Category Archives: Local News

Customers To Metro: We Can’t Afford Another Fare Hike


At the final public hearing on Metro’s fiscal year 2015 budget, customers who use the system’s paratransit service expressed grave concern over another proposed fare increase.

Several MetroAccess customers who testified at Metro headquarters Thursday evening, some from the Accessibility Advisory Committee, said the hike would force them to skip dialysis and other doctor appointments.

“I’m very grateful for the service because it has allowed me a sense of independence,” an 11-year MetroAccess customer said. “That independence is going to be compromised because [the hike] won’t allow me to take MetroAccess to my doctors’ appointments, it’s not going to allow me to take MetroAccess to church.”

“It’s not only doing that for me, but it’s doing it for the thousands of people who are riders.”

Metro has proposed increasing rail fares by four percent (a hike of 10 to 20 cents per trip) and bus fares from $1.60 to $1.80 with SmarTrip and $1.80 to $2 with cash. MetroAccess fares would increase in line with rail and bus hikes, but no changes would be made to the complicated formula that determines fares. (“Customers may take trips that begin and end less than 3/4 of a mile from the nearest bus stop or Metrorail station and will be charged two times the fastest fixed-route equivalent fare.”) The maximum fare would remain $7.

“I am still feeling the effect of the last fare increase for MetroAccess,” another rider said. Many said the fluctuation in fares makes it difficult to use MetroAccess on a fixed income.

People also testified against a fare hike for rail and bus riders, including a man who said he’s a retired bus driver and regular Metro rider. “The fare, particularly on the rail side, has become unaffordable for many people, low wage workers in this area,” he said. “The people that are making money off the transit system — the Verizon Center, the Nationals stadium, the stores, the developers who are reaping millions and millions of dollars in surplus profit because a good public transit system — these people have the money, and they have to pay for its operation.”

Rodney Green, an economist and professor at Howard University, said it seems Metro’s public hearings “are trying to figure out, ‘Should we get money out of people who park? Or should we get money out of people who ride the bus? Or how should we turn people against each other as we struggle over how to get a few more dollars out of everybody’s pocket?'”

“The reality is that the people who have the money in their pockets aren’t the people who are riding the buses and the trains,” he said.

Ben Ball, the D.C. Riders’ Advisory Council representative, asked Metro officials to be “honest” about where money from fare hikes go to: operational costs. “By themselves, these fare increases are not going to build the infrastructure that customers have been demanding for years,” he said. “If Metro wants to justify an increase in fares for operating expenses, it should focus on the actual operational improvements that increased fares will go toward.” Ball targeted customer service, saying if it was “more responsive and substantive,” that would justify the fare hike.

A smaller number of people, some of whom protested outside Metro headquarters before the hearing, testified against background checks that preclude people with felonies from obtaining many WMATA positions.

“Metro is spending money — literally thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars — doing criminal background checks on people,” the retired bus driver said. “Many people in this community, returning citizens, are being denied the opportunity to work for the public transit system. That’s harming people. If you’re going to hurt people, you better have a damn good reason for doing it, and Metro does not have that.”

AAA: Prices may rise at the pump

The Valero refinery works glow in the dusk light in Port Arthur, Texas. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

AAA warns that after hitting a 33-month low in November, gas prices are going to rise. The automobile club, which monitors gas prices nationwide, says that historically, prices tend to fall in February when snow hits the Northeast and Midwest. Prices typically rise with the daffodils, but the upswing is occurring earlier this year,

Nationally, the average price per gallon could reach $3.55-$3.75 per gallon, AAA said. Last year, the national average soared 49 cents per gallon over 41 days before peaking at $3.79 per gallon on February 27, the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report shows. Similarly, gas prices leapfrogged 56 cents per gallon in the spring of 2012. They skyrocketed 86 cents per gallon spring 2011.

“Although gas prices are 26 cents cheaper than they were at this time last February, that might not last too much longer,” said John B. Townsend II of AAA. “Winter weather, weak demand and sufficient supplies have kept gas prices relatively low recently, but this trend is unlikely to last much longer. Filling up at the pump will be a lot more frustrating as prices spike due to refinery maintenance.”

In the District, regular gasoline currently costs $3.52 per gallon, which is only lower than five states. Since 2011, the District has recorded 126 days of gas prices at $4 or more. Across the region, prices are averaging $3.31 per gallon, compared to $3.58 at this time one year ago. A projected half dollar per gallon price increase would cause area consumers to pay in the neighborhood of $3.87 by springtime. Maryland drivers could see spring prices as high as $3.83 (it’s $3.33 a gallon now). Virginia motorists may pay as much as $3.64 per gallon.

By late June the national average could drop to $3.30-$3.40 per gallon,  AAA forecasts. By October, gas prices should start a decline towards the end of the year as demand weakens.

“Unexpected developments and events overseas could change AAA’s price outlook considerably, but there is little doubt that gas will cost more than most of us would like in 2014,” Townsend said. “The best advice for dealing with another tough year is to follow simple gas savings tips such as shopping around, maintaining your car and driving the speed limit.”

Pothole causes problems on Clara Barton Parkway

tire pothole (WTOP/Kathy Stewart)

WASHINGTON – Drivers Monday morning encountered what they didn’t expect in the rain — a huge pothole on the Clara Barton Parkway near Glen Echo, Md.

At least seven drivers ended up with flat tires as they hit the pothole, which is close to the pump station, just north of the Maryland-D.C. line.

Drivers described the pothole as “huge” to WTOP.

One cab driver, who was taking a passenger to Georgetown University Hospital, said he couldn’t see the pothole. He gave up waiting on a tow truck and opted to change his tire in the pouring rain.

The pothole was about 1 1/2 feet wide, 15 feet long and 6 inches deep, according to WTOP’s Kathy Stewart, who was on the scene.

Police have blocked off the pothole with a police cruiser and a cone.

Drivers are urged to use caution along the Clara Barton Parkway.

Which way to D.C. works for commuters south of Beltway in Virginia?

The Post tested two routes, one via Metrorail and the other a drive all the way to downtown.

Which way to D.C. works for commuters south of Beltway in Virginia?

We invited travelers to suggest commutes we could test for them, to compare routes or travel modes. On Thursday morning, Post reporter Mark Berman and Robert Thomson, Dr. Gridlock, took up a reader’s suggestion to test routes between the Kingstowne area, south of the Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia, and downtown D.C.

As a starting point, we chose a McDonald’s parking lot at the corner of Franconia and Brookland roads. The finish line was the lobby of The Post, at 15th and L streets Northwest. Berman drove all the way. Thomson drove to a Metro garage and took the Blue Line.

We’ll be testing other readers’ suggestions and can add a bike route. Send ideas to ­

Taking the train

7:55 a.m., Franconia Road. Depart McDonald’s parking lot for 3.2-mile trip to Franconia-Springfield Metro station. At Van Dorn Street, I bypass the sign pointing right toward the Van Dorn Street Metro station. That’s only 1.7 miles away, but I worry about parking. (And Mark later tells me I would have encountered a lot more traffic.) I wasted several minutes by mistakenly heading toward Metro parking at the Springfield Mall garage.

8:28 a.m., Franconia-Springfield Metro platform. Blue Line train arrives. Many people on this chilly platform have spent the past nine minutes in a rigid pose, gazing north in search of an incoming train. Metro’s online Trip Planner had told me to expect a train at 8:22, but the 8:28 arrival is the first I see.

8:47 a.m., Crystal City station. My car, the first on this six-car train, is now very crowded. The last seats have been taken, and the aisles and doorways are full of people standing. At Franconia-Springfield or any station up to Pentagon, I have the option of boarding a Rush Plus Yellow Line train, then transferring at L’Enfant Plaza to complete the trip, but Trip Planner did not recommend that, so I stay with the Blue Line.

9:04 a.m., McPherson Square station.The $5.40 rail trip ends. (But I have yet to pay the $4.50 parking fee back at Franconia-Springfield.) The train trip has been problem-free, with brief pauses before the Rosslyn station and in the Potomac River tunnel. Many riders exited my car at Foggy Bottom, opening up plenty of seats.

9:13 a.m., The Post. I reach the lobby after exiting the Metro station on the 14th Street NW side and walking briskly through McPherson Square to 15th Street. Total commute time: 1 hour 18 minutes.

Driving all the way

7:55 a.m., Franconia Road. Had to wait a minute to make the right turn out of the McDonald’s lot. Had to wait another minute before making the right onto Van Dorn Street. Once on Van Dorn Street, I run right into fairly heavy traffic. I’m sure this is just a momentary thing. It’ll clear up after we pass the Beltway.

8:17 a.m., Duke Street. Nope! I just got onto the Duke Street ramp. It took me 22 minutes from the time I was waiting to leave the parking lot to the time I got to this ramp, most of that time spent sitting in traffic on Van Dorn Street that moved very slowly — when it moved at all. Google Maps says the 2.5 miles from McDonald’s to Duke Street should take about six minutes without traffic. I’m on Duke Street very briefly before merging onto pretty slow traffic on I-395 North.

8:35 a.m., I-395 North. The first chunk of the I-395 trip was fairly congested, which meant plenty of stop-and-go traffic. (We cracked 40 miles per hour at one point, but we were mostly in the 20 to 25 mph range, or inching along.) Now, though, I’m around Exit 8B and traffic has slowed to an utter crawl. From here on through to the 14th Street bridge, it’s nothing but congestion and a seemingly endless line of cars waiting to get into the District.

8:58 a.m., 14th Street bridge. After about 23 minutes spent studying brake lights along the northernmost part of I-395, I cross onto the bridge. Weirdly, traffic flows without interruption while we’re over the water (I’m not sure I can adapt to this form of driving, where you use the gas pedal to accelerate) before promptly grinding almost to a halt again a minute later once we’re near the Jefferson Memorial.

9:19 a.m., The Post. I sat through some slow-moving traffic on 14th Street, with the slowest stretch being between the 14th Street bridge and the Mall. However, it did improve a little once I got to Constitution Avenue and beyond. I finally pull into the garage on 15th Street NW at 9:17 a.m. ($12 for all-day parking). Two minutes later, I enter The Post’s lobby to meet Dr. Gridlock. Total commute time: 1 hour 24 minutes.

Final thoughts

Berman said it was nice not to stand outside on a freezing Metro platform waiting for a train. On the other hand, he spent 45 minutes of his trip barely moving and is worried that everything since has been a pleasant daydream and he’s actually still waiting to get onto the 14th Street bridge.

Thomson noted that results can vary. He might have caught an earlier train and gained some time on Berman. On the other hand, Metrorail was having a pretty good morning Thursday, compared with other days during the cold snap. A problem with a track switch or a train brake can darken the day for thousands of commuters.

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).

132 new D.C. speed cams start ticketing today

traffic calvert 39th (WTOP/Kathy Stewart)

WASHINGTON – Today, the 132 newly installed traffic cameras around the District will start issuing tickets.

For the last month, drivers were just getting warnings.

The cameras are part of the Metropolitan Police Department’sStreetSafe initiative to better respond to the safety concerns of D.C. residents.

Read more about automated traffic enforcement on the Metropolitan Police Department’s website. Click here.

See the full map of enforcement camera locations.

The tickets will range from $50 to $300.

Learn more about the breakdown of how many cameras will be deployed to track each offense and the fines associated with those infractions. Click here.

Follow @WTOPTraffic on Twitter.

Gas prices dip again


WASHINGTON – Gas prices are edging lower, but just like the recent weather, it may be the calm before the storm.

AAA Mid-Atlantic says the average price of regular gas in the D.C. metro area is $3.32 per gallon, down 2 cents from last week and down 21 cents from this time last year.

The national average is $3.28 per gallon — 14 cents less than this time last year.

But AAA predicts drivers will start to pay more this month because of refinery maintenance, which can limit supplies. Frigid temperatures can cause refinery issues that push prices higher. But it can also decrease demand, as motorists limit their driving.

2/2/14 Week Ago Year Ago
National $3.28 $3.29 $3.50
Washington, DC $3.53 $3.55 $3.64
DC Only $3.53 $3.55 $3.64
DC Metro $3.32 $3.34 $3.53
Crude Oil $97.49 per barrel (at Friday’s close) $96.64 per barrel (1/24/14) $97.49 per barrel (1/31/13)

Winter Storm Watch


The National Weather Service has issued a WINTER STORM WATCH for Montgomery County from Sunday night through Monday. Snowfall of 5 inches or more is possible.

Residents should begin Winter Storm preparations which should consider the potential of significant snow accumulations within the next 48 hours. Please remain alert for the issuance of additional Warnings.

A winter storm watch is issued when there is the potential for significant snowfall and hazardous winter weather within 48 hours.

Road closed because of sinkhole in Southeast

Part of Massachusetts Avenue in Southeast D.C. is closed Friday because of a major sinkhole.

The road is shut down between 34th Street and 34th Place SE, according to D.C. Police. It is not known how long the roadway will be closed, but officials advised riders to use alternative routes.

D.C.’s Department of Transportation tweeted a photo to give you passersby an idea of just how big the hole looks.

View image on Twitter

The latest sinkhole in D.C. opened up Thursday evening.

(Google Maps screenshot)

It isn’t the only one.

There have been a number of sinkholes at intersections, on sidewalks and parking lost in the D.C. region.

As my colleague Mark Berman pointed out Thursday. Here’s a look at some of the sinkholes in the area recently:

*One of the biggest was in downtown at 14th and F streets in Northwest that closed the intersection for days.

*There was one in a parking lot near the intersection of M Street and New York Avenue in Northwest that allegedly tried to consume a Honda.

*And there was one last March in Adams Morgan. A good view of a corgi near the hole.