DC Mass Transit

Congress is not in session until next week.  For those interested, legislators take only two scheduled breaks over the course of the summer.  One runs from July 5-11 and the other from August 9-September 11.   During these slow periods, there are a few other local things that I and my associates will be writing about.  Today is the DC Metro.

This map of the DC subway system looks like something worthy of the ASM octopus flow chart.  But in contrast to ASM, it’s simple, effective, and fast (My ASM colleagues are free to disagree with this comparison).  I can make it from my apartment to Capitol Hill in less than 20 minutes easily, with no transfers. By comparison, it takes a good 45 minutes to run to the same location, and much more to walk.

So what’s the price tag on this?  This system costs $1.3 billion a year in operating expenses, and 215 million (approximately) trips are taken each year.  It’s also estimated that roughly 54% of visitors to the city use the system, which is second only to New York in US cities.  It makes getting around DC a breeze, albeit with a bit of walking from the metro to your destination.

This system is supplemented by buses and zip cars, which are similar to the community car concept in Madison where you pay a monthly fee for use of the car, along with a charge per hour of use.  As a result, many of the professional’s that I’ve been talking to don’t bother to have a car.

This system So what makes this system so successful, and what might be copied for other cities that are looking to expand their own systems of public transportation, even if it doesn’t include the subway system?  Four observations:

  • The EASE of use- if you’re paying attention, it’s impossible to get lost
  • CLEANLINESS- all the stops I’ve been in are spotless, have escalators, and are handicap accessible.  The same goes for the trains themselves
  • COMPREHENSIVE access to the entire city- there is virtually no where you cannot reach through the Metro and its bus and zip car supplements
  • Last but not least, RELIABILITY!- trains run on a strict schedule and in high demand areas come by with a high level of frequency.  I have rarely observed a period where ten minutes goes in which a train does not arrive.

Last thought: as the city of Madison and the state of Wisconsin try to implement a successful and hopefully widely used public mass transit system, I hope they make serious efforts at emulating elements of successful systems such as Washington DC and New York, the later of which is rated as one of the top mass transit systems in the world.

We’ll see if my high opinion of the DC mass transit system holds as the summer goes on.

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