Metro compromises on late-night service cuts
Maintenance hours will extend to 2019
Metro will extend late-night service cuts until 2019 to allow more maintenance hours after the systemwide overhaul known as Safe Track ends in June.
The Metro board of directors on Thursday approved what Chairman Jack Evans called a compromise, giving General Manager Paul Wiedefeld more time each week for repairs but also setting a hard-stop date for service reductions.
Under a temporary schedule, the subway system has closed at midnight daily since SafeTrack started in July. Before SafeTrack, the system closed at 3 a.m. on weekends.
Under the schedule that begins in July, the subway will close at 11:30 p.m. on weekdays and at 1 a.m. on weekends. Service on Sundays will begin at 8 a.m. instead of 7 a.m.
That means Metro’s 118-mile system serving more than 250 million riders a year will operate 127 hours per week — among the fewest number of hours for any of the country’s major subways.
The compromise came in the form of two measures added to the service reduction plan: Metro will be required to provide a progress report in May 2018, at which point the board could vote to end the reduced hours. The service cuts will sunset automatically in 2019 without any board action.
The plan was approved two weeks after Mr. Evans, who represents the District, said he would veto any proposal for extending late-night service cuts for more than a year.
Mr. Evans and Corbett Price, the District’s other board representative, said the reduced hours would devastate the city’s entertainment and restaurant economies and hurt shift workers who rely on the rail service.
Defending his decision to forgo the veto, Mr. Evans said he must make compromises as board chairman and that all parties gave up something in the deal.
“Two years is tough to swallow,” he said after Thursday’s board meeting. “But, again, part of my job as chair of the board is to try to avoid jurisdictional vetoes and bring compromises together.”
Mr. Evans said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser supported his decision to compromise, but he added that the District gave up a lot for the sake of the region.
“In the spirit of cooperation and attempting to get Metro fixed, we’re willing to make that compromise and go along with it. This is a compromise. For me personally, it’s a compromise. I represent 50 percent of the liquor licenses and 75 percent of the hotel rooms in the city,” said Mr. Evans, who represents Ward 2 on the D.C. Council.
City entities with a stake in late-night activities are protesting. Neil Albert, executive director of the DowntownDC Business Improvement District, said the harm from the cuts would be widespread.
“The loss of late-night transit service is not simply detrimental to nightlife, it damages the economy of this region,” Mr. Albert said. “For a city built around transit, there are no ‘discretionary’ trips. Even though more people commute via Metro during rush hour, Metro isn’t just a commuting tool. Metrorail is the backbone of our transit system. It is a critical part of downtown life at all hours of the day.”
Board members from other jurisdictions seemed to recognize that the compromise was a bitter pill for a city with a newly thriving bar and restaurant scene.
“I know this was a difficult decision,” said Jim Corcoran, a Virginia board member, giving a specific nod to Mr. Evans and Mr. Price. “I appreciate the negotiation that you did to get to a place where you can provide these hours.”
Mr. Wiedefeld defended his call for the reduced hours by saying the move is necessary for continued maintenance. SafeTrack is an emergency measure to get the subway back in working order, he said, and the follow-up repair schedule will make sure the system stays that way.
The Federal Transit Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board said Metro needs more time for inspections and maintenance.
Under the temporary SafeTrack schedule, now extended until 2019, the Metro subway system closes every day at midnight.