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June | 2008 | Expect Delays

Monthly Archives: June 2008

Thanks for the consideration…

A brief rundown of my daily commute:

1. I catch a bus near my home and ride to the metro stop ($1, 30 minutes).
2. I catch a train to Metro Center and then switch to another line, getting off a few stops later ($3.55, 1 hour).
3. I catch a shuttle from the metro to my work (Free, 10-15 minutes).
4. Work through the day, then catch the shuttle back to metro (Free, 10-15 minutes).
5. Metro back home, ($3.55, 1 hour).
6. Bus to home ($0.35 transfer fare, 30 minutes if I can catch the right bus).

So the total here in time is 3.5 or so hours, depending on delays and missed connections and $8.45 per day. One day a week, because of the timing, I need to park at the metro station, which is $4.50 extra. But on those days, I ride at reduced fare, which is $2.35, meaning one day a week I pay $9.20. Notice that I pay the most on days when I do not take the bus and ride on a “reduced” fare.

In other words, parking is so high at the metro station that I pay $0.75 more to park for one day than I do for two peak time rides and two bus trips.

All in all, I am giving my commute $43 per week, $172 per month. Having a friend give me a ride home a few days a week is saving me 35 cents once in a while, but let’s just say that all in all, my SmarTrip card is being tapped for $170 per month on average.

I am pointing this out because I would like to say how absolutely ridiculous it is that Metro offers absolutely no manner of discounts except for Senior Citizens. I’m not saying that senior citizens aren’t worthy, in fact I’m happy that they do get a benefit.

I’m just trying to point out that if Metro really wanted to get more people to ride, if D.C. really cared about reducing traffic, and if all those people talking the talk actually cared about the environment then there would be more ways to save money by riding the Metro.

I’m going to let my number sink in for you again: almost $200 a month. That’s 50 gallons of gas, which in my car would be over 1,000 miles on the highway. Is it still cheaper for me to metro than drive? Well, probably because traffic is just that darn terrible and I’d have to pay to park in the city. But I shouldn’t have to do complicated math problems to figure out if I’m saving money.

The metro should always be cheaper than driving. It shouldn’t be “maybe” it shouldn’t be “kind of” and I should have to try to factor in some obscure assumption about the value of the wear and tear on my vehicle.

I’m a student. I work for a really large educational institution. I take public transit on code red air quality days. And there is only one single possible way for me to save any money on Metro fare: SmartBenefits.

On Code Red days I save my bus fare but still have to pay full price for the Metro. Every day I catch a shuttle that is run for free by my workplace, and it’s more reliable by far. But the only way for me to save any money on Metro is to still pay that money to ride, but get it taken out of my paycheck pre-tax.

Oh, and the maximum allowed pre-tax is only $110, which doesn’t really come close to covering my monthly travel expenses.

Yes, it’s nice for that money to get taken out pre-tax, but why exactly does Metro think that is the only bone they need to throw to us? Why don’t they offer discounted passes that we could buy a week or a month at a time for a lower rate? Why don’t they offer student passes? Why can’t they offer off-peak rates all day on Code Red days?

I know that on the one hand, it’s because the Metro is losing money, and they do need money for maintenance and expansion, as I’ve already posted how in favor I am of the Silver Line. But the fact is if there was a student discount, more students would ride. If there were discounts for frequent riders, people would ride more frequently.

It’s a basic thing you learn in retail: offer somebody 10% off and they’ll spend 20% more. Plus, if I wasn’t paying them so much I would be more forgiving of things like how they can’t seem to keep the orange line from delaying at least once a day. I wouldn’t be so cranky about the fact that the escalators are broken about half the time, or the giant floods that happen at the bus entrance at West Falls Church whenever it sprinkles. And perhaps people would get so angry and start saying “where is all my money going anyway” and calling for a massive audit of the metro’s books.

But instead, it really is so expensive that even I am sitting here wondering where my money is going, and that doesn’t really happen to me very often.

How about it metro, maybe help students out a bit? Or at least pretend to care about Code Red days?

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Thanks Metro

So, in the last two weeks there have been two major, major problems on the Orange Line. Specifically on the leg of the Orange Line that I ride every day.

Last Wednesday, I got an alert during the height of the storms that said the line was “terminating at East Falls Church.” Which was a bit of a disappointment because well, that’s not my stop. Yesterday, I got alerts that there were major delays and shuttle bus service due to a “malfunction” at Court House.

But this isn’t going to be about me griping about the delays in my travel. In fact, I only have one gripe about both instances, and that’s the flow of information. I get the emails from Metro, but for some reason they’re unable to send text messages to my phone. Only email enabled phones can get alerts from Metro, and honestly, that’s technology they should have had by now. So once I leave for work, or leave work, I’m stuck relying on the overhead announcements for news. And the train car I was in yesterday I could hear that they were announcing something, just not what it was. So it just would be nice to have a little more knowledge.

It also would be nice not to read about what happened on the Express the next morning. The problem during the storms? Power lines across the tracks. I’m willing to let a lot of inconvenience go in order to avoid power lines so just tell me. Yesterday? I knew before I left work that it was a train derailment, but only because a co-worker saw a report on the local news station’s website.

Most people trying to board the orange line had no idea what was going on. I see in my email today that there were shuttle services that probably would have been a great solution for everybody but saying “shuttle service is available” on the sign doesn’t really tell anybody anything. Say “Shuttle service from Foggy Bottom to Virginia Square is available to anyone, buses leave ever 10 minutes.” Nice, concise, contains relevant information.

All that said, there was no need for me to bother with the shuttles. I arrived at my stop only 15 minutes after I normally do, and really, I wouldn’t call that a major delay. Even though I’m a slave to the bus schedule because I don’t drive to the metro most days, I can say 15 minutes is no hardship. I had three perfectly good options at that point for getting home.

So this is what I’m getting at: good job WMATA. It can’t be easy to deal with down power lines or derailed cars on your busiest line, during peak times. Especially since yesterday was a code red day and more people were on public transit. But neither one of these things actually caused me any problems, in the end, because they were cleared up so quickly. I left work a little later than usual during the storms so the line continued right on to my stop without a delay. And as I pointed out, fifteen minutes late is no big deal when you also consider that a train derailed right before rush hour.

Perhaps if I had been on the trains earlier, I would be more upset about the whole thing, but really the fact that both of these things happened with no injuries and the delays didn’t cascade to ruin the entire day? Thanks, WMATA. I’ll continue to gladly ride every day, wish I could hear the conductor’s announcements more than half the time.

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