Blue Line Crowding Continues Breaking Records

It has been a little over a year since WMATA cut Blue Line service, making it among the least frequent rush hour trains in the country, so now is a good time to take stock of the repercussions of this unfortunate decision.

WMATA just released their latest round of crowding data, through July (so before the fire at Stadium Armory and any increase in service delays), and it is increasingly evident that the cuts to the Blue Line have resulted in levels of sustained crowding exceeding anything Metro has ever seen on any line since they started recording crowding data in 2012.

According to WMATA performance standards, fewer than 100 people should be on rail cars at the most crowded point. Anything exceeding 100 passengers per car is considered crowded and anything exceeding 120 passengers per car is considered to be extremely overcrowded. Only once before this year has any line reached the threshold for extreme overcrowding. But in three of the four most recent months of data, the Blue Line has reached or exceeded the level of crowding that WMATA themselves have deemed unacceptable. In April, the Blue Line had exactly 120 passengers per car during the afternoon rush hour. Proving this was not an anomaly, in June it increased further to 123 passengers per car, and in July it was up to 130.

The excessive overcrowding is also unique to the Blue Line and is not a reflection of the broader problems at Metro. Since September of 2014, the Blue Line has averaged 111 passengers per car (PPC), never once falling below WMATA’s goal of 100 PPC. In contrast, the Red Line had the most crowding of the other lines – averaging just 91 PPC, which is almost 20% less crowded than the Blue Line. The Silver Line averaged just 80.

Crowding by Metro Line - Blue Line is consistently overcrowded based on WMATA standards

While extreme levels of crowding are unfortunate under any circumstances, they are made even worse due to the large 12 minute gaps between Blue Line trains during rush hour. This means that the lost time to Blue Line riders from being unable to board a train is over twice that experienced by riders on the other lines when they cannot fit onto a train. Just one train that is too crowded to board means that a Blue Line rider could be waiting 24 minutes to board a train. In many cases this means that they will be waiting longer for a train to arrive than they will spend actually on the train to their destination.

At a meeting with Blue Line riders last fall, Rob Troup, the Deputy General Manager of Operations at WMATA, said that he sends trains to where the people are. So that begs the question of why WMATA is not sending more trains to the Blue Line, given that the Blue Line continues to break records for crowding on the Metrorail system.

Posted in Data, Overcrowding

Metro Suspends Blue Line Service: Chaos Ensues

photo 1

This morning, while attempting to address track problems, Metro suspended all Blue Line train service into DC. At Save the Blue Line, we’ve said repeatedly that 12-minute wait times for the Blue Line lead to overcrowding and dangerous situations on the platform. Suspending Blue Line service completely was even worse — hundreds of riders found themselves in a mob situation on the L’Enfant platform as they attempted to transfer. People were trampled as the L’Enfant escalator deposited them onto a packed platform with nowhere to move. I was one of those riders, and here’s my story:

Below are excerpts from the complaint report I filed with WMATA. (As always, if you experience transit problems, please document them by contacting Metro.)

I boarded my usual Blue Line train at King Street around 7:30. Two stops later at Reagan National Airport the train operator announced the train would be going out of service. On the platform, the train indicator board said a Blue Line train would be coming in a few minutes. On Twitter though, some commuters were reporting no Blue Line trains were going into DC at all.

A Yellow train arrived, and the operator announced that Blue Line riders should get on the train and transfer at L’Enfant. Several people on the platform asked the operator to clarify whether a Blue Line train was coming eventually, as the board indicated. Like others, I find transferring does not work well for my commute and prefer to wait for a Blue Line train if possible.

The metro operator made several new announcements clarifying that no Blue Line trains would be going into DC. Blue Line riders would have to take a Yellow train and transfer at L’Enfant, then backtrack through the city on another line to their destination.

We boarded the train, and the operator continued to make this announcement at the stops. Blue Line riders around me grumbled at this latest example of Blue Line riders getting less service than other lines while paying full prices.

At L’Enfant I exited the train to transfer to the Blue Line as instructed by the metro train operator. The L’Enfant station was crowded, particularly in the areas where riders were trying to move downstairs in order to transfer lines. Though it was crowded on the upstairs platform where I was, from my vantage point it was not possible to see the lower-level platform and I could not see a dangerous situation developing below.

In the past, I have seen Metro staff shut down the stairs and escalators if a platform is too crowded in order to give the platform time to clear out. This was not the case here. There was one working escalator doing down to the lower level platform, and no metro transit police or staff visible on the upper level near the escalator.

I boarded the escalator down to the platform, and in the final seconds before getting off the escalator I realized I was being deposited into a dangerous situation. There were too many people on the platform around the escalator and there was no space to move away once off the escalator. In the next few seconds, the packed escalator dumped riders off into a wall of people, slamming me into the people ahead of us that were on the platform unable to move forward. People on the escalator were unable to move backwards either, because the escalator was completely full of people behind us. People on the platform above were totally unaware of the issue and kept boarding the escalator.

There was screaming and panic as I and other riders were pushed forward by the escalator, crushing into the people in front of us. More people smashed into our bodies from behind as the escalator dumped them off and I felt something sharp and hard slam into my back (perhaps the edge of a hard sided briefcase), pushing me forward into the wall of people in front of me. People were screaming for help, and screaming to get someone to push the emergency stop button on the escalator in order to stop the continued descent of unaware people into the crush.

I was pushed forward by the crowd and tried to stay on my feet to avoid being trampled. A pocket of space opened up and I moved toward it, yelling for help.

About 30 feet from the escalator, I saw two metro transit police officers and one metro employee in a yellow vest standing on the platform, unaware of the chaos. They were facing away from the escalator, monitoring the tracks. I ran to them and told them about the situation on the escalator, pointing to the one working down-direction escalator and explaining what was happening.

One metro transit police officer stayed where I was on the platform, while the other two walked away to investigate. The metro officer who stayed on the platform indicated there had been problems since 5am and they were under-staffed. The officers had been stationed on the platform edge, trying to keep people on the crowded platforms from falling onto the tracks and being hit by trains as they pulled into the station. The platform where we stood was not that crowded at the moment, and I told him that they also needed staff at the escalator making sure that when the influx of Blue/Yellow riders got off and needed to transfer (as Metro has been encouraging Blue Riders to do), they monitored for overcrowding at the escalator.

Shaken and sore, I waited to board a Yellow Line train. The train that pulled into the station was too full to board. I moved down the platform and was able board the next train, backtracking through DC to my stop. My normal 30 minute commute had taken an hour and a half, and given me a painful and frightening understanding of the term “dangerously overcrowded”.

This incident today underlines what can happen when Metro reduces or cuts Blue Line service. Without Blue Line as a viable option, riders who would normally take Blue are forced to congregate at an already crowded transfer station. Rather than spreading riders out throughout the system, Metro is forcing Blue riders to convene at already crowded stations which can’t accommodate so many riders safely at once. Combined with a lack of staff to enforce crowd control, this sets the stage for the dangerous situation I witnessed this morning.

~Laura Larrimore

If you experienced problems this morning, please share your story with us on Twitter (@SavetheBlueLine) or via e-mail (savetheblueline@gmail.com), and make sure to contact Metro and let them know this is unacceptable.

 

Posted in Overcrowding, Transfers, Wait times

Update from the RAC

Last Thursday night, a group of riders attended WMATA’s Rider Advisory Council (RAC) meeting to share their experiences regarding the poor level of service provided to the Blue Line.

The meetings start off with a public comment period, where riders described the recent issues with the Blue Line including the overcrowding, the long waits, the rush-hour fares for non rush-hour service, and the general neglect that WMATA has shown towards the line.  We brought pictures and data, a printout of the names of the over 500 people who signed the petition, as well as a basic fact sheet outlining the key aspects of the problems.

Also at the meeting was Lynn Bowersox, the Assistant General Manager of WMATA, who presented to the RAC Metro’s soon-to-be launched  plan to increase public participation and engagement with Metro. After her presentation, riders asked her about Metro’s non-response thus far, and questioned her about how Metro plans to incorporate the extensive public feedback that Blue Line riders have already been expressing about the cuts.

Because the RAC is an advisory committee, they do not make the decisions about service but are important advocates for rider concerns. Members of the council noted that they expressed concerned about WMATA’s plans for the Blue Line for over a year and thanked the riders at the meeting for the pictures, statistics and personal stories that we provided, which corroborated their concerns.

Key Outcomes of the meeting

(1) The Riders Advisory Council unanimously passed a resolution asking Metro to collect and provide data on ridership and crowding statistics for the Blue, Orange, and Silver line over the first month of Silver Line operations. This will allow them to have additional data to discuss at their meeting next month.  We plan to attend that meeting to ensure that the issue of Blue Line overcrowding and poor service remains on the agenda.

(2) While Lynn Bowersox did not express optimism about a Blue Line solution, she agreed to set up a meeting with us, Metro’s rider operations, and Metro’s planning division to discuss why WMATA made the choices that they did, and to discuss alternate solutions that may better meet the needs of Blue Line riders.  Once that meeting occurs, we will update supporters on the outcome in a blog post

While we were encouraged by the progress made at the meeting, it is important to continue to write to metro, sign the petition, and let others know to speak up to Metro. This will ensure that the issue remains on the mind of both the RAC and Metro.

Posted in Uncategorized

Speak up for the Blue Line

Every Metro meeting has a period allocated for public comments. Now is the time to attend these meetings and speak up for the Blue Line.

The next meeting where the concerns of Blue Line riders can be voiced is the WMATA Riders’ Advisory Council. The next Riders Advisory Council (RAC) meeting will be at 6:30 PM this Wednesday (August 6th). It is held in the lobby level Meeting Room at Metro’s Headquarters at 600 5th Street, NW (near the Gallery Place Metro station).

If you can attend the meeting on Wednesday evening:

  1. Please let us know that you are coming (via e-mail at SaveTheBlueLine@gmail.com or on twitter @savetheblueline). We will be in attendance and would love to meet other Blue Line supporters before or after the meeting.
  2. Think about how best to tell your story in the 2 minutes allotted per speaker (visuals of overcrowded trains can be particularly effective to bring). Our hope is to emphasize the impact of overcrowding and passengers left behind on platforms and the inconveniences of long waits without a schedule (especially for those who have additional bus transfers they have to catch).
  3. Please remember that we are trying to bring the concerns of Blue Line riders to the committee and NOT disrupt the meeting. But having a large crowd is instrumental in showing decision makers that this is an important issue that they should address.

If you cannot attend the meeting on Wednesday evening:

There are still things you can do to help make our appearance at the meeting a success.

  1. Send us pictures of your crowded trains so that we can present the visual evidence of overcrowding to the council.
  2. E-mail to the riders advisory council directly in advance of the meeting at raccomments@wmata.com.
  3. Help spread the word about the Save the Blue Line petition. The more signatures it has when we go to the RAC, the more compelling our case.
  4. Follow us on twitter (@savetheblueline) or check back here for information about future meetings that we’ll be attending.
Posted in Uncategorized

Late trains compound problems

overcrowded_car

If your commute has been anything like mine this week, you are probably getting very well acquainted with your fellow Blue Line passengers as you pack into Metro cars.  While 12 minute trains with perfect spacing would be at or above peak capacity, it has been clear this week that these problems are magnified by trains running behind (or ahead of) schedule.

The Blue Line carries just under 3,900 riders through Foggy Bottom per hour during Rush Hour. Even if they all show up evenly spaced through the hour (they don’t there are clumps around when people leave work), that is 64 people per minute arriving at stations wanting to board the Blue Line. We’ll assume that some riders switch to Yellow or stop taking Metro altogether because of the cuts and call it 60 riders per minute.

At that pace, after 12 minutes 720 people will be taking the train – which is a full, but not overcrowded, 90 people per car on an 8 car train (Metro’s goal is 80 to 100 per train).

However, there are two problems.  The first is that half of the Blue Line trains have only 6-cars, not 8. With just 6 cars, those 720 people will be packed tightly at 120 people per car.  As The Washington Post’s Dr. Gridlock pointed out, this alone causes overcrowded cars – especially since riders won’t want to wait 12 minutes in the hopes of getting a less crowded train.

But it gets even worse because Metro trains often aren’t evenly spaced. Metro considers trains on-time if they are within 2 minutes of the expected spacing. But if a 6-car train is just one-minute behind schedule – arriving 13 minutes after the previous train – it will need to carry 130 passengers instead of 120. Two minutes late creates a very cozy 140 passengers per car, even though the train is still technically on-time by Metro’s standards.

When a 6-car Blue Line train arrives just 3 minutes late (a 15 minute gap), the train will now be 50% overcrowded, as 150 people try to squeeze onto each car. This inevitably means passengers get stranded on the platform, waiting about 12 minutes for the next train.

This isn’t just a problem with late trains either. If a train arrives slightly too soon, it will result in equivalent overcrowding on the next train.

These late train problems are real – and routine. During the afternoon Rush Hour yesterday, data received from Metro by NPR’s Martin Di Caro showed that only 2 of the 9 gaps between Blue Line trains were 12 minutes or less. However, Metro’s generous definition of on-time considered all but one train “on-time” so the commute was in-line with an average day. Unfortunately, the combination of poorly spaced trains and 12 minute headway can quickly turn a bad commute into a terrible one. And unless Metro suddenly finds a way to make the trains run precisely on time, it isn’t a problem that will go away any time soon.

It’s not too late for Metro to reverse the cuts. Take action or sign the petition telling WMATA that you support the Blue Line.

 

Posted in Overcrowding

Blue Line cuts cause riders to abandon public transit

People giving up on the Metrorail system is bad news all around: it’s bad for the current car commuters, it’s bad for the environment, and it’s definitely bad for Metro’s bottom line.

If the roads seem worse since 2012, it might not be your imagination. Two years ago Metro cut the Blue Line — and trips from Blue Line stations in Northern Virginia have fallen, with ridership at these stations now back to 2005-2006 levels.

The graph below uses WMATA data and tracks daily Metrorail boardings over the past 15 years for the 9 Northern Virginia stations serviced by the Blue Line (excluding Rosslyn) and for the Metrorail system as a whole. Remember that the declines we see on the graph are all riders at these stations — no matter what line they took (Blue or Yellow) — so riders switching to Yellow do not cause the drop. This sharp decline is all the people giving up on taking Metro at all. It is riders moving out of Alexandria and Arlington for shorter commutes, and it is riders choosing to abandon public transit by leaving the Metrorail system altogether.

Blue_Ridership_Trends

As you can see in the graph, for most of the past decade blue line ridership and overall metro ridership growth followed similar tracks. Ridership at the Blue Line stations grew by a little more than 12 percent, compared to about 11 percent growth for the overall system. But then, in 2012 you can clearly see on the graph that ridership at the Blue Line stations falls dramatically. These are among the largest year-over-year declines in ridership at these stations sine Metro extended the Blue Line to King Street in 1984, and it is the first time since then that ridership at these stations has fallen two years in a row.

It is unclear what initiated the decline in 2012, since those figures were recorded in May before Rush+ began. But any declines were likely exacerbated by the introduction of Rush+, which began in July 2012. Any time you raise the cost of public transit – whether through fares, inconvenience of added transfers, or lost time from longer waits – you should expect to see falling demand and reduced ridership. The unknown is how much will it fall. With Rush+, Metro cut Blue Line Rush Hour service from trains every 6 minutes to trains every 8.5 minutes.  From 2012 to 2013 after these cuts, ridership at these stations fell by 4.3 percent. This decline is about 4,000 daily boardings – or 8,000 total trips when including the return Metro trip. This was also a much greater decline than the 2.4 percent decline seen for the rest of the Metro system.

What will happen when Metro introduces MORE Blue Line cuts? We expect Metro’s additional cuts will cause more people in the Blue Line corridor to stop taking public transit. So if you think things are bad now, they could get a lot worse.

Here’s why you should be concerned:

  • The lost riders on the Blue Line riders will partially offset the increase in riders that Metro expects to add to the system from the Silver Line. Losing your existing customers to gain new ones is never a good business strategy.
  • Metro’s planning department says that a highway lane can only carry 2,200 cars per hour. So these cuts may cause a substantial additional strain on DC’s already crowded highways.
  • If the lost riders switched from public transit to driving, it will also add thousands of tons of CO2 emissions to the air each year.

Since Metro did not require a second tunnel crossing to be built when designing Silver Line, some level of Blue Line cuts were necessary to make space for the Silver Line. But let’s not make the mistake of making drastic cuts again. We shouldn’t have to decimate one Metro line to introduce another.

This post was updated on July 26, 2014 to reflect that the 2012 data reported by WMATA was recorded in May of 2012 and was not an average across the entire year.

It’s not too late for Metro to reverse the cuts. Take action or sign the petition telling WMATA that you support the Blue Line.

 

 

Posted in Data

No one wants to travel like it’s 1999 (or 1899 or 1799)

George Washington: Blue Line Commuter

Public transit in DC isn’t perfect — but it’s a heck of a lot better than it used to be. George Washington would hardly recognize the modern-day trip between Virginia and DC — back then the carriage trip from Alexandria into the capital could take several hours. Now it takes under 30 minutes on the Blue Line.

Whatever annoyances commuters experience today, it’s still better than the rutted roads and hard carriage rides of the past. And DC should be proud of its track records of continually improving public transit options — from the opening of the Blue Line in 1977, to the soon-to-open Silver Line.

Perhaps that’s why the cuts to Blue Line service feel especially frustrating. Though Metro’s slogan is “Moving Forward”, the service cuts ensure that future riders will have a harder time getting around on the Blue Line than we do right now. Like a train car stopped on the elevated track at Reagan National Airport, with these cuts Metro will be slowly slipping backwards in the direction we have come. We’ve made too much progress to be going backwards now.

Worse is that we don’t NEED to be going backwards —  it’s possible to more efficiently allocate the trains through the tunnel while still accommodating the new Silver Line and staying within the Rosslyn Tunnel capacity. Metro can’t build a new bridge or tunnel to DC overnight (though they should probably start planning now), but sensible allocation of trains is something Metro can do right now with the equipment and facilities they already have. We’ve poured billions of dollars into developing a transit system to connect DC, Maryland and Virginia, and in doing so we’ve given commuters viable alternatives of getting around, and helped take cars off the roads of our congested highways. With our proud history of improving public transit, it’s so important that we keep moving forward.

Take action or sign the petition telling WMATA that you support the Blue Line and that they should not eliminate enhanced Rush Hour service.

Posted in Uncategorized

Metro is measuring overcrowding wrong

Have you ever wondered why Metro says that your line is not that crowded even though you can barely get on trains?

Customer’s perceptions of overcrowding far exceed what Metro is seeing in their data. As a general rule, if customers perceptions don’t match what you are measuring there’s a good chance that you are measuring things wrong.

In their quarterly vital signs report and in their official goals, Metro publishes the average carload over the course of an hour, but what matters to passengers is the crowd on the train you’re trying to board – not the one coming in 20 minutes.

This is particularly important when trains come at different intervals since crowds increase with wait times. It also means that WMATA may be understating peak carloads during rush hour, since demand should spike based on when people leave work and is not constant over the hour.

However, based on materials from a WMATA committee meeting today, it appears that WMATA already has the technology to easily improve on their reporting to better reflect customer experiences since they can observe the ridership on every car of every train.

Recommendations

(1) Metro should adopt standards for the maximum average carload per train in addition to the maximum average carload per hour.

(2) Metro should track and report on the average carload per train in their vital signs report, alongside the average carload per hour that they already produce.

image

Posted in Overcrowding

Shareable Metro Contact Information Cards

When you hear other riders on the platform grumble about Blue Line wait times, wouldn’t it be great to have Metro’s contact information available right then so that they can let Metro know about their frustration? Well now you can!

We’ve created cards with Metro’s contact information that you can easily offer to others to outlining how to tell Metro about rider opposition to the Blue Line cuts (or any other customer complaints).

For the print-at-home version, the PDF file is here with 10 cards per 8.5×11 page that you can print off and cut to size.

If you want to use a cheap printing service (such as Vistaprint), you can provide them with a JPG file from here and they’ll print a big batch of cards for you for about $10.

These will come in handy when service cuts start on July 21.

Save the Blue Line Logo

 

Posted in Media

How DC Metro can save riders thousands of hours per year

Previously, we’ve outlined how Metro cuts will cost the average Blue Line rider 15 hours per year waiting for trains. But what are the alternatives? Turns out it’s possible to:

  • Work within the limited capacity in the Rosslyn tunnel
  • Make room for the Silver Line
  • AND save Metro riders almost a hundred-thousand hours each year 

They key is more efficient allocation of trains through the tunnel.

PlanItMetro offered some ridership data last year, which we’ve incorporated with DC Metro’s projections for Silver Line ridership to see how slightly changing the tunnel space allocations can impact overall waits for metro riders.

The current WMATA plan calls for 26 trains during rush hour – 11 Orange, 10 Silver, and 5 Blue. With a relatively minor shift to train allocations through the Rosslyn Tunnel, WMATA could save DC and Northern Virginia commuters 89,000 hours per year waiting for trains.  

Here’s the details:

SPOILER ALERT: 10 Orange, 9 Silver, 7 Blue

If WMATA moved one morning train from Silver to Blue, it would add an average of 20 seconds to the morning commute for the 17,500 riders coming from/going to the new Silver stations and it would add an average of 4.3 seconds to the morning commute for the 18,000 riders to/from the Orange/Silver overlap stations between Court House and West Falls Church. However, the time savings for Blue Line riders would be much greater. The 10,000 morning commuters who take the Blue Line into DC and the 3,000 who take the Blue Line to an Orange Line station would save between 55 seconds and 1 minute per trip. Combining all of these effects, restoring just one Blue train per hour in the Morning rush hour (11 Orange, 9 Silver, 6 Blue) would result in a net savings of 23,800 hours for DC commuters on their morning commutes. If they preserved the 7th Blue Line train that currently operates (10 Orange, 9 Silver, 7 Blue), the net savings would grow to 39,300 hours.

The potential afternoon savings are similar, but slightly higher since Blue Line ridership is greater.  If they fully restore the current (but already reduced) Blue Line service by sacrificing one Silver Line Train and one Orange Line train it would shift the allocation to 10 Orange, 9 Silver, and 7 Blue. For the Evening rush hour, this would result in a net savings of 49,800 hours for DC commuters on their evening commutes.

Combining the 39,300 hours of savings from the morning commute and 49,800 hours from the afternoon commute, these changes to the train allocations through the Rosslyn Tunnel WMATA add up to just over 89,000 hours per year of extra time for Metro riders. The decrease in service to potential future Silver Line riders will only minimally impact them, but the overall benefits gained by riders in the system on the whole would be enormous. Metro should enact these changes now, before the Silver Line even launches.

Take action or sign the petition telling WMATA that you support the Blue Line and that they shouldn’t cut its service even more.

Posted in Data, Wait times