Metro Riders Demand Better Red Line Service

At public forum, customers say schedule hobbles businesses, students

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From left, Montgomery County Council members Hans Riemer, Evan Glass and Tom Hucker, Metro board member Mike Goldman and alternate board member Kathy Porter.

Dan Schere

For Metro riders who use the eastern portion of the Red Line in Montgomery County, an end to the practice of turning back northbound trains at Silver Spring is badly needed to help business. Just ask developer Bruce Lee.

Lee, president and CEO of Lee Development Group, said during a town hall Thursday night that employees at his downtown Silver Spring office aren’t making it to work on time. International clients now use the rideshare service Uber to make it to meetings on time. One tenant, Lee said, decided against setting up an office on one 15,000 square-foot floor of Lee Plaza after his experience on the Red Line.

“He got there half-an-hour late. We were halfway through the tour. He walks in, sees the broker and says ‘Where are we? Oh, downtown Silver Spring. What part of Metro is that? Red Line. Oh, that’s terrible, why are we looking in Silver Spring?’ True story. That was the end of the meeting. That’s what we’re up against,” Lee said.

Other rail system riders who spoke during the forum at the Silver Spring Civic Center urged more frequent service and extended hours.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld has proposed a number of service improvements in the upcoming fiscal 2020 budget, which include flat fares on weekends, expansion of service during rush hour periods, running all eight-car trains and ending the Silver Spring turnbacks.

Wiedefeld wasn’t able to attend the meeting.

Mike Goldman, a Maryland representative on the eight-member Metro board, said the service improvements are contingent on whether the District of Columbia’s two members exercise their “jurisdictional veto” of the proposed budget due to their desire to extend Metro’s closing time to 3 a.m. on weekends. Metro stops running at 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and at 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

“I’d like to tell you all of these proposals will be approved, but I’ve got to tell you it’s gonna be an uphill climb,” Goldman said.

County Council members Tom Hucker, Evan Glass and Hans Riemer attended the meeting. Hucker, who chairs the council’s Transportation and Environment Committee, said 11,000 daily riders use the Forest Glen, Wheaton and Glenmont stations north of Silver Spring. Hucker noted that Metro had ended the turnbacks at Grosvenor in December, and said it was “only fair” that the same be done at Silver Spring.

Stephanie Steele, the past chairwoman of the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce, said there are 450 businesses that rely on Metro. Many employees, she said, have been forced to align their work hours to fit the schedule of when the trains run.

“Simply said, Metro’s reduction of night time hours are reducing the nighttime economy,” she said.

Ben Ross, a transit advocate, said there is “no technical reason” that trains should run more than eight minutes apart. He called on Maryland’s Department of Transportation to contribute more funding so that extending the system’s hours could be possible, noting that employees at restaurants in Rockville must leave their jobs by 10:30 on weeknights because the last train leaves the Rockville station at 11 p.m.

“This is a matter of political will,” said Ross, of Bethesda.

Others noted that the county’s millennials, or those in their 20s and 30s, need more reliable service.

Brad Stewart, the vice president and provost at Montgomery College’s Silver Spring/Takoma Park campus, said more than half of the 6,500 students take public transportation to get to school. Ending the Silver Spring turnbacks, he said, would greatly benefit them.

“We do an analysis of our students’ ZIP codes. We know where they live, and they need access to high quality transit,” he said.

Michelle Ngwafon, president of Montgomery County Young Democrats, said it was “kind of ridiculous” that trains stop running before midnight and that when young people say they were late because of Metro, “everyone believes them.”

One Red Line user who described herself as a 20-something without a car said she was adversely affected by a 45-day shutdown last summer on the east side of the Red Line due to station improvements at the Rhode Island Avenue station, which had suffered from crumbling concrete on the station’s overhang.

After being asked whether similar shutdowns would occur on the Red Line, Goldman said at some point it would be necessary in order to rebuild all of the aging platforms on the Red Line.

“That will happen some time in the future. It’s not a program that’s currently scheduled,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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