Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Metro's Trip Planner Fail (Shame on Me?)

We interrupt Trivia Tuesday for a special presentation.

People complain about Metro as this is a rite of passage for people living in the Washington DC area. Based on the terrible safety record the system has had recently, the complaints are obviously justified. While I have had some problems with Metro in the past, overall, my experiences taking the Metro nearly every weekday over the past 5+ years have been positive. With that written, I have an issue with Metro that I have not seen complaints about anywhere else: the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”) Trip Planner.

The Trip Planner seems like an excellent idea. You enter your location and destination, and the website shows your departure and arrival times. On the first night on Passover last month, I used the Trip Planner since I left work earlier than usual. However, although I arrived at the Metro station prior to the departure time listed on the website, the Metro train didn’t arrive for another 10 minutes. Consequently, I missed my bus and was fortunate to make it to Seder on time by getting a ride after taking a separate bus to a location only about 2 miles from my house. I chalked up the error to checking the planner several hours before I actually left my office.

President Bush eloquently stated, “Fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again.” Well, I’ve been fooled again, so shame on me.

Yesterday, I checked the Trip Planner at 4:40 to see if there was enough time for me to catch the 5:12 bus. The planner indicated that one Metro train would arrive at 4:42 and a second at 4:48, both enabling me to get the bus on time. There was no chance of catching the 4:42 train, but I hustled to the Metro platform by 4:46...and waited. The train arrived at 4:54.

Let's look at some numbers.

From the Trip Planner: Metro departs at 4:48; arrives at where I need to be at 5:08. Sean gets the 5:12 bus and is home by 5:35.

Actual: Metro departs at 4:54; arrives at 5:15. Sean misses 5:12 bus and waits for the 5:47 bus (using the time to write this post!) and is home by 6:10.

If I knew there was no chance of catching the 5:12 bus, I could have accomplished a little more at work. Of course, arriving home 35 minutes earlier instead of spending that time wating at the best stop would have been a better alternative. I should note that there were no Metro delays during this time.

Although Metro's #1 priority right now should be ensuring safety of its customers and staff, having trains run on schedule (or posting a correct schedule) should be a close 2nd.

Trivia Tuesday will return next Tuesday or there may be a special Trivia session later this week.


restaurant refugee said...

I cannot speak to the inaccuracies of the online trip planner, but the mobile application works really well for me it seems to somehow be more accurate.

Messiah said...

I dunno, Sean. Metro's website won't even offer rail schedules for afternoon times ("Due to the high frequency of service, timetables for peak hours (weekdays 5-9:30 a.m. and 3-7 p.m.) are not available."). I guess Metro needs to estimate a schedule for those going from rail to bus that use the TripPlanner, but I don't think the rail is supposed to be kept on a schedule in the same way that a bus is during the times you've been using the service. Seems like you've just been having bad luck, as opposed to experiencing a system-wide FAIL.

Sean said...

To be fair to Metro, I'm terrible with creating post titles, so fail just seemed like an easy word to use.

To both of your comments, it's entirely possible that the problem is me. It just seems like if you're going to have Trip Planner, it should be accurate.