Today I read WMATA’s press release on planned work on the Metrorail system this weekend. I live in Silver Spring, towards the far east end of the Red Line, so I was dismayed to see the following notice: “Red Line trains will depart endpoint terminals about every 30 minutes. On Saturday and Sunday between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., additional Red Line trains will operate between Van Ness and Fort Totten, resulting in service about every 10 minutes between these stations.” While I absolutely understand the vital importance of this work, a 30-minute headway is still bad for a ‘rapid transit’ service.
In fact, a 30-minute headway comes much closer to what one would expect from a commuter rail service. But there’s an important difference: most commuter rail services publish detailed schedules, in contrast to Metrorail. A 30-minute headway is hardly a ‘turn up and go’ service, yet not only does WMATA not publish a schedule showing the limited service which will be operating, the press release notes that “[t]he Trip Planner on Metro’s website will not reflect the impact of this work on schedules”.
For me, knowing when trains will actually operate might make the difference between having to wait on the platform at Silver Spring for 5 minutes and having to wait for 25 minutes. In this heat, I’d certainly rather avoid an almost half-hour wait for a train.
In addition, not providing schedules which are adjusted for weekend work leads to a loss of confidence in services like Google Transit and WMATA’s Trip Planner. While the Trip Planner contains a disclaimer reminding users that “Trip Planner itineraries may not account for temporary delays or detours caused by unexpected service disruptions, scheduled maintenance and track work, or adjusted schedules for weekend bus detours”, users of Google Transit and other third-party apps which use WMATA’s data may not be aware that they’re looking at bad data. When a web site or app tells a user that they should expect a train at a certain time and it doesn’t arrive, they lose confidence in the system. They assume that someone, maybe WMATA, maybe an app developer, has gotten it wrong. Discretionary riders may, at this point, simply give up on WMATA and go back to driving.
Of course, it would require a lot of effort for WMATA to update its public schedules (including the data used by the Trip Planner) to incorporate the changes necessitated by weekend work, including bus shuttles and delays due to single-tracking, but the benefits would be substantial. Being able to get accurate travel times from the Journey Planner provides two major benefits: first, riders waiting for low-frequency services will be able to time their departure accurately and keep from waiting on the platform needlessly, and, second, some riders may realize that they’d be better served by a bus rather than a heavily-delayed rail service.