Wiedefeld, Loudoun Supervisors Prepare for Evolving Metrorail

When the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority opens the new Silver Line stations in Loudoun early next year, Metrorail is expected to look very different than in the past.

As Metro works to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic—while experiencing about an 80% drop in ridership, and operating with a budget that was only balanced with $723 million in relief funding—the agency’s leadership is wondering whether it has seen a permanent change in who is riding the rails. Before, Metro service was geared toward the rush-hour commute to and from work. But today, said General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld, 80% of all trips across the system aren’t for work.

“What we haven’t done is necessarily provide the quality of service for those types of trips,” Wiedefeld told members of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors during their May 25 Transit Summit. “We’ve provided a higher quality of service for those peak, to-work trips, but again, people may be working different hours than they’ve done, and they may be doing other trips.”

That will mean taking another look at who Metro is serving.

“It’s understanding the marketplace—trying to understand what the marketplace is so that we don’t put out service that reflects where the world isn’t,” Wiedefeld said. “So, if the new paradigm is different, then we’ve got to make sure that we’re adjusted to that, and not just what we did pre-pandemic.”

It could also mean transit in the DC regions looks more like it does around the world.

“When you look internationally, that is what transit does,” Wiedefeld said. “In the U.S., we tend to be much more peak, work-oriented, but in international travel, it tends to be a product that you use for all types of purpose at all times of the day, and I think we need to start to think that way, and I think the public is going to ask for that.”

He said that would have to mean being able to hop on a train within a few minutes at any time, rather than showing up to a station and waiting 20 minutes for a train to arrive.

Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles), who serves on the Metro board, also said that authority leaders are looking to simplify Metro’s rate structure.

But no matter who is riding Metro in the future, Wiedefeld and supervisors agreed, somebody has to pay for it. Until recently, Metro was the only major transit agency in the country that didn’t have a dedicated source of funding, such as a dedicated tax—funding was on a year-to-year basis from each of the participating jurisdictions. Now, there is a dedicated capital funding source, but it doesn’t grow with inflation and costs.

But the worst offenders on underfunding Metro are still the people on Capitol Hill. Although Washington, DC is at the heart of Metrorail, and a large chunk of the federal workforce gets to work on the trains, Congress has not provided major capital funding for Metro, only a contribution for operating costs. That has been felt particularly keenly as other jurisdictions have made major investments to catch up to years of neglected maintenance and improvements.

“The entire country relies on Metro whether they know it or not because they’re moving the federal workforce,” said County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large).

Currently, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is building the Silver Line extension into Loudoun, expects to be substantially finished with that work in the third quarter of this year. When the stations actually open to riders will depend on how long testing takes. According to Wiedefeld’s presentation to Loudoun supervisors, Metro assumes two months, plus another 90 days of work between testing and the day passengers can step aboard a train in Ashburn, putting the likely date for a Silver Line grand opening in early 2022.

7 thoughts on “Wiedefeld, Loudoun Supervisors Prepare for Evolving Metrorail

  • 2021-05-26 at 10:44 am

    I am an advocate of well-run mass transit. I lived in Europe for more than a decade and that was always my primary mode of transportation. Mind you, I was a regular rider on the Silver Line since it opened. It took longer each day but was preferable to being stuck in traffic.

    And then 2020 changed everything. It is very likely our region will experience a radical shift in commuting patterns. Many of us are not going back to the office 5 days a week. The last year has shown it unnecessary for millions of people to spend an hour or more commuting to work and clogging roads.

    But this change will also have a tremendous impact on Metro ridership. The daily numbers are going to be lower than ever and fares will likely plummet. And Loudoun taxpayers are going to be hit with demands for income from an incompetently run metro system. So, we are all going to pay for a badly conceived, poorly built, poorly run system that is going to come on-line up to two years later than projected. In other words, the Silver Line represents more of the same from inept local politicians and bureaucrats.

    We are now stuck with an 11.5 mile expensive albatross that we will pay for one way or another. We can do better and you will have ample time to ponder these options as you sit in traffic while being taxed for a metro line that isn’t running.

  • 2021-05-26 at 11:11 am

    This boondoggle will go down as one of the greatest thefts of taxpayer money in Loudoun’s history.

    “Simplifying” a fare structure will almost certainly guarantee higher fares for everyone.

    This is a HUGE loser for everyone except the contractors who built this pile of garbage.

    • 2021-05-26 at 1:28 pm

      Fares are very important to Metro, as they are a key determinant in how much money they can borrow (and they need to borrow a lot).

      You are absolutely correct that, no matter what they do, they will figure out how to charge the few people that ride in these human petri dishes even more.

  • 2021-05-26 at 11:21 am

    You could not get me on a Metro train from Loudoun into DC or wherever after the CV19 pandemic. I also don’t think that anyone landing at IAD after a long domestic or int’l flight is going to schlep their bags to a Metro train and sit on it for another hour or more. It was all ego of LoCo so called leaders to push for Metro. It will be a colossal failure as was the train link from JFK Airport in NY. Whenever I go to JFK and see empty trains coming into the airport and leaving just as empty portends a similar fate for the tarnished Silver Line.

    • 2021-05-26 at 1:32 pm

      Before COVID, I rode the Silver Line half a dozen times, taking it downtown from Reston each time. What struck me each time was how dirty the trains were. I thought this was particularly egregious because the trains sat in Reston (the beginning/end of the line) for 15+ minutes before they went anywhere. Could Metro not figure out that having garbage on a train was bad for business? It was more incidence of Metro’s ineptitude and how they never have understood the importance of the “customer experience.”

  • 2021-05-26 at 11:36 am

    How many times can I say I told you so? Letourneau is the only remaining Board member that voted for the Metro extension to Loudoun, so we can all thank him for screwing this up.

    There was a long list of reasons that the anti-Metro folks cited for not buying into Metro. The key one that comes to mind right now that we repeated over, and over, and over was that transportation needs in a dynamic region change rapidly. You can re-route buses at the drop of a hat, but you are stuck with Metro’s route no matter what. Of course, that is why the big money behind the 2030 Group developers pushed it so hard…they wanted to force people into commuting patterns that benefited them financially.

    If you bet on Metro, you lose. Every time.

    The best thing now would be to accept the big loss of all the sunk costs, pave most of the system over, and make one awesome bike trail 🙂

  • 2021-05-26 at 2:21 pm

    “—while experiencing about an 80% drop in ridership, and operating with a budget that was only balanced with $723 million in relief funding—”

    What everyone says above, and this sort of budget magic. Yet Phyllis and Matt continue to sell us snake oil. We deserve so much better.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: