bike lane

Perspectives

Biking and shared rides absorb Metro Safetrack spillover

Insights to action

Washingtonians suffering slowdowns, traffic jams, and general headaches during Metro’s Safetrack repair program since last June will need to endure through mid-2017, according to Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).

Where have the commuters gone?

Metro’s usual 700,000 riders per weekday dropped 11 percent this year due partly to Safetrack disruptions. That means regular Metro riders have temporarily or permanently switched commuting modes. Where did these 77,000 commuters go?

Washington, DC has many commuting options with the capacity to absorb the displaced Metro riders. A recent report by Deloitte’s Center for Government Insights finds that our region could support many more bike commuters, carpoolers, and car sharers—given proper encouragement. In fact, DC could have up to 155,000 new ride sharing members, 428,000 new carpoolers, and a whopping 590,000 new bike commuters, if residents fully embrace these modes of travel. We see Washington commuters using ride sharing and bike commuting to work around Metro Safetrack disruptions, but the shifts may be temporary.

Ride sharing and carpooling

DC car sharing through firms like Zipcar or Car2Go can be a great substitute for Metro riders without a vehicle. District Department of Transportation (DDOT) reports an increase in car share usage during the worst Safetrack surges.3

If DC ride sharing is for you, on-demand ride providers like Uber and Lyft can help. Indications show many Washingtonians use those services because of Safetrack disruptions. Uber reports an increase in overall app downloads tied to Safetrack, and one in four Uber riders use the "Uber Pool" option. Lyft reports overall trips were 65 percent longer during Safetrack surges, suggesting more shared rides to multiple destinations.

Arlington County’s Commuter Services office took innovative steps to fill the gap in Metro service with shared taxis and carpools. Arlington officials fast-tracked approval for a shared taxi service from the Ballston metro station to the District, with positive reports. Arlington officials also tried to create a new carpool ‘slug line,’ where commuters pick up other commuters. Arlington tried working with the grassroots slugging community, but the new slug line didn’t quite take off, according to Larry Filler, chief of Arlington’s Commuter Services.6

Bicycle commuting on the rise

More DC residents bike commute to avoid Metro during Safetrack surges. Not surprising since bike commuting in America is growing by about 7.5 percent annually. It’s a smart option too—a recent Michigan Institute of Technology (MIT) analysis of several large cities, including DC, indicates that biking would be the fastest way to reach large portions of the city during rush hour. Arlington County’s bike trail counter analysis shows a strong peak tied to Metro Safetrack surges last summer.

These alternates will be temporary for most Metro commuters. Permanently switching these DC ride sharers or bike commuters require both ongoing investment into biking infrastructure and truly regional ridesharing platforms to compete with Uber and Lyft. The ever-innovative Arlington County recently launched its Car Free Near Me app which is a great start, but would benefit from being scaled up to the entire DC metro area, and from the inclusion of various ride-matching and pooled ride options. Local startup Sameride recently launched its carpooling app for the route between Woodbridge and Tysons Corner, and initial reports are positive.

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3 Deloitte interview with Faye Dastgheib, DDOT, December 2016.

6 Deloitte interview with Larry Filler, ACCS, December 2016.

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