In a study released last month, WMATA conducted quite the thought experiment: What if there weren’t a transit system at all?

WMATA took the same transportation demand model that it uses to project ridership on a new line and instead ran a couple of scenarios with the region’s transit literally turned off. All of it: the regional rail, the buses and the metro system.

“It was literally just imagining Washington, and all of a sudden, you wake up tomorrow, and the transit system isn’t there,” Antos says. “What would you do?”

People, it turns out, do something very interesting. They stop making long car trips because the traffic is so bad. In one hypothetical scenario, Antos took away the transit but kept the rest of the area’s road infrastructure the same. People were allowed to change their trip patterns – to chose different jobs or shopping centers – and most of them stopped crossing the region to get to those things.

There’s more at the Atlantic Cities, and it’s all well and good, but the piece ignores a couple of things.

1) Without transit, the District would have developed in a completely different way, so wondering what would happen if it disappeared tomorrow, while fun, is also kind of silly.

2) According to WMATA spokesman Dan Stessel, this study cost just under $200,000 to conduct.

Stessel defends the cost, pointing out that’s only 16 cents per rider, and the study—-which, granted, has more to it than the projection of life without transit—-will help the board make planning decisions. And to be fair, the findings, which amount to “Metro is good for D.C.,” aren’t bad (and WMATA could certainly use the PR), but the price tag still seems hefty. That’s almost enough money to maintain four escalators!

Photo by Darrow Montgomery