Meanwhile, Metro performance hasn’t been all that great over the past year and a half. This should be placed in perspective. While I find myself occasionally frustrated by delays coming into work, and the frequency of these delays has increased, the service is, on the whole, pretty reliable. Nine days out of ten, I get to work within +/- 5 minutes of my average travel time (an average which, I’ve discovered, is shorter than the time necessary to drive). We should also remember to measure Metro’s performance against alternatives, like driving. Train delays are annoying, but highway delays are too, and are far more predictable in the sense that they occur every single day. Moreover, Metro ridership continues to increase.
But let’s talk about the specific problems:
During rush hour, about 140 trains an hour are moving through the stations in the downtown core, and one breakdown can quickly lead to backups on the line…
One obstacle to better performance, officials say, is that Metro, alone among major U.S. transit systems, does not have a dedicated source of revenue for capital improvements, such as new train cars, buses and other heavy equipment.
At the same time, the few hours when trains are not running allow little time for track maintenance and other repairs to be done. That’s why such work also takes place almost every weekend and during off-peak hours.
So a regular source of funding is an issue, of course. Just as important, maybe more so, is the fact that Metro is essentially our only significant transit solution, and it’s a solution without any redundancy built in. That is, when a problem emerges on a line, it’s incredibly difficult or impossible to route traffic around the problem, so the entire system bogs down. When the system bogs down, or when portions need to be closed for maintenance, the only alternatives for commuters are cars and buses, which share the same, crowded infrastructure.
The city obviously needs more transit capacity, and so does the Metro system, but what’s really, really needed is transit redundancy–a network with greater connectivity such that commuter flow is smoother, problem management less problematic, and overall transit burden less stressful to the physical infrastructure.
A good first step would be–surprise!–a new cross-town line, especially if that line were built to handle two lanes in either direction. That should help prevent stoppages in the core from rapidly propagating throughout the system. A good second step would be to augment Metro with better streetcar and bus systems, shifting some local traffic off Metro and ensuring the availability of other options should the need for alternatives arise.
I wish that local leaders would use these reports and stresses as a call to action. As I’ve said before, these things take a long, long time to go from aspiration to operation. If Metro is stressed now, imagine what it will be like in two decades.