Identifying Opportunities to Improve Revenues and Ridership Levels at WMATA Essay

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Safety Concerns at Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and Implications for Ridership

The Metro network operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) provides mass transportation for the nation's capital region for visitors, residents and especially members of the federal government workforce. Besides 118 miles of rail tracks and 91 stations (making it the nation's second-largest heavy rail transit system), the Metro also operates the fifth largest paratransit service and sixth largest bus network in the country today (Metro facts, 2016). Taken together, the Metro clearly represents a valuable transportation resource, but the WMATA has been plagued by several safety-related issues that have adversely affected ridership levels in recent years as discussed further below.

Problem Statement:



Metrorail ridership in the second half of 2015 dropped to levels not seen since 2004, overall weekday ridership was down six percent compared to FY2015 and weekend ridership was down twelve percent. The ridership declines have impacted nearly all stations, time periods and trip types and cannot be attributed to poor weather, as the autumn and early winter were relatively mild. While some of the decline can be attributed to the proliferation of innovative alternative transportation providers such as Uber and Lyft, the recent decline in ridership was further exacerbated by a recent high-profile system-wide shutdown of the Metro in response to concerns over safety issues (Giaritelli, 2016). The inspections identified 26 frayed jumper cables among 600 cables in 22 zones which are connected to the third rail and provide the electrical conduits needed for rail operations (Giaritelli, 2016). More troubling still, this system-wide shutdown was unprecedented in Metro's 39-year history of operations (Giaritelli, 2016). These were especially troubling findings in view of the death of a passenger at the L'Enfant Plaza station due to smoke inhalation caused by a faulty cable in 2016 and a more recent cable-related fire at McPherson Square station (Giaritelli, 2016). Given WMATA's strategic importance to the smooth operation of the nation's capital, these safety-related issues and corresponding declines in ridership represent an important problem that requires further investigation to identify opportunities for improvement.

Objectives:



The overarching objective of the proposed study will be to develop a timely and informed answer to the study's research question, "Is the WMATA riding public losing confident in the Metro system and its ability to address safety issues; thus resulting in a decrease in ridership over the past two years?" In support of this objective, the proposed study will achieve the following goals:



• Identify and describe the public perception of WMATA performance, compare and contrast with simpler transit system;



• Identify and describe WMATA failure in meeting performance requirements include but not limited to:



• Factors contributing to not achieving headways,



• Factors contributing to not achieving on time performance,



• System safety requirements,



• System assurance requirements -- system availability, equipment reliability, and equipment maintainability.



• To examine WMATA customer service and public relation process exists at the agency, and to highlight similarities between Metro and other transit systems around the world that experienced similar issues.



• To develop a systematic Emergency Management System (EMS) approach that is unique to the Washington DC Metro Transit with the aim of reducing emergency impact.



• To provide a comprehensive review of literatures and other agencies' practices in relation to constraint analysis and outline a conceptual framework for system public relation management. Specifically, it will help to ensure that the structure will be capable of:



a. Providing a comprehensive review of sources and characteristics of constraints typically found in transit safety;



b. Development of a safety management method for easier hazard identification and emergency management;



c. Reviewing of current agency practices and researches in regards to safety and emergency management;



d. Outline of conceptual framework for total public relation management.



The potential benefits that can result from achieving the above-listed goals include providing WMATA's management with a set of recommendations that can be followed to improve popular perceptions of its commitment to safety, thereby increasing ridership and profitability.

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Preliminary Literature Review:



The recent introduction of alternative transportation ride-sharing choices such as Uber, RelayRides and Lyft combined with growing ridership dissatisfaction of public transit systems has created a challenging situation for WMATA (Browning, 2014). What is known at present for certain is that ridership levels have experienced a sustained decline in the wake of the recent unprecedented, high-profile system-wide shutdown of the WMATA over safety concerns and that restoring ridership confidence is therefore essential. In fact, today's situation is in sharp contrast to just a decade or so ago when WMATA was in the vanguard of implementing cutting-edge technological solutions to its operations, including safety management and ridership satisfaction (Hanley, 2009).



Since that time, however, federally subsidized funding for these solutions has dwindled and the WMATA has experienced system-wide safety deficits as a result (Birr, 2016). Previous studies have examined the impact of safety-related concerns on WMATA post-September 11, 2001 and have concluded that there is an inextricable relationship between heightened concerns over safety and declines in ridership and revenue levels (Wilson and Jackson, 2007). Therefore, studies of this type are timely and important for identifying opportunities to restore confidence and satisfaction in WMATA's operations.



In reality, though, the task for WMATA is especially daunting given its far-flung transportation network and scope of operations. Created by an interstate compact concluded in 1967, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority was tasked with planning, developing, financing, constructing and operating the Metro network serving the nation's capital area with a current population of about 4 million (Metro facts, 2016). Following initial rail system construction in 1969, the Metro expanded to include bus service in 1973 (currently there are 1,500 buses in constant operation) and the Metrorail component began operations in 1976 (Metro facts, 2016). The Metrorail system currently serves 91 stations with 118 miles of track (Metro facts, 2016). Nearly half (about 45%) of residents who work in the center core (i.e., Washington, D.C. and some parts of Arlington County, Virginia) use some component of the Metro network (Metro facts, 2016). The single highest ridership day in 2015 was 787,707 (Metro facts, 2016).



In response to the safety-related issues described above as well as others, WMATA's general manager and chief executive officer, Paul Widerfeld, has implemented a systematic overhaul of current risk management and inspection practices in order to restore public confidence (Metro facts, 2016). To its credit, WMATA has been absolutely forthcoming in its findings concerning safety-related problems and what has been and still needs to be done (Back2Good initiatives, 2016). For instance, according to the WMATA Web site, "Metro is working with employees, riders, jurisdictional partners, and the general public to make sure that everyone does their part in creating and sustaining a culture of safety and security in stations, vehicles, support facilities, and access points" (Metro facts, 2016 p. 2).



Some of the initiatives that have already been taken to promote safety throughout the Metro network include the following:



• Digital signs in the stations show next train arrival times, system status and time of day;



• Digital signs outside some stations show system status and time of day;



• Digital LCD monitors at station manager kiosks show real-time advisories and alerts;



• Two-way radios between train operator and operations control center;



• Hotlines from operations control center to police and fire departments;



• Automated electronic fire protection system in stations and tunnels;



• Call boxes spaced 800 feet along tracks;



• Fire extinguishers on platforms and inside railcars;



• Video monitoring of stations, elevators and some station parking lots;



• Public address systems on trains and platforms;



• Passenger-to-station manager intercoms on platforms, in elevators and landings



• Passenger-to-operator intercoms inside railcars -- one at each end; and,



• Chemical detection systems in underground stations (Metro facts, 2016).

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References


Anderson, T (2005, December). 'Transit Security.' Security Management, Vol. 49, No. 12, pp. 110-113.

'Back2Good initiatives.' (2016). Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. [online] available: https://www.wmata.com/about/back2good/initiatives.cfm

Birr, S (2016, July 23). 'Good Enough For Government Work: Pay Continues To Rise For DC Metro.' The Daily Caller. [online] available: http://dailycaller.com/2016/07/23/good-enough-for-government-work-pay-continues-to-rise-for-dc-metro/#ixzz4UjYdSuh0.

Bownman, B (2015, June 9). 'WMATA, Facing $50M Cut, Urged to Address Safety Issues.' Roll Call, p. 2.

Browning, JG (2014, January). 'Emerging Technology and Its Impact on Automotive Litigation.' Defense Counsel Journal, Vol. 81, No. 1, pp. 83-86.

Giaritelli, A (2016, March 16). 'D.C. Metro Will Reopen Thursday Following Safety Checks.' Examiner (Washington, D.C.), p. 3.

Hanley, RE (2009). Moving People, Goods, and Information: The Cutting-Edge Infrastructures of Networked Cities. London: Routledge.

McElhatton, J (2010, December 21). 'Metro Pays during 13-Year Leave; Driver Gets Cash to Clean His Uniform.' The Washington Times, p. A01.

'Metro facts' (2016). Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. [online] available: https://www.wmata.com/about/upload/Metro-Facts-2016.pdf.

Neuman, WL (2009). Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Aapproaches. New York: Allyn & Bacon.

Riggs, M (2009, May). 'Bag Check: Metro Search and Seizure.' Reason, Vol. 41, No. 1, p. 13.

Wiederfeld, P. (2017). Message to customers: Back2Good. WMATA. [online] available: https://www.wmata.com/about/back2good/message.cfm

Wilson, JM and Jackson, BA (2007). Securing America's Passenger-Rail Systems. Santa Monica, CA: Rand.

'WMATA history.' (2017). Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. [online] available: https://www.wmata.com/about/history.cfm.

Appendix A

Project schedule

Goal

• Identify and describe the public perception of WMATA performance, compare and contrast with simpler transit system;

• Identify and describe WMATA failure in meeting performance requirements include but not limited to:

o Factors contributing to not achieving headways,

o Factors contributing to not achieving on time performance,

o System safety requirements,

o System assurance requirements -- system availability, equipment reliability, and equipment maintainability.

• Examine WMATA customer service and public relation process exists at the agency, and to highlight similarities between Metro and other transit systems around the world that experienced similar issues.

•Develop a systematic Emergency Management System (EMS) approach that is unique to the Washington DC Metro Transit with the aim of reducing emergency impact.

• Provide a comprehensive review of literatures and other agencies' practices in relation to constraint analysis and outline a conceptual framework for system public relation management.

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