Sunday, August 9, 2015

Number of Canceled (Did Not Operate) Trains on the Rise

This article has been cross-post to the FixWMATA website as well. Check it out!

Does it sometimes feel like more and more WMATA trains don’t run as they’re scheduled to? I’m here to say, unfortunately, it is not your imagination or made up. Ever since the start of revenue service on the Silver Line, the number of train cancellations – those that do not operate as scheduled – have gone up and up. Formerly averaging 37 trains per month that did not operate in the 5 years before the Silver Line’s opening, the number of canceled trains has now spiked to 141 canceled trains on average per month since July 2014 through July 2015. This impacts the system most when the maximum number of trains are needed for service, that is, morning and evening rush hours.
The 6am hour is usually the one most impacted, closely followed by the 7am, 3pm, and 4pm hours (24, 29, 24, and 17 trains canceled on average per month for each hour, respectively). These four hours are some that WMATA says are the most important to them as a transit agency.
When broken down by line, it is plainly obvious to see that the Orange line is most impacted by the opening of the Silver line, and in general, all cancelled trains since 2012. Surprisingly though, the Green and (to a lesser-extent) Yellow lines have also been impacted in recent months, neither of which share track with the Silver line and are unlikely to share rail yards. Again, the spike in scheduled-but-cancelled trains is clear to see starting once the Silver line went into revenue service in July of 2014.

All told, this issue is not just of importance to riders, but also one of importance to WMATA. If the number of trains canceled correlates at all to the number of customers who choose alternate methods of transportation, this looks to parallel decreases in ridership and lower revenue for the system. Each 6-car train cancelled loaded with 100 passengers per train is potentially an extra 600 riders in the system, meaning the average rise in cancellations post-Silver Line could be resulting in around 750,000* fewer fare-generating trips per year riding the system.

Thus in addition to bringing customers more frustration by increasing crowding, waits, or resorts to alternate transportation methods, WMATA may end up overestimating the revenue brought in by rail operations of a tune of $1.5 million or more.

* Each month has seen an average increase of 104 extra cancelled trains as compared to before the Silver line. If we assume each of these is a 6-car train with each car carrying on average 100 passengers, this adds up to 748,800 cancelled “seats” moving through the system.
$ Data for March 2011 through April 2012 is missing. February 2011 data only constitutes the first half of the month.

# Raw data can be provided upon request.