Why D.C. Shouldn’t be a State: Exhibit LXXVII

WaPo — Short Trains At Night Irk Metro Riders

Higher Metro fares and fees generated the most attention this week, but a more subtle change by the transit system is affecting thousands: It shrank the trains. After 10 p.m. on Sundays through Thursdays — on every line — the subway has cut the length of its trains in half, operating trains with two cars instead of four. Since the policy took effect this week, it has created a late crunch, especially on the heavily traveled Red Line in downtown Washington. At the Farragut North, Metro Center, Gallery Place-Chinatown and Union Station stops, angry crowds have found themselves competing for space on the trains at an hour when most had been accustomed to relaxing their urban combat skills. Those unable to push themselves aboard have to wait 15 to 20 minutes for the next train, as a new crowd forms around them.

“Did they do any research before they made this change?” asked Irena Sadbaraite, a 28-year-old accountant who failed to fight her way aboard a packed train to Vienna at 10:25 p.m. Tuesday at Metro Center. She waited 20 minutes for the next train, steaming. “I can’t believe they’ve done this, especially in summer, when people stay out for dinner and come back late.”

Donald Centner, 23, of Centreville takes Metro to his computer class in Tenleytown every Tuesday and Thursday. It ends at 10 p.m. “It’s a mess,” he said as he waited for a two-car Blue Line train at Metro Center. “Metro service has slowly, progressively, gotten worse. But this is ridiculous.”

Metro board Chairman Robert J. Smith, the architect of the change, said the cash-strapped transit system will save $1 million by running shorter trains late at night when ridership drops off. The average ridership between 10 p.m. and midnight last month was 12,600. The savings come from the cost of supplying electricity and labor and parts to maintain the cars. A Metro rail car can carry about 181 passengers, both seated and standing.

The cuts come as local governments and businesses in the District, Bethesda and Arlington are promoting nightlife and have been celebrating the region’s transformation into a thriving metropolitan area. “We are moving full speed ahead to create a 24-hour downtown and city, and Metro is the lifeblood,” said Joseph Sternlieb, deputy director of the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District. “The right response isn’t to reduce service. Bethesda, Arlington and we are all cruising at 1,000 miles an hour to create good restaurant venues, good entertainment venues. We want people to take Metro. We don’t want them drinking and driving. We don’t want them to have any anxiety that they’re going to have trouble taking Metro to get home.”

No joke. This is rather elementary: The metro area is getting progressively larger, traffic worse, and parking more difficult. This is one of the few places in the country where public transit is actually feasible. Except that it’s managed by morons.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    As with everything else associated with the DC government, they manage to find a way to fuck it up.

  2. Eric Akawie says:

    The trains they need to shrink are the mid-day trains. These often run (especially in the suburbs) nearly completly empty.

  3. jen says:

    As usual, someone beat me to the punch. What Eric said…

  4. Mark says:

    Not that I enjoy defending Metro, but to think this is all DC’s fault is erroneous. The whole board representing DC and the VA and MD suburbs is to blame. If Metro were run only by DC officials, it would be a hell of a lot worse than it is now!

  5. bryan says:

    In my visit to DC, I spent four days riding back and forth on the metro, and I have to say that the parts I saw were pretty well run, and clean, compared to the New York subway, and the chicago el.

  6. DC Loser says:

    The DC Metro is a great system, no argument there. But the problem with it is that it was designed as a medium capacity system and not meant to move large masses of people, which it has become by the sheer number of users. NYC system is a huge system, with multiple tracks, express trains, etc. We have none of that. All it takes to screw up your commute is to have one train break down, or a track fire to happen. And the prices Metro charges for my commute is ridiculous. In my case, my commute from Vienna to DC, including parking, comes out to over $10 a day. And this takes almost 2 hours door to door. I can drive this in 45 minutes – 1 hour at most, and gas only costs me about $3.00 a day. Do the math. Just look at the history of Metro mismanagement, and the recent stories about the delays in getting new cars into service, the theft of parking garage money and the removal of all parking attendants, and the fare increases….all of this boggles the mind. There, I got that off my chest.