DC-Area Transit Networks Change Service during Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak

Street Justice Newsletter: Vol 2, Edition 38 (3/15/2020)

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DC Transit Services Cut Service Back during Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak

On Friday, the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority announced that it is reducing service levels during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The agency wrote Saturday that the changes, beginning Monday, March 16th, are “to strike an appropriate balance for Metro’s workforce and their families, our customers, and the region as a whole.” The changes to service and staff deployment are all “until further notice.”

Metrorail operating hours remain the same, but each line reduces train frequency to every 12 minutes Mon-Sat and every 15 minutes on Sundays. “On weekdays, [Metro]bus service will operate on a Saturday supplemental schedule. Weekend bus schedules are unchanged.” The agency is suspending its Rush Hour Promise “until regular service levels are restored.”

“The service reduction also allows for additional disinfecting of railcars and buses, including the use of electrostatic fogging on a weekly basis across Metro’s fleet of 1,200 railcars and 1,500 buses. The electrostatic [cleaning] process addresses inaccessible surfaces in the vehicle, such as air ducts and compartments.”

WMATA’s press release goes into detail about temporary measures it’s taking to reduce COVID-19 transmission between essential employees. All WMATA public events, such as the Riders Advisory Council, are canceled until further notice. Transit services run by DC’s Mayor — the Circulator bus and H Street NE Streetcar — appear to operate normally at this time. [UPDATE: Late Sunday night, it appears WMATA is likely to cut their service even more next week.]

Arlington Transit announced reduced service beginning Monday, March 16th, in addition to more aggressive public hygiene services. Beginning Thursday, March 19th, Alexandria’s DASH transit system will “operate on an ‘Enhanced Saturday’ schedule weekdays in order to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 among our employees, riders and community.”

In contrast to Northern Virginia’s closer-in suburban areas, the exurban Counties are keeping transit service up. The Omniride bus system geared to Prince William County commuters hasn’t reduced service levels and has increased cleaning services. Loudoun County’s commuter and local buses also appear to be operating at normal infrequencies. The Fairfax Connector for Fairfax County is upgrading cleaning and holding service levels steady in response to COVID-19.

Maryland’s DC suburbs are also holding transit service steady or expanding it. Montgomery County, Maryland is holding firm with their regular RideOn bus service, waving all fares, and asking riders to board at the rear doors of their bus. The exiting riders will come out of the front door, keeping “social distance” from the onboarding passengers. This is called “all-door boarding” and experts widely agree the procedure improves bus service. Advocates for better transit, therefore, argue that all DC-area transit systems should adopt all-door boarding.

Prince George’s County does not have a high level of bus service on normal days, but the County’s TheBus system continues to operate at that service level.

Should Transit Expand or Contract in States of Emergency?

There’s an important philosophical difference between cutting public transit service during a time of societal crisis and holding it firm or expanding it. WMATA and denser suburban Northern Virginia authorities, fresh off Friday’s news that Metrorail ridership was down 100,000 Wednesday week-over-week, seem to have made the decision that less transit service is needed because riders are working from home and self-isolating. The agencies wrote that public health is served by their operations staff not having to come to work, but lots of people need transit as — you know — an essential public service to get to medical providers.

These agencies also want to protect their operational employees from the COVID-19 health hazard. That’s understandable. But, is it the right call for the government to reduce a critical service when the most vulnerable populations will still need to commute to work?

As I was checking out Friday afternoon at the Petworth Safeway, I broke the news to my line neighbors about the WMATA cutbacks. The cashier, who I imagine was exhausted from the off-the-charts foot traffic in his store, said, “well I get it, but I have to feed my family.” He added that “the train wasn’t busy this morning.”

“I know that reduced transit service will disproportionately affect those who can't telework or don't have a personal vehicle,” wrote Montgomery County Councilmember Evan Glass. “…but I also understand that we must work collectively to stem the COVID-19 pandemic. This is another tough decision made to protect public health.”

NYC’s MTA and Bay Area’s BART transit systems are keeping their service levels normal. “BART continues to run regular service,” wrote the transit agency. “BART is a critical lifeline for many health care providers and others who rely on the system to get to/from work. We take this responsibility very seriously. We aren’t considering reduced service or shutting down until forced to do so, by either the Governor or medical experts.”

WMATA’s last several years of decision making have been in pursuit of short-term frugality and service to rush-hour commuters. That was the core audience and user base of WMATA in the 20th Century and it seems to be the main focus of the agency’s leadership in 2020 despite service economy and gig work, where there are no business hours and weekends can be more important than weekdays. These folks need transit.

DC Charged $675K from 5,600 Bike Lane Violations in 2019

In 2019, DC’s Department of Public Works (DPW) issued $323,275 in fines during 2019 for parking, stopping, or standing in bike lanes. 2,957 tickets were issued last year to generate that revenue. These records were provided to a DC resident after their FOIA request and obtained by Street Justice. They show the City switch over from $65 to $150 fine amounts three times in the last 14 months.

To get a complete picture, I pulled Open Data DC’s monthly traffic violation records and built an Excel-breaking spreadsheet with all of DC’s 2019 traffic violations. DPW is only one of several law enforcement agencies writing traffic tickets in Washington, DC. DC Police, aka Metropolitan Police Department, writes bike lane tickets also.

MPD is widely considered by safe streets advocates and residents as lax in writing traffic safety violations of any kind. However, half of all bike lane fines were written by agencies other than DPW. And the data say DC Police deserve more credit for enforcing traffic law.

 Prior to June 2019, DC seems to have barely enforced the pre-existing bus lanes on Georgia Avenue NW. For Summer 2019, DDOT ran a pilot with H & I Streets NW rush-hour bus lanes. The chart shows an enforcement uptick during the summer months.

However, once DC made the H+I lanes permanent in September, it appears the city was less focused on enforcing those lanes. This suggests the H & I bus lanes may work less well now, or that frequent drivers in the corridor adapted and stopped illegally parking or delivering there.

Overall, the data are extraordinarily stable month-to-month. Just like the FOIA data, there doesn’t appear to be seasonality. Looking only at these output metrics, it seems that staff resources are by far the biggest contributing variable in how much enforcement actually happens in DC.

It’s important to hold this staff resources dynamic in your mind as you ask for certain things in DC’s next budget, beginning October 2020. With human enforcement, there seem to be minimal productivity gains. Technology will be key: camera-enabled tickets using expensive modules or officer mobile devices.

[Read the Full Story for Free]

All the DC-Area Civic Events Affected by Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Health Emergency

The school closings in DC-area municipalities include library closing and the shuttering of public buildings. So, there go the meeting places of most civic organizations. In lieu of postponing or canceling, some groups are attempting telepresence meetings: conference calls, video chats, and live streams.

I’m not a public health expert, so I’m going to continue to focus Street Justice reporting on the conversations and topics I do know well and can do high-quality reporting. I’m going to do the best I can over the next weeks and months to empower you with an updated civic events calendar — featuring cancellations and postponements — plus coverage of events that do take place.

For Saturday’s report, I built out some of the March paid-subscriber events calendar and listed the announced cancellations and those I was able to confirm with reporting.

[Full Story]

I’m Selling a WMATA SmarTrip Card at a Discount

This week, a very generous person sent me a WMATA SmarTrip card with almost $300 loaded onto it. I’m extremely thankful to them. However, I rarely use Metro to commute now. My dog walking appointments are far from Metrorail stations and events I cover for Street Justice are also easier to get to while e-bike commuting.

What I do need more of, asap, is liquid funds to pay March and April bills. So, I’m hoping to sell this SmarTrip card. I’m starting at $200.00, or best offer. We can meet in person, or I will mail you the card with payment via Venmo or Ko-fi. I love Metro, and I use it when meetings are within walking distance. But, I need the funds for bills coming due in the short term. If you take WMATA for commuting or errands, please consider it. DM me on Twitter or send me an email.

DC Should Abolish Advisory Neighborhood Commissions or Give Them a lot More Support

This week, in The DC Line, I wrote that Washington, DC should give its 40 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions much greater support on admin, website upkeep, & livestreaming for greater transparency and outreach. Or, the District should abolish ANCs and DC Council should expand to have 50ish seats with districts of ANC-size.

“Right now, a large portion of DC’s elected officials are considering whether they should run for another term in office. Members of the District’s 40 advisory neighborhood commissions (ANCs) are discussing with loved ones the unpaid time investment, the public scrutiny, and the limited power they hold. For far too many, the community service they’ve delivered will have exhausted their passion and decayed their well-being. Some will call it quits in December when the current term expires — even if it’s their first two-year stint. …”

“It’s clear to me that DC should expand the Office of ANCs to five or 10 times its current size. Day-to-day administration like booking meeting rooms should be taken care of by full-time staff. An expanded Office of ANCs should lead and manage vendor services for website design, maintenance and open government cornerstones like livestreaming. I also believe ANC commissioners should be paid a stipend commensurate with their five- to 15-hour-per-week time investment — a sum at least the rate of DC’s minimum wage.”

Read the full column for free here at the DC Line.

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