Home U.S. Transit SystemsWMATA The WMATA’s very bad, no good, worst case week

The WMATA’s very bad, no good, worst case week

by Benjamin Kabak

Years of trouble plaguing Washington, DC’s WMATA reached another crescendo earlier this week when one person died following a smoke incident aboard a yellow line train. Carol Glover succumbed to smoke inhalation after rescuers took over 40 minutes to reach a train stranded in the tunnel only a few hundred feet from L’Enfant Plaza, and over 80 other passengers were hospitalized. For an agency plagued with operations issues, safety concerns and very tight finances, it was yet another reminder of the WMATA’s precarious position.

According to preliminary reports out of DC and the NTSB, the incident involved an electrical malfunction inside the tunnel, and while firefighters responded, according to DC’s mayor, “within the time frames that are customary,” they waited to enter the tunnel. The delay proved deadly for Glover, and footage from the incident shows a dark and disabled train filled with smoke. It was a tragedy that creates its own bad press.

In the aftermath, coverage has focused on both short-term perceptions surrounding the WMATA and the long-term need to emphasize culture. Here’s Aaron Wiener on the former:

In an informal Washington Post poll yesterday, nearly half of respondents said they would reconsider how often they ride Metro. Variants of “I’m done with Metro” proliferated on Twitter. It’s a sensible enough position. Metro has a reputation for shoddy service and a history of not learning from its mistakes, including with this incident, apparently caused by an “electrical arcing event” of the sort that has routinely plagued the system of late. Why should we reward such a poorly run enterprise with our business, or place our lives in the hands of a system we can’t trust?

Understandable though it may be, this is exactly the wrong way to respond to the latest tragedy. If we really want to fix what’s broken with Metro, we should start riding it more, not less…

The fact is, if we want Metro to work better, we have to ride it more. Nearly 60 percent of Metro’s daily operational costs are funded by fares and other revenue. And that revenue is threatened. Ridership dropped slightly during the recession, then suddenly plummeted in the past two years, down to 2005 levels. There are a number of factors—more people are telecommuting or getting to work by bike or bus—but the effect is clear. Fewer riders means bigger fare hikes to cover costs, which in turn will likely mean fewer riders. It’s a vicious cycle we don’t want to get caught up in.

As Wiener explores, for some reason, ridership on the Metro has cratered over the past few years, and it’s now at 2005 levels. The WMATA is facing a multi-billion-dollar budget gap that makes the MTA’s fiscal difficulties look like pennies, and it can’t drum up consistent support for the politically schizophrenic Maryland and Virginia suburbs. It’s the MTA’s worst case scenario writ small.

Meanwhile, other commentators were quick to point out how much safer transit is than driving. That’s of no consolation to Ms. Glover’s family, but even as passengers grow weary of transit after high-profile incidents, these incidents gain headlines precisely because they are rare. Now, it’s easy to make the case that fatalities on rail systems are generally 100% unavoidable. This week’s wasn’t even caused by the rolling stock that the NTSB hates; it was electrical. But transit remains very safe:

In 39 years of service, the total number of passengers killed while riding on Metro rail cars is 12. Now compare that to the fatalities in cars, trucks and motorcycles in a single year — 145 deaths in 2013, in the District and the suburban counties that Metro serves…

A new, peer-reviewed academic study published in the Journal of Public Transportation casts light on the first point. It reports that the rate of passenger fatalities in cars and light trucks is 30 times as high as for travel by subway or light rail. It was based on data in the United States from 2000 to 2009.

Even with these numbers, without the culture of safety, passengers are not comforted by statistics. Metro needs to realize a new culture without enough fiscal or political support. Here, in New York, the MTA is working to do something similar, but they don’t have nearly the same track record of mistakes to overcome. If we aren’t careful, though, DC serves as a lesson. It’s New York’s dystopian transit future if no one takes care of the system.

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Boris January 16, 2015 - 12:23 am

WMATA should lower fares, not raise them, to become more competitive and match the deteriorating quality of their product. The New York subway is an unbelievable bargain, compared to Metro.

Chris C January 16, 2015 - 5:47 am

” lower fares, … , to become more competitive “?

competitive against who?

And like in many metro systems it has been the lack of fare increases in the past that have led to reduced funds for maintenance and improvements.

Sympathies to the family of the deceased and those injured.

JJJJ January 16, 2015 - 12:13 pm

Competitive against uber and friends. If youre in a group, its cheaper – and faster- to split a cab, off peak

You’re also competing with the option of not taking a trip at all

Tower18 January 16, 2015 - 12:29 pm

Some of that is structural…DC’s Metro was never built with 1-3 station trips in mind. Frankly, neither was New York, but at least you can do it without thinking if you have an unlimited, which is outrageously expensive in DC.

If you’re traveling within the confines of NW, or something, you’ll never make the subway competitive with Uber for a group…same with NY’s subway. I’m not sure this should be the goal. And if you’re traveling from inside to outside the district, or vice versa, Uber has its own drawbacks.

The subway will never be competitive with cabs, etc, for short trips for groups. I don’t know if you can correct this by adjusting the subway fare. Chicago charges extra for additional passengers in cabs, so that’s one way of doing it…but I don’t know if that’s a good idea either.

Eric January 18, 2015 - 11:44 am

WMATA’s trains are full, which suggests they should raise fares rather than lower them.

adirondacker12800 January 18, 2015 - 12:12 pm

And how are people then supposed to get to work? Wait for Tinkerbell to flit by and hitch a ride? Gotta keep the fares lower than the cost to park in DC. Because people don’t consider the costs of driving on short commutes other than gas and parking.

AG January 18, 2015 - 1:04 pm

Actually Eric – their ridership is declining:


John-2 January 16, 2015 - 12:56 am

WMATA”s almost 40 years old, and if you’ll remember, the New York City subways system was only a few years older when the city had to pretty much take all the original bond money from the 1950 Second Avenue Subway plan and put it into keeping the existing system going.

WMATA’s middle aged, and it doesn’t matter how futuristic (and not New York City-like) they designed their stations to look for the passengers, it needs a serious infusion of cash for preventive maintenance work. Add to that the depth of the tunnels and stations means the system is far more reliant on mechanical apparatus to both vent the system and get passengers to and from the street, and the public in the District, Maryland and Virginia are going to have to decide if they want to have a few good-looking new additions offset by the failure of the rest of the system, the same way by the mid-1970s a few new or rehabbed stations in New York did little to hide the overall decay.

Larry Littlefield January 16, 2015 - 9:49 am

Which gets right back to the bad idea of funding ongoing normal replacement with debt. Ongoing normal replacement is an ongoing cost. If you fund it with debt you go broke. If you don’t do it, your system collapses.

You have 40 or 50 years to build your system, before you have to go back and start rebuilding. Americans don’t get that. As a result, the disaster that was urban infrastructure in 1980 is now showing up in the suburbs, and in in city infrastructure built in the 1950s through 1980s.

The only one time expense in infrastructure is the land it sits on, or the holes it runs through.

lawhawk January 16, 2015 - 10:12 am

Infrastructure has a design life; and people seem to be okay with it when it comes to roads and bridges. Sure they bitch about it, but when you extend it to mass transit, it seems that no one wants to pay for it, even though it moves people far more efficiently and lets urban areas develop into metropolises with higher population densities than otherwise possible.

Part of the problem is that new infrastructure means ribbon cutting. Rehabbing existing infrastructure? Not so much. Not as much glamour as when you build something new.

Maybe that has to change, along with the time it takes to build out infrastructure, or to rehab infrastructure. Make sure projects get done within a time frame that politicians can get behind because they’ll still be office when they’re completed, instead of letting someone else grab the credit.

SEAN January 16, 2015 - 11:08 am

When Metrorail was new it changed how the DC area was viewed. Bethesda, Rockville, Alexandria, Silver Spring & Arlington grew rapidly & they still are growing to this day – Arlington in particular.

This unfortunate circumstance is compounding another problem namely the rollback of the federal transit benefit from $245 to $130. This is causing riders to only use the system for half a month.

al January 16, 2015 - 11:39 am

The tunnels have a lifespan too. In soft soils, its on the order of 125-150 years. It has to do with corrosion and chloride attack on steel and concrete, carbonation on concrete, and fatigue on the tunnel structure. The tunnel beams, girders, ceilings, walls, columns, and concrete sub floor in cut and cover tunnel boxes all decay (though at different rates). Tubes in soft roil, like the North River Tunnels deflects every time a train runs through (and in fact rise and falls against the tides). Its longer in rock tunnels, with hard rock tunnels the longest. Thus there is an expensive rebuild/replace cycle (~2030-2095) on the horizon.

John-2 January 16, 2015 - 11:45 am

Infrastructure maintenance suffers from the ‘Robert Moses’ problem — Moses loved bridges over tunnels (let alone subways) because the public could see the new bridges every day. He considered tunnels and their wall tiles nothing more than vehicular bathrooms, buried in the ground where no one could see them or praise their creator(s).

Preventive maintenance is the same thing — What the public can see inside the subway tunnels is mainly the stations and the railcars, but there’s far more to preventive maintenance that just that. But the vents, signals, rails, power stations, etc., are out of sight, and for an area that hasn’t experienced system collapse, not worth spending money on in the public’s eyes until the system all but stops working, as was the case in New York in the late 70s and early 80s, after a decade of the MTA trying to fool the public by simply painting the railcars over and over and over again while the mechanical aspects of the system fell apart (an event that can easily happen again if the lessons of 35 years ago are forgotten).

Larry Littlefield January 16, 2015 - 12:03 pm

If you look at the system I’m most familiar with, signals, replacement was proceeding at a steady rate until the 1970s. At a 60 year pace. As soon as they finished building, they started rebuilding.

They stopped for a decade in the 1970s. That’s all it took to start a downward spiral. That and deferred and inadequate maintenance, which shorted lifespans.

“Infrastructure has a design life; and people seem to be okay with it when it comes to roads and bridges.”

I doubt the suburbs and Sunbelt are in any way prepared for the blizzard of deterioration that awaits them. They may find that they aren’t OK with that at all.

Quirk January 16, 2015 - 2:56 pm

“I doubt the suburbs and Sunbelt are in any way prepared for the blizzard of deterioration that awaits them. They may find that they aren’t OK with that at all.”

Which city are you referring to? Or is it lots of them?

Bolwerk January 17, 2015 - 11:28 am

It’s the whole country. It’s not even a contingency at this point; it’s happening. Many older suburbs are turning slummier, even as many cities renew.

Sunbelt settlements happen to be among the newest, but they’re also the most institutionally incapable of coping with…well, anything.

Quirk January 17, 2015 - 7:31 pm

Thank you for the answer.

Nathanael January 17, 2015 - 11:42 pm

1950s construction is also notably cheaper and junkier than earlier construction. This is also when many of the auto suburbs started being built. So they’re falling apart *really* fast, and pretty much all simultaneously.

adirondacker12800 January 18, 2015 - 12:35 am

And the Tappan Zee bridge, which has come up in other threads recently, was built on the cheap. Especially in places where they could substitute wood for reinforced concrete. Steel was in short supply because of the Korean War.

SEAN January 18, 2015 - 12:41 pm

First tier suburbs in many cases were built around rail lines. Second tier ones were built post WWII & filled out around 1970 or so. These second gen burbs were auto centric & could only last if oil was cheap & plentiful .

Spendmor Wastemor January 16, 2015 - 5:54 pm

You’re missing the facts on the ground. What’s going in is that employees and the managers that hired them have a GFY attitude toward the public an towards their job. Same as the fireman who “didn’t know” that he should respond when notified that a person was having a heart attack across the street from the firehouse.

On the incident train, complete strangers with zero first responder training and zero pay worked CPR on the dying lady; she might have made it if the WFD had walked a few steps to the train.
There’s a wide walkway along the tunnel wall should they be afraid to walk the trackbed, or they could have radio’d train ops and said “don’t move the train, we’re walking in the tunnel”. It’s also a 5’6″ rail gauge, so it’s rather easy to stay away from the 3rd rail.

Would it really have killed the control room folks to power on one of the huge exhaust fans in the tunnel? They knew the exact location of the train (they had radio contact with the train operator) and had emergency fans available on BOTH ends of the train, so smoke could have been drawn away and not through it.
Remember that the system was designed during the Cold War; there are huge steel blast doors in some (all?) of the stations, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are old filter housings (probably never maintained) in the air intakes.

Try asking them for records of the last fire and evac drill that station.

“They didn’t throw enough money at it” is not an excuse for the attitude shown here.

John-2 January 16, 2015 - 6:49 pm

Turning the computerized-from-the-start WMATA into a make-work patronage mill may have been doable when the system was new, because less preventive maintenance was needed. But now the oldest parts of the Red Line and the Orange/Blue/Silver lines are the same age as the IRT Contract 1 line was by 1942, or more telling, where the IND Sixth Avenue line was by 1979. And lots of people can remember what the MTA had let the system, including the Sixth Avenue line, deteriorate to by 1979.

If WMATA is simply hiring people just to make higher-ups happy, and is full of people with no concern about their customers, the system is going to continue to be rife with problems, even if additional funding for preventive maintenance is pumped into the authority’s coffers.

Bolwerk January 19, 2015 - 11:44 am

Rent-seeking isn’t even *that* big a problem in NYCTA Subway operations. It happens, but as much as it does there are other cultural problems like NIH and “well, that’s the way it’s always been.” It’s a bigger problem with the bus network, and a bigger problem still with the LIRR.

WMATA may be showing signs of capital deterioration. The system is going on 40 now, which means that much of the original plant is nearing EOL. They probably really aren’t getting enough financial support. For some reason it’s more kosher to let systems slide into a deteriorated state than to admit they need more support. Which do you suppose is more expensive in the long run?

But if spendmoarrrrr had a grip on the “the facts on the ground,” he’d probably have noticed WMATA (somewhat regular user here!) is standard gauge. :-O

sonicboy678 January 19, 2015 - 12:32 pm

Actually, WMATA is slightly narrow gauge (1,429 mm as opposed to the standard 1,435 mm, or 4 ft 8.25 in as opposed to 4 ft 8.5 in).

Bolwerk January 19, 2015 - 1:29 pm

Oh, interesting. Well, either way, close enough to let my point stand.

adirondacker12800 January 19, 2015 - 1:31 pm

Standard gauge has some slack in it and depending on track class the slack can be a lot more or lot less.

Brooklyn Cowbell Guy January 16, 2015 - 10:35 am

I wonder if the tunnels being so deep affect rescue efforts? I’ve had to evacuate from the IRT twice & being so close to the surface, it didn’t seem so smokey.

John-2 January 16, 2015 - 11:49 am

Mr. Parson’s decision 115 years ago to put his subway just 1-2 levels below the street meant the IRT (and later most of the BMT and IND) could be at least partially vented by just poking holes in the sidewalk and the walls of the subway tunnels and putting vent grates over the openings.

Deep tunnel lines like most of WMATA (or the impending SAS) can’t do that, and have to have more mechanical ventilation systems involved. That’s fine as long as the systems are maintained and the people working for the system know how to handle the system in an emergency.

JJJJ January 16, 2015 - 12:15 pm

The area where it happened is not deep actually. One regular escalator to mezzanine, one slightly longer escalator to surface.

JJJJ January 16, 2015 - 12:12 pm

“As Wiener explores, for some reason, ridership on the Metro has cratered over the past few years, and it’s now at 2005 level”

24 minute headways on weekends and evenings are to blame. Bless your soul if you have a transfer.

Last time I went to DC I was foolish enough to forget. I quickly walked from my amtrak train to the red line, to be met by a large maintenance vehicle on one track. Naturally, they were single tracking, like they always are. I should have rented a bike.

Combine that with extremely cheap, or free parking in downtown DC on evenings or weekends, which is very easy to find, and it’s no surprise.

My friends that live in DC no longer use the metro for leisure travel. It takes too long. It’s now cabi, uber, circulator, walking or staying home. Strictly for commuting, which is the only time the system tends to work.

Except for last week when the cold causes 2 hour delays due to cracked rails.

It doesnt help that the fares are priced for federal commuters, who get some reimbursement. If youre a group of 3, on a weekend, it’s cheaper to split a cab.

Sunny January 16, 2015 - 2:02 pm

New York has tons of weekend trackwork. Line shutdowns and shuttle busings, detours and other forms of trackwork take place almost every single weekend. We also have midday work, and extensive night work. The inconveniences posed by this trackwork are not trivial by any means.

Yet weekend, night, and off peak ridership continues to grow, and is now at some of the highest numbers it’s ever been.

Why so different in DC?

JJJJ January 16, 2015 - 2:09 pm

Are headways in NYC ever 24 minutes during a Saturday afternoon or “light holiday” aka MLK?

And in NYC it’s easy enough to walk an avenue over and take a parallel line. Thats not an option in DC.

sonicboy678 January 16, 2015 - 6:54 pm

Depending on the G.O., yes, you may find a route with 24-minute headway.

adirondacker12800 January 17, 2015 - 2:05 am

Metro is two tracked everywhere? Metro curls up and takes a nap every night? Outside of business hours there is no traffic to speak of and parking is cheap? there aren’t any rivers with tolls? at least on the Maryland side?

Fbfree January 16, 2015 - 8:05 pm

On what line do they have 24 minute frequency in the evening? I don’t see it on their schedule. Is it rather a schedule reliability problem?

Alex B. January 16, 2015 - 10:42 pm

The challenges are with the weekend track work. See this press release from a few weeks ago as an example of the kind of weekend service changes:


Jason January 16, 2015 - 2:29 pm

One of the reasons for the 24 minute headway in DC is due to the fact that Metro was only built with two tracks and no express lines like the NYC subway system. There is no way to express track a line when performing maintenance on a ‘local’ line.

I suppose the decision to build the system like that was simply a matter of cost.

Simon January 16, 2015 - 3:42 pm

It’s also the norm pretty much everywhere outside NYC.

adirondacker12800 January 17, 2015 - 8:24 pm

The El in Chicago has three and four tracks sections and local and express service. Philadelphia sorta kinda does where the subway is four tracked. Having four tracked subways or els is unusual anywhere else. Chicago is weird in it’s own ways too.

Nathanael January 17, 2015 - 11:44 pm

London’s lines are mostly double-tracked, but they have massive redundancy between lines which are only a few blocks apart. Same with Chicago downtown. Same with Paris. … you get the idea.

adirondacker12800 January 18, 2015 - 12:48 am

And the four tracked 8th Ave IND doesn’t provide some redundancy to the four tracked 7th Ave IRT and that to the 6th Ave IND which was four tracked in the 60s? Which means 6th Ave between 32nd street and 9th Street is 6 tracked? (Four IND and two PATH) And all three of them get some redundancy from the “Broadway” BMT. Even though it is under Seventh Ave north of Times Square? Very very very few places in the world have six tracks of parallel subway tracks which happens under 6th Ave in Manhattan and Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn. Four IRT and two BMT tracks, roughly from the LIRR terminal to Grand Army Plaza.

Nathanael January 19, 2015 - 6:45 am

Yes, NYC has far more redundancy than anywhere else. My point was that most of the places with the busiest subways actually have more redundancy than DC does.

Alon Levy January 18, 2015 - 9:55 pm

Stockholm has approximately zero redundancy. The lines operate. They don’t run 24/7, but they run with decent frequency on the branches by American standards and high frequency on the trunks by all standards.

Rob January 16, 2015 - 2:39 pm

The problem has been documented, but the mainstream media have been complicit in papering them over, always apologizing for metro’s shortcomings, such as by always calling it ‘aging’, even though it is one of the newest subways in the country, and never investigating anything there. And abetted by those such as the fool at the wash. post, whose knee-jerk reaction is to solve the problem by throwing more money into the culture of incompetence.

IF you want to know the story, see http://www.washingtontimes.com.....incompete/

Larry Littlefield January 16, 2015 - 2:50 pm

“Ninety-seven percent of the bus and train operators at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority are black, with only six white women out of more than 3,000 drivers…The homogeneity, interviews with dozens of current and former Metro workers indicated, is a proxy to a clubby culture of favoritism in which merit has little to do with promotions, and accountability, such as noting safety violations, is a career death knell.”

Interesting theory. Diversity makes it more difficult to form a lazy, clubby culture. People who are different are less likely to, in effect, band together to screw everyone else.

I guess the MTA could be considered an example. NYCT became more diverse and got better. The LIRR did not become more diverse and remained incompetent.

Spendmor Wastemor January 16, 2015 - 6:09 pm

Well, they have diversity. It just depends on what the meaning of the word “diversity” is.

” Diversity makes it more difficult to form a lazy, clubby culture. People who are different are less likely to, in effect, band together to screw everyone else.”

That’s an ideal situation. IF people were hired on merit, such diversity would tend to bust up cliques. But if you started with a highly skilled, highly motivated cohesive workplace and enforce diversity from the outside, you’ve busted up a well-functioning culture and replaced it with conflict.

Diversity seems to work better in elite situations where people have common goals pursued with common methods, and everyone can agree that the angry mob of bitter clingers beneath them is the real menace. It can, as you state, be useful for breaking things that need to be broken. But in general, the diversity tends more to becoming Yugoslavia and less to being a dance party. The latter outcome is possible and certainly brighter, but human nature works powerfully to destroy it.

Bolwerk January 17, 2015 - 3:26 pm

Diversity seems to work better in elite situations where people have common goals pursued with common methods, and everyone can agree that the angry mob of bitter clingers beneath them is the real menace

Must be how the pigs feel.

Alon Levy January 18, 2015 - 10:00 pm

Diversity seems to work better in elite situations where people have common goals pursued with common methods

Lol. Seriously, lol. If you ignore the white-black diversity of low-income urban neighborhoods pretty much from the moment low-income urban neighborhoods existed in the US to postwar suburbanziation, or black-Hispanic integration in today’s New York, or mixed lower middle-class and middle middle-class neighborhoods in Queens (and Mount Vernon) today, and pretend diversity is just some elite cabal to take stuff from you and yours, then sure.

adirondacker12800 January 18, 2015 - 10:14 pm

I’ve seen the 1920 census for both of my parents and their family. Yep the neighborhood was diverse. And in 1930 too.

johndmuller January 19, 2015 - 10:15 pm

Politically speaking, DC is all about race. Nearly every issue is viewed through racial filters and mapped into Black/White space. Obviously the District itself maps into Black space and the suburbs into White space, although there are opposite sub-areas in each camp. Politicians and others with agendas often try to cast their favorite issues as race-neutral, but it is pitifully easy for a demagogue to play the race card and polarize nearly any issue, even with totally bogus characterizations of the facts.

The funding for WMATA needs to be agreed upon by the 3 jurisdictions, and that happens with the same sort of grace that the Port Authority displays (i.e. One goodie for me and then one for you.) There is no big pot of money, so once the initial goodwill was spent (along with Uncle Sam’s big contributions), very little has been done. Currently they are each doing separate things (Virginia the Silver line and some light rail, Maryland the Purple [light] rail line, and the DC Streetcar project) with their own sources of money. Presumably, only rich uncle Sam can unite them on any joint projects.

Even though MD and VA are both “White”, they don’t seem to be able to handle their own bilateral issues very well either, like where or if to put additional DC bypass roads and bridges over the Potomac, let alone figure out how to avoid getting stymied by the race card in DC (or even their own suburbs).

sonicboy678 January 16, 2015 - 7:01 pm

This is really convincing me to stay away from WMATA. Chicago and New York may not be in good positions, but this is ridiculous.

Christopher January 16, 2015 - 10:01 pm

there’s an employment factor or two that nobody here is mentioning. DC office vacancies are high as they are in Arlington. several factors are pulling employment out of the core: the shrinking of the federal government is key, the 9/11 related relocation of core agencies and workers away from “high risk” areas, and the corporatization of law firms that are merging and downsizing have had a bad effect on the transit riding workforce in DC. that’s not going to improve. Metro was really only built for that audience in mind that’s not helping keep the system alive.

Larry Littlefield January 17, 2015 - 1:25 pm

I look at that data every month. The city has done very well in the past decade.

According to the place I work, DC office vacancies are the lowest in the country despite a building boom that is just winding up. There was also a building boom in NOVA, and that’s where the problem is.

If businesses start to leave the city, is it is because the city is so expensive and the exurbs are so cheap.

In fact, the suburbs are seeking to become cities, with the Silver Line to Tysons and mixed-use development, etc.

AG January 18, 2015 - 12:38 pm

The office construction is taking place in Tyson’s Corner and Arlington. Why? DC has height restrictions. That’s also why the vacancy rate is skewed. In NYC – finance and law offices are using less space (the two that used the most). In DC the drivers are the feds and law offices. Both are retracting as well. New economy tech is driving new leasing in NY (and media).


DC doesn’t really have a new driver so much:


But because they have those height restrictions you don’t see any huge gap. I mean just look at the World Trade Center or Hudson Yards. You have more space coming on line in the next several years than almost the entire DC has existing. Washington Metro actually has declining ridership right now… Again – vacancy rate masks it (in the District itself).


Tyson’s Corner is another story. It will be interesting to see who starts to take that space as (if) it comes online in the next few years. There are some tech rumblings – but not sure if its vibrant enough.


John-2 January 18, 2015 - 1:11 pm

Sixty percent of the richest counties in the United States are in and around Washington D.C. So basically no area in the country can better afford to upgrade it’s mass transit system and preventive maintenance than the metro Washington area.

AG January 18, 2015 - 1:30 pm

Yup – goes to show how well paying the federal government (we all) is. Not just if you are an employee – but contractors (in)famously get fat off the federal trough..

I’m not too happy about the value for money.

Not to mention we all paid for the construction of that transit system – as opposed to the way older systems were built.

adirondacker12800 January 18, 2015 - 2:30 pm

Well that’s the way it works in private industry too. The people in Corporate tend to get paid better than the people out in the field.
Some counties in Virginia wouldn’t be counties in other states. Something weird about municipalities incorporated as cities being co-terminal with the county they are in if I’m remembering correctly. Consolidate those cities back into on County in Virginia the county moves down the list and counties other places move up the list. Ya have to adjust your rankings for that little tidbit. Its 60 percent some years and only 50 percent other years because those weird city-county places move down the list a bit and it’s just a bit. Fairfield county Connecticut bounces all around the lists depending on what year you are looking at. Counties exist in Connecticut for things like counting per capita and household income and not much else. And which district the state court exists for.

Alon Levy January 18, 2015 - 10:02 pm

Those independent cities, like Fairfax, are pretty rich in their own right.

adirondacker12800 January 18, 2015 - 10:42 pm

When the independent cities in Virginia make the lists it’s like counting Stamford as a separate county from the rest of Fairfield. Or White Plains, Bronxville and Hartsdale as a separate county from Westchester. Arlington County is the part that used to be in the District and remained separate after that part was returned to Virginia. Part of it is the oddity of Virginia requiring cities to be co-terminal with their county. If we split Manhattan into ten counties some of them would consistently make the list of top 20.
…..the zip codes with the highest housing prices, a rough approximation of household income are mostly in New York State. Manhattan to be specific. And one out in the Hamptons… I think…


I don’t care anymore. Anyplace you wanna contort statistics to get what you want is okay with me. I have better things to do. Like play with my cats.

John-2 January 19, 2015 - 3:45 am

The point remains that the Metro D.C. area is far richer in 2015 per capita than it was in the early 1970s, when the initial stages of WMATA were built. So it’s not as if we’re talking about a bunch of poverty-striken, bankrupt counties that are dumping the funding of preventive maintenance on their subway system as part of a way to keep the water and sewer lines from collapsing and from other basic services to be met.

They were under the delusion that because their system was given a more futuristic design, it would never suffer the pangs of aging and the higher upkeep requirements as has been the case in New York. Now they’re learning differently and if they want to stem the ridership decline, they have to both invest in more railcars to serve the growing areas and maintain they system they’ve got, so people don’t just decide WMATA’s so unreliable they’re better off in buses or cars.

Nathanael January 19, 2015 - 6:49 am

Actually it really doesn’t seem to be aging or upkeep which are the problems….

…the core problem is that there were serious design flaws with the initial WMATA system. BART suffered from many of the same flaws. This is because, in order to be “futuristic”, they refused to hire railway engineers and hired a bunch of aerospace engineers instead….

John-2 January 19, 2015 - 8:58 am

It still goes somewhat to the maintenance — if the arcing that caused last week’s smoke condition was because the accumulated dirt on the metal wall near the third rail created a contact point, they’re going to have to do preventive maintenance in the future to make sure potential areas that can cause short circuits are kept as free as possible of dirt build-up.

WMATA opted for their raw concrete look in part because tiles like in NYC get dirty and have to be cleaned, while the gray concrete of the D.C. Metro hides the dirt better (though not the water stains). They still may not have to clean the station walls due to their design, but they are going to have to clean a lot of the tunnel walls.

Bolwerk January 19, 2015 - 7:52 pm

Cities and counties are pretty much indistinguishable under Virginia law. The practical implication of that is pretty much only that cities are counties without subordinate municipalities (“towns” in Virginia parlance, “villages” being the closest analog in New York State parlance).

But, yeah, the census just counts them as their own counties because they aren’t subordinate to a county. That creates oddities like little Falls Church (pop. 12k) being an independent city while nearby Leesburg (pop. ~40k) is a subordinate town.

johndmuller January 18, 2015 - 9:01 am

I don’t know where all this disrespecting of the DC system is coming from; I thought it was still right up there in terms of personal safety and cleanliness, if not ridership growth curves. As to that growth, I thought that one of their problems was dealing with too much demand for the orange/blue line tunnel, especially with the new silver line also using that crossing and talking about another crossing and new lines within the District.

I would guess that Washingtonians prefer the good aspects of their system to the bad aspects of the NYC system and wouldn’t be wanting to trade places anytime soon.

SEAN January 18, 2015 - 12:24 pm

Obviously it takes very little for riders to leave Metro despite the horrific traffic around DC. If that be the case, then nobody has the right to raise a stink when I-66 or another road backs up day in & day out.

Alon Levy January 18, 2015 - 9:52 pm

Ben, your blog’s ads automatically play sound. You might want to do something about that.

Bolwerk January 19, 2015 - 10:28 am Reply
adirondacker12800 January 19, 2015 - 11:50 am Reply
Bolwerk January 19, 2015 - 1:35 pm

I guess that works, but that’s a really outdated way to deal with adcruft. It looks to be troublesome with Windows 8+. Also, a lot of people don’t use Windows these days. BSD, Linux, and Mac should be to do the same thing in the /etc/hosts file.

I still suggest AdBlock though. AdBlock+Ghostery+NoScript in Firefox really de-turds the web.

adirondacker12800 January 19, 2015 - 3:16 pm

That’s a good way to go if you have a computer with enough horsepower to run an adblocker and Firefox at the same time. I don’t. I use more than Firefox to browse the web. Installing extensions to Firefox doesn’t block ads in Chromium. Or Opera or the other browsers I occasionally use. A hosts file does and uses almost no resources.

Bolwerk January 19, 2015 - 6:28 pm

Yeah, Firefox memory management does blow, but AdBlockPlus probably nets better performance overall. Ads are often media and javascript cruft-heavy. I think it works with any of those browsers though.

Not sure about Ghostery and NoScript working on other browsers. Firefox is the only mainstream browser I really use.

sonicboy678 January 19, 2015 - 6:27 pm

A lot of people don’t use Windows these days? I’ll concede that people don’t use Windows as often as they used to, but I find your claim to be a bit of a stretch.

Bolwerk January 19, 2015 - 7:07 pm

Last year Android shipped 315.1 million units in Q3 alone (link); the entire PC market for that year was estimated at 295.9 million (link). Windows still dominates desktop PCs,* but even there its share has dropped. It’s weak on mobile, and by any measure mobile is huge now.

Regardless, however it translates into browsing and however much the users overlap, there are lots of people who aren’t helped by editing the Windows hosts file anymore. It was near-universally good advice in probably 2005 or maybe even 2010.

* broad definition: consumer PCs including Windows and Macs, with Linux commanding something like 1%-3% of the market

adirondacker12800 January 19, 2015 - 8:05 pm

I wasn’t assuming Alon uses Winblows and Firefox. Using the host file I suggested works on any OS anyone is likely to have and on all the browsers they are likely to be using. It CYA if you are doing something other than HTTP too. Anything that needs to resolve IP network addresses. Without much overhead.

Alon Levy January 19, 2015 - 8:54 pm

I do use Windows and Firefox.

adirondacker12800 January 19, 2015 - 9:09 pm

adblock is gonna suck up resources that using a host file does almost as well. I vaguely remember that how much resources was a concern you had at one time. Go ahead and install Adblock if you want to.

I use Opera for one thing, it works out better, for me, in Opera than it does in Firefox or Chromium. I use Chromium for a few other things because it works better than Firefox and Opera for those things.Most of the ads will be blocked if you have a host file from mvps.org installed without doing anything to Firefox, Opera or Chromium. a few will still manage to filter through. Such is a compromise you can make for having adblocking using a lot less resources in all the browsers you may or may not use.

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