Yesterday, Metro had serious blue and orange line problems in the morning. A power cable downtown failed, requiring an emergency repair and single-tracking, which delayed many riders for over an hour.
Some transit systems in the US have a service guarantee policy, where if your trip takes much longer than scheduled, you can either obtain a refund or a credit for a future trip.
Metro staff investigated these other policies, and presented their findings to the Board last year.
Philadelphia (SEPTA) is the most generous, giving customers a free future ride if you are more than 50 minutes late. Boston (MBTA) provides free service if you’re delayed more than half an hour. New York provides free service if the delays are more than an hour.
Metro’s policy is not that helpful. Metro will refund the boarding fare if you enter the same station you left “during service delays”. Ths service guarantee doesn’t let customers go to their final destination and is vague about when it applies. I haven’t been able to find a service delay where Metro officially applied the policy, usually it is announced by the Station Manager at stations where overcrowding is becoming a problem.
Metro should change their policy to something more like MBTA. A half-hour delay for a trip that typically takes an hour or less is a serious disruption of service. Customers may not know they’re going to be delayed or the extent of the delay until they’re part of the way there. The service guarantee should not require customers to return to their starting point in order to get a refund.
The service guarantee should work like this: Customers with a registered SmarTrip card should go online and find the informaiton about the trip that was delayed. The customer should then send in the trip information (origin, destination, date and times, SmarTrip card ID). After a verification that there were actually unscheduled service delays during that time, the customer’s SmarTrip card should be refunded the fare for that trip. Refunds would not be provided for scheduled service delays when they are announced in advance, or acts of God.
Metro is already under scrutiny for shortchanging safe operation of the system in order to maintain scheduled service. But the sort of problems that cause major delays are more often the kind of problems that come up unexpectedly and are the result of degrading system conditions, such as track fires, switch malfunctions, or railcar maintenance problems. A fare guarantee would put pressure on the system to fix these items so that they don’t break down during operation. Since the guarantee does not affect scheduled service disruptions, it would not pressure Metro to avoid doing critical maintenance on the system.
Metro’s peers in the transit industry offer customers a refund or credit when service is delayed. Metro should too.