Photo by FredoAlvarez on Flickr.

Because Metro is an aging system, the weekend is a vital time for the agency to perform maintenance. But this means delays for riders. And combined with lower train frequencies, it can make taking Metro a less attractive option.

The current financial situation essentially precludes Metro from being able to increase weekend frequencies. However, the agency could make some small, but effective changes which would make weekend riding easier and more convenient.

One of the best and cheapest approaches WMATA could pursue is to focus on making infrequent weekend trains more predictable, when it can’t make them more frequent.

Typical weekend frequencies fall between 10 and 20 minutes, and ridership is much lower than an average weekday. On top of that, engineering work to make necessary repairs often disrupts service and creates even longer waits for trains.

Since Metro on a weekend is closer to a traditional weekday commuter rail system than a subway, Metro could organize its weekend service more like such a commuter rail system and introduce timetables specific to each weekend. Through proper distribution, timetables would introduce a level of confidence in the system that would be extremely useful to all.

Riders would have a more predicable journey, including the ability to plan ahead and forecast their arrival time. Metro would better utilize its resources, by not only avoiding lengthy delays but also through increased ridership.

Additionally, track workers and engineers would have better predictability on the work than can be done, leading to better efficiency in the allocation of resources and a decrease in engineering related costs. Workers could for example perform simple track inspection within an allocated time period without compromising their own safety. Metro engineers might also be able to schedule more single track operations for heavy maintenance such as track renewal without the disruption sometimes seen today.

Perhaps most helpful would be better transfer timing. Proper scheduling would allow riders to make seamless connections at the main transfer stations, especially Metro Center, Gallery place, and L’Enfant Plaza. Currently, riders sometimes get upstairs just in time to watch their train pull away from the platform. With a schedule that takes into account low frequencies and construction delays, Metro could design timed transfers.

If Metro took steps to implement these ideas, riders would see a decrease in average trip time, Metro would increase ridership, and could also benefit from fewer engineering-related operational disruptions.


Allison Davis is this month’s sponsor for posts about Transit. Learn more »

Vincent Flament hails originally from Belgium, and now lives in DC. He holds a Masters in transportation economics and works for a transportation consulting firm in Frederick, Maryland.