Battery Storage Technology Demonstration Gets Federal Seal of Approval

March 15th, 2016 1 comment

After successfully testing a battery at West Falls Church, Metro is looking into more ways of re-capturing braking energy from trains. This could save operating costs and improve environmental sustainability, too.

FTA Visit to Battery Storage Pilot at West Falls Church

FTA Visit to WMATA Battery Storage Pilot at West Falls Church

Metro spends approximately $50 million each year on electricity to move our riders and railcars around the system. Last month, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) released a final report they commissioned Metro to conduct on technology to capture excess energy from regenerative braking through energy storage. The project was conducted by Metro and Kawasaki Heavy Rail Inc. at Metro’s West Falls Church substation as a “proof of concept” test of nickel-metal hydride battery technology as a storage media to capture otherwise wasted railcar braking energy from the direct current third rail.

Although the battery is headed back to Kawasaki, the demonstration was a success.  We learned how the technology could work with our infrastructure, and how the battery technology supports the asset management, safety and resource efficiency work of the FTA’s Office of Research, Innovation and Demonstration in the following areas:

  1. Energy savings of approximately $100,000-200,000 that can reduce transit agencies’ utility consumption and peak power demand charges.
  2. Voltage support to reduce line loss on the third-rail power distribution network. In particular, this offers significant benefits to system performance between traction power substations (fed from the local utility) providing a more efficient energy transfer to railcars.
  3. Emergency power support to move stationary railcars to safe access points in the event of a power outage from the local utility.
  4. Augmenting existing traction power substations to support revenue service during maintenance downtime, and/or enhancing power supply as part of traction power upgrades to support better service such as Metro’s 100% 8-car train expansion.

Metro is now analyzing of how battery technology could be scaled more widely throughout the system. As part of this process, Metro’s engineers are monitoring the results of similar energy storage/energy saving projects that have been undertaken by peer transit agencies such as the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and London Underground.

As the cost of battery storage media such as nickel-metal hydride and similar lithium ion technology continues to fall, the economic benefits to rail transit will continue to grow. With the publication of this final report, Metro’s engineers’ commitment to strategic federal research provides a tangible example of how the Authority can support emerging technology as part of an investment in cost-effective new technology, and efficiently manage operating expenses.

Metrorail Ridership Data Download, October 2015

March 14th, 2016 8 comments

New data download features rail ridership by origin, destination, day of week, and quarter-hour intervals.

ridership_plots_subset

Subset of the visualization made by BioNrd aka Mike from our October 2014 data download data.

As you’ve probably noticed, it’s been a while since we’ve released a fresh batch of Metrorail ridership data.  Continuing the spirit of openness, we have recently uploaded data from October 2015 in CSV format.  (The number of rows is too great for Microsoft Excel).

This new dataset includes day of week data, so you can begin to investigate impacts of evolving workplace policies such as compressed work schedules.  You can also compare it to October 2014.

In the past, we have seen a lot of innovative analyses of the data we share.  Perhaps the best so far was a visualization of Metrorail station entries and exits by station by “BioNrd” aka “Mike.” What else can we learn from this dataset?

 

SelectPass Pilot: Making it Easier to Plan, Pay, and Ride

March 11th, 2016 29 comments

Customers showed high levels of interest in a customizable monthly pass.

pass_interest

Metro customer interest in a new unlimited monthly pass concept, by market segment.*

Metro is not raising fares this year, and instead is innovating ways to make it easier and more affordable to use the system.  Metro is taking a page from private industry, which has moved away from charging customers for each purchase and towards giving customers the option to “subscribe” to a company in exchange for unlimited access.  A Netflix subscription has replaced a membership at the local video store.  Amazon Prime offers unlimited shipping rather than shipping on each item.  Spotify subscriptions have replaced purchasing individual CDs.  Why not a subscription to use Metro?

Fortunately, we found a way to provide this to our customers and we’re really excited to begin testing it out starting this month.  The idea is to allow customers the ability to customize an unlimited access pass based on their usual travel patterns. Modeled after Seattle’s Puget Pass and frequently discussed on Greater Greater Washington over the past few years, this pass would allow customers to subscribe to a monthly pass, priced based on their typical trip costs, that offers unlimited travel on rail and the option to add on the same flexibility on bus.  We are calling it the Metro SelectPass.

Here’s the basic concept.  Customers tell Metro their usual start points and end points.  We then figure out how much that trip costs and offer you unlimited travel on rail up to that value in exchange for you buying 18 days worth of trips.  For example, if a customer’s “usual” peak trip is $2.25, they can get a pass priced at $81.00 (about $2.25 x 18 x 2) and then all trips valued at $2.25 or less would be free for an entire calendar month.  Extra trips for lunch, a night on the town, doctor’s appointment – it’s all included in one low price.  If you travel on a more expensive trip for any reason, you only pay the difference for that trip.  Most customers may enjoy savings of over 20% off of the pay-as-you-go rate, and they’ll also get the benefit of knowing they can travel as much as they want, whenever they want, all for one price.

For an additional $45 per month, customers can choose to add unlimited bus travel on top of unlimited rail travel.  That’s a huge savings compared to pay-as-you-go!  Read more…

Acting Regionally Pays Big Dividends

March 10th, 2016 No comments

Adding jobs and households in transit-served areas not only increases Metro ridership, but also reduces and may even eliminate the subsidy that local governments pay to support Metro, meaning lower tax bills for regional residents.

(This post is part of a multi-part series* about ConnectGreaterWashington a study that WMATA completed in 2015 and its application of land use as a transportation strategy. The below post and links provide additional detail.)

In December of 2015, public and private leaders issued a call to action for the many jurisdictions in this region to start acting as one.  We’ve actually been thinking about this for some time, and their announcement timed well with our desire to share perspectives on the following questions.

Questions:

  • What if the region’s future actually approached the goals of collaborative regional plans such as Region Forward and Place + Opportunity?
  • Would WMATA and the region benefit?
  • Are there financial, social, quality of life and environmental benefits?

Answers: YES, YES, and YES!

Approach: Metro planners hypothesized that changing local jurisdictions’ and/or the region’s approach to future land use decisions, such as where to guide future jobs and population and expanding transit-supportive policies, could enable the region to better use the transportation system we already have rather than require us to spend tens of billions on new transportation projects.

Planners developed three different scenarios (A, B, and C) that used the transportation system we already have, but modified future growth policies that determine travel patterns. The below post talks only about Scenario A, which had a specific goal to increase ridership on all segments of the Metrorail system, while minimizing the potential for overcrowding on any segment in the system. The image below shows how we built Scenario A and its three iterations (A Prime, A1, A2).

 

Approach for Building Scenario A to make transit more efficient

Read more…

WMATA’s Planners’ Principles for Creating a Customer Focus

March 1st, 2016 No comments

In its efforts to make Metro safer and more reliable, Metro puts the customer first.    

Foggy Bottom Sta 111313-35

Addressing capacity constraints in our stations, such as Foggy Bottom shown here will provide a safer and more reliable trip for Metro customers. Image source: WMATA.

The last year, implementation of Momentum, the WMATA strategic plan, was paused to permit a laser focus on all things safety and reliability.  Safety and reliability are what our customers deserve and what they are asking for.  Here’s how we pledge to address these critical issues at Metro within the context of putting customers first.

Engage our customers. And listen. Metro’s new General Manager and CEO, Paul J. Wiedefeld has dedicated a great deal of time since he came aboard talking with and listening to his constituents.  He did this because he knows that to get their support he has to listen to their concerns and ideas for our system and services.    Metro has the tools in place to regularly engage their customers, starting with the American Planning Association-award-winning Public Participation Plan (PDF) but also including a newly formed customer community, Amplify, available for online conversation on a wide variety of topics and initiatives.  Let’s follow the lead of the new GM and engage our customers in dialogue on addressing today’s problems as well as rebuilding Metro for the future.

Read more…

Improving Bicycle Access to Vienna Metrorail Station – Come one, Come all!

February 29th, 2016 No comments

Next Wednesday, March 2,  join Fairfax County’s bike program for a kick-off meeting about its Vienna Metrorail Bicycle Access Study.  This is your opportunity to make it even easier to get to the station on a bike.

On March 2nd, from 6:00-8:00 pm, in the Oakton High School cafeteria, Fairfax bike planners will will introduce the public to this planning project and gather feedback on existing conditions, concerns, and ideas to improve bicycling in the area.  The study will look at ways to improve bicycle access to the Vienna Metrorail Station on Nutley Street, Virginia Center Boulevard, Country Creek Road, and Sutton Road.  The meeting includes a presentation and a breakout session to gather feedback on areas of concern, ideas for improvements, and overall goals for bicycling in this area.  We hope you can attend and help make our station more bike-friendly.  viennametrostudymap-thumb2

The project is funded through the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ (MWCOG) 2016 Transportation and Land Use Connection (TLC) Grant Program.  Hopefully, we will see more projects coming through the TLC program since it is through studies like these that the region can advance the projects identified in Metro’s Station Area Strategic Investment plan and make progress toward achieving Metro’s strategic goal to connect communities and move us closer to the bicycle access goals our Board established in 2011.

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Metro Planners Share Innovations in Transit Delay Calculation at TRB

February 25th, 2016 5 comments

Adopted from queueing theory, this new method of assessing delay on transit systems with tap-in-tap-out fare systems accounts for natural variations in customer behavior.

As you may have heard, Metro is testing out a new customer-oriented travel time performance indicator. Many departments here at Metro have been collaborating on this effort. Metro has decided to initially pilot a measure where we define delay as anything greater than train run time, a headway, and the 1-3 minutes it takes to travel from the faregates to the platform. However, as we began our research into customer travel time, we got to asking the question, “How do we define customer delay on the rail system?”

tortoise_and_hare

As we quickly learned when digging into the data, on good days with no delay on the rail system, there is still a wide variety of “normal” customer travel times. Some variation in travel time is because customers arrive at random to the origin station, but all leave the destination station more or less at once.  Additional factors influencing this variation include walking speed, use of elevator vs. stairs, escalator or elevator outages, and customers with suitcases and strollers.

We could start with a threshold for “on time” but by definition we know on a good day there were no rail delays so we would be counting slower customers as “late.”

Additionally, on a day when we know a disruption has occurred, we might count very quick customers as “on time” when in fact we know that everyone experienced some delay.

So we set to determine a method for calculating delay that accommodated for the natural variation in customer speeds.  These travel time curves started reminding me of delay calculations from queueing theory from grad school. Read more…

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Estimating the Impact of the US Citizenship and Immigration Facility on Metrorail

February 24th, 2016 No comments

The Federal Government is the region’s single largest employer, and where it chooses to locate its jobs has huge implications for ridership, revenue, and the local operating subsidy.

We recently detailed why the Federal government’s location decisions matter so much to Metro – and you, the taxpayers who help support WMATA through your local taxes.  We’re always keeping an eye on moves within the region and certainly hopeful that any major moves (whether they are in the public sector or private sector) locate near Metrorail.  That’s because locating near Metrorail increases ridership, increases farebox revenue, and lowers the (your) taxpayer burden to support Metro.

Naturally, the news about GSA’s upcoming decision on the location of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services complex (USCIS) caught our eye and wonkiness.  We wanted to know about how much ridership and revenue the different options might generate.

US-Citizenship-and-Immigration-790x320

Read more…

Making the Case for Downtown Bus Lanes at TRB Annual Meeting

February 23rd, 2016 No comments

At the 2016 TRB Annual Meeting last month, Metro, together with DDOT and AECOM, presented the H and I Streets Bus Lanes as a case study of a bus lane in a downtown environment. TCRP Report 118 concluded that arterial bus lanes, ranging from low-cost restriping of existing lanes to new bus lanes, could offer 12-57% reliability improvements.

The presentation, built upon the 2013 study – H and I Streets Bus Improvements, highlighted the need for actions for all users and provided a range of improvement options for the H and I Streets corridor through downtown DC. We discussed details of the bus lane alternatives and benefits back in November 2013, and in the study’s final report (PDF). Here is a snapshot of the alternatives considered in the study:

Bus summary

Summary of Alternatives, click for a larger version.

The TRB session participants were interested in the status of the study recommendations, and raised a big question on how to solve bus delays in a large downtown area including river crossings.  The good news is that DDOT is including the bus lane alternatives in a new study — more details soon — that aims to improve the urban design and enhance the streetscape along Pennsylvania Avenue between 17th St. NW and Washington Circle.  The DDOT study intends to assess the operational feasibility of the contra-flow bus lane on H Street – the best performing bus lane alternative in the 2013 study. This study will be initiated in 2016.

Stay tuned.

Update, 2/25/2016:  The paper has been accepted for publication in the Transportation Research Record, Journal of the Transportation Research Board.

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Buses and Trains and Vans, Oh My! – How Metro’s Operating Budget Pays for Service

February 22nd, 2016 No comments

Ever wondered how much service your transit fares pay for, or how your tax dollars are spent? Read all about the intricacies of Metro’s operating budget!

How to Get Involved

Do you want a say in Metro’s budget? A public comment period on the FY17 budget (both capital and operating) is now open, and it will end 9am on Monday, February 29th. Please submit your feedback the following ways:

  • Take an online survey at wmata.com/budget.
  • Email your written comments at writtentestimony@wmata.com.
  • Attend a formal public hearing at Metro Headquarters, 600 5th St NW, Washington DC, on Monday, February 22. An Open House will begin at 6 p.m. and the Public Hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m.

Additional communications and outreach efforts will continue over the next few weeks, including notification to local stakeholders and community based organizations; signs posted in Metrorail stations, Metrobuses, and MetroAccess vehicles; surveys sent to a statistical sample of registered SmarTrip® cardholders; ads in local English and non-English publications; and other media efforts including advisories, press releases and social media. The online survey and legal notice will also be available in seven languages.

Staff will summarize and present community feedback to the Board in March, and the Board will use that feedback as a vital input in budget negotiations before adopting a final budget in April.

So be on the lookout for opportunities to learn more about next year’s budgets and to have your voice and ideas heard!

Operating Budget Basics

This is the last of three related posts that attempt to simplify the complex world of transit system funding, and to give Metro’s riders and regional residents some tools to engage in budget discussions. The first post focused on the Capital Funding Agreement (CFA, PDF) and the Capital Improvement Program (CIP, PDF), which together establish a six-year framework for funding projects that improve the Metro System’s safety, reliability, and performance. The second post focused on the annual capital budget, and this post discusses the annual operating budget.

If you walk away from this post with nothing else, the graphic below summarizes the most important points about Metro’s operating costs and who ends up paying the bills:

Metro Ops Funding Scale

The capital budget pays for projects where Metro is building something or buying equipment: purchasing new buses and rail cars, building a new station entrance, improving a bus stop, or buying new parts for escalators. The operating budget pays the costs (salaries, fuel, utilities) of running the system on a daily basis, including all the customer services highlighted in the graphic below:

MetroSystem_v2

Metro’s costs of doing business have been rising steadily every year, but unfortunately Metro’s revenues have either grown at a slower pace or been flat. This dynamic tension has created an intense need to fill the gap between costs and revenues, but that need runs up against an opposing pressure not to reduce service levels, increase fares, or impose higher costs on the counties and cities Metro serves (the Compact jurisdictions). Metro staff have developed a draft FY17 budget that appears to balance these conflicting forces, and we are currently running a public engagement process to gather feedback on that recommended budget.

Read more…