Saturday, July 12, 2008


Anytime you operate a system as complex as WMATA's, there will be problems. With 86 stations and 106 miles of track, the Washington Metro is America's second largest rail system. It also carries the second highest number of riders nationwide. So service disruptions are to be expected occasionally.

While WMATA does have outages more often than I'd like to see, their responses are usually pretty good. I've often heard criticism, however. It is typical for customers to be frustrated, especially when shuttle buses are overwhelmed.

Friday, Metro experienced a major disruption on its second busiest line. For several hours Friday, power problems stopped all Orange Line service between West Falls Church and Vienna. According to reports, shuttle service was put in place to transport passengers to Dunn Loring and Vienna, but it is likely that come Monday, WMATA will be once again under fire for their response.

I think it's time to reconsider that knee-jerk reaction. After all, there's only so much WMATA can do when a situation like this arises. A bus can carry significantly fewer people than even one railcar. Since WMATA can only have a few buses standing by for bus bridges and because they have to be delivered to the site of the disruption, delays are often catastrophic even before recovery can begin.

That's why riders need to have a plan ahead of time. If rail service is disrupted, it is very likely that buses will still be running their normal routes. I have seen signs on trains encouraging patrons to be "Plan-b-dextrous" and have alternates in mind. The only way for you minimize your delay is to find an alternate route which is operating normally. One cannot expect normal service to resume immediately.

WMATA usually does an excellent job disseminating information, although there is certainly room for improvement. In this case, I was on the Red Line. At Metro Center, the operator announced that Orange Line trains would be turning back at West Falls Church. Throughout the system, announcements were being made at least once a minute, and the PIDS displays were constantly scrolling the information.

As a rider, had I been going to Vienna, I could have traveled to West Falls Church and joined in the zoo of riders waiting on too few buses or I could have used a pre-planned alternate. In this case, it would have been the 2B or 2G, both of which operate to Vienna from East Falls Church.

While I encourage WMATA to continue to improve its state of repair and communication with riders, I also encourage riders to find an alternate route today and not wait for the next emergency to appear.

Do you know your alternate route to home or work?

1 comment:

Metro Man said...

My "Plan B" would suck...being comprised of a 2hr bus ride at minimum (which involves a half-hour layover at the New Carrollton Metro Station) :(