Metrorail night hour extension vs. creating a metropolitan overnight transit network
I was surprised to see an article ("Bowser pushes for late-night Metro to boost D.C. economy," Washington Times) about how Mayor Bowser was "organizing a protest" at WMATA headquarters advocating for extending Metrorail subway operating hours later on Fridays and Saturdays.
-- city press release
Before the system's "crash" it did operate later, but cut back on hours in order to provide more time for maintenance and repair ("Plans for Metrorail contraction in the face of London Night Tube expansion," 2016).
Transit as a commuter service versus a sustainable mobility platform that supports placemaking and quality of life: the city versus the suburbs. I agree with the need for longer Metrorail hours, but given the current circumstances of the system in terms of "State of Good Repair," this is likely to be less realizable as DC and the suburbs (excepting Arlington) tend to have different philosophies about the system, which shapes their budget and planning priorities.
To the suburban jurisdictions for the most part, Metrorail is seen a service for commuters Monday through Friday, not a transit service that supports sustainable mobility, de-emphasis of the automobile, placemaking, and the night time economy.
The economic impact of the nightlife economy. As part of DC's campaign to extend Metrorail hours, it released a report on the Night Time Economy ("Limited late-night Metro service is hurting D.C. economy, study says," Washington Post).
-- Economic Impact of DC's Nightlife Economy 2020, Mayor's Office of Nightlife and Culture
Transit as a supporting element for the nightlife economy. The report acknowledged the city's transit mix -- Metrorail and buses -- as a supporting condition.
No mention of streetcar. And interestingly, although H Street NE is a major and growing nightlife district, it doesn't mention streetcar service as an element of the transit mix and clearly the city doesn't see expanding the streetcar network as a priority within the night time economy ("D.C. drops plan to extend streetcar line to Georgetown," Washington Post).
Unlike cities such as Philadelphia, Toronto, and Melboune, where streetcars are key building blocks of their transit networks.
How about starting off by creating an integrated night time transit network? For some time I've been writing about late night transit, which is an issue beyond extending Metrorail hours for a couple hours on weekends.
-- "Night moves: the need for more night time (and weekend) transit service, especially when the subway is closed," 2013
-- "Night and weekend transit/subway service: Metrorail edition," 2016
-- "Overnight transit service: San Francisco," 2016
In DC, the main bus lines run 23 hours/day providing a good foundation for 24 hour transit service, but the suburbs don't have a similar system.
Plus, overnight transit service along the Metrorail line and to the airports is mostly non-existent.
Many cities have created a night transit network with a mix of rail and bus services. Toronto, London, other European cities, and the San Francisco Bay (blog entry) are best practice examples.
And over the years, WMATA/DC have expanded night time service where it is warranted, in particular in the 16th Street corridor ("Along 16th Street, late-night workers are often left behind by overcrowded buses" and "Metro to expand night bus service along 16th Street NW," Washington Post).
MARC train service. While not focused so much on "DC's" night time economy, the MARC Penn Line train runs reasonably late between Baltimore and DC, not overnight though--it used to run close til midnight until budget cuts as a result of the 2008 recession. But Amtrak service does run between DC and Baltimore for most of the night. In 2013, they extended Penn Line service on weekends, which is great.
They used to print separate weekday and weekend schedules, but now they are integrated into one Penn Line Schedule brochure.
VRE does not provide night or weekend service between DC and Northern Virginia.
Conclusion. (1) The night time economy should be treated as a design product: Basically the idea is to treat night time transit service as a "design product" ("Night time as a daypart and a design product," 2017) with the context of the transit system ("Branding's NOT all you need for successful transit," 2018).
(2) Create an overnight transit network: At the very least, DC should be advocating for an integrated and complete overnight transit network, operating when the Metrorail system is closed for starters, but also integrating extended hour service by Metrorail, trains, and streetcar.
I think this is more important than programs to subsidize late night ride hailing trips ("Metro Is Subsidizing Lyft Rides. Here’s How The Program Works," WAMU/NPR), but that can be included.
(3) Branding: And it can start by branding the lines with 23 hour service as the Overnight Transit Network.
(4) Network nodes: Major transit stations, like Union Station, Silver Spring, etc., should be designated as nodes within a overnight transit system. For example, how late night buses operate from the Euston train station in London (I know, I had to take one because my train from Liverpool was way late, arriving after the Underground and Overground shut down for the night.)
(5) Pricing: And to encourage transit use on weekends (and to discourage car trips, including ride hailing), some transit systems offer special pricing, such as low cost all day passes on weekends, or additional riders can ride free for monthly pass holders. This is important, because with larger groups, it's cheaper to drive or use ride hailing than if each had to pay round trip transit fare.
(6) Marketing: If you want people to use transit it needs to be marketed (presuming there is a quality product worth marketing). The overnight transit network needs to be supported with signage, schedules, advertising, and other promotion.
Some best practice examples
The SF MUNI system has had overnight service for decades. Over the past few years, transit agencies across the SF Bay have aimed to create a broader system, called the All Nighter service. They even market it as a network.
When I got a walking tour of "Downtown London" with Ivan Bennett, for design product manager for the Transport for London bus network he made a great point about digital information delivery in bus shelters, how a map of the network could change based on time of day.
London produces a Night Tube map for Fridays and Saturdays, when certain lines run 24 hours. They complement it with a map for taxi stands operating alongside the Night Tube. Transport for London also produces night maps for all buslines with late night service.
A few years ago, the NYC Subway system published a special map for night time services. But they run some subway lines 24 hours. It's out of print now, but they maintain an online version.
Hamburg has two different night services maps, one for during the week, when the rail services close around 1 am, the other for weekends, which is much more extensive and includes a mix of services including certain lines of the U bahn subway.
King County (Seattle) now has 18 bus routes that run overnight, which are focused on but not limited to Seattle.
-- Seattle best practice review of overnight bus services (not absolutely definitive)
Chicago Night Owl printed schedule. The foundation of the overnight transit network in Chicago is 24 hour service on the Blue Line subway and Red Line rapid transit line, complemented by bus services.
DC's streetcar system had an Nite Owl service. Overnight transit service map, DC Capital Transit system, 1946
So did Philadelphia ("The Origin's of SEPTA's Nite Owl Service"). It's the foundation of the current service program, which includes 24 hour weekend service on the Market-Frankford Line.