Comparing your Metro commute: What do you get for your money?

WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- WUSA9 has been asking you about your commuter pet peeves. Many of you have written to us about Metro's reliability and cost. Riders often complain that our train system is worse than in other cities.

So, WUSA9 decided to compare the commutes. We compared five rail systems in 5 top cities: New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, and right here at home, our Metro.

First, some basics, for your money, you get a newer system here. Both Metro and San Francisco's BART were born in the 1970's: San Francisco in 1972, Metro in 1976. The others were all built around the turn of the century. But, if 40's is the new 20 in Hollywood, it's not the same with trains. Art Guzzetti is a 35-year transit expert at the American Public Transportation Association, "That's the part of life where you start to find you're at that point of time where the original construction has sort of achieved it's useful life. You're going to start having renewal needs."

Metro admits their older cars (the 1000 and 4000 series) tend to break down quicker, leading to delays. But, that should improve when the 7000-series replaces them in the next few years. How does Metro stack up now? Here's how far each city's trains travel before there is a delay. Metro's trains travel 64,180 miles, Boston: 48,824, San Francisco: 127,806, and New York 162,138. Metro does better than Boston, but is half as reliable as San Fran's BART. No one comes close to New York.

Art Guzzetti says Metro is quite popular, "You look at how people are voting with their feet, how's the ridership?" It's a fact, Metro has more riders than systems about the same size, and some, even larger. Guzzetti explains, "New York is number one, but Washington Metro has higher ridership than the long established systems in Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco." He says Metro's average of 707,000 riders daily shows people have embraced the system. But, if you've ever been on a crowded train, you might not see this as a plus. And this brings Guzzetti right back to reliability, "One issue that's affecting performance in Washington Metro is it's at peak capacity in many places. You can't run more trains, you can't operate more trains, you can't put more people on platforms than you have now." However, Metro does have a strategic plan to address this issue by 2025.

Next, we discuss the fare.

Roger Bowles is an independent transit analyst and blogger, "It shouldn't be that hard." Bowles says WMATA's distance and time-of-day -based fares are unwieldy. "It's pretty much needs to be simplified." Only Metro's sister station, BART, uses a distance-based fare, the rest all use flat fares, averaging roughly $2.25 to $2.50. To compare apples to apples, we asked Metro and BART for their average fare paid. It seems San Francisco is the most expensive at $3.40. WMATA is a close second at $2.75. Bowles says calculating fares based on how far you travel is not only confusing, it's unfair, "Passengers that come in from the suburbs, I hate to say but they're penalized more because they're taking a longer distance. They're going to be paying higher fares. but they're also more likely to encounter more of a delay."

Metro points out you pay for what you get. You pay more at peak, you get more trains. So, while Metro is not as expensive as BART, it's more reliable than Boston, and no one compares to the size, the simplicity and the value of NYC's subways.

Then, there are the advantages we enjoy that are tougher to calculate. Guzzetti points out, "Hardly anything can compare with what Washington Metro has done in Bethesda, what Washington Metro has done on U Street, what Washington Metro has done in Arlington County. There have been communities, there have been economies, there has been development."

Our two experts grade Metro's rail system quite differently. Guzzetti says, "I would give it an aspiring B +." Bowles says,"As far as Operations, a C-. Public relations, communication with the passengers, D, D-."

WUSA9 hears from a lot of you on Twitter that you are not happy with how WMATA communicates with you. And while WUSA9 has had it's issues with communication from WMATA, we can personally tell you to get info from Boston's MBTA was like pulling teeth, while BART was the most communicative.

We would love to know what you think. Do you think Metro is worth the money? What is working? What isn't? Just go to TellWUSA9. com and let us know. We will try to get you answers.


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