News & Politics

It Seems Unbelievable, But Delays on Metro Are Starting to Decline

It Seems Unbelievable, But Delays on Metro Are Starting to Decline
Photograph by Flickr user Jared Goralnick.

It has been a spectacular year for Metro fails. Between a deadly, smoke-filled train, rush hour trains bypassing a station for months, and increasingly common delays, DC area residents are fed up. A survey commissioned by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority shows customer satisfaction at a low of 67 percent, down from 82 percent a year ago, and for good reason.

This year’s Metro delays through November lasted 772 hours, a 33 percent increase over 2014. On average, there are over two hours of delays every day. If all of this year’s delays were successive, it would be as if Metro shut down a line for 32 days straight.

The drastic increase in Metro’s downed service is due to more, not longer, delays. While the average delay has remained roughly eight minutes long, the number of delays has increased more than 82 percent since 2013. But Metro’s new general manager, Paul Wiedefeld, might be starting at just the right time. After months of especially terrible rail service to start 2015, the frequency of Metro delays actually started to decline in August. And over the past two months there were fewer delays than the same period last year.

Even with this rebound, it still often feels like all of Metro is falling apart. Nearly two-thirds of this year’s increase in delays is due to a single issue: trains never leaving the gate, mostly due to mechanical malfunctions. Through November, 1,658 delays were due to trains that were scheduled to operate, but did not. That’s more than twice the 2014 occurences for this issue, and nearly five times the 2013 rate. Combined with the most common delay cause—malfunctions during transit—Metro’s dilapidated rolling stock is the biggest drag on Metro performance.

WMATA recently announced a number of initiatives to combat faulty trains including faster delivery of the new 7000-series rail cars; prioritizing train maintenance and upgrades through its Capital Improvement Plan; policy changes to acquire parts; and activating overtime for train maintenance.

Technical notes: Analysis and graphs are based off of WMATA Daily Service Reports. Data cover delays through November 30 of each year. You can find complete code for this post on my github page.

Kate Rabinowitz is the founder of the blog DataLensDC.