Is the Blue Line getting enough 8-car trains?

Yesterday, DC Metro tried to placate Blue Line riders by stating that up to half of Blue Line trains during rush hour would be 8 cars.  While this seems to indicate that Metro is starting to understand and respond to the drastic impact of their cuts on Blue Line riders, it will not be nearly enough to alleviate overcrowding. Importantly, even this response will not be enough to prevent the WMATA from violating their own operating standards related to overcrowding.

How many people does Metro say are acceptable to have on a rail car at a time? In their DC Metro says that for planning purposes expected peak loads are “Not to exceed 100 [Passengers Per Car] in the peak hour of service” (pg 5-4).

From the WMATA Vital Signs , you can see that during the past 12 months the Blue Line has averaged a peak load of 89.8 passengers per car during the PM peak rush at Foggy Bottom (for comparison, the infamous “Orange Crush” of the Orange Line has averaged 86.6 passengers per car during the PM rush at the same station). The Blue Line currently has the most crowded PM average car load of any line in the system — but Metro wants to make it even more crowded by cutting service .

Right now DC Metro is running 7 six-car Blue trains per hour, so given current car loads there are 3,877 Blue Line passengers going through the station per hour during the PM rush.  In order to get down to Metro’s stated standard of 100 people per car, they need at least 39 cars per hour.  With the planned service cuts, the Blue line will have just 5 trains per hour, meaning that Metro needs to make at least 88% of Blue Line trains have 8 cars .

Under their current plan of having ( up to) half of Blue trains having 8-cars, WMATA will only reduced the peak load to 111 passengers per car, meaning that unless there is a mass exodus of Blue Line riders they will be exceeding their stated operating standards.

Perhaps WMATA operating standards are flexible and they are adjusting them to meet current needs.  But if long-standing plans are now flexible, maybe WMATA should also reconsider their plan to cut Blue Line service to just 5 trains per hour.

Take Action and tell WMATA not to cut Blue Line service again, and certainly not to do so without at least giving all Blue Line trains 8 cars.

Posted in Overcrowding

Have you seen the new DC Metro commercials promoting the Silver Line?  The ads make it sound like the Metro changes will solve all your problems, including and getting a better job. But they don’t tell the full story and miss how the changes will impact Blue Line riders.  So I made my own spin on the ads to illustrate how Blue Line riders will be hurt. Enjoy!

Posted in Media

The planned blue line service cuts this summer will change the headway for Blue Line trains from 8.5 minutes to 12 minutes.  That means that the average wait per trip increases by 1:45 seconds.  That might not seem like much, and WMATA claims it is a mild inconvenience, but it adds up.  At 2 trips per day, for a daily Blue Line rider this is an extra 15 hours per year spent waiting for trains.

When combined with the earlier Blue Line cuts, compared to 2012 Blue Line Riders will be spending 26 hours per year longer on Metro platforms than they used to.

15 hours per year is like your boss offering you an extra two vacation days.  What could you do with the extra 15 hours that WMATA is taking away?

Take action and ask WMATA not to further cut service on the Blue Line.

Posted in Media

Metro’s Blue Line plan among the longest wait times nationwide

We all know that the wait times for DC blue line service is bad compared to the rest of the lines in DC and that it is getting worse.  But how does it compare to that seen at other subway systems around the country?

I went through the posted schedules for 12 of the subway systems with the largest ridership in the country (New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Miami, Baltimore, San Juan, San Francisco, Atlanta, and LA, and of course Washington DC) and determined their average wait times during rush hour.  For systems with staggered schedules, like the DC blue line before the additional service cuts, I counted the number of trains during rush hour to get an average across the staggering.  Recognizing that some estimating was involved, results are averaged to the nearest half-minute.

The results are below and largely speak for themselves.

Subway wait times across 12 cities nationwide

There are 72 rail lines across these 12 cities.  After DC Metro’s planned service cuts, the blue line will come in tied for 67th.  Contrast that with the other DC lines which all are near the top, including the red line which is the most frequent rush hour subway train in the country.

What about those 4 lines that are worse than or tied with the blue.  The LA expo line which is tied with blue.  That’s a new line that is easing-in to Rush Hour service.  Assuming things go as planned and they have the expected demand, they may improve service to every 6 minutes, which would drop the blue line to 68th out of 72.

The only lines with worse wait times than the Blue Line are all San Francisco BART lines.  Even they have an advantage over the Blue, however, since unlike on the DC Metro, BART offers their riders a fixed time schedule during rush hour.  As a result, riders know when to show up at the platform so they can cut their commute times.  Apparently these time-points are pretty accurate since BART was disappointed when the on-time performance fell to 93.7%.  It would be great to show up at the Metro platform and know that almost 94% of the time the train will be arriving almost right when you get there.

Washington DC has one of the best metro systems in the country, so let’s not let the blue line be one of the worst.

Posted in Data , Wait times

Metro is starting to seriously push the Silver Line rollout.  When doing so, they like to tout the number of riders who are helped and hurt by various changes.  But it is not just the number of riders on each side of the ledger that matters.  What also matters is how much they are impacted.  This is where the Metro system’s skewed distribution of trains between Blue and Orange becomes problematic.

Under their old distribution of cars through the Rosslyn tunnel, there were 16 Orange Line trains and 10 Blue Line trains.  This works out to one Blue train every 6 minutes and one Orange train every 3 minutes, 45 seconds.

Switching 3 of the Blue Line trains to Orange (so 19 Orange trains total) means that Orange trains come every 3 minutes 9 seconds.  A time savings of 36 seconds for the Orange riders.

So what did the Blue Line riders give up?  Since they already had less trains, the loss of three more is much more painful.  The average Blue line wait increased from 6 minutes to 8 minutes, 34 seconds.  So every Blue Line rider loses on average 2 minutes 34 seconds compared to the old allocation. Ouch!

But wait, it gets even worse when WMATA plans to move two more lines over to the Silver/Orange corridor.  Now, with 21 trains per hour heading towards Falls Church, the average wait for a Silver/Orange train is 2 minutes 51 seconds.  A gain of a whopping 18 seconds for these riders.

Blue line riders on the other hand will now be up to a 12 minute wait.  So to save riders taking the Orange /SilverLine 18 seconds, Metro is asking riders of the Blue line to give up another 3 minutes 26 seconds for each trip.  This certainly doesn’t sound like a good trade.

Posted in Data , Wait times

Psychic costs of Metro transfers

DC Metro’s expectation in cutting Blue Line service was that many Blue Line riders would switch to the Yellow Line and transfer, thus reducing the overcrowding.  While it may be a questionable planning strategy to make individual’s preferred path so awful that they choose an alternate route, it is true that Blue Line riders have an alternate route into the core.  In their initial planning, WMATA expected between one-fifth and one-third of Blue line riders to transfer instead of dealing with the insufferably long wait times.

Turns out, transferring is more painful than WMATA expected.  Just 14% switched – hence, overcrowding on the blue line.

So why was Metro so wrong?  It turns out that people really hate to transfer.  Some papers looking at the psychic cost of a transfer in subway systems suggest that adding a transfer is equivalent to adding almost 10 minutes to a trip (one study I found says subway transfers have a psychic cost of 8 minutes , another says minutes).

So when Metro is giving riders a choice between taking a Yellow/Orange transfer or waiting 10 minutes for the next Blue Line train, the psychic transfer-cost alone eats away all of the time savings.  When you add to that fact that taking the immediate yellow line train may not even get you there sooner , it’s no surprise that Metro was off with their projections.

This also means that Metro is substantially underestimating the true costs that they are imposing on the Blue Line riders by cutting Blue Line service.

Posted in Transfers