Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

WMATA’s latest scorecard gives the agency some good marks for on-time performance, but the roll-out of the Rush Plus program has been more disappointing, officials told the Riders’ Advisory Council (RAC) Wednesday.

Launched in June, Rush Plus added more trains to the Orange and Yellow Lines during rush hour but decreased the number of Blue Line trains. The plan aimed to reduce Orange Line crowding and create more track space for the Silver Line, which will take passengers to Dulles Airport.

WMATA has not been able to transition as many Blue Line riders to the Yellow line as it hoped. Just 14% of Blue Line riders have made the switch, according to a rider survey taken at the end of July.  Passengers who haven’t switched cited an unwillingness to transfer at L’Enfant Plaza and a concern about wait times, said Jennifer Green, a communications officer for WMATA.



Green said that Rush Plus has seen some success. There has been a slight decrease in crowding on the Orange Line and passenger loads declined on the Yellow Line, but are still unbalanced on the Blue Line. In the morning, Blue Line trains are carrying between 86 and 98 passengers per car, and in the evening they are carrying between 96 and 120 passengers.

WMATA even offered riders an incentive to try out the yellow line with a complimentary $5 travel pass. Approximately 140 people participated in WMATA’s “Hello Yellow” campaign.

Rush Plus has received largely negative reviews from riders, and RAC members passed on the message to WMATA.

"All my neighbors and friends hate it,” said Barbara Hermanson, a representative from Alexandria. “People are upset now with the level of Blue Line service, and they’re going to be even more upset when it decreases further with the Silver Line service,” said Ben Ball, a DC representative.

In response to riders’ complaints about longer wait times on the Blue Line, Green announced that WMATA is adding an 8-car Blue Line train during rush hour. Beyond that, she said that the system is “maxed out” in its capacity to send more trains through Rosslyn (the limit is 26 trains per hour). “There isn’t any extra space,” Green said. “It’s all being used.”

RAC members hear updates on labor negotiations, on-time performance

Despite a natural focus on Rush Plus during the RAC meeting on Wednesday, attendees did discuss more than just the early returns on Rush Plus.

Earlier in the meeting, Denise Mitchell, a senior labor relations officer at WMATA, announced that contract negotiations are ongoing with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, the largest of the 5 unions to which WMATA employees belong. Contracts have concluded for 3 of the other unions, Mitchell said.

Overall, things are going well at WMATA — at least according to WMATA. Its Metro Scorecard feature shows that both Metrorail and MetroAccess are exceeding the “on-time performance” ratings set for it, and Metrobus falls just below it, as of June 2012.

Data on customer satisfaction is a bit out of date. The figure stood at 79% for both Metrorail and Metrobus in June 2011, but the agency is scheduled to update these figures this fall, according to their website. WMATA will be conducting additional surveys this fall.

One point of concern: between April and June of this year, the customer injury rate, measuring injuries to any customer caused by some aspect of Metro’s operation that require immediate medical attention away from the scene of the injury, increased for the first time in 5 consecutive quarters.

Visiting students compare RAC to its equivalent back home

Over 30 people were in the audience for Wednesday’s RAC meeting. That is higher than normal, owing largely to a contingent of visiting urban and regional planning students from Ryerson University in Toronto.

Michael Lin, one of the students, highlighted a difference between the meeting and a similar one back home. “It seems less argumentative,” Lin said about the meeting, even though it began with Chris Barnes, a member of the public who criticizes the RAC each month, calling the council a “failure” and asking for the chairwoman to resign. “Even though there are arguments, there’s more respect and integrity to the process,” he said.

Sarah Smith, another student who survived the 2-hour meeting, called it “interesting” but wondered why attendance is normally sparse. “If there are so many issues, why aren’t people here?”

Jeremy Barr is a graduate journalism student at the University of Maryland. He previously worked in non-profit communications and has interned in politics on several occasions. In the last year and a half, he has lived in Adams Morgan, Logan Circle and Mount Vernon Square. Email him at jeremy.m.barr@gmail.com.