Night and weekend transit/subway service: Metrorail edition
I haven't written anything about WMATA's "Safety Surge,"called SafeTrack, the systemwide program for focused track maintenance improvements, resulting in the closure of parts of the system for days at a time, because I just can't get my head around how the region has let the system degrade and get to this point. I've written plenty about the general problems, which more than suffices.
For DC residents, as neighborhoods add population and more local amenities are developed as a result, and with other mobility options -- bus, streetcar, bike, car share, some of the degradation of Metrorail has less impact on day to day quality of life.
But longer term, the city is less competitive, something that the suburbs probably don't care all that much about.
I don't feel like elected officials fully understand what is at stake with Metrorail's failures.
Many comments on the Greater Greater Washington entry on this issue suggests that the proposal is based on the original development of the Metrorail system being focused on daytime commuter services of getting people to and from work -- mostly for suburban residents -- rather than serving intra-jurisdictional travel, especially in DC and Arlington, or non-work or "leisure" trips in the evening and on weekends.
Metro is a two-track system, which means it cannot perform regular maintenance without shutting down one or both tracks. By contrast, the New York City subway can operate 24 hours a day because it has four tracks, allowing crews to take one set of tracks out of service while trains continue to run on nearby tracks.
-- "Redundancy, engineered resilience, and subway systems: Metrorail failures will increase without adding capacity in the core," 2016
-- "WMATA's recent apology and the real problem that isn't their fault: lack of redundancy, bad design," 2013
about how the industry "rule of thumb" that only hyper-large systems with many millions of daily passengers need additional tracks is misguided, that systems with greater than 700,000 riders, like WMATA, needed at least an additional track to maximize service uptime, especially as the system ages and more maintenance of the infrastructure is required, plus train cars fail more.
Conventional wisdom continues to argue, in the face of all the problems with Metrorail, that the two-track system was the right choice. (Note that I recognize this is a theoretical discussion now, because the system would have to be completely rebuilt to add tracks to the existing configuration, although it is possible to rebuild and add lines, in order to reduce inter-lining.)
Especially with train failures, which because of how most of the lines inter-line, a failed train acts like a virus spreading its failure across multiple train lines, degrading service for everyone. Instead of spreading like a virus, being able to shunt a non-functioning train to a third track for removal from the system isolates the problem.
Additional tracks enable extended hours of service. I have been planning to write a piece on planning for late night economies and transit will be an element of the piece.
But the new proposal to cut back weekend service -- which will hurt the nightlife economy in the city and that may play into the preferences of the suburban "partners" who "share" management of the Metrorail system with DC -- also illustrates that subway systems like Metrorail probably needed an additional track and less inter-lining in order to be able to extend service hours, especially later at night, or to offer 24 hour service (something that the London Underground will be doing starting this year, on some lines).
Other cities have "Nite Owl" or late night bus service, operating when their rail transit system is closed. This includes Toronto, San Francisco, Chicago, and London, among others.
This is also an issue with transit service to the region's airports, which don't have 24 hour metropolitan transit service ("More on transporation to DC area airports").
Note that DC does have almost 24-hour service on some of its major bus lines, but the suburbs don't. That means we should be distinguishing between DC and the suburbs in terms of consideration of the provision of overnight transit service when the Metrorail system is closed. Even within DC, parts of the city have way better overnight transit service than others.
-- Night bus map London
-- Night bus map Hamburg
-- Night subway map, New York City
-- Seattle best practice review of overnight bus services (not absolutely definitive)
-- "New, expanded bus routes to provide ‘reliable’ overnight, weekend service," Toronto Star, 5/24/2015
-- Night Tube webpage, Transport for London
-- "Night Tube start date revealed: 24-hour London Underground trains to start in August," London Daily Telegraph
1. If Metrorail cuts back weekend hours, the WMATA transit agency should create a companion night owl bus service.
2. WMATA should create a Night Owl bus service along the route of the Metrorail system anyway. The proposed cutback on Metrorail hours should be the impetus for the creation of a system of overnight bus service for the metropolitan area.
Note that GGW had a post on this issue a couple months ago ("Let's learn from how Montreal does night bus service"). Comments by Mark DeLoatch and kk are particularly relevant to this recommendation in how such routes could be created, in part from existing services.
Note that this really should be a TPB/Metropolitan Planning Organization function. WMATA should be the operator, not necessarily the primary transportation planner.
As an example, the easiest line to put into place Night Owl service would be the Red Line. For Montgomery County Maryland, two DC bus routes start in Silver Spring, and the 30s line starts at Friendship Heights, on the city-county border.
The 30s bus should be extended to Bethesda anyway instead of stopping at the DC-Maryland border, comparable to how the Georgia Avenue and 16th Street lines continue to the Silver Spring Transit Center instead of terminating at the border, traveling more than one mile into the county. These lines could easily be extended northward to provide overnight service alongside the western leg (30s) on Wisconsin Avenue/Rockville Pike and eastern leg (S or 70s) along Georgia Avenue of the Red Line.
It's harder for other lines, but is doable.
3. Overnight service within the suburban jurisdictions would have to be provided, complementing the metropolitan-scale overnight bus service paralleling the Metrorail station network.
4. The overnight bus routes parallelling the Metrorail network should allow "flag stops" so that riders can get off the bus between Metrorail stations, so that they can alight closer to their final destination.
5. WMATA should provide Night Owl bus services for the region's airports, operating when Metrorail service is unavailable to National Airport and Dulles, and later than the current B30 service to BWI Airport, which ends between 10 pm and 11 pm most nights. This service could be staged from Union Station.
Overnight transit service map, DC Capital Transit system, 1946