UPPER MARLORBO – In an attempt to increase train reliability and consistency, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) staff has recommended service changes that will result in longer wait times on the Yellow, Green, Blue and Orange lines which Prince George’s County officials say are “unacceptable”. Metro staff recommends increasing rush hour wait times […]
UPPER MARLORBO – In an attempt to increase train reliability and consistency, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) staff has recommended service changes that will result in longer wait times on the Yellow, Green, Blue and Orange lines which Prince George’s County officials say are “unacceptable”.
Metro staff recommends increasing rush hour wait times for trains on the Orange, Silver, and Green lines from six minutes to eight minutes, decreasing rush hour wait times on the Blue line from 12 to eight minutes. In addition, Metro has also recommended cutting Yellow line service from Mt. Vernon Square to Greenbelt.
The Yellow line’s car count would decrease from 90 cars to 46 cars while increasing capacity from 74 passengers per car currently to 97 passengers per car. The Green Line’s car count would also decrease, according to Metro’s presentation, from 78 cars currently to 66 cars after the recommendations are implemented with an eight minute headway time in between each car’s arrival. The estimated passenger count would be 86 passengers per car, which is a 13 passenger increase from where it currently stands.
Prince George’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation Director Darrell Mobley said he does not think WMATA gave county officials enough notice of the proposed changes. While he understands what WMATA is trying to do, he said, there needs to be better communication.
“The first I’ve learned of this was only two or three weeks ago,” Mobley said. “Changes of this nature need to be better communicated. These are significant changes and they have a disproportionate negative impact on Prince George’s County residents. In particular, low income and minority populations in the county. How this has unfolded is unacceptable.”
Jim Hughes, a managing director for Metro, said Metro’s plan is to decrease the amount of trains stopping in certain areas to reduce less rail traffic and more accurate arrival times for destinations. The amount of passengers in rail cars would increase, he said, but service would become more “reliable.”
“We want to put things in a state of good repair. That is what we are doing for the railroad,” Hughes said.
Since Metro opened the Silver line, Hughes said, the on-time performance of each line has decreased. All Metro lines, with the exception of the Red Line, are connected, Hughes said, so a delay on one line will mean a delay for five of the six other lines. In addition to Metro’s on-time performance decrease, Hughes said, the use of Metro has steadily decreased by eight percent over the last five years.
“Any type of delay that we have affects five of our six lines,” Hughes said. “So if we have a delay, whether it is something we have control of or we don’t have control of, when we get to the next merge point we have a train that is not in the right time slot.”
The county should be concerned by the elimination of the Yellow Line service between Fort Totten and Greenbelt, Mobley said. Overall, he said, the recommendations will negatively impact Prince George’s County, but other jurisdictions may benefit from the negative service impact in the county.
Prince George’s County Councilwoman Danielle Glaros, whose district includes College Park and New Carrollton, said she has concerns about the communication between the county and WMATA on these service changes. Most of her constituents use the Green Line, she said, and the changes will have a significant impact on their commutes.
“This is an interesting conversation because you are proposing headways that, we believe, are greater than the headways that we need to operate on the Purple Line,” Glaros said. “I’m not sure this is ready to go out to the public yet. I think there are bigger conversations that need to be had.”
WMATA has not taken any action on these recommendations as of yet, Hughes said. Their next step is to determine whether they should take the plan to the public for feedback. That will be determined at WMATA’s next meeting on July 23. If public feedback is positive, Hughes said, the Board of Directors will implement the recommendations starting in September or October.
The impact of the service changes is important to Prince George’s County, Glaros said, because of multiple projects developing around the county. The Metro stations and rail service are essential to their development patterns, she said.
“We are deeply concerned about the fact that ridership has dipped. I think all of us are trying to understand what is going on…we all have greater concerns about WMATA’s operation and are we heading in the right direction,” Glaros said.
Councilman Todd Turner said he does not think that constituents will buy into WMATA’s plan even if it increases service reliability.
“Less trains and more crowded is not a real serious option that we should be considering with WMATA,” Turner said. “I understand the importance of being on time and when you show up at the station there are a lot of things that are beyond your control that may dictate that. But I can tell you that if someone came up to me in the public and said that ‘You are going to get less service and trains will be more crowded,’ I don’t think anyone will be happy with that option.”
Councilman Obie Patterson said that he is concerned that there is only one option being considered rather than discussing multiple options to determine what will work best. In District 8, Patterson said, no one will be interested in less trains carrying more people.
“Less trains would be a time bomb,” Patterson said. “Why is it that a project of this nature and this importance to all of us, we only get information three weeks prior before going out and discussing it? The worst thing that could happen would be to send this thing out to the public talking about one option. I just don’t think it is ready.”
Because of the difficult structure of the line services and how five of the six of them are connected, Hughes said, it is difficult to come up with more concrete options and recommendations than the one that is being currently presented.
For WMATA’s operation, he said, the best option would be for them to operate in this capacity to increase on-time performance back up to their 91 percent standard. Their performance currently measures at 88 percent, Hughes said.
“I wish there were more options for us,” he said.
Councilwoman Mary Lehman said it seems like the way the recommendations are currently structured caters to the Blue Line more than any other service. The blue line would see an increase in 20 cars from 36 to 56 and just an increase of two passengers from 106 to 108. That is more than any other line service, according to WMATA’s presentation.
Overall, Lehman said, it is commendable to want to run as many trains on schedule as possible. However, she said, the issues that have dominated the news about WMATA are mainly about safety and that should be their biggest concern.
“The biggest issues in the headlines for Metro over the last three to six months have been the memorial to riders that were killed on the Red Line, the young man that recently graduated from American University who was stabbed to death on one of the trains, and the woman who died in the tunnel fire,” Lehman said. “So for my personal level of comfort and confidence when riding the trains, I think it would be really good to focus as much, if not more, on safety.”