One thing that a city dweller has in common with any other city-dweller in the world is that we all have the tendency to complain about our city’s public transportation system. But after experiencing one of the nation’s ‘top’ systems in Washington, DC, I’d like to reflect on how it compares to Chicago’s.
A far stretching system. The system goes all the way out to the suburbs in many areas! This makes the city accessible to more people and serves the widespread suburban population. While many people might not LIVE downtown, they can access it easily without having to take a bus, a train, then another system train. This was the biggest advantage that I saw over Chicagos multi-train system (CTA for the city and close suburbs, and Metra for the far flung burbs.) For Chicagoans, this can be expensive if you live in the city and work in the suburbs, as you then have to buy monthly passes to both systems. Looks like in DC, riders just have to buy one.
Very nice busses. The busses in DC (at least that I saw) looked like charter busses. They were clean, freshly painted, and shiny. And even though they service far out areas in the suburbs- they still had people on them. How do they manage to keep ridership that high?
Peak and non-peak times. This incentivizes customers to use the Metro throughout the day—which I know is an issue in Chicago. They are constantly changing the train times to try and figure out when people are using the CTA. Having a system like this would incentivize people to use it other times besides just their morning and evening commute. This also makes transportation cheaper for people who are students and typically don’t travel during peak hours to get to class.
Zone based fees— This seems more fair. You ride farther, you pay more. Rather than a flat $2.25 (Chicago price), in DC you can pay a pretty penny. I think I saw like a $7.00 fee for one place. But again, you still only have to take ONE system to get far out. So I guess you’d pay that much in Chicago anyway.
Signal underground How did I manage to have an AT&T signal on my phone even in the tunnel?
The self-serve machines take Credit Card. This was great that I didn’t have to have cash to buy a train pass. Big Big help for the out-of-town-traveler.
Friendly staff—I had a man come up to me and help me figure out how to use the machine to buy a card. I feel like this would not happen in Chicago. Apparently, CTA drivers are amongst some of the unhappiest people on the planet and this shows in their behavior towards riders. Thus visitors usually have to fend for themselves.
Ill placed maps— The maps are on the sides of the train rather than above the doors. See the photo below to understand why this is a problem of visibility.
Carpets– gives a nice ambiance during the summer, but I can’t imagine how filthy those things get in the winter. Also, if you spill something you’d feel really guilty. In Chicago, at least if you spill a Dunkin Donuts coffee, the liquid slides back and forth to the feet of all the other passengers on the train and spreads out until it becomes a sticky dried layer of brown goo thin enough to air dry.
No vertical poles— This feature does not maximize space. You can’t stand really close to other people, without accidentally touching their shoulder or awkwardly bumping into them when the train sways. There is nothing to hold onto if you’re standing. In Chicago, we like to pack them in, so these intermittently placed poles are necessary.
Minimum payment for one time user– In DC, they make you put additional money on the card even if you only need to go $3.50 worth of a ride. So it actually costs $4.50. I don’t get this.
Incomprehensible announcements—Passengers can’t understand the announcements that the driver is saying. The speakers are very quiet and all you hear is a slight mumble. I seemed to be the only person bothered by this, however.
Those of you who take the DC Metro regularly, please comment. I’d like to hear your thoughts, complaints, or praises on the Metro. Also, feel free to give perspective to any of my one-time observations.