Metrorail/MARTA comparison: Ridiculous


Another one from the files of “readers who should have thought twice before sending a letter to editor at the Washington Post” (Previous take-down: Tourists complaining about the Metro). Honest query: Do editors run these letters ironically or because they make a good point?

This particular letter responded to a previous complaint about carpeting not being installed in the next series of Metro cars. Here is the letter from Brent Clarke of Silver Spring, and my rebuttals…

Wayne Savage couldn’t have been more wrong. Anyone who has ridden Atlanta’s MARTA would agree. Without carpeting, the cars are much cleaner.

MARTA's map.

MARTA's map.

Ah yes, the old apples to cucumbers comparison. What follows in this letter is a comparison of Metrorail to Atlanta’s MARTA system. The subways have some similarities: Built in the 70s, double-tracked heavy rail and constructed to coax commuters out of cars. But the Georgia rapid transit system carries about a third of Metrorail’s daily ridership (250,000 compared to about 800,000) and was never completed — Metro completed its original intended outlay with construction of the southern portion of the Green Line in 2001.

On top of that, MARTA cars have crystal-clear public address announcements and accelerate and brake nicely. 

OK, I agree that some drivers on Metro make me feel vomtastic, particularly when sitting backwards. But that is because the Automatic Train Control has been disabled since the Red Line train crash in 2009; Metro is currently redoing much of its signaling system in order to reemploy the auto control. So yes, MARTA’s is smoother because it is on auto control and has not had a horrific crash. Props there, but running Metro uniformly smoothly would be, well, dangerous because the busy system has degraded so much over its history. I’ll take the non-crash vommy ride to the possible-crash smooth ride. And while I hear ya (or do I?) on the announcements, this is an aspect I feel Metro is doing a better job on and is often a moot point — what percentage of riders are asleep or have headphones jammed in their ears at any given time? And now, Brent welcomes us to bizarro world…

Maybe Metro should just copy MARTA.

Metro's map.

Metro's map.

What, perchance, should we copy? The fact that MARTA has 38 stations to Metro’s 86? Should we reduce weekend service to bring ourselves in line with MARTA’s 1 a.m. closing? What about headways? MARTA’s weekday rush-hour headways top out at one train every 15 minutes — Metro’s are closer to one train every 2-6 minutes, depending on which line you are on. MARTA hasn’t expanded since 2000; Metro is building a massive new line in Virginia as we speak.

We all get frustrated with Metro, but the reality is it’s the second-busiest subway in the U.S. and the older, busier, larger and more popular a system becomes, the grimier it gets. New York has by some measures the best subway in the world — have you ever heard a New Yorker complain about the subway? It’s relentless — an unceasing list of gripes.

Yes, Metro’s cars are ruined by P.M. rush hour. Yes, the ride isn’t as smooth as it once was and enduring single-tracking on weekends is the bane of my drinking existence. I get those frustrations. But comparing Metro to the stunted growth of a serious driving city’s rail system is like saying the Beltway should be more like the scenic and (generally) smoother flowing B.W. or G.W. parkways — it’s just not a serious comparison. I for one, think we should be extremely proud Metro is NOT like MARTA.

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One Response to Metrorail/MARTA comparison: Ridiculous

  1. benito says:

    You never really answered whether or not you would be in favor of carpet vs no carpet. Otherwise, you’re right on in your discussion of the two systems. DC’s Metro is much, much better than Atlanta’s MARTA.

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