- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2001

As expensive, inconvenient and unreliable as it is, Metro is nonetheless alarmingly close to exceeding its operating capacity, and may soon be unable to cope with burgeoning crowds seeking to hitch a ride. Todays daily ridership of 600,000 or so is expected to double by 2025, according to transit officials. When that day comes, the Metro Center, Gallery Place, LEnfant Plaza, Union Station and Farragut North and West stations will have run out of room. According to transit officials, it will be worse than standing-room only. In fact, there wont be room to stand period.
By 2020 not so long from now the much-used Orange Line that runs to Vienna Station in Fairfax County wont be able to accommodate a single additional rider. Metro Center is projected to experience a 43 percent increase in weekday ridership by 2025; Rosslyn, a staggering 65 percent. If you think gridlock in the areas transportation network is bad today, you havent seen anything yet.
"Spillover" from an over-capacity Metro will inevitably mean yet more cars on the areas already clogged highways and byways most especially inside the Beltway. But the planned extension of the Orange Line from its current terminus to Dulles Airport (and the masses of people in the booming Dulles corridor tech exurb) will not ease Metros burden.
The increased ridership might be taken as a sign of Metros success and serve to justify major expansions and new operating capital for the system. Unfortunately, the growing gridlock of Metrorail has developed in spite of, rather than because of, Metros wonderful service. The fact is that Metro is not especially well-designed or pleasant to use. One must typically drive a car to the train station, at least partially obviating the whole point of using public transportation. It is expensive to ride Metro (at least $25 to $30 per week) in parking fees and train ticket costs. Thats enough moolah to feed even a 15-mpg sport-utility vehicle a tank of gas every week.
Worst of all, though, is the fact that Metro is not reliable. Delays and breakdowns are common and becoming more so. It often takes longer to commute into the city via Metro than it does to poke along in rush-hour Beltway traffic. And at least Beltway traffic jams have the saving grace of being somewhat predictable. One can usually make provisions to get to work on time. Not so with Metro. As a result, many area workers have made the decision to drive with all the hassles that entails rather than depend on the often sketchy service and swelteringly hot (in the summer) or wretchedly cold (in the winter) Metro trains.
So if Metro actually worked, the problem would be even more acute than it already is. Metro is at capacity only because the areas population has exploded not because people find Metro so appealing to use.
Still, the issue remains: What is to be done? Given that Metro is already here and that, despite its problems and shortcomings, it is necessarily an important component of the regions transportation, steps need to be taken to accommodate the increased flow of humanity. However, this does not mean throwing good money after bad. Making the system work reliable trains, decent planning as regards future stations (e.g., provision for adequate parking) should not be asking too much. And given the growing "popularity" of the system, perhaps the massive taxpayer subsidies underlying Metro are no longer needed, let alone justifiable. In fact, injecting some market discipline might be just what the doctor ordered much better than endless multimillion-dollar subsidies with almost no strings, let alone accountability, attached. Much of what ails Metro can be traced directly to waste and mismanagement. Other metropolitan areas have figured out how to erect viable, efficient public transit systems. Why is this such a problem for Metro?
How this question gets answered will have a great deal to do with how well Metro serves area commuters in the years to come.


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