Metro rail on-time reality check - KMSP-TV

Metro rail on-time reality check

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It's been one delay after another for Metro rail riders: cold weather cracking rails, trains malfunctioning and let's not forget two straight days in November on the Red Line with major disruptions.

So how can Metro say less than one in 10 trains are late? It comes down to your definition. On Metro rail, what is on time for Metro may not be what is on time to you.

Daily riders complain trains are always breaking down, delayed and the real-time arrival information isn't always accurate.

"When it says two minutes, I look at my clock and it's like an additional three minutes before the train actually gets here," said Felicia White, who was waiting for a train downtown.

By most definitions, that's late, but Metro has its own calculations. By its measure, it's doing pretty well.

"In fact 90 to 92 percent of the time, it's on time for them," said Metro's General Manager and CEO Richard Sarles, citing the most recent statistics available through September 2013.

Some riders find that hard to believe. So FOX 5 decided to see for ourselves. We asked a few Metro commuters to clock their rail times during a two-week period.

"It seems like there's always something on some line," said one of our testers, Amy Vander Vliet.

She kept track of the trains on the Blue Line in January from Braddock Road to Rosslyn. Out of 11 trips, she had three delays.

"That's not a 92 percent success rate," she accurately points out.

In fact, hers was really less than 73 percent.

During that same period on the Orange Line between Virginia Square and Vienna, another rider had similar results. In 14 trips, he had three delays putting that line at a 78 percent success rate on his commute.

One look at Metro's service reports in the past month and the reasons are clear: cracked rails, brake problems, track problems, offloaded trains, you name it. One day, almost every single line during rush hour had delays.

"At least once a week there's at least one delay in the 10 or 8 trips I make," said Vander Vliet.

Metro gives itself a lot of wiggle room when it comes to being on time. During rush hour, trains in the downtown core should run every three minutes. But if they are five minutes apart, that is still considered on time.

"I don't really know what counts as on time or not. I'm pretty pleased with the frequency," said Brian Miller, who rides Metro daily.

Off peak, that leeway gets a lot longer. Metro allows itself a 50 percent margin of error for on-time arrival. That means on weekday evenings outside the core, trains run every 20 minutes. But if it takes 30 minutes, by Metro's definition, it's not late.

Metro admits it is a liberal standard, but claims it needs to maintain the same measurements to make accurate comparisons to past performance. Sarles said once performance levels off, he would consider changing it.

So is the current system really an honest calculation then?

"It's the on-time performance measurement we use today and we're clear about it and we're transparent about it. We're not hiding it," responded Sarles.

But the transit agency is not so transparent when it comes to sharing the "real" time data. We asked for it, but Metro denied repeated requests saying it was too "burdensome" with more than "400,000 weekday stops a month" and estimated the staff hours would cost nearly $225,000 to process our request.

"That's ludicrous," said Chris Schmitt, a former member of Metro's Riders' Advisory Council (RAC).

Not even the RAC or Schmitt could get Metro to give up the numbers when they tried. So he resigned.

"It may be that what they represent to the public isn't true, but that's the whole point. Until they open it up, there's no way of knowing that," he said.

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