In more obvious news, InsideNOVA ran an article discussing the precipitous loss of riders on transit systems this year compared to last year. While this may be shocking to some, mostly people who don’t understand transportation, it is logical for those of us who have been following the saga of WMATA’s melt down.
SafeTrack, and the host of other maintenance programs ongoing which affect frequency and ease of use, has literally reduced the number of trains on the tracks. Ergo, it is obvious that such a change would end up losing riders, especially in corridors like the Orange Line which were already at peak capacity.
Beyond the literal loss of capacity that WMATA is incurring, there is also the longer wait times that have driven riders away. When you have 25 minute plus headways, and who knows how long on weekends, then the dynamics of why you are choosing transit over driving or alternative means changes entirely.
Transit relies on a three-legged stool of usage likelihood; 1) cost 2) time savings 3) access. In some cases stations themselves have been shut down, removing leg 3 for those riders. In almost every case, system wide, time savings have been reduced, knocking out leg 2 for almost all riders — or at least badly hobbling that leg.
Sure, cost has remained flat the past couple of years, but paying peak fare for terrible frequency is not much of a bargain. With only one, maybe one and a half, legs to stand on, many former WMATA riders have changed their commute patterns.
Why are buses down, too? To understand that question one should consider that much of the bus ridership in northern Virginia is part of a multi-modal commute pattern. Riders in Reston take a bus to WMATA because of low-density zoning and lack of walkshed directly to stations. Riders in McLean, parts of Falls Church, Springfield, Centreville, Herndon etc all do the same.
If you now remove the benefits of taking the second mode of that commute pattern, the train, then the first mode becomes just as obsolete. There is no point of taking a bus to a train which might not show up for a half hour.
A silver lining (yep I did it) to the story is that Tysons transit station ridership continues to grow due to the construction boom that has persisted unimpeded for the past four years. With several million square feet of development directly adjacent to metro stations still under construction, that trend does not appear to be coming to an end.
Whether or not SafeTrack is being managed correctly, was necessary, and all the other much debated topics on this mess are irrelevant. The surprise regarding the loss in ridership should not be a surprise to anyone.
Frequency in transit matters. Usefulness in transit matters. When the system completes — if ever — the overhaul they are currently undertaking the frequency must find a way to not only return to where it was, but improve on the slipping schedules that we all experienced for years leading up to it. That’s how riders on all the various modes of transit will return.