Out of Control Policy Blog

Like it? Yeah. Use it? Nah

The central point of the WaPo article referenced in the previous post is that folks in D.C. like Metro, but that doesn't mean they actually use it:

    Washingtonians love their subway. Four out of five people in the region have used the system, and 88 percent of those have a positive view of it. Similar numbers said it was reliable, comfortable and a good value. And 58 percent said they would support more funding for Metro, even if that means higher taxes, rather than face service cuts.

And yet:

    According to a recent Washington Post poll, 9 percent of Washingtonians said they regularly use the subway to get to and from work. A third of those who don't take Metro said they could but choose not to, while nearly two-thirds said public transportation isn't an option for them.

Why don't more people use the subway? It's the same story we hear in other cities, both in America and worldwide:

    Today, the District accounts for one in four jobs in the region. As a result, commuting patterns have splintered, and many workers go from suburb to suburb or travel well beyond the reaches of Metro.

    "As the center gets to be less and less significant, it's tougher for transit to play the type of role it would like to play," said Alan E. Pisarski of Falls Church, author of "Commuting in America." "The demand is just not there."

When you listen to commuters the issue really isn't' that mysterious :

    Nikki Herson took Metro to work once. She found the 30-minute walk from her apartment to Tenleytown tiring, the 25-minute ride to Shady Grove tedious and the 10-minute bus ride from there plain annoying.

    John Wengle's Bethesda-to-Washington commute is the kind Metro was made for. But he's turned off by packed Red Line cars and what can be an hour-long venture. In a car, he does it in a tidy, convenient and comfortable 25 minutes.

And note some of the assumptions embedded in this sentence which considers why more people don't use Metro:

    [I]s it the fault of car-obsessed commuters unwilling to give up the comfort and convenience of their rides?

If a company offers a service and consumers don't use it, is it the consumer's fault for not using it or is it the company's fault for not offering a better service?

The "car-obsessed" reference is a common one used by reporters. But motorists aren't "obsessed" with their cars any more than office workers are "obsessed" with their computers. Like computers, cars simply offer more speed, flexibility, and convenience than the other options. Once something better comes along this "obsession" will wither away.

Ted Balaker is Producer


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