Neither ridership nor service have returned to pre-pandemic levels, but Metrorail is moving closer to that point again.
At a Thursday board meeting, General Manager Randy Clarke delivered what he termed “really good news” about increasing levels of service.
Starting Tuesday, Feb. 7, the Orange and Blue lines will see wait times reduced from 15 minutes to 12 minutes during rush hour periods on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
The impact will be especially felt in the rail system’s central core between Rosslyn and Stadium-Armory stations, where there’s overlap between Blue, Orange and Silver line trains.
“That is a very important element of our whole system, and starting with the Feb. 7 change, customers should expect a change approximately every 3 1/2 minutes,” said Clarke. “That is a big deal because it impacts so many people that transfer in the system as well … that is where the ridership demand is.”
Metro has been gradually returning more 7000-series rail cars into service — and starting Feb. 7, all Orange Line trains will be eight cars long.
While the increased service only applies during morning and afternoon rush hour periods, the Red Line will see an increase in service starting Feb. 21, when service improves from 10 minutes between trains to eight minutes from 6 a.m. through 9 p.m. every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
That was some of the good news in a day full of good and bad for Metro, as the board also voted to begin the public comment process on its next budget proposal.
Under the new fare structure being considered, the base fare would fall to $2 for every rail trip, and the peak and off-peak differences would be scrapped. However, that could also mean some customers will be paying as much as 69% more to ride the train. Right now, the max peak fare is $6, while the max off-peak fare is $3.85.
If you’re headed to Dulles Airport from downtown D.C. at lunch time, or from Shady Grove to downtown after the morning rush, that’s what you’ll pay. But the new max fare is going up to $6.50, and so that means trips that are $3.85 right now will cost almost $3 more.
Michael Goldman, an alternate member from Montgomery County, continued to raise concerns about that increase, and said he hoped that would be reduced by the time the board votes to approve the budget in April.
The meeting started on a high note though, as Clarke recognized Metro employees for quick thinking and heroic actions during incidents of gun violence that impacted the system.
First up was Victoria Stanley, a train operator who kept going when there was a shooting on the Red Line platform of Metro Center. Stanley was given a standing ovation by those inside the meeting.
“As her train arrived,” said Clarke, “she saw a commotion on the platform and heard gun shots.”
Metro’s GM then recited the events, but admitted, “my description of this cannot convey how amazing Ms. Stanley’s quick thinking in the moment, and I think a lot of people agree.”
Bus operators Quavena Hall and Raynell Red were also honored. Hall was operating the 54 bus in the Brightwood neighborhood earlier this month when several people hopped on her bus and attacked another customers.
During that incident, two children, ages 6 and 9, were struck with stray bullets fired during the fight. Hall was applauded for getting the kids on the bus and driving them to safety away from the scene.
“Thank you, operator Hall, for your quick thinking that not only saved the lives of those innocent children, but also protected the other customers aboard your bus,” said Clarke, who called her “a true hero.”
Last week, Rudd was driving in the area of 63rd and Clay streets in Northeast D.C. when she noted a child under-dressed and wandering around outside. It turns out the three-year-old had wandered out of an unlocked door.
When she saw him, Clarke stopped her bus and got Metro Transit police involved. Officers were able to reunite the child with his parents.
“We thank operator Reed for not only discovering the missing child, but also rescuing him from extreme danger,” added Clarke.
The board meeting then ended with a public safety update from Metro’s COO Brian Dwyer and Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Anzallo.
Anzallo talked about the steps that Metro Transit police have taken to improve community relations and bolster crisis intervention teams.
“We’ve had over 200 contacts with folks that are suffering from either homelessness, opioid addiction or drug addition, and mental health issues,” said Anzallo.
They were hired in December and are stationed throughout the system.
“It’s been fairly successful so far,” Anzallo added.
He said hundreds of officers have been trained to administer Narcan when someone overdoses, and that officers have brought three people back from overdose. In the future, plans are in the works for a citizens’ police academy, tutoring and mentoring programs, and athletic teams that could then compete with D.C. police and other local agencies.
Anzallo also highlighted the increased visibility the system is having, with more 30% more officers patrolling buses and rails, sometimes accruing overtime to do so. But a big impact is also being felt by staffers in a room away from where any disturbances may be occurring, as Metro starts to become a “video-centric” agency.
“What we’re trying to do is, rather than using footage … reactively, we’re really trying to engage proactively,” said Dwyer.
Cameras are being watched in real-time by Metro personnel, and Dwyer said “virtual patrols have yielded numerous calls for public contact violations whereby officers are able to respond and take appropriate action.”
In addition, every Metrobus has cameras beaming back video in real-time, which means police can “look inside those vehicles and look around those vehicles.”
But “it’s not to spy on anybody,” cautioned Dwyer.
Anzallo also updated fare enforcement efforts, saying there have been 4,800 interactions between police and customers who tried to hop a gate, however, only 3% of those interactions led to a ticket.
He said a continuing struggle with fare enforcement has been juvenile violators. There have been more than 650 instances where students didn’t have a fare card. Rather than stop the student, Metro Transit officers have sought for school personnel to accompany students to Metrorail stations and start the administrative process to get a fare card for students who don’t have one.
The transit system’s police chief wrapped up his presentation by talking about his agency’s closure rate for crimes, which he said compare well to other agencies around the region.
“Nationally, our clearance rates are extremely high,” said Anzallo, who cited closure rates on aggravated assaults, rapes, robberies and arsons over 10% higher than the national average.
“You just sat there so calmly and we’re like, ‘yeah, we solved all the crimes, we saved three people’s lives with Narcan,’” said board member Tracy Hadden-Loh. “I really appreciate that your vibe is low-key, but the accomplishments are tremendous.”
She called the closure rates “awesome,” and said it made her feel safer on Metro knowing that if you call for help, someone will answer.