Category Archives: Metro News

Metro in the news.

Metro general manager responds to riders’ complaints about WMATA service

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles answered two dozen questions from riders duringmy online discussion Monday, but there were scores more we didn’t get to. After the chat, I picked out five that are among the most frequently asked.

Here are those five questions and Sarles’s answers.

Q. Why doesn’t Metro enforce rules about not closing doors while customers are still entering or exiting trains? A couple of weeks ago I was caught in a Metro train door. It closed on both my upper arms as I was just stepping out of the train. It was very painful. There were others still moving in and out of the car. When I complained to the station staff at Pentagon City, their response was the drivers have schedules to keep and I should step back when the bells sound.

A. I am not aware of such a rule. Train operators do their best to provide enough time for boarding and alighting, while not excessively dwelling at any one station to prevent train congestion. We never want to see anyone get injured, which is why we have posters and announcements advising riders that train doors don’t work like elevator doors. When you hear the chimes, the best advice is to step back and wait for the next train.

Q. Why run escalators at closed stations? A few weekends ago, Dupont Circle station was closed because of Red Line track work. Somebody had barricaded the station entrances but decided to keep the escalators running and running all weekend to a closed station. Does Metro now have unlimited resources to keep closed escalators wastefully running, not to mention the unnecessary wear and tear?

A. While Dupont Circle station may have been closed for passengers, inside the station was a beehive of activity, with several dozen workers installing new lighting, upgrading station equipment, cleaning and performing maintenance. The majority of the station escalators were turned off during this time; however, at least two of the long escalators at each entrance were kept in operation to facilitate the movement of workers to and from the station.

Q. Weekend track work. I have been a regular weekend rider of the Red Line but have had a much harder time justifying it ever since the massive off-peak fare increase that brought it in line with the peak fare structure. I wouldn’t mind paying the higher fares for normal weekend service (e.g., Red Line trains every six minutes on Saturdays and every eight minutes on Sundays), but I cannot justify paying so much more for trains that run every 24 to 30 minutes.

I think the best idea would be to have two separate off-peak fare structures, one for normal off-peak service, and one for the greatly reduced service levels when trains are running less than half of normal frequency. This is the only way I can see Metro retaining any customer loyalty through this long but necessary period of intense track work.

A. Working intensively on weekends is the only feasible way for us to catch up on the backlog that developed over many years of inadequate maintenance, and I recognize that longer waits are a burden shared by our riders. Metro is no longer a new system. While the intensity of work and its impact on riders will diminish as we advance Metro Forward [the transit rebuilding program], weekend work — although less intense — is a fact of life from here on out, for as long as there is a Metro system. Off-peak fares are intended to take into account the reduced frequency of trains, including times when track work is in effect.

Q. Refund on delay. If I enter a station , for example, West Falls Church, and upon paying my entrance fare notice a significant delay that’s not posted on the board, why can’t I just exit the station and get a refund? Having to pay for services not even rendered is unfortunate.

A. Metro’s current fare system, which is based on 1990s technology, does not allow for this. To learn about delays before entering the gate, it’s important to sign up for MetroAlerts or check the digital screens at all station entrances that turn red when there is a delay message.

Also, we recently awarded a contract for a new fare payment system, including the eventual replacement of our current fare gates and vending machines. The new system will give riders additional payment options, including using chip-based credit cards, key fobs, smartphones and federal ID cards. It will also give us the flexibility to consider new fare rules in the future.

Q. Parking on weekends. Have you considered charging for Metro parking on weekends? I think casual users (instead of commuters) should pay for parking, too. Why should we take the brunt of all the increases?

A. I am not aware of any local jurisdictions that have considered this. My personal belief is that offering free parking on weekends is a good way to keep Metro competitive with driving at times when traffic is lighter and street parking might be easier to come by.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or e-mail .

Metro Silver Line closer to an opening date this spring

This is the plaza level where riders will cross from the 2,300-space parking garage to a pedestrian bridge at the new Wiehle-Reston East Metro station. The station will be the terminus of the first phase of the Silver Line and the only Silver Line station to offer parking until the second phase opens. (WTOP/Max Smith)
This is the plaza level where riders will cross from the 2,300-space parking garage to a pedestrian bridge at the new Wiehle-Reston East Metro station. The station will be the terminus of the first phase of the Silver Line and the only Silver Line station to offer parking until the second phase opens. (WTOP/Max Smith)

WASHINGTON — After months of delays, the Silver Line is finally taking a big leap closer to opening in Northern Virginia.

The contractors building Phase One of the Dulles Rail Project say they have reached “substantial completion” Friday of the new stretch from East Falls Church to Wiehle-Reston East.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority says they will immediately begin their 15 day review of the project to confirm that has reached “substantial completion.”

Once they do that, they can turn the project over to Metro for the first time.

Metro says it has up to 90 days from accepting the project to begin running passenger service.

Metro will run its own tests and train employees before opening the line, and several safety certifications are also required.

If Metro used the full 90 days, the Silver Line would open in late May, but several people connected to Metro have indicated that they hope not to need the full testing and training period.

Metro loses about $2 million each month that the Silver Line is not open.

When it does open, Silver Line trains will run from Wiehle-Reston East to East Falls Church via the four new stations in Tysons corner. The trains then follow the Orange Line tracks to Stadium-Armory, before following the Blue Line tracks to Largo Town Center.


Metro weekend work to affect Orange, Blue, Red lines

Judiciary Square station

All stations are scheduled to be open this weekend, but work zones will cause schedule changes on the Orange, Blue and Red lines. The Yellow and Green lines will operate on their normal weekend schedules.

Here are the details on service from 10 p.m. Friday through the rail system’s midnight close on Sunday.

Red Line. Crews will work on preparations for a switch replacement outside Dupont Circle station. They also will work on the third rail between Farragut North and Van Ness, and install safety fencing and lighting between NoMa-Gallaudet and Rhode Island Avenue. Trains will leave the ends of the line at Shady Grove and Glenmont about every 24 minutes. But from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, more trains will be in service between Farragut North and NoMa-Gallaudet stations. In that zone, trains should reach platforms about every 12 minutes.

Orange/Blue lines. Workers will repair the tracks between Federal Center SW and Eastern Market. All along both lines, trains are scheduled to operate every 16 minutes.

Rider concerns
Metro General Manager Richard Sarles answered some riders’ questions about this rebuilding program when he was my guest for an online discussion Monday. (And he took five more that we’ll publish in my Dr. Gridlock column Sunday.)

Here are several that relate to weekend work.

Q. Does he [Richard Sarles] ever ride the trains or the buses? If so, how often on the Red Line in rush hour? What about during weekend construction?
A. Yes, I ride the system six days a week, mostly on the trains, but occasionally buses, as well. I ride the Red Line during rush hours at least once a week, and also practically every weekend.

Q. Why does weekend Yellow Line service frequently run only to Mount Vernon Square? With weekend headways [the gaps between trains] it can’t be THAT hard to set the schedule to allow for turning the trains around at Fort Totten.
A. We turn Yellow Line trains at Mount Vernon Square on weekends only when there is work on either the Yellow or Green line that necessitates it. For example, if the Green Line is single-tracking between Fort Totten and Prince George’s Plaza, Yellow Line service has to turn back at Mount Vernon. This weekend, Yellow Line will operate to Fort Totten.

This is one that I asked.
Q. Mr. Sarles, one question riders often ask about the rebuilding program is whether this could have been done differently. Did you consider other strategies that might have reached the “state of good repair” more quickly, such as shutting down an entire line or a segment of a line till all work was done?
A. Shutting down a line for an extended period of time has serious consequences for our customers and economic impacts on area businesses. I believe that such a shutdown should only be considered under extreme circumstances where there is no other way of accomplishing the work in a reasonable time. Each city is different; some have express tracks or other transit options nearby. By choosing to use shutdowns on weekends, many riders have other options available because the region’s transportation system is not congested during those periods. I recognize that there are those who are transit-dependent and rely on Metro. That’s why we always provide alternate transit service.

Sarles addresses questions on Metrorail service

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles took questions from travelers on Monday about a wide range of concerns about current and future transit service. I’ve picked out a few that are frequently asked questions about Metrorail service. See the full transcript of the Sarles Q and A here.

Q, Blue Line cutbacks
After the Rush Plus cutbacks, the Blue Line is often dangerously crowded during the morning and afternoon rush, which will only get worse when the Silver Line opens. For many of us, the Yellow Line isn’t a reasonable alternative (such as for the many Pentagon to Rosslyn/Foggy Bottom/Farragut West commuters, like myself). Will there actually be 8-car Blue Line trains (not perfect, but better than nothing)? How can you justify charging us for peak service when there is actually no difference in train frequency between rush hour and not?

A. Richard Sarles
First, it is important to note that we are executing on a plan that was developed when the Silver Line was approved for design/construction more than a decade ago. That plan called for base train frequencies of seven minutes during rush hours on Orange, Yellow, Green and Silver (instead of 6 minutes today), and Blue Line trains every 14 minutes. We have worked hard to improve upon this original plan by now running the Silver Line out to Largo Town Center. By doing this, we are able to keep Orange/Yellow/Green/Silver Line trains at every six minutes, and Blue will be a consistent every 12 minutes. We will make every effort to provide additional eight-car trains on Blue to accommodate riders, and we will continue to encourage those who can consider Yellow to do so.

We will need to advance power improvements (currently called for under Metro’s 2025 plan) in order to provide all eight-car trains on the Blue line.

Q. Eight-car trains
Why aren’t all of the Orange and Blue Line trains in rush hour eight-car? Often in Rosslyn you have to wait for two-three trains to go by before you can get on in the morning. It’s going to get worse when the Silver Line starts and Orange service is cut.

A. Richard Sarles
We would like to operate all eight-car trains during rush hour, and that’s the goal we’ve set for ourselves under the Metro 2025 plan. It requires more than just additional train cars, but also upgrades to the power system and additional storage space and maintenance facilities. Funding is key to advance this project. More info is available

Q. Rush-hour trains that turn around
As a Farragut North to Shady Grove rider, the rush-hour trains that turn around at Grosvenor are a major pain. I really wish this practice would end.

A. Richard Sarles
Metro 2025 calls for all eight-car trains during rush hours, with all Red Line trains running the full length of the line, from Shady Grove to Glenmont. No more turnbacks at Grosvenor or Silver Spring. This requires funding for additional rail cars, power upgrades and yard storage and maintenance.

Q. Weekend service
Why does weekend Yellow Line service frequently only run to Mount Vernon Square? With weekend headways [the gaps between trains], it can’t be THAT hard to set the schedule to allow for turning the trains around at Fort Totten.

A. Richard Sarles
We turn Yellow Line trains at Mt Vernon Sq on weekends only when there is work on either the Yellow or Green line that necessitates it. For example, if the Green Line is single-tracking between Fort Totten and Prince George’s Plaza, Yellow Line service has to turn back at Mount Vernon. This weekend, Yellow Line will operate to Fort Totten.

Q. Green Line
I transfer at L’Enfant Plaza daily. Often two-three Yellow Line trains whiz by, followed by one extremely packed Green Line train. Why the imbalance in train frequency and length when ridership is so heavy on the Green Line? Is there a fix in sight?

A. Richard Sarles
There has been an increase in the number of Yellow Line trains. These are former Blue Line trains that have to be rerouted over the [Potomac River] bridge in anticipation of the arrival of Silver Line. During rush hours, the southbound frequency should be: Green to Branch Ave every six minutes, Yellow to Huntington every six minutes, and Yellow to Franconia-Springfield every 20 minutes (will be every 12 minutes once Silver Line opens).

Metro rate-hike plan assailed as unfair to poor, disabled

Metro meeting (WTOP/Ari Ashe)

GREENBELT, Md. – At the first of six public meetings on a proposed Metro fare hike, several dozen people came to the Greenbelt Marriott to criticize the plan as punitive to the poor and disabled.

A majority of those who attended ride MetroAccess. Some were blind; others wheelchair-bound or otherwise handicapped. Others were reliant on the bus as a primary way to get around.

Under Metro’s proposal, fares on the rail lines would increase four percent, or about 10 to 20 cents per trip. Metrobus fares would go up from $1.60 to $1.85 with a Smartrip card, from $1.80 to $2.00 for cash. Express buses would jump from $3.65 to $4 and airport buses would go from $6 to $7. MetroAccess fares will increase in line with Metrorail and Metrobus, but fare costs are calculated per trip rather than a flat rate.

Parking would also increase 25 cents across the board and an additional 50 cents at Metro lots in Prince George’s County.

“Saving up for MetroAccess fares is like saving up for gas for a car. And a huge chunk of your monthly income, especially during the wintertime, goes to those MetroAccess trips,” says Rochelle Harod, who depends on the service.

Several members of the Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC), including Chairman Patrick Sheehan, testified before Metro General Manager Richard Sarles, Assistant General Manager Jack Requa and board members Alvin Nichols and Marcel Acosta.

“People who are transit-dependent are really having a difficult time. They cannot get in their vehicle. They are dependent on rail and bus. Keeping those fares low will help people get to work, get to school. I think we don’t need a fare increase right now,” says Sheehan.

Other members of the AAC pointed out some of the stark realities of those using MetroAccess.

“People are making choices where they go for chemotherapy, physical therapy, and they shouldn’t have to make those choices,” says Paul Semelfort.

Denise Rush says a fare increase in not right.

“MetroAccess people are those who are not working, who are sick. People [who] have to choose between going to dialysis and buying food or medicine,” Rush says.

Other attendees also pointed out how this plays into the larger regional and national picture.

“Look at what’s going on right now in regards to the minimum wage. We have a movement where the minimum wage is being increased. So the rate increase [on Metro], in some degree, undermines that for the people most in need of some relief. This is already one of the most expensive areas in the country to live in,” says Gus Griffin.

Raymond Colbert argues that Metro should find other ways to raise revenue, through advertising or deals with local attractions, rather than passing the bill onto customers.

“Why is that every time they need money, [they say] ‘Let’s raise fares on the customers’? As if that’s going to draw in more customers,” he says.

Metro did see a drop in ridership shortly after the last increase went into effect in the summer of 2012, with customers upset over the hikes.

The debate comes as Congress has cut the transit benefits for federal employees from $245 to $130 per month while increasing the parking benefits. Both Metro and AAA Mid-Atlantic are concerned the move will drive people back into their cars and clog already-congested interstates such as I-270, 66, 95 and the Capital Beltway. Federal employees make up more than half of the Metro ridership, so fare increases on top of the cuts in benefits could mean trouble.

Metro’s board of directors could make a final decision on whether to accept the fare increases or reduce them at its meeting in March. If approved, the fare hikes would take effect July 1.

Customers have several more chances to testify about the fare increases:

  • Thursday, Jan. 30
    Springfield Hilton
    6550 Loisdale Rd., Springfield, Va.
    Franconia-Springfield Metro (Blue Line) – 1.2 miles
  • Monday, Feb. 3
    Mathews Memorial Baptist Church
    2616 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, Washington, D.C.
    Anacostia Station (Green Line) – 0.3 miles
  • Tuesday, Feb. 4
    County Executive Office Building, Cafeteria
    101 Monroe Street, Rockville, Md. (entrance on Jefferson Street)
    Rockville Station (Red Line) – 0.2 mile
  • Wednesday, Feb. 5
    Central Library
    1015 N. Quincy Street, Arlington, Va.
    Ballston Station (Orange Line) – ¼ mile
  • Thursday, Feb. 6
    Jackson Graham Building (Metro Headquarters)
    600 Fifth Street NW, Washington, D.C.
    Gallery Place-Chinatown Station (Red, Green, Yellow Lines)

Follow @WTOP on Twitter and on the WTOP Facebook page.

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.

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.