What Washington area commuters hoped would be a silver lining of a federal government shutdown — a less-frenzied rush hour — didn’t materialize for many Wednesday, leaving some to ask: If hundreds of thousands of federal workers stayed home, why was my commute still so bad?In fact it seems to be worse?
It was the volume that shocked me,” said Jean Stoner, who had expected a breeze of a drive between her Arlington County home and her office at the Health Information Services division of 3M, in Bethesda. Eastbound Route 50 and roads through Rosslyn were “incredibly slow and congested,” she said.But ...
“I was yelling at the other cars, ‘Aren’t you furloughed today?’ ” Stoner said with a laugh.
Some Metrorail and bus riders, on the other hand, found nearly empty buses and vacant seats on trains that are usually standing-room only. About 56,000 fewer people than usual — enough to fill 60 trains — rode Metro between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., Metro said. That amounted to a 20 percent drop in ridership from the previous Wednesday morning.The answer?
One rider tweeted a photo of an empty Metrorail car with the headline “Furlough train.” Another wrote: “Ghost train/ snow day feel to the Metro this morning.”
The short answer: Federal workers telecommute, carpool and take transit in disproportionate numbers, local commuting experts said. That means they don’t take up as much room on the road as their numbers might indicate.
Moreover, experts say, the Washington area’s traffic volumes are so crushing that even taking thousands of people out of the equation leaves enough traffic that everyday occurrences — fender benders, debris in the road — still create quick backups that can take hours to dissipate.
Meanwhile, some carpools partially made up of federal workers likely have broken up, leaving the remaining people to drive in individual vehicles, experts say.
Another leading theory: Some people who prefer to drive but usually don’t jumped at the notion of open roads.
“Some people who didn’t drive before may be thinking, ‘Ooh! I can drive now!’ ” said Ronald Kirby, transportation planning director for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.