Let’s Start a Revolution

I’m sick of it. You’re sick of it. Metro has reached levels of critical disrepair. Constant offloads, door malfunctions, closed stations, skip-stop service, etc. have rendered Metro maddening during commutes and essentially useless on weekends and off-peak hours.

But you know what? We don’t have to just sit there and passively take it. There are solutions. Consider New York in the 1980s:

By the end of 1980, complaints about subway and bus services replaced inadequate sanitation as the number one issue complained about to City Hall. On January 8th, 1981, over 1,000 angry passengers refused to leave a Manhattan-bound CC train at Hoyt/Schermerhorn Streets that was ordered out of service due to door trouble. Many complained that they had already been ordered off other trains that had also been taken out of service due to mechanical problems. Police were called, yet passengers refused to leave (and may have been unable to leave, because the platform was extremely crowded). Finally, token clerks handed out free transfers good for other subway or bus lines. The following day, about 2,000 passengers refused to leave a downtown IRT Broadway local that also had door problems and was ordered out of service. However, the crew was able to resolve the door problems and the train continued on its route running 18 minutes late. These were just two of many similar incidents that occurred in the early 1980s, where during rush hours, 25% of the scheduled trains, on average, didn’t run.

But such a revolt is not unique to New York. Hell, we’ve done it here before – and that’s how you get the awfulness of WMATA back in the news. From 1999:

On Wednesday, when Metro ridership hit an unprecedented 617,000 trips and broke Tuesday’s record of 600,061, passengers aboard an already delayed Blue Line train reached the boiling point and refused to obey orders to exit a train with door problems, first at Smithsonian and then at L’Enfant Plaza. It took transit police to clear the train, which is still being examined by mechanics…

When the mutiny train pulled into the Smithsonian Station shortly after 5:30 p.m., it was the first eastbound Blue Line train witnesses said they had seen in nearly 45 minutes.

Now, that particular article goes on to attempt psychoanalysis on the passengers who stayed put, and to get spokesmen from SEPTA, the CTA, and the MBTA to claim that they’d never expect such a display from their passengers…but then again, an authority that actually respects its passengers issues apologies like this one yesterday. 

The 1999 mutiny seems to have accomplished little. But how did the New York one fare? Just ride the subway there. You’ll see how reliable it is.

Next time you’re ordered to get off the train…don’t. Let’s make some noise. Let’s literally take this sitting down. Because I’m just absolutely fed up with it, and I know you are too.

WMATA Fares v. The Rest of the Nation

This apparently got deleted in the recent FixWMATA site redesign, so I’m reposting it here.

We all know WMATA fares are high. Really high, if you’re coming from farther out in the system and riding all the way into the core at peak hours. And that doesn’t even begin to include parking (though WMATA certainly does).

But compared to other subway/heavy rail systems in the country, how does WMATA stack up? I spent way too much time at work crunching the numbers. And here’s how it looks. Keep in mind that these numbers reflect FY12 operating budgets only. So procurement like the 7000-series cars or expansions like the Second Avenue Subway are not included here (these projects tend to include large federal grants and are not generally funded by passenger revenues). As well, I have tried to use FY12 data where available, though in some cases I have had to use that from FY11.

LA Metro system FY12 budget revenues (PDF p. 12) total $4.529 billion. Of that, approximately $2.214 billion, or 53%, comes from dedicated taxes [three separate sales taxes, the Transportation Development Act (TDA), State Transit Assistance (STA)]. Federal and state grants provide another $1.037 billion (25%), while other sources like legal settlements, filming revenues, bond proceeds, etc. account for $940 million (22%). Fares take in only $338 million, or 8%.

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) has revenues for FY12 of $391 million (PDF p. 80). Sales tax provides $201 million, or 51%. Federal funds are another $38 million (10%). $22 million (6%) comes from other sources, including leases and existing capital. $130 million of this comes from passenger fares, for 33%.

Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) had FY12 revenues of $1.6 billion. This includes operating revenues (e.g. fares) of $504 million (30%), $929 million (56%) from dedicated taxes and local assessments, and $212 million (12%) from other sources.

San Francisco is a tricky case, because Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and the San Francisco MTA (“Muni”) are separate agencies that serve a common market (and do not share a lot of services. BART is solely a heavy rail system, whereas Muni runs cable cars, light rail, and the bus system. We can first look at each system separately, and then as a combined whole.

  • BART FY12 (PDF p. 8): $617 million in income sources. $379 million (61%) in passenger fares & parking. $238 million (38%) in taxes and assistance.
  • SFMTA FY12 (PDF p. 13): $781 million in revenues. Parking and traffic “fees & fines” account for $277 million (35%). Grants are $106 million (14%). General fund monies are $177 million (23%). Fares are $182 million (23%).
  • Combined as a whole, that gives the BART/MTA (SF) system: $1.4 billion in revenues. Parking & Traffic fees and fines of $292 million (20%). Taxes and grants for $344 million (25%). $177 million from the SF General Fund. And fares of $528 million (37%).

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) in Philadelphia has total FY12 revenues and subsidies (PDF p.19) of $1.2 billion. Federal, state, and local subsidies account for $737 million (61%) of this, while  $440 million (36%) comes from passenger revenue.

In New York, the MTA has FY12 revenues (PDF p. 12) of $12.5 billion. $1.5 billion (12%) comes from tolls, $4.4 billion (35%) from dedicated taxes, and $1 billion (8%) from state and local subsidies. Farebox revenue accounts for $5 billion, or 41%.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) had total FY12 revenues (PDF p. 26) of $1.3 billion. Fares and passes accounted for $523 million, or 40%. Other system-generated revenue took in $78 million, or 6%. Subsidies and public funding were worth $705 million (54%).

And finally, our beloved WMATA. The FY12 budget (PDF p. 29) has revenues of $1.48 billion. $768 million of this (52%) comes from fares and parking. Another $670 (45%) comes from state and local funds, while $44 million (2%) comes from other sources.

So, in short:
MTA (LA): 8% fares
MTA (SF) alone: 23% fares
MBTA: 30% fares
MARTA: 33% fares
SEPTA: 36% fares
MTA (SF)/BART: 37% fares & parking
CTA: 40% fares
MTA (NY): 41% fares
WMATA: 52% fares & parking
BART alone: 61% fares & parking

Part of this gap between WMATA and peer systems is owing to the former’s convoluted funding structure. It is funded by contributions from the jurisdictions it serves (e.g., the District, PG County, Alexandria) weighted according to ridership and the number of stations in the jurisdiction. But clearly whatever’s being provided is not nearly enough, and has led to an overdependence on passenger revenues and parking. What actually bears further consideration is the separate parking breakdown, as based on the horror stories I’ve heard of using the garages at Franconia or Vienna or other places, that quickly becomes a pricy proposition.

What isn’t in question is that with the semi-exception of BART, WMATA relies on user fees to a much greater extent than many other equivalent systems throughout the country. I shudder at what the thought of reducing fares (and thus revenues, and thus budget outlays) might do to the already-unacceptable service WMATA provides, but for the amount we pay relative to other systems and even relative to the funding jurisdictions with the WMATAservice area, we deserve far, far better. Perhaps those communities served by Metro might think about stepping up and contributing more than the bare minimum for what should be a world-class public transit system.


Great thread here at SubChat (h/t to Kurt Raschke) on the new Kawasaki 7000-series railcars Metro is getting. It led into quite an interesting discussion. In particular, there was one comment that deserves to be reposted here. It gets to the heart of what has plagued WMATA for decades and which the organization still has not come around to: Metro is urban mass transit, not commuter rail. Let’s act accordingly.

Seating capacity IS NOT the issue it was 37 years ago. When the system was designed, any notion that the ridership pattern would ever deviate from suburbs-downtown-and-back and circulating tourists between the Zoo and the monument core was quickly eradicated. (As plainly evidenced by the 2-track construction and routes.) Today, there is way, way more utilization by customers going only a few stops within the District. No one ever imagined there would be attractions and nightlife like Verizon Center or Nats Park. Or that anything east of Connecticut Avenue or south of Pennsylvania would ever become desirable neighborhoods and destinations. The handful of extra seats in a 3-door versus 4-door car configuration is meaningless in today’s reality of the system not being a convenience for suburbanites.

And, as far as there being a car shortage, that was a conscious decision on Metro’s part. You have said so yourself. While the stations were built for 600’ [8-car] trains, the power grid was not and still is not capable of supporting them. Without the requisite power, those cars would just be collecting dust. Oh, wait…there isn’t yard capacity for them, either.

WMATA needs to wake the f* up and get real about the future. I am sick and tired of the constant whining about “there’s no money!” Forget about the master plans from 40 and 50 years ago. Put together a goddamned master plan of what is needed to address the present day’s conditions and needs, and then push to make it happen. Things like 2 new 24/7 4-track trunks coming through the center of town (one east-west and the other north-south, with connectors allowing regular service between them and the existing routes). Upgrading power generation so 8-car consists could run at all times on all routes. Extend the system to Centreville, Woodbridge, Laurel, Bowie, Upper Marlboro, and Waldorf. Implement night-owl bus service that traces the existing subway routes, and key travel corridors to encourage people to use transit over driving.

The reason “there is no money” is that the public has not been engaged. With the green push, and various groups promoting “car free” and “car lite” lifestyles, this is the perfect time to get these things out there for people to make them priorities. The money will come once it’s clear there is money to be made building it.