WMATA’s Board of Directors approved several revenue-generating changes and delayed a vote to restore late-night rail service during their December meetings. While considering their next budget, the body approved charging peak fares during extensions to rush-hour service and big weekend events. The Board also voted to increase and extend the hours of parking fees. Restoration of late-night rail service was delayed to January 2019.
All of the changes discussed would occur in Metro’s FY2020, beginning July 1, 2019.
WMATA Board Approves Increasing Parking Fees
Metro’s Board approved the parking fee changes we covered in October. In short, Metro will now charge for parking on weekends and holidays, modify their enforcement hours on weekdays, and target parking fees for drivers that park at Metro stations but don’t ride Metrorail.
Here’s how we summarized Metro’s parking changes:
- Starting weekday revenue collection hours at 7:30 AM, from 9:30 AM
- Charging for parking on Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays at weekday rates
- Instead of regular weekend and holiday revenue collection, charging for parking during regional events that occur on weekends or holidays, such as Presidential Inaugurations
- Charging a “special event fee” for all non-riders during events such as street festivals
- Parking fee collection using smartphone or web apps (e.g., SpotHero)
- The addition of multiday parking rates
At December’s Board meeting, officials amended the proposed budget to work toward giving Metrobus and Purple Line riders the same parking rate as Metrorail riders. Also, some additional notice will be given to drivers that use Metro parking for nearby special events like Largo Town Center parking for the Washington NFL team.
The multi-day parking change closes a loophole in Metro’s current parking enforcement. From our October report:
Metro has three multi-day parking lots (Franconia Springfield, Greenbelt, and Huntington Metrorail stations) where customers can stay for ten days and pay only the one-day rate when they exit. Now, “Metro is proposing to expand multi-day parking to multiple Metrorail stations, as well as to charge for each day of parking.” The fee structure for long-term parking will charge a maximum non-rider fee for the first day and the rider parking fee in days thereafter.
An important note here: Metro has experimented with these parking changes and they found that lowering parking fees does not increase the demand for parking in their garages. So, Metro may lose some revenue by increasing parking fees, but that’s uncertain—and it won’t generate more revenue by lowering prices.
Privatized parking is another issue to follow as WMATA tries to maximize the revenue generated from their parking inventory and other real estate holdings. The Board may sell off these assets or partner with a private operator.
Expect to Pay More for Metrorail During Big Events
As we wrote in October, Metro provides rush-hour service levels during many events over weekends and other off times:
These events bring in such a crush of riders that peak-level rail service is needed. Since these events occur outside of or longer than the normal rush hour, Metro takes on additional costs for the extra service. Service increases mean higher operating costs, like electricity to run the trains and specialized extras like increased Transit Police presence. To cover these increase costs, Metro wants to charge “peak fares during peak service hours on regional event days (or portions of those days, as appropriate), whether the day occurs on a weekday, weekend or holiday.”
The Board voted in December to charge peak fares during those special events.
Extensions to Rush-Hour Rail Service Could Charge Peak Fares
WMATA’s Board amended the proposed budget to include the possibility of peak fare enforcement during the additional rush hour service Board Director Weidefeld put in his annual budget. Metro is discussing pushing peak service to 5 AM - 10 AM from 5 AM - 9 AM (extra 60 minutes). In the evenings, peak service would go to 3 PM - 8:30 PM from 3 PM - 7 PM (additional 90 minutes).
This seems equitable—peak fares for peak service—but it takes time for peak-level service to ramp up throughout the system. This means boarding at 5 AM, and 3 PM gets you sub-peak service for peak prices. “It currently takes hours to ramp up service for weekday rush, and several hours to ramp it back down, all while people are paying rush hour fares even if they’re getting less than rush hour service,” said James Pizzurro lead developer for DC’s MetroHero app.
Metro Preparing for Summer 2019 Yellow and Blue Line Shutdown
Metro’s Board and public stakeholders discussed summer 2019’s Yellow/Blue Line shutdown. The shutdown beings May 25th, 2019—before Memorial Day—and ends September 2nd, 2019—on Labor Day.
The recent 2-week shutdown along this stretch and summer 2018’s Red Line shutdown produced some lessons:
“[Metro Assistant GM Lynn] Bowersox says WMATA learned after the Red Line shutdown that riders want better/bigger signage and more realistic bus shuttle travel times, among other items. … ‘our customers who ride rail exclusively are not familiar with the bus system,’ [said Bowersox]”
“WMATA could start by folding shuttle bus times into their public schedule and real-time data so that apps can show timetables and estimates.”
“Metro’s Lynn Bowersox: What do riders need to know and when? Says good that 2/3 Red Line riders knew of last summer’s shutdown, but want to do more explaining why [there’s a shutdown]. … Of the limited respondents in [the] survey, many knew that shutdown is coming next summer, and 39% have already looked into travel alternatives. Metro believes most others won’t until spring. … The ways #WMATA riders actually hear of disruptions is word of mouth, handouts or signs at stations, or media. [She] believe[s] regular rail riders don’t know of the bus options that could help them.”
“Bowersox: Riders who teleworked temporarily did return to the system. Also learned that WMATA riders want better, more signs and realistic expectations for shuttle bus travel times.”
Other things Metro officials indicated about the 2019 Yellow/Blue closure:
“There are no dedicated bus lanes planned for next summer’s shutdown, for various reasons + agency involvement (WMATA, VDOT, NPS, DDOT, etc.).” This is because WMATA shuttle buses don’t have the right equipment to use BRT lanes.
“#WMATA plans a series of shuttle buses that they expect to carry about 60% of usual ridership. Details here, but includes shuttles Huntington/Franconia to Pentagon and local shuttles among closed stations.”
“Bowersox: WMATA riders also want better shuttle bus services. … WMATA doesn’t want everyone taking shuttle buses, hope to spread them across other options … Metro’s Regina Sullivan: Buses won’t be enough. Working on increasing telework options during period, hoping to get some extra bus lanes in place; want commitments from local govs by January.”
“Bowersox: Looking at discounts to get people back after shutdown. WMATA has awarded a construction contract. Plan in early spring to reach out to riders about shutdowns.”
Metro Punting on Late Night Service Decisions Until Early 2019
Restoration of late-night Metrorail service was the first and most combative issue discussed at December 2018’s WMATA Board Hearings. If nothing happens, Metro will restore their late night close and earlier morning open on weekends, plus an extra 30 minutes on weeknights. The existing plan had been a temporary reduction in hours to perform maintenance that had long been delayed throughout the system.
To make Metrorail safe and reliable again, WMATA had to cut back hours. A temporary, if troublesome change. Metro officials, however, put a resolution on the Board agenda to extend the limited hours for another year—through June 2020 at least. Their argument presented at the December Board meetings was that they needed more time to complete the maintenance that is already improving Metrorail safety and performance.
Metro has made itself BACK2GOOD with maintenance during SafeTrack closures and this overnight work, as well as the 2018 Red Line stoppage in NE DC. The long-term closures in 2019 through 2021 [Page 17 of PDF] will add to this upkeep catch-up. On top of those long-term closures, Metro staff says they need to keep late-nights for “wrench time” to complete projects as much as 82 percent and as little as 22 percent completed.
The debate kicked off with Jack Evans’ gambit: a veto-threat backed by DC officials (elected and appointed) as well as elected officials in Montgomery and Prince George’s County. Board Members representing Maryland and Virginia, appointed by their respective Governors, opposed the return of late-night service.
Metro staff insisted that they need more time to restore the rail system to proper working order, but they’ve had a lot of time already with SafeTrack, a decade or more of weekend and evening single tracking, and their upcoming capital improvement closures. Metro threatens delayed improvements if late-night service returns, but they constructed a straw man insisting that returning to the late operations means also returning to the old, unsafe and habitually delayed maintenance.
Other than data-barren slideshows, Metro doesn’t publically document their maintenance progress. They approach the Board and DC commuters with an ultimatum—reduced service that harms the community —and little explanation. Metro won’t say when they’ll be done compromising rider experience and, when pushed for accounting, they wave the patronizing flag of rider safety.
But, maintenance is forever. DC commuters endure single tracking and station closures for the big stuff like platform overhaul. Metro offers little proof that they will ever stop needing late nights for regular repair and few signs they perform a cost-benefit analysis including harms to commuters. Why won’t Metro release a plan late-shift workers can hold them to?
Alternatives to late-night closures were discussed, and they entered into the bizarre. Board members suggested Metro close during the middle of the day for repairs, then open again for the evening commute and stay open through late-night.
The debate during the actual Board meeting was probably just the start of the late-night hours issue. The Board tabled the vote on the actual resolution until their January meeting. Gridlocked debate and inaction on this issue mean a restoration of late-night hours, so Jack Evans holds a strong negotiating hand with his veto threat so long as it stands.