Dr. Gridlock

Jun 30, 2014

The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock, Robert Thomson, will be online to take all your questions about Metro, traffic throughout the region and other transportation issues.

Welcome, travelers. My guest today is Metro Assistant General Manager Lynn Bowersox. She's got a railroad to sell you.

Really, her job is to market the new Silver Line and explain why you would want to use it. For this decades-old vision of transit planners to succeed, she must succeed in her current mission.

No pressure there.

I've invited her to take your questions and comments about the marketing and education campaign, and about how the Silver Line will work.

Good afternoon everyone.  I appreciate the opportunity to join you to talk about the Silver Line.  With 27 days to go (and counting) we are distributing information in our stations, publishing a weekly electronic newsletter to more than 100,000 people, and preparing to launch new ads this week that will help raise awareness about the new service.  As a reminder, Silver Line service will begin on Saturday, July 26, at noon with the first train departing Wiehle-Reston East bound for Largo Town Center.  The website for all the details is silverlinemetro.com.  I look forward to your questions!

From Dr. Gridlock: Ms. Bowersox, this effort -- getting potential customers to take a train -- is an unusual type of marketing, but you've had experience with this at Amtrak.

Are there similarities between selling travelers on Amtrak's "Downeaster" and getting people to try Metro's Silver Line?

The similarity is that it's first about the destination, rather than the train.  When a new rail service opens, some number will ride for the sake of novelty, but ultimately, it's about building ridership to destinations.  In the case of the Silver Line, we talk about getting to Tysons Corner for shopping and dining, to Wolf Trap... and from Reston, to jobs in Arlington and the District, for example.

Is this line similar in nature to the MARC, but it just happens to run parallel to the Blue Line in some parts, use the same rails and stations to the Blue & Orange lines?

The Silver Line will look and feel just like the existing Metrorail lines.  There are 5 new stations in the first phase -- 4 in Tysons Corner and 1 in Reston.  The line will serve these five new stations, and then connect them via the existing Orange and Blue lines with about 2 dozen other stations from East Falls Church, through Downtown DC, to Largo.

Blue Line Metro service is deplorable during the am rush going from Franconia/Springfield to the District and the pm rush in the from the District to Virginia. Trains are often running 12 minutes apart during the rush hours.

Consequently, some trains are so crowded they cannot accommodate all passengers waiting on the platforms. Metro claims Blue Line trains rush hour trains are running at 6 minute intervals, which is not true.

Further, Metro states the rush hour Blue Line trains will run at 12 minute intervals after the Silver Line opens.

If what Metro is saying about today's Blue Line service is not true, how can we believe their statements about the level of service after the Silver Line opens?

I understand that this means a change for Blue Line riders and not all will find the change convenient.  Currently at rush hour, the Blue Line runs on a "lopsided" frequency: trains run every 12 min, then 6 min, then 12, then 6...  Once Silver Line opens, Blue Line trains will run every 12 minutes consistently.  It is worth noting that we are executing on a plan that was developed more than a decade ago when the Silver Line was planned/approved.  The original plan called for Blue Line trains every 14 minutes.  We were able to do a little better than that by extending Silver Line to Largo Town Center, rather than Stadium-Armory.

I have a bunch of old fare cards. Now that rides on paper fares cost more than SmarTrip and are being phased out, is there a way to add their balance to a SmarTrip card?

You can do this at any Farecard vending machine at your Metrorail station.  Simply tap your SmarTrip card to start, then insert the paper fare card, and finally re-tap SmarTrip.  You can also visit a Metro sales office (Metro Center, Metro HQ, Pentagon, Anacostia, etc.)

Two questions Ms. Bowersox, Why did the Authority decide not to offer the free ride from a new station to any station in the system. It's been a staple since day one. Why not offer Smartrip cards programmed for one ride, that way WMATA keeps the tradition of free rides and it's a way to get Smartrips into Fairfax residents hands. 2) Will trains be servicing the new stations from the rest of the system to allow people to attend opening ceremonies.

Actually, the practice of free rides has not been consistently applied over Metro's history.  We believe there will be enough interest to attract people on opening day without an additional incentive.  

How long will a commute take from Herndon into the city at 7:30 AM peak rush?

Herndon is part of Silver Line's second phase, which will open in a few years.  If you'd like to check travel times from the Wiehle-Reston East station (closest to Herndon), you can do that here: 

http://silverlinemetro.com/sv-service/

 

Hi Dr. G, So when the Silver Line opens, is Metro going to be able to change the displays (that don't seem to work half the time anyway) to reflect an additional color/line? To show 4 arriving trains? Those monitors only seem to be able to show three trains at once (like at Metro Center). Thanks!

The platform displays (PIDs) will continue to show the next 3 trains to arrive at the station, except at stations served by the Blue Line.  Thanks to customer feedback, we made a change to displays at stations served by the Blue Line. They now always show the next Blue Line train, even if it is not one of the next three trains. This feature provides a key piece of information to Blue Line passengers, allowing them to make better travel decisions, particularly those considering the Yellow Line as an alternate path of travel.  

Has Metro taken into account the crowds and problems on the Orange Line that will be created by running a full week of non-passenger Silver line testing starting July 20th? Orange line trains will drop back to their planned intervals when the Silver line starts, but there will be no Silver line to supplement. So we will have all the bus riders and people that would otherwise be rerouted from WFC in particular, waiting for trains at least 6 minutes or more apart. It will be a long week for commuters.

During the week of simulated service, those "Silver Line" trains will carry passengers between East Falls Church and Largo Town Center.  They will be labeled as Orange Line trains through that segment.  So, that week, stations like East Falls Church, Ballston and Court House will actually see a service increase.  

Hi, What percentage of Silver Line riders do you anticipate will be former Orange Line Riders (those for whom the Silver line will be more convenient) as opposed to new riders? Second, I understand there will be fewer blue line trains; does that mean more YL rushplus trains (2 outta 3 instead of 1 outta 3) from F-S station? Thanks!

About 25-30% will be existing (Orange Line) customers.  The rest are expected to be new riders to the system.  

With regard to Blue Line service, here's what's happening:  Two current Blue Line trains per hour will be converted to Yellow Line trains.  So out of Franconia-Springfield in the morning, trains will still depart every 6 minutes -- as they do today -- but they will alternate between Blue and Yellow.  

wouldn't it have made a lot more sense given the limitations of the Rosslyn tunnel to simply end the line at EFC or WFC and have people change trains there rather than remove service from existing lines?

Silver Line is not just about 5 new stations in Virginia.  It is a regional line that will serve customers from Reston to Largo -- and, importantly, connect the region's two economic centers (Tysons and DC) with a direct train ride.  That would not be as effective/powerful if riders had to transfer between trains.  There are other regional benefits, including customers in the core of the system, who will see off-peak service increase to every 4 minutes between Rosslyn and Stadium-Armory.  

 

I knew the fares went up for my daily round trip from Twinbrook to Metro Center, and I kept hearing figures of 3 percent. That's fine. But when I checked the signs at the fare machines, my $4.95 fare went, it said, to $6.10! Only after staggering a bit did I see that that's the PAPER fare price, and that mine was a dollar less. My question--since most people use the Smartrip, why list the paper fare price? Why not keep doing what you were doing and just say add a dollar for a paper fare card?

You're right that most people use SmarTrip.  We found that people checking the fare tables are mostly infrequent riders and visitors who use paper fare media.  These customers were confused by the $1 surcharge and frequently ended up getting stuck trying to exist the system because they did not include it.  So, by including the $1 surcharge in the fare tables, we expect to reduce confusion and inconvenience for these riders.

Will there be parking at Wiehle when the Silver Line begins service? Driving by this weekend, it did not look like the garage was near completion.

Yes it will be ready, opening at 9:30 a.m. on July 26.  For details, you can visit the LAZ Parking website at lazparking.com .

Hi, I don't ride the Blue line, but every 12 minutes during rush hour is absolutely appalling. That's a potential half hour increase in commute time.

I understand the concern.  I would point out that stations served by Blue and another color will see the same or more trains than they do today.  For example, stations from Pentagon to King Street see a train every 3 minutes at rush hour today.  Once Silver Line opens, they will still see a train every 3 minutes.  It's just that 2 trains per hour that were formerly Blue Line trains will  become Yellow Line trains.  The Yellow option does require a transfer for some riders, depending on their destination.

It looked like a previous question wasn't fully answered. What will the mass transit options be for passengers wanting to attend opening day? Can WMATA run a shuttle from East or West Falls Church?

I believe Fairfax Connector is working on this.  Metrobus service does not operate to Wiehle-Reston East.  We'll post an update on silverlinemetro.com once we have this finalized.

Will the silver line stations ever be closed for weekend track work?

Maintaining the safety and reliability of any railroad requires work, and the Silver Line will be maintained just like every other line on the system.  While the 11 or so miles of the Silver Line are "new," the line also includes some of the oldest track on the system, and that rebuilding will continue.  So, expect that Silver Line service will be adjusted on the weekends -- just like Orange and Blue -- as we advance this important work.

Since the SL will be replacing West Falls Church as the conduit to Dulles, the connections offered have to be reliable and reasonably priced. How will the WFlyer and Fairfax Connector service meet that need?

There will be three bus options for customers to get to Dulles Airport when the Silver Line opens this summer: 

 

1. Metrobus Route 5A will continue to provide service from L’Enfant Plaza station to Dulles Airport, with stops at Rosslyn Metrorail station and the Herndon-Monroe Park & Ride Lot in Fairfax County.  

2. Fairfax Connector Routes 981 and 983 will both provide service from Wiehle-Reston East station to Dulles, with stops at Reston Town Center and the Herndon-Monroe Park & Ride Lot.  Route 983 will have an additional stop at the Udvar-Hazy Center, so customers can connect from the Silver Line to the National Air and Space Museum’s annex at Dulles Airport. 

3. And finally, the Airports Authority will operate the Washington Flyer’s Silver Line Express from Wiehle-Reston East station directly to Dulles Airport. 

"With regard to Blue Line service, here's what's happening: Two current Blue Line trains per hour will be converted to Yellow Line trains. So out of Franconia-Springfield in the morning, trains will still depart every 6 minutes -- as they do today -- but they will alternate between Blue and Yellow. "

Would you PLEASE instruct the train operators to light their lIne markings on their train prior to closing the doors? I ride the Blue from FS, and often a train waits on each side- one a Yellow Rush, the other a Blue. But no markings! As the doors close, then the train line demarcation sign lights! The riders need to know which train is which before the doors close!

Sure, I will pass along your concern to rail operations and see what can be done to improve this situation at Franconia-Springfield.

Why doesn't the Silver line just end where it connects with the Orange line and trains turn around to head back the other way towards Reston East (and eventually Dulles and beyond)?

I believe this option was studied as part of the planning/environmental work that was done before the line was constructed.  Such an option would not attract as many riders, would result in a less convenient travel experience, and would have the effect of creating crowded platforms at East Falls Church.

Commuting daily from Loudoun, I am interested in taking Silver Line into DC. Will there be a special monthly parking rate offered to people like me that live in Western Fairfax/Loudoun and work conventional office hours in DC?

The parking facilities at Wiehle-Reston East are not Metro-operated, but you can check with LAZ Parking (lazparking.com) for pricing information.

From Dr. Gridlock: This traveler's question was in the form of a Twitter message, rather than a submission for the chat, but thought it might be relevant here.

The question from @SheilaDC  is: "Drove by McLean station. Likely traffic nightmare (123).  With small drop kiss&ride & parking. Ped/bike crossings poor! Bus lines?"

The four Tysons area stations were designed to encourage multi-modal connections, including bike, bus, ped.  Some of that will evolve over time, but all new stations will have bus service on Day One.  And I know from talking to people who live in McLean that a fair number are planning to walk to the station.  The important fact that will hopefully prevent traffic from getting worse is that none of the Tysons stations have commuter parking, so as not to attract more cars into the area.

Will the Silver Line opening during the summer months while a percentage of people who normally commute are on vacation help or hurt as the bugs are worked out of the system? Fewer passengers might mean that fewer people are delayed if there are issues but fewer people might also mean that it won't get a real stress test from peak passenger demand.

I think it will definitely help for the reasons you've noted in your question.  We know from experience (e.g. Rush Plus) that commuting habits are slow to change.  It gives us an opportunity to ramp up to full ridership over the next year.

Why the hard cap at 26 tph? The system was designed to run 40tph. If you just bought more railcars, you could run all three lines every six minutes with 4tph to spare. So why not push for this?

There was an engineering-led study about 12 or 13 years ago that looked at this issue.  The study found that the Metro system can reliably operate a maximum of 26 trains per hour (one every 135 seconds) on each track.  While there are certain components of the system, such as certain types of switches, that have a slightly higher design standard, as a practical matter, any more frequent than a train every 2 min 15 seconds would be too tight to ensure reliable service.  

 

The good news is that we are expanding the fleet.  Our new 7000-series cars, which are currently going through testing, will not only replace the 1000-series and 4000-series, but also add 128 cars to accommodate ridership growth (Silver Line).  We are also looking to exercise an option in the contract next fiscal year to expand the fleet by another 220 cars to get closer to our goal of all 8-car trains during rush hours.

When will the new rail cars enter the Metro system, and which lines will they serve?

We expect the first 7000-series trainset to serve passengers later this year.  

We have read before that metro sometimes struggles to get enough train cars in service on a weekday to have full capacity on all lines. Where are the cars coming from for Silver line service? Will it have an impact on 8 car trains on the red line?

We have reduced the number of cars out of service for maintenance at any given time to provide more cars available for passenger service.  This is something we are able to do for a relatively short time (a few months) until new 7000-series cars start arriving.  Any Red Line impacts will be noted immediately by me, as that's my line...

All I hear in response to comments about Blue Line is that WMATA is implementing a strategic plan created a decade ago. Well, guess, what? Things have changed immensely in a decade. Strategic plans are flexible.

Your Board should have been reviewing it each year to insure that the plans made sense based on changes. I speak from experience as a former vice president of operations who developed many short and long-term strategic plans.

I realize that in many ways your hands are tied given monetary and other circumstances. My recommendation would be for you to not to continue to insult your customers by referring to an outdated document.

It only reinforces the short-sighted decisions that metro has made over the last two decades.

The options have been considered, and they're pretty limited.  Consider that Silver and Orange line trains heading to DC can only use the Rosslyn tunnel.  Trains coming from Pentagon and stations south in Virginia have two ways to cross into DC -- bridge or tunnel.  In the long-range plan that the WMATA Board has set, we look to address this situation.   We actually posted a blog entry about this issue earlier today: http://planitmetro.com/2014/06/30/silver-and-blue-line-changes-over-a-decade-in-the-making/

 

You have said the the parking facility is not WMATA operated so that introduces confusion since rates are different and I presume no Smartrip accepted. Why not contract with LAZ to standardize pricing with them getting a percentage and acceptance of Smartrip

My understanding is that rates will be the same, and SmarTrip will be accepted along with credit cards.

Does this mean that, with Silver line addition, whenever there is weekend track work on the Orange line, trains will come every ten minutes instead of every 20 from EFC into the city (since it will be every 20 minutes for Orange, and every 20 minutes for Silver)?

Not necessarily.  It depends on the nature/location of the track work.

I still don't understand why tourists are being punished: forced to pay extra per ride these last few years and now being forced to buy SmarTrip. Something most won't ever use again. They get in my way and I wish they would stand to the right, but tourism is the lifeblood of our economy here and I'd rather welcome them to DC with open arms than fleece them for pieces of plastic they'll never use again.

For a number of reasons, SmarTrip is a faster, more convenient, more secure way to pay.  We are eventually going to eliminate paper farecards, which use technology that predates the 8-track.  This will save millions in expense, have environmental benefits, and result in faster entry/exit for all riders.  We are about to test a new fare system that will enable visitors (or anyone else) to pay for their ride with their credit cards and smart phones, right at the fare gate.

I just wanted to say that I completely agree with the decision not to include parking at Tysons to encourage other means of transport. I ride the Red Line from Bethesda, and I pointed out to a friend living in Tysons who was SHOCKED at the decision not to include parking that no Red Line station on the western end has parking after Grosvenor. If Tysons is ever going to be "walkable," which I seriously doubt can happen, at least not for decades, having a large parking lot for the Metro would have severely undermined that.

Thanks for your comment!

Most of my Metro use is Orange line between Virginia Square and downtown DC stations. Will the addition of the Silver line give me more frequent trains?

Yes, the number of trains through Arlington County will increase from 19 trains/hour during peak periods to 21 trains/hour.  You can see where trains increase/decrease as a result of Silver Line on this diagram:

http://planitmetro.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Silver-Line-AM-Peak-Schedule-Change-diagram.jpg

How often do use you metro and what lines?

I am a Red Line commuter, every weekday, from Shady Grove to Judiciary Square.  I also use the system at night and on weekends, including to Nats games and Verizon Center events.

If the silver line decreases the frequency to every 12 minutes how can you justify charging peak fare for non peak service during rush hour?

Our fares are distance based and the Blue Line is not entirely unique.  For example, a rush hour trip from Shady Grove to Bethesda costs $4.40.  A trip from Grosvenor to Metro Center is the same distance and costs the same amount.  However, service is 2x as frequent between Grosvenor-Metro Center as it is Shady Grove-Bethesda.

Can Metro please provide an update on buses that will be eliminated by the Silver Line and the effective dates?

All Metrobus service changes related to the Silver Line took effect a few months ago.  No further changes are planned for us.  You might also check FairfaxConnector.com for their plans.

I want to thank you all for joining us today.  As a reminder, Silver Line service will start Saturday, July 26, between Wiehle-Reston East and Largo Town Center.  For details, please visit silverlinemetro.com and be sure to sign up for our e-newsletter for a chance to win a trip on the inaugural train!   Have a great day everyone.

Thanks to Lynn Bowersox and to travelers for joining in today's chat. During the discussion, I saw some questions and comments that weren't directly on today's topic. I hope to address some of them this week on the Dr. Gridlock blog, while also giving some tips on getting around over the July 4 weekend.

I'm sure we haven't gotten to the bottom of all the Silver Line questions, and there were a bunch left over today. So I'll also look at those on the blog.

Back next week. Stay safe.

In This Chat
Robert Thomson
Robert Thomson is The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock. He offers therapy for that most intimate relationship: the one between you and your commute. You can read his work on his namesake blog, as well as in the Metro section of The Washington Post.
Lynn Bowersox
Lynn Bowersox joined Metro in 2010 and serves as the Assistant General Manager for Customer Service, Communications and Marketing. She has more than 15 years of executive experience in transportation, including senior leadership positions at Amtrak and NJ Transit.
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