- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Metro is considering increasing cars in its midday trains after receiving complaints from subway riders about a standing-room-only commute between rush hours, system officials said.

“I have seen myself, and I’ve heard some people say, some of these trains are getting extremely crowded in off-peak as well as the peak,” said Richard A. White, general manager of Metro.

From Nov. 24 to April 12, when ridership traditionally drops, the transit agency cuts six-car trains to four from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the Red, Orange, Green and Blue lines. The Yellow Line runs four-car trains year-round.

According to Metro, midday ridership on Nov. 4, Tuesday, was 125,722. Ridership was comparable on Dec. 9, Tuesday, at 119,274, after service was reduced.

Midday ridership was even higher on Dec. 23, Tuesday, at 131,661. That’s close to midday averages in the 140,000s in July and 125,000 in September.

Jim Hughes, Metro’s director of operations planning, said that as a rule the agency doesn’t run six cars until the ridership reaches the 130,000s. He said ridership on Fridays has been unusually high, ranging from 125,000 to more than 140,000 this month and the previous one. He said the four-car trains are crowded from 9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., the first 30 minutes of off-peak pricing.

“If you went to Ballston at 9:30, you would see people standing outside the fare gates at 9:25 waiting for 9:30 because they get a discount on the fare,” he said.

But Metro officials say they have to think twice about adding trains because of the budget crunch the agency is facing. Despite an estimated $30 million in proposed in-house cuts, the agency still faces an estimated $29 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2005, which begins in July.

Officials said it would cost $3.5 million more to run six-car trains during off-peak periods year-round.

“It’s amazing how expensive it gets, how quickly it gets when you start adding the extra trains into service, because although it doesn’t cost us extra operators, the extra train miles drive power costs, and they drive maintenance costs,” Mr. White said.

But some midday commuters have said that they’ve been so discouraged when they try to get onto an Orange Line train with an average of 100 or more people in a car that they’re going to start driving to work.

Mr. Hughes said any additions wouldn’t happen until spring at the earliest, if at all.

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