Has Metro Bottomed Out?

December 10, 2015 // as featured in Washingtonian

It has been a spectacular year of Metro fails. Between a deadly smoke-filled train, rush hour trains bypassing a station for months, and increasingly common everyday delays, DC area residents are fed up. A recent WMATA survey shows customer satisfaction at a low of 67%, and for good reason.
This year's metro delays through November total 772 hours, an increase of a third over 2014. On average there are over two hours of delays everyday. If each of this year's Metro delays were successive, it would be as if WMATA shut down a line for 32 days straight.

The drastic increase in Metro's downed service is due to more, not longer, delays. The average delay has remained at roughly 8 minutes, while the number of delays has increased over 82% compared to 2013. Metro's new general manager, Paul Wiedefeld, will certainly have his hands full. But Wiedefeld may be starting at just the right time. After particularly terrible service in the winter and early summer, Metro delays have been on decline since August. In the last two months there were fewer delays than the same time last year.

While it may feel like all of Metro is falling apart, nearly two-thirds of this year's increase in delays is due to a single issue: trains never leaving the gate, mostly due to train malfunctions. Through November, 1,658 delays were due to trains that were scheduled to operate, but did not. That is more than double the 2014 occurences, and nearly five times the 2013 rate. Taken with the most common delay cause, train malfunctions during transit, Metro's dilapidated train stock is the biggest drag on Metro performance.

WMATA recently announced a number of initiatives to combat faulty trains including improving delivery of the new 7000-series rail cars; prioritizing train maintenance and upgrades through the Capital Improvement Plan; policy changes to acquire parts; and activating overtime for train maintenance. It remains to be seen whether WMATA can carry through with these initiatives and continue Metro's falling delay count in 2016.

Technical notes: Analysis and graphs are based off of WMATA Daily Service Reports. Data covers delays through November 30th of each year. You can find complete code for this post on my github page.