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.
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.