“What took you so long?”
That was part of my reaction to Metrorail when I started using it regularly in 1977. I grew up on Long Island, and often visited New York City, where I took the subway all around Manhattan and to summer jobs. So with my New York background, it felt funny to be in a major city with no subway when I moved to DC in 1969.
Metrorail opened on March 27, 1976, with just five Red Line stations: Farragut North, Metro Center, Judiciary Square, Union Station and Rhode Island Avenue. Gallery Place opened in December 1976. (NoMaGallaudet did not open until 2004.)
When the Dupont Circle station opened on Jan. 17, 1977, I became a regular Metro commuter. I lived in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, and worked at the D.C. Council as a legislative aide for John A. Wilson, after whom the District’s city hall, the Wilson Building, is named.
I didn’t know it back in 1977, but that’s when I became a Red Line guy for most of my working life. Reviewing 40 years of my commutes from then until 2016, from many different homes to many different jobs, I counted about 28 years of travel by the Red Line, and 12 years of getting to work by car or working at home.
I rode mostly on the east side of the Red Line, going through the Silver Spring and Takoma stations to downtown DC, and one year transferring to the Yellow Line for work in Alexandria could take me to work!
As we all know from the battles over funding Metro, its operations are subsidized by taxes; the Metro website says state and local governments cover 48 percent of rail/bus operating costs, and fares cover 52 percent. Once I read in the Examiner newspaper that used to be handed out at Metro, that 78 percent of Ride On’s costs were paid by Montgomery County government, and only 22 percent by fare payers like me.
Hey, the “System” was working for me! (And other public transport riders.)
For decades, the Red Line was the jewel of Metrorail. Most reported Metro problems were on other lines, usually the Blue and Orange. Sometimes I would go months without a significant delay. Getting offloaded and losing 20 minutes did not seem like a big deal when it happened so rarely.
Even after the horrific June 2009 accident that killed nine people, less than a mile from the Takoma station I was using then, the Red Line stayed pretty dependable. With all its recent service problems, the Red Line is still the most used Metrorail line, according to Metro station-entry and passenger-per-car data.
Metrorail will very likely still be here in another 40 years, because it’s so needed both as transportation and to keep down the metro area’s carbon footprint. Today many people, particularly millennials, increasingly want to use Metrorail despite its service and scheduling problems, in part because they’re less interested than prior generations in having their own cars. The agency’s finance, safety and governance issues being debated today will be key questions in deciding how Metro gets through the next 40 years.