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Unspinning the Washington Post Metrorail Survey

Today the Washington Post released the results of a telephone survey primarily about local transportation and Metro. At a first glance, the results seem to indicate that riders hold Metrorail in a positive light.  Overall, 71% of survey respondents gave the Metrorail system an overall positive rating. WMATA, beaming with pride, put a link to the survey results on its website.

However, there is more to the story than this superficial first glance. Dana Hedgpeth and Scott Clement of the Washington Post summarized the survey in an article with an egregiously misleading headline “Riders give Metro overall favorable marks.” By “riders” they mean people who don’t take Metrorail very often and certainly don’t rely on it as their primary way to commute to work.

Allow me to explain. The Post conducted phone interviews with a random sample of 1,106 residents in the DC Metro area.  The survey was meant to capture the sentiment of residents of the DC Metro area, and not the everyday Metrorail customer. The responses reflected this in that:

- 79% of survey respondents said they do not ride Metrorail often. 

- Only 11% of commuting respondents said that Metrorail is their primary way of getting to work. 

Perhaps the survey respondents gave Metrorail positive reviews because they never have to deal with the “poorly lit stations, chronically broken escalators, … and near daily train delays.” 

Just last month, the Washington Post editorial board commented that, “Metrorail is a slow-rolling embarrassment whose creeping obsolescence is so pervasive, and so corrosive, that Washingtonians are increasingly abandoning it… To commuters who depend on Metrorail, it’s all become a major pain in the neck.”

Is the daily Metrorail rider’s sentiment more aligned with the Washington Post editorial board or the average DC area resident? Unfortunately this poll contributes very little towards answering that question, no matter how Dana Hedgpeth or Robert Thomson (aka Dr. Gridlock) try to spin it.

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