Monday, August 16, 2010

Where should transit $$$ be spent?

I flew to Washington today for the big conference on the future of housing finance in the US. When I arrived at Dulles, I checked to see how long I would have to wait to catch the Washington Flyer bus to the Falls Church West Metro stop. It was five minutes, so I took it. It costs $10, and takes about 15-20 minutes from Dulles to the Metro.

Once I got to West Falls Church, I waited less than two minutes to catch an Orange Line train into town, so all seemed to be well, until not just one, but two trains broke down in front of us. It took about 45 minutes to get from Falls Church West to Foggy Bottom, a distance of perhaps eight miles. At that point, I left the Metro and caught a cab to my hotel in Dupont Circle.

Metro needs to spend money on maintaining and replacing cars and tracks in its current system; instead it is spending money on extending service to Dulles. There is a dedicated roadway to Dulles that makes bus travel fast and easy. The only problem is that the buses depart every 30 minutes; if they left the airport every ten minutes, they would be an attractive method of connecting to the rail system; such service would also be far less expensive than building heavy rail out to the airport.

The savings, then, could go to keeping curing the deferred maintenance of the current system. Alas, politicians don't seem to think that maintenance wins votes.

3 comments:

Doug said...

Richard, you are right. Metro has been falling apart since you left DC. Maintenance has been deferred so long that the whole system is breaking down. Unfortunately, there seems to be no plan to fix things. No one of the 3 jurisdictions (MD, DC, VA)want to spend money unless the others do first. As you note, there is more political gain in spending $$ on a metro extension, when the same money would solve many problems for the existing system. You and others have observed that a system of buses between West Falls Church and Dulles, stopping only at the places where Metro stations will be built, would be about $2 billion cheaper to build, and easier and cheaper to maintain. Similarly, DC is building a streetcar line, and Arlington hopes to. That money spent on improving existing bus service would be much more efficient and effective. You could have hundreds of deluxe buses serving Columbia pike or Southeast DC, with service every 5 minutus with leather seats and still not be able to spend as much money. But bus systems aren't very exciting to politicians.
When you buy a farecard don't put too much money in the fare card machines. When they give change, they return dollar coins, but the fare card machines don't accept dollar coins as payment. So you will end up with some useless change. Probably another politican's bright idea.

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