As of 10 a.m. Wednesday — five hours after Metro opened — there were about 212,000 riders on the rail system. That’s compared to 270,000 riders during the same time frame last Wednesday.
“For the first five hours of service, we were missing 58,000 rides,” said Metro spokesman Dan Stessel.
To get your brain around that, it’s the equivalent of roughly 60 empty trains.
“We’re right-sizing capacity for the lower ridership we’re experiencing,” Stessel said. “Eight-car trains are simply not necessary.”
Metro’s ridership was down between 20 and 25 percent during the Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning rush hours, he said. Roughly 750,000 rider trips a day are taken on Metro— 200,000 of them during the rush hour. Of the rush hour riders, roughly 40 percent of them are federal workers.
Stessel said Metro will not save money on its labor costs in cutting back the number of rail cars it uses, but it expects to save money on “preventative maintenance” of the equipment. He said it also helps to lower the agency’s electrical costs because six-car trains use 25 percent less electricity than eight-car trains.
But shorter trains were not welcome news for many riders who complain that Metro’s trains are too crowded. The Orange Line, for example, is often so crowded during rush hours that regular riders have dubbed it “Orange Crush.”
On Twitter Wednesday, riders asked why Metro would continue to charge full fares when they were running shorter trains. One poster who goes by the moniker MeenaMariam wrote “Because the extra two cars have been furloughed?” as news of two fewer rail cars on a train spread.
The early morning numbers for Metro showed just how many riders stayed off the system.
At Virginia Railway Express, which typically carries 19,400 riders a day into the region, officials said they did not have ridership figures for Wednesday morning’s commute, but their parking lots still looked “relatively full,” according to a spokesman. VRE’s ridership Tuesday was down about 5 percent.
About 65 percent of VRE’s riders are federal workers so officials said they figured that the bulk of those who ride their system may be essential workers who are still expected to come into their offices.
They also believe that because of the base realignment efforts of the Pentagon, many more of their riders have relocated to areas that aren’t transit accessible but “have been backfilled with other contract workers or those in the private sector,” said Mark Roeber, an agency spokesman.
Signs that ridership was down were easy to spot on Metro trains, as some were near empty during the morning rush.
Some early bird Metro commuters used social media to describe eerily quiet stations and trains. One tweet from a poster who goes by the moniker “Lance Uppercut” showed an empty train with the headline - “Furlough train.” Another poster,@MDScot, wrote: “Ghost train/ snow day feel to the Metro this morning.”