DC Metro Map Redesign Shows the System's Problems

DC Metro should focus on providing good, safe, reliable public transportation.

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Are you a Washington, D.C-area commuter or visitor? Are you getting increasingly aggravated at broken escalators, infrequent trains, and a higher and complicated fare system?

Not to worry. Metro is hard at work figuring out whether cherry blossom-pink is the appropriate color to define a new rail line to Dulles Airport.

Never mind that the new rail line is still the source of controversy (underground, which is more expensive? Elevated, which is cheaper but affects the landscape?). And never mind that taking a Metro ride costs dramatically more than it did a couple of years ago, and now has an extremely puzzling fare system that charges more for "peak" times (which makes sense) and even more for "peak of the peak" (whatever that means). What's most aggravating is that the base fare is called "reduced," when it's not reduced at all. It's like going to McDonald's, where you can't order anything that's called "small." McDonald's doesn't want anyone to believe it offers anything "small," so the sizes start at "regular" and go up from there (much like the chain's frequent patrons). [See the month’s best political cartoons.]

But the attention to the Metro map, as reported in the Washington Post, is truly startling, given all of the other issues Metro has facing it. The time and money spent on the map redesign provokes the opposite version of the old hate-Congress-but-love-my congressman motto. I love public transportation—buses, subways, long-distance trains, all of it—but I just want to metaphorically hit Metro management upside the head.

True, the proposed new map is a bit more accurate, in describing where stations really are in relation to popular city spots. Tourists, take note of something locals have always known: the L'Enfant Plaza stop is actually closer to the Air and Space Museum than the Smithsonian stop is, and the entrance you use by approaching the museum from the non-Mall side tends not to have a line. And while it might make sense that the National Gallery of Art is best reached by getting off at Gallery Place, the closest stop is actually Judiciary Square. [Check out our new energy intelligence blog.]

So a new map is useful. But is the color of the mapline to Dulles really matter? Was it really necessary to do a poll, asking riders if they preferred "silver," "orange," or "a color other than silver or orange?"

Good, safe, reliable public transportation is key to environmental health, lower congestion, and community bonds. Perhaps Metro could keep the focus on that.

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