Momentum: The Future of DC Public Transit

This post is written Henry Eisler, a youth leader from Mikva Challenge DC.

Washington DC MetroThere is a building on Pennsylvania Avenue that influences the life of every young person living in Washington, DC every day. In this building, elected officials govern, pass legislation, and make monumental decisions that determine the way the entire city functions. This building, despite what you may have been thinking, is not the White House; this is the John A. Wilson building, home to the City Council of the District of Columbia. This City Council is a group of accomplished men and women who craft and pass the laws and regulations that determine the manner in which the city operates and its residents may act. My name is Henry Eisler, and this is one of many blog posts I will be writing in an attempt to bridge the gap between our city’s local government and the young people it affects. I hope to substantially increase DC youth understanding of and involvement with their own political system. My first blog entry focuses on the reformation of the city’s education system by the Council; the post can be found here: I hope you enjoy.

A Flawed System?

In February 2016, The Washington Post published an article that shocked many DC residents. The article cited a study released by one of New York City’s top financial analytic firms ranking the country’s ten best transit organizations; DC’s metro rail system was ranked number one. In producing its study, the firm particularly considered the following five metrics:

  1. The average commute time for transit users
  2. Percentage difference between average commute times of car commuters and transit users.
  3. Percentage of commuters who use public transit.
  4. Total number of commuters who use public transit.
  5. The difference between the citywide median income and the median income of transit users.

Based on these numbers, DC’s Metro ranked number one overall – it was clearly the country’s best. Still, this study puzzled many of the District’s commuters who routinely use the city’s public transportation.  Washington’s Metrorail system may rank well above the rest, but in the eyes of its riders there is still much work to be done. Sporadic train arrivals, a lack of cleanliness, broken down escalators, and even the occasional fire plague our local government’s transportation branch. The system has been neglected and mismanaged for far too long, but optimistic plans for the future could forever change the way DC residents ride and perceive the Metro.

Momentum: WMATA’s Strategic Plan

DC MetraThe The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) recently released a strategic plan that describes a new vision for the future. A proposal to revitalize the Metro rail system called Momentum looks beyond today’s trends and lays out Metro’s near and long term goals. By 2025, WMATA plans to have nearly doubled its supply of trains, reduced crowding, established easier-to-navigate Metrorail stations, and sped up all forms of public transit in the District.

Unfortunately for public transit commuters in the District, things may get worse before they get better. A number of core goals of the Momentum initiative will require a significant amount of construction and track work. That will mean Metro station shutdowns and substantial single tracking in the near future. So, for the next couple of years DC Metro riders may have some trouble moving around the city.

Effect on District Youth

Of the 400,000 daily regional commuters using public transit every day, 10%, or 40,000, are students. So, a major component of the Metro rail system’s plan for the future is shaped around an increased accessibility for District youth. Starting last summer,  the Mayor’s office and WMATA made all public transit services (bus and rail) free to public and public charter school students to use getting to and from school — a public policy change that Mikva DC students at Luke C Moore High School helped bring about through their community action project!

Unfortunately, the marketing and implementation of the plan were uneven, so despite this change, nearly a third of all DCPS students during the 2015/16 school year routinely paid for Metro bus and rail services.  Due to poor marketing last year, many DC students did not know how or where to get their DC One Cards before the school year began.

The Good News!

Van Ness- UDC 0421115-3698Recently, WMATA and the DC Government made some changes to the Kids Ride Free program to make it much easier for students to use public transportation.  There are two adjustments that are particularly notable: the elimination of the hours and weekend restrictions to the Kids Ride Free Program and the end of the long registration process that all students must go through before getting a DC One card. Students attending a DC public school just need to have their DC One Card and clear out any negative balances on their card. Read more about these changes on the DC Department of Transportation’s website.

Making Your Voice Heard

As the DC City Council works with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to finalize its plans for the future of DC transit services, members are beginning to seek input from the people who ride the trains and buses everyday. Those who routinely use the city’s public transportation have the greatest understanding of its shortcomings, and they should help local authorities improve WMATA’s efficiency in the future.

A customer contact form with emails and phone numbers of metro representatives is posted on the WMTA website.

Although the Council may currently be in summer recess, the Committee on Transportation holds town halls open to the public constantly during the school year. Also, the Riders Advisory Council (RAC) meets with the public once every month and there are routine  and there are routine public testimony hearings at which DC residents may share their suggestions for WMATA with the Metro’s Board of Directors.

Youth Representation in WMATA

The Riders Advisory Council, the group that advises the metro’s Board of Directors on issues affecting Metrobus, Metrorail, and MetroAccess service, is composed of twenty one members from DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Out of those twenty one members representing the riders of DC public transit, zero are younger than twenty five years old. Out of the 400,000 metro riders that this council represents, 10% are students. Fair representation of the student body of the DC public and charter school system on the council would be at least two members. Adults using the District’s public transit authorities simply do not have the first hand knowledge and experience that young people do when it comes to WMATA’s student accessibility and affordability. Do you believe that the youth voice deserves a seat on the Riders Advisory Council? If you are in favor of student representation in WMATA – make your voice heard. Take advantage of your role in local government, and don’t be a bystander.