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Dysfunctional DC Public Transit

Posted: January 15, 2009 in Misc

A lot of people who are not from the DC area assume that being the nation's capitol means we must have a great public transportation system. Between the Metro (subway), the bus system, and commuter rail (VRE in Virginia and MARC in Maryland), we sure have the infrastructure to get people around. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details. Or in this case, the management.

The DC Metro is likely one of the worst subway systems in the country, and maybe even the world. It just takes one trip to Toronto to see how a proper subway system is run, and then you start to realize just how bad it is in DC. The Metro is not only very costly (close to $5 per trip, each way, plus almost $5 to park your car at the subway station), it also has a dismal reliability record. Unlike the subway systems of other cities, Metro only has two tracks (one in each direction) available to subway trains. A track problem, broken down train, or anything like that causes massive delays as trains have to be single-tracked around the problem. There are no pull-off spots for disabled trains. You are also not allowed to eat or drink on Metro, which is supposed to keep the place clean, but it's no cleaner than the Toronto subway, which allows you to eat or drink anything you like. The trains never run on time, and there are always track problems (including floods and fires) to screw up your commute.

And I might as well mention that if you get to the subway station any later than 8:30, there are no spaces left. But you still have to pay to get out of the lot.

The commuter trains aren't much better. The MARC service in Maryland, while better than Metro, isn't THAT much better. At the beginning of 2009 they implemented a 25% fare increase by eliminating a popular 10-trip discount ticket. With ridership at an all-time high, you think they would be happy, but greed is greed and they couldn't resist squeezing every last drop of blood out of its customers. As if the 25% fare increase wasn't enough, they've also started wasting 10x the amount of paper, because each single-trip ticket is the exact same size as the old 10-trip, so you waste 10x more paper. Multiply this by the MARC ridership and you get a significant amount of waste.

And you can forget taking the bus too. Most of the Montgomery County Ride-On buses stop running at 7:30. Since it takes an hour to even get to the bus (with no Metro delays, which is rare), you are easily put in the position of having no way home if you work late.

I don't understand why DC doesn't just bite the bullet and run a proper public transportation system, rather than a 100% for-profit system. Actually, I do understand why. It's all about the bottom line.

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