Metro riders group seeks better service on 'minor' holidays

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Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Metro's official mouthpiece for riders is asking the transit agency to provide better service on "minor" federal holidays, such as Columbus Day and Veterans Day, when many commuters still have to work.

The transit agency conducted major track work on both three-day holiday weekends this year, as it has in recent years. But riders complained about the lengthy delays they faced during the morning and evening rushes when they still had jobs to get to on those Mondays.

The Riders' Advisory Council is now asking Metro to communicate with riders better, adjust service amid crowding and give riders a sense of when all the weekend shutdowns and scheduled delays will lessen.

Metro to limit track work for holidays
Metro plans to suspend much of its track work for the two weekends before Christmas and New Year's Day -- during what is typically the lowest ridership month of the year.
The transit agency plans to force Green Line trains to share a single track between Greenbelt and College Park during both this coming weekend and the next, Dec. 29 and 30. That means the Greenbelt stop will be serviced by every other train from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. this weekend.
But all other lines will have normal weekend service, a change from recent weeks when the agency has been undertaking major work including shutdowns.
December has had the lowest ridership of any month in the last 10 years at the agency, except in February 2010, when ridership flagged due to limited service amid days of massive snow and government shutdowns. June and July, meanwhile, have the highest ridership.
"A more robust schedule of track work at this time of year is not possible because a large number of employees and contractors take time to be with their families," said Metro spokesman Philip Stewart.

"We recommend Metro consult with riders, the private sector, and others to find a solution that allows for track work to occur without major inconveniences and hindrances to thousands of commuters on minor holidays," the council said in a report to the Metro's board of directors slated to be presented Thursday.

The RAC is the latest riders advocacy group to ask Metro to provide better service on those days. Montgomery County's Action Committee for Transit faulted Metro for its Veterans Day service, and many riders grumbled on social media sites and blogs.

Despite the criticism, the agency has been noncommittal about changing its ways.

"There are certain projects, such as major switch replacements, that can only happen over three-day weekends. And there are only so many three-day weekends on the calendar," Metro spokesman Philip Stewart said Wednesday. "We are in catch-up mode and need to take advantage of these weekends to continue the rebuilding effort. We are aware of the inconvenience that track work can cause, but the work we're doing is critical to improve the safety and reliability of the system for the long term."

Metro had said it expected ridership would be reduced at least one-third on Veterans Day because the federal government was closed, which bore out with 365,870 trips, less than half the typical 744,000 trips of a normal weekday.

However, riders complained that a Saturday schedule is not suitable for a day when many workers have to commute to their jobs, because they cluster their trips in the mornings and evenings, leading to massive crowding.

Metro did ask the riders group about "possible trade-offs riders would be willing to accept to allow normal service to resume earlier," according to the RAC report. Members of the riders' group plan to meet with Metro's board Thursday.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kytja Weir

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner