Another missed opportunity to provide better service on Metro during track work

Metro has another opportunity to provide enhanced shuttle service to Orange Line riders the next two weekends while they perform work on the tracks. Thousands of hours could be saved by travelers with an intelligently designed and managed shuttle service.

Metro has announced that shuttles will run between East Falls Church and West Falls Church stations. Between West Falls Church and Vienna trains will single track while workers perform track work in this area. Metro's announced plan is to operate single-tracked trains on 24-minute headways between WFC and Vienna.

As I suggested previously (and received a reply from Metro), a better strategy for customers would be to not run trains at all for the three stations west of East Falls Church. Instead, they should run express shuttles from Vienna to East Falls Church and a secondary shuttle serving the other two stations.
There are approximately 20,000 boardings and deboardings at the three westernmost stations on a Saturday, divvied up as follows:

  • Vienna - 50%
  • Dunn Loring - 20%
  • West Falls Church - 30%
(Note: only about 1% of riders travel between two of these stations.)

There are several advantages to this better shuttle service. The primary advantage is that it will save thousands of hours of time for passengers, a worthwhile customer service goal. Another advantage is that the workers in the work zone will be able to work in a completely safe area, since no trains will be running at all, rather than single tracking. This might even allow for the work to be completed faster resulting in further cost savings.
Additionally, by not opening the stations, they will save those costs. Instead they would have staff outside the stations directing customers. I would suggest that all the shuttles be free. So there would be some lost revenue with customers paying at the origination of EFC rather than farther out. However, that seems like a reasonable accommodation for the inconvenience they are asking customers to tolerate.

How much time would be saved? Using the above data of approximately 20,000 boardings and deboardings on a Saturday at these three stations, with approximately 50% of those at Vienna we can estimate how much time would be saved for these riders. Let's compare:  
Vienna to East Falls Church
via Metro's plan:
12-minute average wait time (on 24-minute headways)
7 minutes to West falls church
3 minutes to walk to and board bus (we'll assume with 24-minute headways, that Metro is smart enough to have buses waiting for passengers; perhaps an optimistic assumption)
7 minutes bus ride to EFC
29 minute average travel time (Metro recommends adding 30 minutes to travel time during this maintenance period, but if they operate the system well the actual delays should be less than that.)  
    Via express shuttle:
    4-minute average wait time (assume 8-minute headways*)
    13 minutes to EFC
    17-minute average travel time
      That's a 12-minute savings x 10,000 passengers = 120,000 minutes = 2,000 hours.
      There would be more modest savings from the other two stations, depending on how the shuttles are routed and managed, but if done intelligently, hundreds more hours could be saved.

      One of the reasons cited in Metro's response last year to this suggestion was that it might confuse riders. I find that reason to be weak. Good communication and staffing could easily overcome that obstacle, and the thousands of hours saved by their customers could go a long way towards building trust and positive relations with their ridership.

      They also suggested that it would cost more. Given that every single passenger is going to have to get on a bus regardless of how they are routed, 20,000 passengers (at 40 per bus) will require 500 bus trips in any case. Granted the runs will be longer, so they will need a couple more buses, but there will be no costs for running trains, so it might just be a wash.

      Probably the biggest obstacles to this suggestion are lack of imagination and an operational mindset rather than a customer service mindset at Metro.  Creative thinking and putting themselves in the shoes of their customers would show them that this solution is much preferred over their announced plan.

      *(How did I come up with 8-minute headways? If 10,000 riders need to ride between EFC and Vienna and we assume 40 persons per bus, that's 250 bus trips, 125 round trips. At 8 minute headways, that's 16 hours. Realistically, headways would have to be shorter during busier periods and could be stretched at less busy periods)

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