Our intrepid reporter traveled from Alexandria’s Huntington station to the District to see how NoVA commuters are adjusting to the Metro’s three-month summer closure.
On Tuesday, June 25, exactly one month after WMATA closed six outdoor platforms in Northern Virginia for reconstruction, I sought to find out how the project has been going. While there were various issues reported in the first two weeks of the shutdown, including long wait times for shuttle busses and drivers not knowing the proper routes, Metro seems to be adjusting, according to several commuters at Huntington Station.
To mitigate trouble for local commuters, three of the six Metro platforms—Van Dorn Street, Franconia-Springfield and Huntington—have free parking available, as well as free Blue and Yellow Line bus shuttles that go into DC and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
Upon arrival at the Huntington parking garage at approximately 7:05 a.m., I easily found a parking space on the third level and made my way down the stairs to where I assumed the shuttles would be waiting.
“I will say this part of the commute on the Yellow Line has worked out OK, but coming from the airport has been insane,” says J.R., a man from Maryland who walked with me to the busses, despite us traveling in different directions. While J.R. lives in the area, he flies on a weekly basis to Miami for business and, due to the shutdown, parks his car at Huntington for free.
“In all fairness, they do have people out here giving you guidance. They have been very helpful and that’s one of the biggest things, but they’re not driving the busses,” J.R. says.
And helpful they were. I was greeted by a, “Good morning,” every time I encountered a Metro staff member and was also asked twice by employees in matching yellow vests if I needed help—clearly, I must not have looked confident in my commute.
While J.R. has experienced situations where bus drivers either didn’t know the routes or simply drive right past him, the commute has been getting easier as the weeks go on, he says. Other travelers have had pretty positive experiences with the alternative routes, as well, although the biggest negative is the added commute times.
“It’s taken me an hour-and-a-half versus an hour to get to work, but I think the shuttles are working like clockwork,” Alexandria resident Monique Baskin says. “Everyone knows where to direct commuters and it’s really been going great. I’ve been very impressed, actually.”
While Baskin’s commute time has increased by half an hour, other individuals have adjusted to new work hours, as well as out-of-office work. NoVA resident Lorraine, who has always traveled to Washington from the Huntington station, leaves home 30 minutes earlier than she used to, yet still arrives 30 minutes late to work on a consistent basis.
Randy Hardee, a government employee of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, tends to commute later in the morning and earlier in the afternoon as a result of the shutdown to avoid rush-hour traffic.
“The government’s been very good about letting us work from home, as much as we want to really,” Hardee explains. “I think given what they have to work with they’re doing a really good job. I don’t think I’ve waited for a bus more than 15 minutes.”
While Hardee’s commute hasn’t exceeded 50 minutes, he noted that there tends to be “three times as many Blue Line busses as there are Yellow busses” on a regular basis.
From 7:05 a.m. to 7:29 a.m., I watched as Blue Line shuttles (in the form of charter busses) pulled up to the street and picked up passengers. In order to decrease wait time, a Metro staffer stood next to the first bus, keeping count of every individual who stepped on the bus. As soon as the first shuttle was full, according to her count, she signaled for the driver to take off and another shuttle pulled up almost immediately.
I left Huntington at approximately 7:30 a.m. with the goal of arriving at Capitol South station by 9 a.m., mimicking what many Northern Virginians who work in DC do, and the entire journey from start to finish took one hour, 35 minutes and 54 seconds.
Before the morning’s end, I received other notable comments, including one from a woman who was in a rush to catch the bus. While I did not mention why I was there, before she walked steadily toward the shuttles, she exclaimed, “Do I think the Metro sucks? Yes, I do. They need to add expresses from Huntington to Crystal City.”
The experience commuters are going through with the shutdown can be summarized by one phrase, spoken by the woman sitting next to me for the entirety of the bus ride to the Pentagon: “I leave with no expectations.”
This piece is a part of our Summer Platform Improvement Project coverage. We will continue to update and inform the community about the project throughout the summer. See more coverage here.