Less traffic, Metro riders expected with federal furloughs

WASHINGTON – Commuting this week may seem more like the dog days of August when everybody is out of town on vacation.

Those empty seats on the trains could be where federal workers would sit if they were not being forced to take a day off without pay each week until the end of September.

Federal furloughs began this week for most agencies, including the Defense Department, as part of across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration.

AAA Mid-Atlantic predicts the furloughs of hundreds of thousands federal and contract workers will make it feel like late August, when Congress and many lobbyists and federal workers go on vacation leaving D.C. a ghost town.

Spokesman John Townsend says many workers will see a 20 percent pay cut as a result of those lost workdays, which could cut into the regional economy.

“You’ll see fewer people at shopping malls, fewer people going to the movies, fewer people doing their day-to-day activity,” says Townsend.

Metro, with 35 stations that serve federal facilities, will take a hit financially as fewer riders take the trains to work each day. Federal workers comprise about 40 percent of Metro’s riders. But any drop in ridership also will mean trains won’t be as crowded for other commuters.

Virginia, home to the Pentagon and Quantico, may see the biggest drop in traffic as nearly 72,000 Department of Defense civilian workers begin their furloughs statewide this week. The furloughs will last until Sept. 21.

The auto club compares the downturn in traffic to what happened during the worst of the recession. Workers in the region drove less because many weren’t working and others drove less often as a way to save money.

Thirteen percent of the region’s total workforce is employed by the federal government.

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