Metro showing signs of getting "back to good"
Metro customers are experiencing fewer train offloads, better on-time performance, and fewer unscheduled delays as a result of new railcars, improved maintenance programs, and schedule enhancements – positive trends that show Metro is delivering on its commitment to move the system "back to good."
Following the conclusion of the SafeTrack emergency maintenance program in June, Metro customers have seen improvements in Metrorail service reliability. In August, 89 percent of trips (13.6 million trips) arrived on time based on actual customer "tap in/tap out" travel time data. Metro credits the accelerated delivery of popular 7000-series railcars—combined with the retirement of all 1000- and 4000-series railcars months ahead of schedule, fewer track delays, improved railcar maintenance and recent schedule adjustments—with helping to keep customers on time.
"Our customers will determine when we are ultimately back to good, but I am confident we are on the way," said General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Paul J. Wiedefeld. "I am very proud of the thousands of Metro employees who are working day and night to improve safety and service for our customers."
Metro's railcar "Get Well" program -- an intensive maintenance program to address issues with the system's "legacy" fleets -- along with unprecedented infrastructure rebuilding under SafeTrack and an aggressive new preventive maintenance plan for infrastructure, have all contributed to reductions in delays. In addition, Metro is testing new methods to address the issue of water infiltration a historically troublesome stretch of the Red Line.
During the first seven months of this year, compared to the same period last year:
- Railcar reliability is up more than 50 percent
- Offloads are down 40 percent
- Fire and smoke incidents are down 20 percent
- Arcing incidents are down 11 percent
Metro also reported significant improvement in on-board passenger comfort and a steep decline in "hot cars," with HVAC systems performing nearly 60 percent better in July 2017 compared to July 2016.
On Metrobus, new schedules and the increased use of technology are keeping buses on time more of the time, with 80 percent of customer trips on schedule in July. Metro continues to receive 100 new buses each year to replace the oldest, least reliable buses in the fleet with cleaner, more fuel-efficient models that travel thousands more miles between breakdowns.
For customers with disabilities, MetroAccess is currently taking delivery of 207 new paratransit vans, allowing older vehicles to be retired while also expanding the fleet by 50 vehicles (7 percent). Metro last week announced a pilot program to provide more travel options for MetroAccess customers and reduce overall program expense to Metro by enabling customers in Maryland to use selected private taxi services instead of MetroAccess.
Metro customers report their satisfaction and overall experience is at the highest rate in two and a half years, with 72 percent of respondents noting that Metro rail and bus service is "getting better." Meanwhile, rail ridership, which had been declining due to emergency maintenance and a variety of other external factors, finally appears to be stabilizing.
Metro is also reporting improvements in safety and security. Major crime on Metro is down 20 percent in the first seven months of 2017, as Metro Transit Police have become more visible with new uniforms, stepped up fare enforcement, and deployed thousands of new digital cameras throughout the system help to quickly solve crimes.
To improve customers' experience and enhance safety, Metro is advancing several projects:
- Wi-Fi service is expanding to 30 underground stations by the end of the year.
- Cell phone service is now available in tunnel segments on parts of the Red Line and Orange, Blue and Silver lines between Metro Center and Stadium-Armory. Additional tunnel segments are being wired now.
- Stations are cleaner and brighter as a result of initiatives to upgrade lighting and more frequent cleaning.
Metro's turnaround has been driven by the largest-ever annual capital investment in the system. The record $1.16 billion in capital spent last fiscal year, including $700 million in federal grant reimbursements, led to improved track infrastructure, railcar reliability and escalator performance. Each month, another 20 new 7000-series railcars arrive, with 50 of the new 7000-series trains (400 railcars) now in service.
As a result of Metro's aggressive efforts to replace and rehabilitate escalators to like new condition, the average effective age of a Metro escalator is now 10.5 years, the lowest it has been in decades. Last week, Metro completed the installation of the system's two newest escalators at U Street Station. The project was completed weeks ahead of schedule. Overall, Metro, the largest operator of escalators in the Western Hemisphere, has replaced 80 escalators since 2011 and rehabilitated 153 more to "like new" condition with all new components.
Nearly one year into the Back2Good program, Metro's finances are showing signs of stability. Over the past year, Metro has:
- Slashed more than $100 million in spending and ended Fiscal Year 2017 with a balanced budget
- Eliminated nearly 700 positions
- Changed management health care contributions to reduce expense
- Reduced employee absenteeism more than 10 percent
- Cut non-personnel costs
- Disposed of excess assets
The financial market is reacting positively to changes at Metro, which has issued debt twice this year at more favorable interest rates than anticipated; including the refinancing of $250 million of outstanding long-term debt that saved the region $36.3 million in debt service costs.
"Metro is clearly on a path to improving service for customers, and we are committed to continuing the progress," Wiedefeld said.