- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Metro’s campaign to win riders back to the troubled transit system promotes a slogan that sets low expectations: Back2Good.

Officials for the subway and bus system will brief board members Thursday about the $400,000 public relations campaign.

Documents prepared for the meeting show that Metrorail average daily ridership has declined by about 2.5 percent each year over the past decade, while historic ridership statistics show a drop from a record high of 750,000 in 2008 to 613,000 in 2017.

Metro attributes about 70 percent of its lost ridership to factors beyond its control, such as an increase in telecommuting and alternative modes of transportation. The documents blame the subway’s reputation for unreliable service for the other 30 percent, but Metro officials believe those riders can be won back.

Arnessa King, a Green/Yellow Line rider at the Fort Totten station, said she has witnessed better service for riders since the start of Back2Good in November.

“They’re running much faster,” she said of the subway trains. “They’re not stopping under the tunnels as much as they used to.”

Ms. King, who has been riding Metro since 2003, said the system used to be better. Still, she supports the Back2Good slogan, saying service has returned to its previous level. In fact, it is “a little better” in getting her to her destination on time, she said.

But a Red Line rider at Metro Center who did not provide his name disputed Metro’s Back2Good slogan, saying it was not better in the past.

“It was newer then,” the commuter said. “Dilapidation, a direct product of time and use, has resulted in what we got now — a maintenance fiasco.”

Ridership was declining long before Metro’s SafeTrack maintenance program began last year, but documents prepared for the meeting show the highest ridership of the year came during the week after SafeTrack’s completion on June 25. Metro also announced the first preventive maintenance inspection program in the subway system’s 41-year history.

Three days later, Metro announced treatment of the Red Line with a new waterproofing technique would result in weeknight single-tracking between Friendship Heights and Medical Center, and suspended weekend service between Grosvenor and Friendship Heights until Aug. 11.

The same Red Line rider criticized Metro for not investing in maintenance earlier.

“If you use the maintenance money for anything but the point, years of neglect will always result in inconvenience,” he said. “If you want the truth, you ought to turn this over to the United States military Corps of Engineers. They’ll run it right.”

The Back2Good campaign emphasizes Metro’s improvements. Escalators operate at 95 percent reliability. Twenty-two percent of the wooden crossties were defective before SafeTrack. Now, only 2 percent are defective.

The new 7000 Series railcars go twice as far between delays. The first five months of 2017 show a 41 percent drop in delays caused by railcar problems and 3 percent fewer delays caused by track problems.

Steve Hunsicker, a Red Line rider at Metro Center, said he used to ride every day before he retired about eight years ago. He was not enthusiastic about the campaign’s name.

“If they succeed, that’ll be fine,” he said, citing ways the system used to be better.

“For example, I see a nine-minute delay now in the middle of the workday,” he said, motioning to a platform display board. “I never used to see that.”

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