though there were only a handful of main breaks today, that is expected to change in the coming days as the water temperature continues to drop:

“All of a sudden, that really cold water starts moving through our distribution system after we treat it and then we start to see an increase in water main breaks,” said WSSC spokesperson Lyn Riggins.
Read more:
Follow us: @ABC7News on Twitter | WJLATV on Facebook

Metro weekend track work: Delays on blue, yellow, orange and red lines

WASHINGTON (AP) – Metro says passengers will wait longer for trains on the blue, orange, yellow and red lines this weekend.

Metro says beginning Friday at 10 p.m. and continuing through system closing on Sunday, trains on the blue, orange and yellow lines will operate every 24 minutes. Trains on the red line will also run every 24 minutes between Shady Grove and Glenmont, with trains every 12 minutes between Farragut North and Silver Spring from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Metro says the green line will have regular weekend service.

Read more: 
Follow us: @ABC7News on Twitter | WJLATV on Facebook