Tag Archives: Track Work

Metro work affects all lines this weekend

The transit authority has been installing new signs in stations. They're easier to read, and reflect the upcoming addition of the Silver Line, which will have a transfer point at Metro Center. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

All Metro stations will be open this weekend, but trains will share tracks through work zones on all lines and that will affect the schedules.

Here are the details on Metrorail service between 10 p.m. Friday and the rail system’s midnight closing on Sunday.

Red Line. Crews will work on the tracks between Judiciary Square and NoMa-Gallaudet stations. Trains are scheduled to leave the ends of the line at Shady Grove and Glenmont every 16 minutes. But extra trains will be in service from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday between Shady Grove and Judiciary Square. In that zone, trains should reach platforms every 10 minutes.

Orange Line. Crews will work on the tracks between Stadium-Armory and Eastern Market. Trains are scheduled to operate every 20 minutes all along the line.

Blue Line. It shares the tunnel with the Orange Line through the work zone, and will be on the same 20-minute schedule.

Green Line. Crews will work track switch parts between the Georgia Avenue and Fort Totten stations and also on the tracks between the Navy Yard and Anacostia stations. Trains all along the line will operate every 20 minutes.

Yellow Line. On a normal weekend, Yellow Line trains share the tunnel with the Green Line that goes north to the Fort Totten station. Because of the weekend work, the Yellow Line trains will go no farther north than Mount Vernon Square. To go beyond that, get off the Yellow Line train at Mount Vernon Square and wait on the platform for the next Green Line train toward Greenbelt. The Yellow Line trains will operate on their normal weekend frequencies.

Travel tips

Metro’s strategy on weekends like this is to space the trains far enough apart so that they don’t get bunched up waiting their turns through the single-tracking work zones. To minimize your wait on the platform, check Metro’s online Trip Planner after midday Friday, when the weekend schedule will be incorporated into the Trip Planner calculations. This helps, but it’s no guarantee of avoiding a wait. The weekend trains can get thrown off schedule, just like the weekday trains. Also, some riders have told me they still experience delays aboard trains at the points where those trains are to enter the single-tracking areas.

Also, the next train signs on the platforms are less reliable on weekends, when the trains are sharing tracks through work zones.

Buses replace trains on 2 Metro lines this weekend

WASHINGTON (AP) — Buses will replace trains on sections of the orange and blue lines this weekend.

Metro says beginning Friday at 10 p.m. and continuing through closing on Sunday, buses will replace orange line trains between Eastern Market and Cheverly. On the blue line, buses will replace trains between Eastern Market and Benning Road. Elsewhere on both lines, trains will run at 15 minute intervals.

On the green line, trains will operate at regular weekend intervals except at the Greenbelt station where trains will arrive and depart every 20 to 25 minutes between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. On the red line, trains will operate every 16 minutes, but between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. additional trains will run between Van Ness and Silver Spring.

No yellow line work is scheduled.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Instead of talking about improved performance, we’re left with “improved” notifications about worse performance.

Metro crowding
With big crowds and trains tightly spaced, even a small delay can have a big impact on rush hour. (Susan Biddle for The Washington Post)

The transit staff plans to update Metro board members on how it manages severe delays on Metrorail and communicates with riders caught up in them. But most items in this progress report involve behind-the-scenes actions that passengers would have a tough time noticing.

Here are a few of the more visible developments cited in the staff report:

  • Electronic display screens have been installed above the kiosks at station entrances to warn riders of delays before they go through the fare gates.
  • More than 75,000 riders are signed up to receive Metro’s electronic alerts about delays and serious incidents.
  • The latest version of Metro’s mobile Web site has a breaking news bar on every page to highlight incidents that may cause severe delays.

Given the great frustration riders voice during severe delays, that list isn’t going to wow them. If Metro had a way to routinely allow riders to exit the fare gates without paying during a serious incident, that would get their attention. The red and blue kiosk signs are a partial solution to this problem, as long as riders remember to look at them before going through the gates.


New Metro Silver Line, like other Metrorail lines, won’t run express trains

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Has Metro considered an express option for the Silver Line, or any other line where service duplicates that of another line?

For example, could the Silver Line (when it finally opens) offer local service through theTysons Corner stops to where it merges with the Orange Line, and then go to express mode until, say, Foggy Bottom?

Silver Line riders needing stops in Virginia could switch at the merge, but those bound for the District could — in theory — save substantial amounts of time. As the Silver Line extends farther into western Fairfax and Loudoun counties — and even for those boarding in Reston — this could provide a needed incentive for single-occupant vehicles to park and ride.

— Jeff Wiese, Reston

No express service for the Silver Line or any other line. Neither the original system nor the new 11-mile extension to the Reston area was built with an extra track, which would allow trains to skip stations and bypass local trains.

This is not an unusual design for a U.S. subway system. These things aren’t cheap or easy to build.

Metrorail’s original construction costs and the disruptions of neighborhoods often threatened its completion. With the Silver Line, cost was a constant concern. In 2008, theFederal Transit Administration threatened to withhold funds because of the Silver Line’s cost.

A third track for the Silver Line would be real nice. So would a tunnel through McLean and Tysons Corner. So would an underground station near where the airplanes are at Dulles International Airport. None of those things are happening, because the cost was deemed too high.

Still, it’s easy to see Wiese’s point about the benefits of express trains. Wiese, who lives a long walk from the temporary end of the Silver Line at the Wiehle-Reston East station, expects to find many people coming in from western Fairfax and Loudoun counties as they transfer to rail for the last part of their D.C.-bound commute.

Metro and Fairfax planners also expect to see that. The garage at the Wiehle Avenue station, which can accommodate 2,300 cars and 150 bicycles, is the only one built for the five new stations.

Many bus routes will be adjusted to funnel travelers into the Wiehle Avenue station. Metro will halt its Rush Plus service on the Orange Line and shift those peak-period trains to the Silver Line so that the Silver Line can operate every six minutes during rush hours.

But Metro calculates the normal travel time between Wiehle Avenue and Metro Center at 41 minutes. That’s a fairly long time on a train. Shady Grove to Metro Center is 36 minutes. Vienna to Metro Center is 29 minutes.

The Silver Line travel times reflect the varied missions of this project. Among them: Move commuters, offer a one-seat transit link between the region’s center and the airport and provide focal points for transit-oriented development. They’re all important, but they don’t always mesh smoothly.

An air traveler bound for the District would prefer an express from Dulles to the District. A commuter who boards at Wiehle Avenue and works at the Pentagon or Crystal City wants a stop at Rosslyn for a switch to the Blue Line.

Neither of those riders will be interested in the four stops in Tysons Corner, each stop two minutes apart.

The service plan that Metro developed over the past several years is consistent with the Silver Line’s environmental impact statement, which dates to 2002. That document previews the shifting of Orange Line trains to the Silver Line, with the resulting decline in rush-hour service between Vienna and West Falls Church.

It does not make a case for express trains. Even if that could be done within Metro’s existing structure, it would require a significant cut in service for commuters waiting at stations from Ballston through the District.

As Metro’s planners look ahead to 2025 and beyond, they’re still not thinking of express tracks along existing lines, as travelers find on the New York subway. But they are looking at several other possibilities that would help move people across Northern Virginia and into the District.

A key element in the 2025 plan is a proposal to either add a track at Rosslyn to create a new link between the Blue Line and the Orange and Silver lines or open a second Rosslyn station for the Blue Line. In either case, transit staffers say, it would allow Metro to push more trains through Rosslyn and cut waiting times.

Either one would cost about $1 billion.

Beyond that, the planners are talking about the possibility of creating an inner loop of stations to add capacity in the region’s core by 2040. That would include another Potomac River crossing for trains at Rosslyn.

Add many billions more for that plan, if it someday gets approved by the region’s governments.

This is why our big plans progress like our train rides: one stop at a time.

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 beats driving for the morning commute

Metro subway during a morning commute in Washington. (REUTERS)

In the Feb. 2 Commuter Page feature “Franconia to D.C.: Go!” Robert Thomson and Mark Berman compared taking Metro to driving on a trip from Franconia to the District. Both needed roughly the same amount of time en route, but their “final thoughts” mentioned the value of enjoying the comfort of one’s own car (albeit in slow-moving traffic), rather than waiting on a chilly platform for a Metro train.

In fact, the quality-of-life differences between the two commutes are far more stark than that. Riders who board Metro at the end of the line (i.e., Franconia-Springfield) are likely to get a seat for the whole ride. Unlike drivers, Metro riders waste no mental energy attending to stop-and-go traffic or asking a GPS for an alternate route. The long-distance Metro passenger is free to do a crossword puzzle, read, check e-mail or even take a nap — arriving at one’s destination potentially less stressed and fresher.

As our region continues to grow, providing our residents with less stressful options as they move around the region is good for all of us. More transit riders mean fewer cars on the road.

Mary Hynes, Arlington

The writer, vice chair of the Arlington County Board, is a member of the WMATA board of directors.

Metro weekend track work: Red line station closures, delays on orange and blue

WASHINGTON (AP) – Riders will have to wait longer some Metro trains this weekend and into Presidents Day.

Metro says beginning Friday night and continuing through Monday, trains on the blue line will operate every 20 minutes. Orange line trains will operate every 10 to 20 minutes.

On the red line, buses will replace trains between Woodley Park and Metro Center. Trains between Shady Grove and Woodley Park will operate every 10 minutes from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and every 15 to 20 minutes at other times. Red line trains between Glenmont and Metro Center will operate every 15 minutes.

The green and yellow lines will have normal weekend service.

On Monday, Presidents Day, the system will operate on a Saturday schedule. It will open at 5 a.m. and close at midnight.

Crowding draws complaints about Metro doors, announcements, escalators

A Metrorail train pulls into McPherson Square station. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

How Metro treats its rail customers was Topic A during my online chat Monday, and most commenters wanted to talk about customer discomfort.

The concerns they raised occur during rush hour crowding: Many of the commenter have experienced doors that close not only before riders on the platform can board but also before the riders on the train can get out. Other said they were annoyed by what operators say in response to crowding and delays. But I think all this got started in response to one Q&A with Metro General Manager Richard Sarles. This is the rider’s question and the GM’s response:

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.”

That sparked a discussion Monday, in which commenters focused on the plight of riders stranded aboard trains by rapidly closing doors. At chat’s end, I said I would try to publish comments I couldn’t get to during the chat, so here’s one on that theme:

Yep, it’s us awful passengers…

“So if the operator isn’t allowing enough time for passengers to get on or off, it’s the passengers’ fault. It’s always all our fault. Imagine how smoothly Metro could run if it didn’t have to deal with pesky passengers. This is just offensive on too many levels to count.”

Another of the unpublished comments picked up on an exchange we had about what the operators say to riders in response to crowding around doors. In that exchange, a commenter characterized operator announcements as “petulant threats.” I said: “This is a mistake on the part of the operators who do this. They must have no idea how this nanny talk comes across to a train-load of jammed in customers.”

To that, the unpublished reply was:

Nanny talk

“Yes, it is occasionally annoying, but frankly so are the customers who idiotically jam themselves between closing doors, and risk having the train offloaded.”

Plenty of blame to go around. Some riders do lean against the doors, which can cause them to malfunction.

Another thread of this customer service discussion began when a commenter questioned why it may take “five or six seconds before the driver opens the doors” after the train has stopped at the platform. I offered my guess, that the operator first makes sure that all doors are indeed lined up to open on the platform, and also may need to move across the cab, open the window, look out and then hit the button on the left side of the cab to open those doors. This was an unpublished reply:

Metro doors

“I, too, wonder why this happens. However, your answer isn’t logical. First, we know Metro operates trains of six of eight cars in length and no longer. We have to assume that all stations have platforms that are at least eight car-lengths long, which is a safe assumption. Now, we also know that with manual operation of trains, the driver has to stop the train with the front of his/her car at the end of the platform. Therefore, if all that is true, the last car must be on the platform and when the doors open, there will be a platform for the passengers to exit. The only changeable factor is the location of the driver’s cab and if he/she can see out the front window that the train is as far up as it can go, why the need to look out the side window?”

It’s the operator’s responsibility to look out the window when opening and closing the doors. (Some riders question whether this is always done. Or if it is, why would the operator close doors when it’s obvious passengers still are exiting?) To open the doors on the left side, the operator must move from the right-side console over to the left side, open that window and hit the button on the left-side panel to open the doors. Sit in the first car and watch the operator do that. Should take about five or six seconds.

Another rush-hour service question I couldn’t get to during the chat:

Escalator/entrance direction

“Who determines which direction (up vs down) the escalators run at each station? Same question for the direction (in vs out) of turnstiles? The ratio of in/out & up/down often seems arbitrary, rather than reflective of the likely usage of each station. We shouldn’t, for example, see mostly up escalators and in turnstiles during the evening rush hour in Takoma since, as a residential area, people are mostly exiting (not entering) the station at that time… and yet we do (this occasionally causes major pileups of people all trying to exit through the one or two working turnstiles). I’ve seen this at other stations too. Simple common sense should dictate these decisions, but station managers certainly don’t seem interested in suggestions for improvement.”

This question is frequently asked, so I can tell you what Metro’s game plan is: The transit authority puts a priority on getting people off the platforms and out of the stations. During the evening rush, you may find two of three escalators between street and mezzanine going up and only one going down. Transit officials refer to this as “metering” the crowd, and the theory is similar to the highway “ramp metering” we discussed during the chat. Another form of metering is to stop an escalator and make people use it as a down staircase, because it slows their entry to the station. Fans leaving Nationals Park or Verizon Center may have experienced this.

Having experienced some dangerously crowded transit platforms in other cities, I have to agree with this safety measure. But there are other issues, as well. You know how delicate Metro escalators are. The transit authority doesn’t like to reverse direction frequently, because that might bust the escalator.

On that other theme concerning ramp metering in Interstate 66: I’m asking the Virginia Department of Transportation for some information on what drivers say is an extra long red light at the Lee Highway ramp to westbound I-66.

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.


Far Beyond Rush Hour: The Incredible Rise of Off-Peak Public Transportation

Far Beyond Rush Hour: The Incredible Rise of Off-Peak Public Transportation

Take a look at the above photo of a New York City subway platform and guess what day and time it was taken. If your snap glance absorbed only the crowd, you probably guessed a weekday rush hour. But look more closely. You don’t see grey-haired men in flannel suits with solemn faces, you see All The Young Dudes in jeans just kind of slouching there, dude-like. You don’t see businesswomen striding for the stairs, you see ponytails and a lime green T-shirt that wouldn’t fly even on the most casual of Fridays.

This is not the picture of a platform at morning or evening rush on a weekday in Manhattan. It’s the picture of a platform at half past one. In the morning. On a weekend. In Brooklyn. It’s also a sign of things to come.

The growth of midday, evening, and weekend transit use is not unique to this particular stop on the New York City subway. More critically, the rise of off-peak ridership is not unique to New York City or to subway systems, either. Metropolitan areas across the United States — whether their primary mass transit system is a metro rail or a commuter train or a bus network — are recognizing that city residents can’t get by on great rush-hour service alone. They need frequent, reliable transit all hours of the day and long into the night.

“The growth in transit ridership is happening in the off-peak hours,” says transportation planner David King of Columbia University. “It’s strange. You get on a train at five o’clock in morning and it’s jammed.”

Take the New York City subway in a broader sense. Since 2007, ridership on the weekends has grown at a much greater rate than ridership on the weekdays. During the period from 2007 to 2012, weekday ridership grew at just under 7 percent. During that same stretch, weekend ridership grew at just over 10 percent. A planning director at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority told the New York Times in 2011 that to find a similar explosion in weekend subway use you’d have to go back to a time when people worked six days a week.

“The New York City subway has seen tremendous growth on the weekends over the years,” says MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan. “Weekend growth has outpaced regular growth.”

Now head to the Midwest and take the bus system in Minneapolis-St. Paul. There, too, off-peak service demand has outpaced rush-hour growth along some bus corridors. In response, the Metro Transit agency in the Twin Cities expanded evening and weekend service last summer. Some off-peak frequencies have tripled — down to a bus every 20 minutes instead of one every hour. That puts service ahead of where it was even before the Great Recession. In other words, this isn’t just the economy recovering, it’s ridership surging.

“There’s many routes where the off-peak ridership is growing faster than the peak ridership,” says John Levin, director of service development at Metro Transit. “We’re always going and finding where we can free up resources and where we need to add resources, and it tended to be that we’ve seen the most need during the off-peak, in terms of the overall scale.”

And go to Los Angeles, where even commuter rail — the transport mode created specifically for rush-hour riders — has seen an off-peak and weekend bump in some metro areas. Metrolink spokesman Jeff Lustgarten says weekend ridership in May 2013 hit 21,315, a jump of nearly 30 percent on the year before. He says that while weekday ridership is steady, weekend growth has been in the double digits. In response to this off-peak demand, Metrolink began promoting weekend rides and recently doubled some Sunday service.

“Certainly commuter-based travel is always going to be a core component of overall ridership, but people who have recreational trips … they’re taking advantage of the system on the weekends,” says Lustgarten. “Generally speaking, people are looking for alternative means of getting around town.”

Looking for it on a weekend. In spring and summer. In Los Angeles.

•       •       •       •       •
Transit experts have been making the case for off-peak service expansion for years. It’s oftencost-efficient. (Many drivers needed for rush hour get paid to sit around during the midday hours.) It’s always great for society. (Lower-income people use off-peak transit at much higher rates than wealthy people; a 2003 study found that 60 percent of off-peak riders made under $40,000 a year.) And there’s enormous growth potential. (Two-thirds of transit trips are notwork commutes, as the Commuting in America, 2013 chart below shows, making them strong candidates to occur outside rush hour.)

“There’s long been a recognition here that frequency improvements — especially off-peak frequency improvement — more than pay for themselves in terms of ridership,” says Metro Transit’s Levin. “When we doubled the frequency on one of our core routes a few years ago, we more than doubled the ridership.”

Best of all, the benefits of full-day service create a cycle that perpetuates more transit use across the board. That’s the main takeaway of a recent off-peak service analysis made on the Pascack Valley line of New Jersey Transit commuter rail. The agency introduced non-rush hour trains on that line in October 2007 — seven inbound and six outbound where there’d been no off-peak service before. In June 2010, Devajyoti Deka of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center began conducting surveys and on-board focus groups with off-peak and peak riders alike, to see how the service change had influenced their behavior.

Without question, the addition of off-peak service on the Pascack Valley line took cars off the road. In a recent issue of Transportation, Deka and coauthor Thomas Marchwinski of NJT report savings of at least 12 million vehicle miles a year. More fascinating was the way off-peak trains affected rush-hour ridership. Roughly 5 percent of surveyed riders started using more peak trains once the off-peak service was introduced. And of all the passengers who said they’d go back to driving if off-peak service were cancelled, three in five were peak riders.

Deka believes that there’s a psychological element to off-peak service that transit agencies fail to appreciate. If people know a train can take you back anytime you need, they’re more willing to take the train in during rush hour in the morning. “They have this thing in the back of their mind that if they have to come back early they can come back early, or if they have to stay late they can stay late,” says Deka. “So there is this indirect benefit which you will not notice in ridership data.”

(As for that ridership data, Pascack Valley weekend ridership was up more than 20 percent in the first quarter of 2013 over the year before, while weekday was up 8 percent [PDF]. That trend held true across the whole NJT system: weekends up 12 percent, weekdays 3 percent.)

Considering the rationale for off-peak service has been around for years, the big question is why transit agencies are only now seeing enough fresh demand to do something about it. Some agencies point to changing travel habits among Millennials. Some experts see a broader but related shift in American auto dependency, with an increasing number of urban households living car-free. That’s true even in places without great transit systems — Detroit experienced a 5 percent increase in car-free households from 2007 to 2012 — suggesting economic roots.

Immigration might play a role in off-peak demand, too. Last year, Governing reported that immigration had surpassed domestic population growth in 135 U.S. metro areas, according to Census data. Such demographic shifts could have a big influence on the nation’s transport network, because low-income immigrants are much more likely to commute off-peak than their American-born counterparts (see evening rates below), says planning professor Michael Smart of Rutgers, who studies immigrant transportation patterns. They’re also more likely to use transit for the types of non-work trips that often occur off-peak; for instance, says Smart, they’re five times more likely to take transit to get groceries.

“It’s definitely true that immigrants are more likely to be using transit to get to work in odd hours,” he says. “But even more than that, they’re much more likely than the U.S. born — particularly low-income or low-skilled foreign-born people — to use transit for things that are not about a job.”

Then there are changing work patterns themselves. The rise of telecommuting means people traveling at non-traditional times for both labor and leisure. Such shifts, in turn, mean service workers must travel at off times to get to their jobs. The result, says David King, the Columbia planner, is a bifurcation of the labor market in which neither high-skill nor low-skill workers are tethered to a 9-to-5 workday — or a 9-to-5 transit system — as strongly as they used to be.

“That will dramatically change how we travel,” says King. “What that means for future investment priorities is also important.”

•       •       •       •       •
Bay Area Rapid Transit is already weighing what off-peak demand might mean for tomorrow’s transit investments. BART has long been considered a hybrid commuter rail and metro core system: serving downtown San Francisco but also the suburban Bay area. The plans for 2025 and beyond, dubbed “Metro Vision,” call for tipping this balance toward the core end [PDF]. That means trains running every 15 minutes or better middays, late nights, and weekends — true “show up and go” service.

“That gets us less out of the commuter rail mindset and more to the metro mindset of frequent service for 18 hours a day, rather than just frequent service during the peak,” says Tom Radulovich, head of the BART board of directors. “Metro Vision, just the name of the project implies that at least the BART planners think we’re more of a metro than commuter rail. And this is what metros do — run frequent off-peak service.”

The ridership trends certainly point in that direction. Off-peak ridership on BART has grown steadily since mid-2011, often outpacing rush-hour rates. In October 2012, for instance, peak ridership grew 10 percent on the year before while weekday off-peak grew 14 percent, Saturday grew 21 percent, and Sunday grew 13 percent. The agency made off-peak expansions several years ago only to cut them during the recession, but it’s started making them again on what Radulovich calls the “shoulders of the peak.” Those first few trains after rush-hour service ended were just too crowded.

Radulovich sees a number of reasons for the rise in off-peak demand. Tech companies keeping unusual hours. Service workers returning to the job market on swing shifts. A declining rate of car-ownership among riders. Perhaps above all, a rise in residential and business development in and around BART stations — and not just those located downtown. Altogether it amounts to a culture of residents less reliant on the automobile for whatever trip purpose, at whatever trip time.

“I think those folks are going to want BART to run more frequently and be more convenient at more hours of the day,” he says. “They’re going to be interested in off-peak trips, they’re going to be interested in Saturday and Sunday frequency, they’re going to be interested in evening frequency, they’re going to be interested in late-night service, in a way that our traditional park and ride suburban constituency is not.”

Of course, if it were easy to build a full-scale all-day transit system, more cities would have done it. The challenges generally break down into money and politics (what doesn’t?). On the economic side, there’s a reluctance to shift resources away from rush-hour because that’s where ridership, and thus revenue, is more certain. Off-peak service means new operating costs, in the form of drivers and maintenance, and perhaps even new capital expenses. Since most fleet maintenance is done on weekends and nights — in a word, off-peak — some systems will need more vehicles to expand service into those periods.

At the cultural end, the low-income riders who stand to benefit most from increased off-peak service often have the weakest political voice. Some politicians carry a vehicle bias: they will see empty midday buses and trains and blast off-peak expansion as wasteful, even as they endorse highway lanes full of single-occupancy cars. Others have a rush-hour mindset: they come to work at that time, so everyone else must, too. These counterarguments aren’t always off-base. Most people do drive most places, and the biggest commute shares do occur at the peaks [PDF].

“The peak tendency has been amazingly consistent,” says Steven Polzin of the University of South Florida, co-author of the Commuting in America, 2013 series on commute trends. “One of the intriguing things is there’s been a decline of the ‘peak of the peak’ commuting, but not a lot.”

What that means is that the early adopters of tomorrow’s all-day transit systems are likely to be big agencies in major cities. That’s not to say smaller areas lack the popular demand or the institutional desire to go off-peak. Just recently Jacksonville, North Carolina, population 70,000,expanded bus service to the shoulders of the peak so more commuters could get to and from work. It’s more to say that “somebody has to change the tradition,” as Deka puts it, “and the big agencies are in a better position, I think, to change the tradition.”

Top image: Nolan Levenson courtesy Rudin Center / NYU.

This article is part of ‘The Future of Transportation,’ an Atlantic Cities series made possible with support from The Rockefeller Foundation.

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.