Metro GM recommends customer-focused improvements to service, fares in FY20 budget proposal
In a move designed to attract new customers and deliver better service for current riders, Metro General Manager/CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld will recommend to the WMATA Board of Directors this week an FY20 operating budget that does not raise fares, lowers the cost of weekend travel, increases rail service, and makes unlimited rail and bus passes even more affordable.
The recommendations include: expanding rush-hours to provide more frequent rail service later in the morning and evening, charging a flat $2 fare for all weekend Metrorail trips, extending the Yellow Line to Greenbelt to double rush-hour service at nine stations, running all Red Line trains to Glenmont to double rush-hour service at an additional three stations, making all trains eight-cars long, and enhancing the value of Metro unlimited bus and rail passes.
Wiedefeld’s recommended FY20 service improvements are in addition to the December 17 elimination of the “Grosvenor Turnback” which will double rush-hour service at four Red Line stations and was approved by the Board earlier this year, along with a separate recommendation to improve Metro’s industry-first “Rush Hour Promise” by crediting customers for unscheduled delays of 10 minutes or more, rather than 15 minutes today, and other initiatives to improve Metro such as the ability for customers to pay for their Metro trip using their smartphones.
“The past year has been about demonstrating to customers that we are getting Metro ‘back to good,’” said Wiedefeld. “Now, we have to get better than good as we work to attract and retain customers. While there are a number of improvements such as pass discounts and automatic train operations that we can do within the new cap on subsidy growth, the service improvements I am including in this budget will need the region’s support and the Board’s approval.”
The proposal will be discussed by the WMATA Board of Directors’ Finance Committee this week, which will consider how to fund new services outside the 3% subsidy growth cap, as well as the recommendation to not raise fares or cut service.
“Thanks to regional leadership that created a dedicated source of funding for safety and reliability capital investments, the Board can now turn to the question of what additional Metro service the region can afford to operate,” Board Chairman Jack Evans said. “There is no question that we need to improve service levels to rebuild ridership, and we need to consider how to do it without raising fares, which has the effect of discouraging people from riding.”
Subject to Board approval, the General Manager’s recommendations would:
1. Expand rush hour service periods. Trains would run at more-frequent rush hour service levels for an additional 30 minutes each morning (until 10 a.m.) and an additional 90 minutes each evening (until 8:30 p.m.). The move would reduce the time customers wait for trains and make Metro a more attractive option for customers who commute later in the morning, as well as those using Metro for evening activities. The GM’s budget does not include any fare increases, and this recommendation would not change the hours when peak fares are charged.
2. Reduce weekend fares to a flat $2 on Metrorail. Under the GM’s proposal, any Metrorail trip on Saturday or Sunday would cost $2, regardless of distance, in recognition of the necessary maintenance and rebuilding work that often affects weekend schedules. The $2 fare creates an attractive option for value-conscious travelers in the region, including visitors. Seniors and people with disabilities would pay $1 per trip.
3. Extend Yellow Line service to Greenbelt. Today, Yellow Line trains turn back at Mt. Vernon Square during rush hours and at Fort Totten at all other times. The GM’s recommendation would extend every Yellow Line train to Greenbelt, which would double service during rush hours and address current crowding conditions at the nine stations north of Mt Vernon Square (Shaw-Howard, U Street, Columbia Heights, Georgia Ave-Petworth, Fort Totten, West Hyattsville, Prince George’s Plaza, College Park, and Greenbelt). During off-peak times, the four stations north of Fort Totten would see an increase in service. Many current Green Line customers traveling to Yellow Line stations in Virginia (such as Reagan National Airport) would be able to make the trip without changing trains.
4. Run all Red Line trains to Glenmont. Currently, some Red Line trains “turn back” at Silver Spring, while others operate to the end of the line at Glenmont. In a move intended to simplify Metro’s service pattern for customers while increasing service at another three Red Line stations (Glenmont, Wheaton, and Forest Glen), Wiedefeld will recommend running all Red Line trains to Glenmont. The proposal would complement a related service enhancement on the Shady Grove end of the Red Line: Beginning December 17, all Red Line trains will begin/end at Shady Grove, instead of some turning back at Grosvenor. As a result, rush-hour service levels will double at four stations: Shady Grove, Rockville, Twinbrook, and White Flint.
5. Expand all trains to the maximum length of 8 cars. The GM’s budget recommends that all trains be increased to their maximum length of eight cars to increase capacity and reduce crowding. The move would also allow Metro to simplify its yard and maintenance operations by standardizing trainsets (i.e. reducing the need to continually add and remove cars to trains).
6. Lower the price of passes. The GM’s budget includes making rail and bus passes a better value for customers in a number of ways. First, the proposal adds unlimited bus trips to all current visitor passes and SelectPass (unlimited monthly) products. In addition, the price of 7-Day Unlimited Regional Bus Pass would drop from $17.50 to $15, and the cost of a 1-Day Pass (which would include unlimited rail and bus) would drop to $13 (currently $14.75) and the cost of a 7-Day Pass would drop to $58 (currently $60) and include unlimited bus, as well. Finally, Metro would add a new $28 3-Day pass providing unlimited rail and bus travel.
7. Demonstrate Metro’s commitment to customers and improve accountability by expanding Metro’s Rush Hour Promise service guarantee to include delays of 10 minutes or more. Today, customers who register their SmarTrip cards receive a Metro credit for future travel if they experience a qualifying delay of 15 minutes or more. In recognition of the fact that Metro is becoming even more reliable, the GM’s proposal would not only continue Rush Hour Promise, but enhance it to include delays of 10 minutes or more. The Rush Hour Promise program is a first among rail transit systems, as it is entirely automated with no claim forms. Customers need only register their SmarTrip card to take advantage of the service guarantee.
The GM’s proposed budget meets subsidy cap restrictions put in place by dedicated funding legislation in Maryland and Virginia. The GM’s proposed service improvements will need to be considered by the Board as a policy decision to receive funding above the cap.
The WMATA Board of Directors will discuss the initiatives as part of deliberations on the operating and capital budgets over the next two months. Public hearings and outreach are expected to be scheduled in early 2019, prior to final budget approval by the Board in the spring.
Metro’s FY20 capital and operating budgets take effect July 1, 2019.