How to safely increase DMV transit ridership


What riders, workers, and companies can expect if they’re looking to return to public transportation in coming months.

ARLINGTON, Va. (WDVM) — According to Arlington Economic Development, Arlington County built 90 percent of its office stock on 10 percent of its land. “When you try to funnel cars from around the region, and you’re talking about 220,000 to 250,000 people on any given day, you have to rely on other modes of transit to get people to the office,” said Senior Business Investment Manager Alex Taylor.

Outside of the pandemic, Taylor’s AED team promotes Arlington’s existing businesses and recruits other businesses to expand or relocate to the county. Since many businesses aren’t looking to expand right now, Arlington Economic Development is helping Arlington’s employees work in the office again. First, they have to get there. AED hopes they’re not going to drive.

Arlington Economic Development hosted a webinar on Wednesday to showcase what riders, workers, and companies can expect if they’re looking to return to public transportation in the coming months. Arlington’s Director of Transportation Dennis Leach, who participated in the webinar, says commuters have to start using public transportation soon. 

“A lot of neighborhoods in our region just don’t have the parking garage capacity to handle every employee driving to the office,” Taylor said. “We don’t really have a choice but to get back to full confidence. So this dialogue is just the first step to getting people comfortable with it again.”

Arlington and WMATA have been providing transit companies with sanitizing equipment since mid-March as essential workers relied on their services. Transit has been enforcing face coverings and social distancing. Starting this week, WMATA’s SmarTrip passes can be paid for handsfree using an Apple Watch or iPhone. On Wednesday, WMATA’s EVP for Strategy, Planning and Program Management Thomas Webster said the same function is in the works for Android devices. 

“A lot of offices are still empty. People are working from home; they haven’t returned to the office space where they will face these environments,” Taylor said. “They’ve been in place, though, on public transportation from day one and so they’re six months into doing it at this point. They’re well-versed in making sure everything is clean and safe.” 

Taylor expects ridership to increase in 12 to 18 months. Social distancing and face coverings won’t be the only things to adjust to: Northern Virginia anticipates Metro’s Silver Line extension will be completed around that time. “That’s a pretty transformational project and I think folks that have been teleworking and haven’t been thinking about transportation will be really surprised by what has changed for the better while they’ve been at home.”

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