Writing in the Washingtonian, Benjamin Freed sounds the alarm: Metro’s Ridership Is Still Falling, and Fare Hikes Might Be the Only Way to Keep Its Revenue Up.
The alarm, of course, is for public transportation advocates who should rightly be worried about a total failure of the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, or WMATA. Alas, Freed notes this was predicted by a former WMATA chief a little over a decade ago:
"We're talking about a systemic service meltdown condition as early as three years from now," Metro Chief Executive Richard A. White told his board of directors. "It's reliability falling, ridership loss, road congestion increasing and air quality decreasing. It's a death spiral."
Many residents have responded to Metro’s string of breakdowns and delays by abandoning the system entirely. “Metro means that I have no reliability of getting to work on time,” one former rider told WAMU last week.
You might be thinking "gee, with fewer riders, doesn't a rate hike seem like a counterintuitive way to raise revenue?", or "that's one way to sock it to poor and middle-class riders." But evidently that's just you.
WMATA has to do what it has to do, holding all of its historical incompetence aisde, since local governments in two of the three entities (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) which control it have considered wasting billions of dollars on antiquated streetcar technology. One, the District of Columbia, went through with it. Virginia smartly killed the project.
Shortly after its creation in 1967, WMATA took over privately run bus lines serving the city, and the bus-train hybrid system was on its way to becoming the WMATA we know today.
Yet, unlike in New York, no express lines were created as the city grew immensely. After being blamed for the fatal 2009 crash on the Red Line, meanwhile, the automatic control system that helped trains move smoothly and on-time was taken off-line.
Service grew erratic, and planned improvements for cell-phone service in the tunnels ran into trouble. Track work worsened and delays became commonplace.
The crowning achievement, or the supposed one, was the extension of the system via the new Silver Line to Dulles Airport. This "achievement", only half-done, is over budget and behind schedule.
At present, it takes about an hour to get to the mid-way point of the half-completed Silver Line from Alexandria, Virginia, but only 34 minutes to drive the full distance to Dulles. Perhaps WMATA should have considered making an express train? (But what about Reston?!)
I'm not sure WMATA is beyond saving, but whether it is worth saving is the real question.
I think a better option would be to give it to the D.C. cyclist crowd under a rails-to-trails conservancy program. Imagine, instead of a failing rail network, 117 miles of freshly laid bike paths.
Perhaps, then, we can get all of the roads lost to bicycle lanes back. Cyclists will get a safe commute, underground, free from killer Metro Buses and cars. And we won't have metro to kick around anymore.
Jim Swift is a frequent cyclist in Washington.
The future of WMATA, hopefully.